STILL KICKIN HERO: January 2016
EVERY MONTH, FUNDS FROM OUR SALES WILL GO TO SUPPORT A NEW PERSON (OR FAMILY. OR ORGANIZATION. OR WHATEVER WE DECIDE) WHO DEFINES WHAT IT MEANS TO BE STILL KICKIN.
MEET STEVE AND STACY LUFKIN
When Stacy Lufkin was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, their youngest son was ten years old. Cancer is a big word for a little person, but he’d watched his mother do the Susan G. Komen 3-Day that summer, and he knew one thing: the survivors wore pink.
“You’ll get to wear a pink shirt!” Zach shouted. And it was decided. Stacy was going to survive.
Call that what you want to (adorable, heart-melting, the kind of childhood innocence we’d all pay a fee to just have one tiny sip of) but the Lufkins call it faith.
Stacy settled back into the rhythm of teaching social studies, and Steve kept on being the superhuman he always was: teaching high school math at Henry Sibley High School in the suburbs of Saint Paul, Minnesota.and coaching football, basketball and baseball. He ran. He played with their boys. He was always on the go, always in motion.
But then, that momentum got hard to maintain. It was subtle at first: some tightness in his legs that turned into a limp, the kind of thing you could mistake for a pinched nerve until your wife insists you go to a doctor. A doctor who orders an MRI, and then another one, who pushes you on to a neurologist who just lays you on an examining table and looks at you, then orders another test, a brace for your leg, and asks you what your biggest fear is.
They’d been Googling – separately – because that’s what we do now in times of trouble, and the oracle of the internet had given them a pair of possibilities: Multiple Sclerosis or ALS.
“ALS,” they both replied, and their doctor deflated in front of them.
Steve and Stacy were both praying for it to be MS, because as far as terrible, debilitating and lethal diseases go, it seemed like the lesser of two evils.
But you don’t get to actually pick which terrible, debilitating, lethal disease takes root in your body. Their biggest fear was here, and it had already begun its random takeover of Steve’s strong, capable body. The man who coached hundreds of high school athletes walks the halls of Henry Sibley with leg braces or rides on a scooter, because when you love what you do, nothing is going to keep you from it.
The evidence of ALS is all over their home: Steve’s respirator sits beside his recliner, the contents of Stacy’s craft room crowd into their warm, homey kitchen while their home is remodeled not with the new three season porch and dining room they’d planned on for years, but a fully-accessible master suite with wheelchair access and an elevator. A friend raised all of their furniture, to make it easier for Steve to comfortably sit, and the community they’ve served for over 20 years has pulled together around them.
In a few weeks, Stacy and Steve will be in Colorado. It’s a trip that used to involve just a pair of plane tickets, but now includes coordinating care with a series of medical professionals they never imagined knowing, and inventing a way to carry a respirator in a backpack without getting snow on it while you’re skiing.
Oh, yeah. Steve’s going skiing. Because when you’re a man who has touched as many lives as he has, it’s only natural that the moment you’re sure you’ll never ski again, someone will reach out to help you try adaptive skiing.
We planned to spend an hour with the Lufkins, but it turned into two. Or three. Maybe more, we kind of lost track of time. It happens sometimes, when you’re the in the presence of someone you’re supposed to know.
Faith is hard. It’s really hard. But they make it look easy. And on a Sunday afternoon, just before Christmas, I saw why: because when they look at one another, they see love and compassion and resilience. They see their wedding vows in action, the wonder of technology where they could see the inconvenience and injustice of illness. They see the best side of the worst things. They see proof.
Thank you, Steve and Stacy, for showing that to me.