In the late fall of 1962, life was amazingly good for Beth and me. She was 23 years old and held a coveted position teaching high school English and journalism in the Austin public school system.
I was 26, serving my second term as a member of the Texas Legislature. We were euphorically in love, became engaged and set a wedding date for June 1963. Weeks later, our dreams were shattered with the crushing diagnosis that Beth had "terminal" cancer - melanoma. We were told, 'Beth will not likely live until June,' a mere six months away.
We felt like we had been hit by a truck, utterly devastated, heads spinning, searching for hope and grasping for help. From my work in the Legislature, I knew of MD Anderson. Beth's mother and I made arrangements to get Beth to MD Anderson immediately.
Dr. Lee Clark was waiting curbside for us when we arrived at the hospial. At that time, the hospital consisted of but a single, small, beautiful pink granite building. Dr. Clark opened the car door and took Beth's hand, and we walked into the hospital, where Beth remained for months.
We spent our engagement with Beth at MD Anderson and me in Austin, commuting to Houston on weekends and as many weeknights as possible. Dr. Clark was amazing. Little wonder he is referred to as the 'legendary Dr. Lee Clark.' He was our inspiration, our 'rock.' From that beginning, he became our treasured friend. The entire MD Anderson team was loving, caring, supportive and dedicated.
While the diagnosis that we were given in Austin seemed to be correct, the odds were defied and Beth was released a couple of weeks before our June wedding date. We were married as planned.
A tough beginning. But this story is ultimately a happy one.
Strong relationships are often forged in adversity. From coping with adversity comes strength, perspective and appreciation of what really matters - life itself, each other, family, friends and the good, decent people who, through the years, enrich life.
Fifty-three years later, Beth and I are still happily married, and grateful beyond description for God's blessings. While it was considered unlikely that Beth could have children, odds again were defied and we have a precious daughter, Elizabeth Epley, now an active and productive BOV member, with a special interest in pediatric cancer. Elizabeth and her husband Mark have given us two extraordinary grandsons, Sam and John.
MD Anderson is an important part of our lives, individually and as families - Gibbens and Epley. Nominated to the BOV by my longtime friend Larry Temple, I serve on the Executive Committee and have chaired others over the years. Beth and I have chaired several significant MD Anderson events, among them the institution's first event in our nation's capital, A Conversation With Sissy Spacek, with Bob Schieffer interviewing. Other events followed, with our constant friend and supporter Bob Schieffer, along with others such as Harry Belafonte and Tom Hanks. Teamed with our great friends Edwina and Tom Johnson (a BOV member from Atlanta), we've chaired A Conversation With a Living Legend® events at the Kennedy Center with the participation of such fighters-of-cancer as Jim Baker, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw and of course, Bob Schieffer.
The connection to MD Anderson that Beth and I share now spans a period of time greater than two-thirds of the institution's existence.
MD Anderson is the best in the world! It is made so by the dedicated and wondrous people who work at every level, bottom to top. It is a place of hope and heroism. All who come are the beneficiaries of the heroic work of the MD Anderson team of doctors, scientists, volunteers and employees at every level. We are, together, Making Cancer History®.
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