By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — When someone has cancer, time seems to stand still and surge forward at the same time. The family lives through each day, suffering alongside the person and rejoicing on the good days. For seminarian Wes McKellar and his family, the support of friends, family and even total strangers has been a blessing.
Wesley, 20, had just begun his second semester of study at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward, Neb., when he felt the symptoms of a full-blown migraine headache come on. A local hospital’s emergency room treated him for a migraine and released him. The treatment had no effect, and his parents decided he should come home.
Shortly after his return home, he was diagnosed with two aggressive types of brain cancer, and underwent surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center Jan. 17 to remove the tumor. The surgeons were confident they “had gotten it all,” and the tumor was sent off to world experts to review and suggest treatment.
When the results came back, the McKellars learned that the majority of the tumor was a glioblastoma, with the remainder formed by a primitive neuroectodermal tumor or P-net. The experts suggested the exact same mode of treatment as the doctors at KU Med, and the long waiting game of chemo and radiation treatments began. Wes has been unable to return to the seminary.
Fellow parishioners of St. Andrew the Apostle in Gladstone stepped up to the plate to help with meals, visits, cards and posters, movies and DVDs, a fruit bouquet, and a fundraiser in March to help defray some of the family’s expenses. Father Vince Rogers offered encouragement, prayer and a quiet place in the rectory where Wes could spend time. Father Sean Fitzpatrick took Wesley under his wing.
Father Greg Lockwood, administrative director of the diocesan Vocations Office, told Wes and his family that “cancer is marathon, not a race.”
“That couldn’t be more true,” Wesley said.
He has been in and out of the hospital a number of times. He has had to deal with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments — sickness and fatigue, as well as a weakness in his right hand.
Then, at last, some good news. An MRI in early August showed exactly the same picture as one two months earlier, Wendy McKellar said.
“The doctors are 95 percent sure there are no new tumors. The glioblastoma is an unusual tumor, meaning it could come back and grow. But right now he’s tumor free, praise God!” his mother explained. She said it would take six months to wean Wesley off the daily dose of morphine he was prescribed for pain. “He now takes five chemo pills for one week a month, with 23 days off, until January and the end of the treatments for the tumor. He then will have an MRI every two months and … hope.”
That doesn’t mean Wes feels particularly great. He said, “I’m a little worse for wear at the moment. I get sick very easily and I have been (sick) the last few days. I try to read in my spare time but that often doesn’t get done if I am feeling under the weather. We have Netflix so I use that probably more than I should. Anointing of the Sick is a big part of my life. I receive the sacrament about once a week. Without that sacrament I don’t know how I would be able to move on. My Spiritual Director is Father Steve Hansen and we meet every month or so. I’m not the best at getting what he tells me I should do, done (due to cancer-related fatigue). I try. I’m meeting again with him on Sept. 4.”
Wendy said that Wesley spends much of his time in his new bedroom at home these days. “Ray Chirpich (a St. Andrew’s parishioner) finished our unfinished basement as a bedroom for Wes, and carpeted the stairs. Another parishioner, Dave Ferrara, did all the electrical wiring. It is a place where Wes can have peace and quiet and be by himself if he wants to or he can come up and socialize with family and friends.”
The McKellars adopted a dog last month, a hound-beagle cross, named Sophie after the Greek word for wisdom. Wes is her human. “I say Morning and Evening Prayer from the Divine Office, walk Sophie every 2 hours (with help from the family when they are home), do my spiritual reading and (hopefully) make it through my 20 minutes of meditation. I also have work prescribed from Speech as well as Occupational Therapy and Pain Management. I struggle to get it all done. “
Sophie has become a welcome addition to his day. A bit of a mischief-maker (the McKellars met a fellow beagle owner who commented that they are always getting their noses into trouble), Wesley said, “She is a great companion to have while everyone else is away.”
And the family is away much of the time: Scott is the Assistant Director of the diocesan Bishop Helmsing Institute, Wendy teaches at Holy Cross School and Wes’s siblings are in school.
Prayer is also important to the family. Wesley said, “When I don’t think I’m going to make it till the end of the race (or day), praying through the intercession of Charles Anthony Untz has picked me up (alongside the sacraments) more times than I can count. I am very dependent on his intercession.” Charles Untz was an 18 year old boy, who had a strong devotion to “My Lady,” the Blessed Mother. His main ambition in life was to be a saint. He was struck by a car in front of his home and died. “Many people are praying to Charles Untz to intercede for Wesley. The growing devotion to Charles Untz is amazing,” Wendy said.
A goal has been set for the next few months, to get through chemo. Wesley is also learning about behavior management and the psychology of pain through pain management therapy.
Wendy said, “His right hand was affected by the tumor, but he is getting the use of it back. He hasn’t given up! That’s a positive. All of us feel an amazing sense of being cared for. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who has helped us, prayed for us, fed us and cheered us. Please continue to pray. Cancer returns 100 percent of the time unless the Lord says it won’t. It’s in God’s hands.”