I’m writing this with a cold beer to my right on a Wednesday night. For the last three days, I’ve felt tears welling behind my eyes. Every moment I’m not living life to the fullest, not DOING something, I feel like I’m wasting.
My friend David is dying.
When I shared David’s story on this blog, I was still in TV. That alone feels like a lifetime ago, and that point in his journey felt life a lifetime since his diagnosis. He’s written a book. He’s travelled the world. He’s celebrated 11 years of life since doctors told him a brain tumor would kill him in five. For awhile, it was easy to say David **had cancer. Past tense. He’d beaten it. He’d laughed in it’s face, defeated it with an arsenal of positivity and sheer will, and shared his story to inspire and help others.
Fuck you, cancer. FUCK YOU. Mom, I know you’re reading this and I’m sorry for swearing, but there is truly no other phrase that accurately fits how I feel about this disease.
It stole Cody from us. I miss his laugh, karaoke duets, how he made my husband smile, and seeing his soul-deep love for our dear friend, Darbi. Brain cancer stole Evan Sharp, a baseball-loving little boy from Omaha, robbed of school and running carefree with his friends on the field. It stole Heather Roberts, a young professional devoted to her Omaha Mavericks, who have now raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in her name.
David’s sister, Heather, emailed me and asked me to put together a video for his girls. They are so little… ask yourself what you remember from Kindergarten?? What will these three big eyed, blonde angels remember about the father who loved them with all of his heart?
For Marian, for Viola, for Etta, for Lori, for DAVID: This is for you.
David always had a spark. There was something MORE about him. Always the guy making jokes, the guy who wore plaid when everyone else wore black, the guy who was the ever rare ‘part of every group’ guy – active in speech, band and theater, so he was popular with the Drama Dorks, played golf and baseball and ran cross country, so he had the ‘cool’ friends right alongside us. He was the center of attention in every circle he ran in. No matter what the situation, David stood out – trying to make someone laugh, trying to be something extraordinary.
Complete disclosure – David was my first ‘boyfriend’, keeping in mind we didn’t go on dates, hold hands in hallways, or anything else. I totally ditched my junior year Homecoming date AT THE DANCE for David (Jim, my sincere apologies – still feel super bad about this. Shade.) The cool thing was, after the high school drama (guys, he left me for a girl on POM SQUAD. Devastation! David – I hope this makes you laugh, I still remember that blonde hussy’s name!!), we were friends again by senior year.
I remember when we ripped a microphone off of Mike Unrein’s body, taped there to stay put under his costume for ‘The Nerd’. Mike was SUPER hairy.. and his pain was hilarious.
I remember going to Mock Trial nationals in St. Louis (State Champs!!), when he and Bobby busted into Cassie and I’s hotel room and literally carried my wimpy ass to the pool and threw me in. I hadn’t wanted to get my hair messed up. Too bad.
I remember watching him play a trumpet solo in front of the entire student body at a home football game during halftime, and feeling immense pride for my friend, shining bright in that moment in time.
Baseball at Seymour Smith. Being crowned Prom Prince with Melissa. Sitting on Lauren’s steps inside her house at one of countless graduation parties in May of 1999.
Every moment was MORE. Nothing was ‘JUST’. With David, everything was the superlative – funnier, more creative, bigger, deeper, louder and memorable.
Of course, he was featured in Election, got his own trailer, and became bff’s with Matthew and Reese.
Of course, he went on to marry a supermodel wife and started to travel the world with his start-up company, fueled by his big ideas and vision.
Of course, when he decided to write a book, people from around the world would donate tens of thousands of dollars to support him and make it happen. OF COURSE.
Girls, your Daddy was NEVER ordinary. Not one day.
I wrote my first blog post about David in 2014. He was in the very early stages of writing his book – maybe even just outlining it at that point. I knew he had battled cancer in an unorthodox fashion – attempting every method in the book OTHER than chemo. Chinese medicine, herbs, religion, going green, saunas, etc. I knew he had been divorced but had no idea of the loneliness and desertion that had come along with it. I knew fate brought him and Lori together, but had no idea the details of how that came to be. David bravely bared his soul in his book, Thank you Kung Fu, to hopefully inspire others facing cancer, surprises in life, devastation through divorce.. WHATEVER.. he didn’t sugarcoat anything, but he also found the positive in everything.
When I told my Mom last weekend that David may be entering his final weeks, she, too, focused on the positive: he had so much more time than anyone thought. My husband talked about David’s three beautiful daughters that may never have been.
I think of Lori, and this is when my tears fall. She, too, has had her own journey of challenges, heartbreak, plot turns and more. WHY. WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY. Why can’t they have the fairytale ending where POOF?!? Cancer is gone? Happily ever after? Lori deserves that. I don’t know her well but here’s what I see… the ying to David’s yang. The independent, one of a kind, unicorn light that is just SPECIAL. I praise God for bringing these two together… perhaps, no, of course.. this was always His plan.
David was given 5 years… nope.
They were both told no children… they have 3.
They found each other. THEY WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. What is the meaning of life? TO LOVE. TO LOVE. Because I am in a bar and surrounded by other humans… I will only say my husband is literally, half of my soul. He is my rock, he is my partner, he was meant to be mine. We are raising two beautiful boys and someday, when they are grown and off on their own journeys, we will have each other – only each other, blessedly each other, for now and forever. To lose him… I would lose half of myself. For this, Lori, I pray for you. Sometimes more than I pray for David, because I believe he is going to Heaven without pain or fear.
<<My waitress just asked if I was ok because I am now bawling. That’s where we are at right now.>>
Girls, your Momma is a LADY BOSS. She is a fighter. She is a leader. She is kind and cool and amazing. She is strength and honor and beauty personified. Every day.
Westside was looking for a guest speaker to inspire our staff members to kick off the 2018-2019 school year. I pitched several ideas to my senior leadership team, including David. My high school friend who had proved doctors wrong, written an incredible book, and was now giving motivational speeches around the country; maybe he would be a good fit to come home and inspire our staff? August of 2018, David came to Westside High School to share his story. Thank you, Kung Fu – how he found how he had a hidden brain tumor through being his typical ‘class clown’ self and doing a mock kung fu move at a conference. How through the coming months/years of finding an alternative to his death sentence, his then-wife decided upon a different path. How he found Lori, and with her, they created a new, unexpected life. How throughout every hurdle and challenge, he chose positivity, humor, a smile, and gratitude. Our staff of 500+ gave him a standing ovation. Many left in tears, and approached David after thanking him for sharing his story. He told me afterwards he experienced multiple seizures on stage DURING his half hour speech. He knew beforehand it might happen… but it didn’t scare him, didn’t detract him from sharing his story. He just kept going, smiling throughout. He was just fine.
I met David and Lori for coffee after. They talked about the type of beans and coffee used at the locally owned coffee shop we were at, thinking of their coffee shop back home in Michigan. Everything was normal. Old friends catching up. It was fine – everything was just fine.
David held a book reading that evening at the Bookworm. Lauren. Gail. Jay. All of these high school friends I hadn’t seen in so long, coming to support David. His girls came at the end – two little princesses in dress up clothes; their baby sister with Grandma in Papillion, where David and I grew up. It was fine – he was fine. He was promoting his book.
The icing on the cake – surgery. David found a miracle surgeon in Texas just months later who thought she could remove the ‘inoperable brain tumor’. He stayed awake the whole surgery talking to Lori. She removed the majority of it! MIRACLE!!! Again – has this all been a dream?!? It’s gone!! David and Lori – watching their three babies grow up with their white picket fence, drinking beers on their front porch. It was fine – he was fine.
A note from David:
Hello everyone. We have received some difficult news about my health recently. My cancer has spread into other parts of my brain and spine. At this point, the doctors have estimated I have 4-6 weeks. Last week after a brain scan they first estimated four months, but when they saw the cancer on my spine this week, they reduced it significantly.
Now that this is all very present, I want you to know that I am not scared of death. Lori and I have full confidence in the future of our family. She will continue to be an amazing mother to our girls. I am so grateful for Marian, Viola, and Etta. ❤️❤️❤️
Marian, I see in your face – I have seen it in your Momma and Daddy’s posts from Day One – you will take no prisoners and conquer the world. You are your Father’s daughter.
Viola – you are proof of the miracle that was MEANT TO BE – the true love between your Momma and Daddy. You are unique, and everything your parents love: music, nature, poetry in word and beyond.
Etta – your Daddy was the only boy. Your Momma is the only girl. Your name means ‘ruler of the home’. Just look at your perfect face!?! Your Daddy will be smiling on you and proud of you every day of your life.
Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” My question: why does God take all of the good people? Why children and teens who have so much innocence and desire to learn, why them? Why people like Cody, who just say it like it is in the midst of so much BS – who refresh us with honesty, love and goodness? I don’t wish death on anyone, but when we are surrounded by so much hate, idiocy, ill will towards others and each other… why Cody. Why Evan. Why Heather. WHY DAVID.
Baby girls – grow up knowing your Dad wanted to change the world, and he was doing it in so many places including here in Omaha, Nebraska and your home of Grand Rapids, Michigan. A lot of people TALK; very few DO. Your Dad was a doer. A lot of people BOAST; very few have what it takes. Your Mom DOES.
Lori – from one wife to another, you are in my prayers. Every day.
David – we have one life. ONE. You have lived it with zest, humor, drive, vision, flair. You wake up every day and live TO THE MAX. I am not mad at God – I am thanking him for introducing you to my life and giving you to the world. So many people are dealt a hand, and crumple and cry. They blame others. They lie down and give up. You fought – you laughed – you used your lessons to inspire others – you never lost sight of what matters, LOVE, for your wife and your girls. You have given me not only great memories, but new perspective.
“Because life is short. But sweet for certain.”
David, do you still love Dave Matthews Band? My husband met him backstage once – as cool in person as he seems on stage. Dave gave the quote mentioned above. LIFE IS SHORT. But oh, how sweet. How many of us don’t see that? We focus on the negative. You have always focused on the positive.
David, you continue to inspire me every day. I am thankful for you. You have made a difference in this world to everyone you have touched, and your legacy will live on. Jump, David, Jump – from one challenge to the next, from here to your next adventure.
Cheers to you, my friend.
The Wenzel family is sharing updates and accepting any donations their loved ones are willing to provide, anticipating costs in the coming weeks and months. CLICK HERE to follow their CaringBridge page.
I also highly recommend anyone and everyone to buy and read David’s book, Thank you Kung Fu, available online through most mass retailers. CLICK HERE to purchase his book online.
As a mom who lost her daughter – Heather Roberts – to brain cancer, I am so very sorry to hear that another mother will be losing her child. I am also sorry that another family is going through such a terrible time filled with uncertainty and sadness. And as a daughter who lost her father to brain cancer when she was 12, I am so sad that David’s children will not physically have him by their side as they grow and navigate life’s journeys. No words can offer comfort, so I won’t even try. May this family feel the love of so many who are standing by them and holding them up in prayer, kind thoughts, and support.
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