By Matt Schepeler
Over time, most people learn that the cure for self-pity is to take an honest assessment of their problems, then they realize somebody out there is worse off.
For those of you inclined to disagree, meet Joseph Shepard.
Shepard, of Addison, has 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 have removed all of the lymph nodes from his neck. They have cut out his tongue and replaced it with muscles taken from his back. They have flooded his system with massive amounts of chemicals and radiation. They most recently took muscles from his leg to reconstruct his neck. He has a gaping 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 Shepard, he has a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile. He can’t talk, as his voice box has been removed, but after spending a few minutes with him, no one would deny that Shepard is one tough hombre.
In fact, Shepard is a scrapper both literally and figuratively. When he is able, he collects metal scrap to help supplement the family’s income. And while cancer has clearly thrown everything it has at the 59-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.”
“Doctors at U of M call him their miracle patient,” said his wife, Linda. “They say he is an inspiration to them to keep going.”
Shepard is an outdoorsman who loves hunting and family. When asked to send us photos, the one he sent was of his granddaughter helping him collect wood. Another was of a 13-point whitetail he bagged a few years ago using a muzzle loader.
Before he got sick, Shepard drove a large wrecker and he used to tow semi tractors. Of course, he can’t remain on anyone’s payroll now because of his illness, but he still can collect scrap on his own time to make a few dollars.
“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. I told them ‘You guys are not God.’”
Linda retired from her own job to help care for Joseph “when he had his new tongue made,” she said.
“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.”
All of the medical procedures cost money. Big money. Shepard requires special food (when asked if he could eat a pork chop, he laughed), and they have done the best they can to pay the medical bills as they come.
“Our hospital bill is around $140,000 right now,” said Linda. “We just pay what we can each month.”
Of course, it is not enough. Family and friends have set up a special luncheon to help the family with bills and living expenses on August 5, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 10075 Herold Hwy. Those unable to attend can send a donation to Joseph Shepard, 10075 Herold Hwy., Addison, MI 49220
Perhaps the underlying message is, if people are able to help out a bit financially, wonderful, but don’t waste any time feeling sorry for Joe Shepard.
“We have been battling this for over seven years,” said Linda, and they aren’t about to quit now.
“They are teaching him right now how to swallow again,” said Linda. His taste buds are returning, she said.
“They say he is an inspiration,” she repeated.