Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Man loses long fight to cancer

By GARRICK FELDMAN

Andrew Parker, who had fought a brain tumor much of his life, wanted to see his sister and her family in Atlanta one last time over the Thanksgiving weekend. He was supposed to fly with his mother, Erika, but he had misplaced his wallet and didn’t have a picture ID that he could use at the airport. Mrs. Parker, who was born in Germany, decided to visit her daughter alone since the two plane tickets had been paid for, and she didn’t want to waste both tickets.

But while she was in Atlanta, Andrew called her from Jacksonville and told her he wasn’t feeling well. “He said something was wrong with his left hand,” Mrs. Parker recalled last week. “He couldn’t open his medicine bottles. The next evening, he fell twice, once in his room and in the bathroom.”

Her son David, who is a photographer and copy editor at The Leader, and another son, Walter, stayed with Andrew until she returned, but his condition was deteriorating fast.
He’d had brain surgery last February, his second in 27 years. Both times he’d complained of headaches, but since he hadn’t been ill all those years, he and his family were hoping he wouldn’t have a brain tumor again.

Andrew had complained of headaches in high school and said he couldn’t see well, but at first doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him. His father, Davis, had served at several Air Force bases around the country and in Germany. Andrew fell ill the first time back in 1978, when he was 17 and attending Jacksonville High School. “It took a long time to figure out what was wrong with him,” said Mrs. Parker. “They were treating him for sinus problems.” But an Indian doctor at Little Rock Air Force Base realized Andrew had a brain tumor and sent him to University Hospital in Little Rock for treatment.

“The doctor could see the tumor pressing against his eyes,” Mrs. Parker said. “That’s why he couldn’t see well.” He had his first operation and radiation treatment at UAMS, and his chances of long-time survival looked good. “They said if he makes it for five years, he’ll live,” his mother recalled. “But it came back 27 years later.” Doctors at UAMS operated on him again when his tumor grew back, but they couldn’t use radiation this time because he had reached his lifetime limit back in 1978. So when he fell ill again last month, he had chemotherapy treatments at UAMS, but no more radiation or surgery.
“Andrew said, ‘That’s it for me.’

“There’s a new kind of chemotherapy, but it’s very expensive,” she said, “and Medicare doesn’t pay for it. He had a very powerful tumor. “The day before he died, he reached up to Heaven with his one good arm as if he was ready to go,” she continued. “I was there when he died. I was holding his hand. I said, ‘You’re feeling cold.’ He was breathing hard. He just kind of let go.”

Andrew died Dec. 14 at the age of 45. A memorial service was held Dec. 19 at Hope Lutheran Church in Jacksonville. “He doesn’t have to suffer anymore,” Mrs. Parker said. “No more tumors. No more drugs. No more shots. No more doctors. No more suffering.”
“He’s in Heaven now,” she said. “He’s better off where he is now. I do know he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He is happy now.”

His brother David said, “He was an example of patient endurance in suffering. Why he and selective others have to endure such suffering is unknown now, except that they are examples for us of heroism and courage in the face of misery, but all will be revealed by God.

“I’m looking forward to our reunion,” he added, “when all sadness, isolation and suffering will be forgotten and perfect health and joy restored.” Andrew’s ashes will be scattered over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, where his dad was stationed in the 1970s and where Andrew spent his happiest days before he fell ill.