Courage

Travis Knopp Family Story


In May 1986 our 12-year-old son, Travis, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a medulloblastoma. He was diagnosed on a Friday and within 3 days he went from being a beautiful, fun loving boy to lying in a hospital in an induced coma, unable to respond.

Two days after the brain tumor was removed, Travis suffered a severe stroke. He was unable to walk, talk or do anything. Our worst fears soon became reality. The pathology report came back as cancer. We were told his prognosis was very grim. The doctors were honest with us and explained that he was unexpected to live. We were told by our doctors to ‘go home and prepare for the inevitable.” But, he was our child. How can a parent give up on their child? While there was any shred of hope, we clung to it. We vowed to do all we could to help him. We prayed and many, many people prayed for us. The battle of our life was about to begin.

Travis was in Hershey Medical Center for 6 weeks after the original diagnosis and surgery. He then was transferred to Elizabethtown Rehab Hospital for several more months before becoming stable enough to come home. He had to basically ‘start over’ in life. He had to learn how to walk, talk, write, feed himself, dress himself, basically had to relearn everything.

When he regained his strength the doctors felt he was stable enough, the next battle began. Travis was scheduled to begin chemo and radiation therapy. This was a real struggle for him. The radiation made him very weak and tired; and due to becoming extremely sick from the chemo and being unable to eat very much, Travis’s weight began dropping. He went down to 50 pounds. The doctors told us if he did not improve, the prognosis, again, was extremely poor. He had to have surgery to have a feeding tube inserted, which was his only chance of survival. Even after all of this, we still did not give up hope.

Several years passed by. These were years of chemo, radiation, physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy, more surgeries and many hospitals stays; but, with all of this, we were finally beginning to see progress. His weight was starting to go up and he was beginning to show signs of improvement.

After a 7 year battle our son was cautiously felt to be in remission. He was deemed a ‘miracle’ by his doctors.

Travis struggled through those years to pick up the pieces of the life that had passed him by. Now he was able to start leading a more normal life, a life very different from the one we had become so accustomed to; one that consisted of hospitals, doctors, drugs, tests, therapy, etc. He was able to graduate from high school, which was a real accomplishment for him. He learned how to drive, bought a car, got a job and even had a girlfriend. We were so thankful. God was restoring to him all those years he had lost.

Travis’s story was not over, however. It was about to take an unexpected turn. In the summer of 2001, we received a call from his work. We were told that Travis had fallen and was unable to get up. We rushed to his work and then to the doctor. From there he was taken to the ER at Hershey Medical center. After blood work, tests and CAT scans, the doctors informed us that Travis had another brain tumor, a glioblastoma multiforme. Devastated, we returned home again to face the biggest challenge of our lives. The doctors explained to us that with more surgery, radiation and chemo he could possibly live a year, at most. Once again, we vowed to fight and not give up hope. God had done a miracle before and he could do it again. We earnestly prayed and many, many people prayed for us. However, God chose to answer our prayers in a different way this time.

In the year that followed we saw a change in our son. His personality was changing. He became so loving and caring. He told us he loved us all the time. Travis realized that he may not have long to live and desperately wanted to make a difference in the world with what little time he had left. But, what could he do with all the challenges he was facing himself? At first he began going with his father to visit some of the shut-ins from our church to try to encourage them. Then, one Sunday at church it was announced that there was a new ministry being started. One where people from the church would go out and feed the homeless every Sunday afternoon in our city. There was something he could do. He volunteered and helped to hand out food. Soon, however, due to having seizures, weakness and finally paralysis on one side, he was unable to continue. He was saddened by this; however, he did not give up.

One morning, when I was helping him get dressed, he said “Mom, is there such a thing as a card ministry?” I said “I think so.” “Maybe that is something I could do.” And so his card ministry began. We bought boxes and boxes of cards and every day he sent cards to every person he could think of. He sent cards to people on our prayer list at church, friends, family, neighbors, and other patients he had met at the hospital. As he became weaker, we helped him sign his name and addressed the cards for him.

As time went by, his seizures became more frequent and his weakness was progressing. Each day was a struggle. He could no longer walk without much help and he could not go up stairs. We began to sense that time was growing short. By the beginning of July 2002 he had another brain surgery and was sent to recover in a rehab hospital. This time, though, his recovery was not meant to be.

On July 25, 2002, at the age of 28, Travis’s long journey through this life came to an end. It was so difficult to say goodbye; but, we knew that God knows how much suffering a person can handle and he was being merciful by freeing him from all his struggles. Travis was finally at peace and all of his suffering had ended. The healing that we had prayed so hard for had finally come, maybe not here on this earth, but Travis was now whole again in Heaven.

From this experience we learned so many lessons.

Being diagnosed with cancer is not the end of your life. It is just the beginning of a new journey that will take you down a different path in life than you had expected to go. WE also learned that cancer cannot defeat you. It is a battle; but, it you fight it with the right attitude, you can grow in so many ways and learn so many lessons that you would never have learned otherwise. I think this is best stated by the following:

WHAT CANCER CANNOT DO

Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot take away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot conquer your spirit. It cannot steal eternal life.

Cancer is not just a disease. It is a total lifestyle change. It not only affects you, but also your entire family. Your life now revolves around hospitals, treatments, doctors, etc.

We learned to be thankful. Even through our struggles we could always find something to be thankful for. We could be thankful for a good report from the doctor, for not getting sick from the chemo this time, for friends and family who supported us, etc. We were also especially thankful for Four Diamonds. As anyone who has cancer knows, the expenses involved in cancer treatment are tremendous. Travis’s first surgery, back in 1986, cost $60,000. Can you imagine, with the rising medical expenses, what that surgery would have cost today? Without help from Four Diamonds, we could not have afforded to give our son the excellent care that he received. We are also extremely thankful for all of the people who have helped to raise funds for such a worthy cause as this. We deeply appreciate your sacrifice and all the hard work you did to help others who are less fortunate than you. You are a real blessing! The main thing that a person wants, who has lost a loved one, is to know that their loved one is not forgotten. Because of the compassionate way you honor those who have lost their battle to cancer, we can be assured that our loved one’s memories will live on. For that we are extremely grateful.

Going through this experience has given us a real compassion for others going through similar problems. Who can better say they understand what a person is going through than someone who has been in the same situation.

We also learned that everyone has struggles. Maybe they don't have cancer, but everyone has something. I think God has put us here on earth to help and encourage each other in our journey through life. We were so amazed at the outpouring of help and support that we received when our son was sick. We now have desire to reach out and help to encourage others in the way they supported us in our time of need. We found out there is so much you can do to help others. You could send a card of encouragement to someone who is sick, tell someone you love them, give a compliment, do a kind deed and expect nothing in return or forgive someone who has hurt you. The possibilities are endless. Maybe all you can do is give someone a friendly smile. I once read a quote that said “ if you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.”You never know, that smile you gave could really make a difference to someone who is hurting. Just think how much better the world would be if we all lived by the following words of William Penn. I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness i can show or any good thing i can do to any fellow being, left me do it now and not defer or neglect it, as i shall not pass this way again.

Finally, the most important lesson we learned is that life is short. Time goes by so fast. Our children grow up too quickly. SPend time with people you care about while you can. Don't forget to tell people you love them. They need to hear you say it. They may not be here tomorrow.

Life is too short.
Don’t waste a minute.
Enjoy each day
And everyone in it.
Tomorrow will come.
It could be your last.
Make the most of today.
Life passes too fast!

From Travis’s Brother Wayne

My brother Travis was one of the most selfless and inspirational people I have ever known. Despite having a difficult life fighting brain cancer from the time he was in 6th grade, he kept a positive attitude. Travis always found a way to focus on how he could help, and lift others up, no matter who they were.

Throughout the years, no matter what was going on, no matter how sick he got, he reached out to those who were hurting through a constant stream of cards. His words of encouragement and caring touched hundreds of lives and brightened countless days.

That care for others lead to what is still one of the most inspiring moments of my life.

I went to visit Travis in a rehab center while he was recovering from surgery. He was, as usual, in good spirits while we were chatting about his recovery.

During the conversation he mentioned how he had been wheeling himself around the rehab center in a wheelchair so he could encourage people that were there with him. I told him that was wonderful but that he should take it easy so he could retain his strength. His responded by telling me it was fine because there were people there much worse off than him.

Here was a man who was recovering from what would turn out to be his last surgery before passing away, and he was still more concerned with encouraging others and making them feel better than he was about himself.
I live every day striving to live up to that example. It is something that I try to teach my children because the world be a far kinder, more caring place if it had more people like Travis in it.

From Travis’s Brother Jesse

It's hard to believe it's been 16 years since my brother passed away. He was by far one of the most caring and compassionate individuals that I've ever known. Up until his last day, he cared more for others and his family than anything else. For me personally, I didn't always recognize all the ways that he had influenced me in my life. He was ten years older than me. And in a way, he sort of helped raise me throughout my childhood. We had a lot of time together, as were both in and out of hospitals, him for his cancer and me for my cleft palate. We had lots of good memories throughout our years together. I will always cherish those. Because I was young when he passed away, it's taken me some years to recognize all of the things he taught me and how much it influenced my life. One of the best example of my brothers compassion for others occurred at his funeral. Over the last few years of his life, he began writing get well cards to people he saw were in need at church and elsewhere. At his funeral there was a man who stood up and shared with us that he had received a get well card from my brother the day after he had passed away. He was amazed that someone so sick had taken the time to send him a simple card. Up until the end, he really cared for others. I can only hope someday, that I can be as compassionate and caring for others as he was.