WILLIAMSBURG— It’s been six years since doctors detected an aggressive cancer in John VanDusen’s saliva gland on the right side of his face.
The grim diagnosis not only tested his family’s faith, but helped shape its future.
“There were times when John would call and the chemo was making him sick and the kids would stop and pray for him,” said his wife, Karen. “Then he slept really good that night. He was gone three months without us. I don’t know what they did before cell phones.”
Early on, doctors decided to attack John’s cancer with an arsenal of radiation and chemo, but it meant a long stay at the Detroit Karmanos Cancer Hospital.
The struggle inspired Melody VanDusen, the couple’s daughter, to write about the faith that kept her family strong during that time in a winning “Parents of the Year” essay submitted to Lake Superior State University. Her first place award means John and Karen VanDusen will be honored during the university’s Nov. 8-10 homecoming weekend.
“We’re invited to sit in the president’s box and watch the hockey game and sometime during the game we’ll go on the ice and be awarded the plaque and be introduced as Melody’s parents and she’ll go with us,” Karen said.
Melody, now 25, was attending Northwestern Michigan College at the time of her father’s treatment; her younger brother was in high school. John often reminded her that faith in God would pull them through, she wrote.
“To this day, my father still stands as a reminder of the power of positive thinking and faith in God above,” she wrote.
Her mother had her own challenges, she wrote. Toward the end of the 2009-10 school year, she learned her job was getting cut, forcing her into a tough decision. She would either have to find new work or learn how to drive a school bus.
“Although this may seem like an insignificant task, you need to take into consideration that you are driving a large vehicle with the responsibility of safely transporting 30 or more children to and from school when you are only used to driving a Toyota Camry,” she wrote.
Karen said she’d never driven even a van before then, but said the school district’s training was excellent. She now drives a school bus full-time. And John, who also runs a charter boat business, returned to his school bus job soon after his recovery, despite doctors’ worries that his body was extremely susceptible to germs.
John remains cancer free and is considered cured, but he still faces challenges. His facial nerve was removed in order to capture the tumor, causing him to lose feeling on the right side of his face, which droops. He faces reconstructive surgery next year.
“I can’t open my jaw that wide, but I’m just happy to be alive,” John said. “The thing that gets us through is the people around us. The love for each other. That’s the thing. If we weren’t Christians with our beliefs, I don’t know how we could endure what we did. That gives us hope. That’s what it is. Our faith in God is what gets us through.”
Melody’s essay has a happy ending. She’s met her “Prince Charming,” plans to get married next year, and will graduate with a degree that allows her to pursue her passion of teaching kids about nature.
“In the new chapter I am writing in my life, I can only thank God and my parents that they raised me the way they did,” she wrote.