I was so happy to be able to head to Tampa recently to help celebrate my niece’s fourth birthday. She was even more happy to celebrate it than I was. We all had a great time, and Amanda got lots of nice – and pink – gifts.
But in the backs of our minds, we were ever-mindful of the one person who was unable to be present at the celebration – my sister-in-law’s father and Amanda’s Papa... Rex Whitaker.
Rex has been battling cancer for some time now. He’s had some tough times and he’s had some not-so-tough times. But through it all, he’s maintained a cheerful disposition and that patented Rex, the bearded wonder, grin.
Days prior to the celebration, Rex was rushed to the hospital with a huge amount of bleeding and he just couldn’t stop throwing up. We weren’t sure why. The doctors weren’t even sure why. And we all waited anxiously on results from tests run just days prior to this incident. It seems he’d found a lump near the incision site of his previous surgery, and doctors had to test it to see if it was a tumor or a cyst.
Then, just a day or so after he was released from the hospital, he had to return and this time, they pumped a lot of fluid from one of his lungs, and they took him off chemotherapy indefinitely. That’s pretty serious stuff when you’re a Stage 4 cancer patient. We found out last Thursday that the cancer is spreading rapidly and his liver is failing.
But even through all of this, Rex has maintained his sweet and positive spirit, as well as his sense of humor, the very things that made me like him from the very beginning.
The first time I met Rex was the weekend of my brother’s wedding to Rex’s only baby girl, Stephanie. I didn’t know any of them well at the time, and I’d only met my soon-to-be sister-in-law once prior to that. But my baby brother is a great judge of character, so I had no doubts that Steph and her parents were wonderful people. And they are.
I didn’t get to spend a lot of time talking to Steph’s mom, Gail, that weekend. She was the mother of the bride, and was understandably otherwise occupied. But I did shoot the breeze with Rex quite a bit. I found that he and I are kindred spirits. He’s got a somewhat twisted sense of humor, much like my own, and we just hit it off. We laughed quite a bit, and even tossed a few zingers at each other. Generally speaking, I thought he was a great guy. I still do.
Since that time, I’ve really come to appreciate Rex’s soft-spoken nature and his jokes. It’s obvious that he’s a father completely in love with his one-and-only daughter, and that’s a beautiful thing to see as well.
As I watch my baby bro, Benny, and his bride raise their own daughter, I am often mindful that Benny has a great example right there in Tampa of what a father-daughter relationship should be – all he has to do is look at Steph and her daddy. I hope Amanda and her daddy will be as close as Steph and hers. I look forward to watching their relationship continue to blossom.
In the meantime, Rex, keep your focus on staying as strong as possible physically and mentally, and on the people around you who love you so much. Know that you will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. I’ll be seeing you soon...and I can’t wait to hear your next wisecrack.