By Matt Schepeler
Last summer we ran a story on Joseph Shepard of Addison, who had gone through a long run of hard times.
Shepard had been dealing with an aggressive form of cancer since 2009 when he discovered a suspicious lump on the side of his neck. Since that time doctors removed all of the lymph nodes from his neck. They cut out his tongue and replaced it with muscles taken from his back. They flooded his system with massive amounts of chemicals and radiation. They most recently took muscles from his leg to reconstruct his neck. When we met, he had a hole in his neck and a feeding tube coming out of his stomach.
Joe has been cut, stitched, sliced and poked more than any person should ever have to endure. Yet when you visit with him, he has a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile. He has a way of making you feel better. He can’t talk, as his voice box has been removed, but he is a pretty fast writer, and after spending a few minutes with him, no one can deny that Shepard is special. While cancer has thrown everything it has at the 60-year-old, Shepard will look you in the eye, smile and make a muscle with his biceps as if to say “It hasn’t whipped me yet.”
His wife, Linda told me that “Doctors at the University of Michigan call him their miracle patient. They say he is an inspiration to them to keep going.”
When I wrote the story, Joe and Linda were going through difficult financial times. The cancer treatments had left them in a six-figure hole. “He has been diagnosed with cancer seven times. They told him in 2014 that he only had four months to live,” said Linda. “They told me to take him home to die. But I told them ‘You guys are not God.’”
Linda retired from her job to help care for Joseph when he had his new tongue made. “I couldn’t take care of him and work too. I am still working, I am just not getting paid,” she said with a smile. “That is the only difference.”
Since then, the couple has done their best to get back on their feet. Joe went from being on his back to working 10-hour days, seven days a week at a factory in Hudson. There was still hope, and, the truth of the matter was, Joe and Linda still had each other. That was the most important thing. She was his voice. He was her miracle man. Together, they could face anything.
But in recent months Linda hadn’t been feeling well. Joe noted that she had trouble breathing, but he couldn’t get her to go to the hospital. “She said ‘No, I’ll be alright. She did this every day for months,” scribbled Joe on his notepad last week.
But on Friday, May 25 at 1 a.m., Linda finally agreed to go to the hospital. “She said ‘I can’t breathe,’” wrote Joe. “I said ‘Let’s go to the hospital’ and she said ‘O.K.’ I went in the other room and put my pants and a shirt on, and when I came back into the living room she said ‘Take me, Jesus.’”
Linda slumped to her side. “I leaned over, and she was gone,” wrote Joe.
He called 911, but, of course, could not speak. “I banged the phone and they knew I needed help, and they showed up right away.”
It was too late. Linda could not be revived.
Of course, Joe is still trying to climb out of the financial hole from the cancer treatments. He said he remains behind in his tax payments, A cousin, Russell Schramm, started a gofundme account to help with funeral expenses at www.gofundme.com/dhbx2k-please-help-with-funeral-costs.
Joe, of course, will battle on. That is what fighters do. He has a bad knee but can still work. He spent a week in the hospital not long ago with a blood infection, but the cancer is still in remission.
Hopefully, a few people will read this story and lend Joe a helping hand to help pay for Linda’s funeral.
It also doesn’t hurt to be reminded that no matter how bad things get for us, we don’t have to look far to find someone whose struggles may make ours pale in comparison.