Junior Brooke Boxler recites her father’s battle with cancer and what she has learned

Brooke Boxler admires her family’s strength through the loss of her father and new additions to the family

Kate Ocker, JAG people editor

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At three years old,  junior Brooke Boxler was alone with her father Keith Boxler when he collapsed into a seizure.

“He had a seizure and fell to the ground when it was just me and him. I still remember it; we had to call the ambulance and everything. I was really scared,” Brooke said. “That’s when it all started. That’s when we found out that he had a brain tumor and that was making him have seizures.”

Young Brooke became more aware of her dads condition as his ten year battle continued.

“It changed when I started understanding it more and how serious it was,” Brooke said. “When I was little I didn’t really understand it at all I just knew he was sick.”

Along with the heart break of Keith’s illness came financial struggles for the family. He was unable to receive disability benefits for six months after he needed to quit his job which made money tight.

“It was terrible. [I experienced] a big range of emotions, from not knowing what you’re going to do, how your going to do by yourself, how the kids are going to do. It was a lot,” Brooke’s mother Tracy Rathburn said. “[On top of that] during that time it was hard to make the house payment because it was just my income.”

Friends and family supported the family by helping to organize and attend the Boxler Benefit Bash. Attire included matching t-shirts and wrist bands with a logo that read “cancer sucks grey matters” a play on words including the cancers official color and the grey matter that makes up brains. The donations kept the family a float while paying for expensive medical care.

“All of our friends and family got together and my work even donated some items for an auction,” Tracy said. “We had this big fundraiser for us to be able to make it before we could get on disability benefits. A lot of our friends in the community came to that and donated.”

He was always happy, and always had a smile on his face.”

— junior Brooke Boxler

Keith Boxler had three surgeries in a two year period. He traveled to M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas who supplied the best experts for him.

“They tried to get out as much as they could but by the third one [the cancer] was at a point in his brain were they just couldn’t do it without causing brain damage or killing him,” Brooke said. “They just left it and it just kind of went on from there.”

Right after Brooke’s 13th birthday her dad began to decline. He lost function in his right side and became too weak to walk. About two months later he was in need of hospice care. In his last two weeks family consoled Brooke, as her father passed on July 18, 2011 in the evening.

“He would make faces at us like he knew, he would just joke around,” Brooke said. “I had been on a walk with some of my family and my mom was in the kitchen doing something. Then the hospice nurse called everyone in and said that he was gone.”

The comfort of relatives and keeping busy when her husband was unable to speak helped Tracy get through this difficult time.

“Especially when he was in hospice for that couple of weeks because we knew what was eventually going to happen. We just kind of all gathered around and did stuff and had dinners and laughed,” Tracy said. “We all would talk to him even though he couldn’t talk back.”

During her late husbands battle with cancer, Tracy got through the pain by being positive about hope for a cure.

“You have to stay positive, you have to always think that maybe there is something that’s going to work, something that will make him better,” Tracy said.

Time and staying positive helped the family heal after Keith passed.

“It’s a big blow all at once, you know, after your loved one does pass away, time makes it better,” Tracy said. “It will get better, time will make it better, things will get back on track but until you’re going through it you don’t think it’s ever going to get better, but it does.”

After years of sickness and no cure Tracy bonded with her current husband Charles Rathburn who also lost his wife to cancer.

“My husband [went through] the same thing when his wife passed away,” Tracy said. “It was kind of amazing that we were able to find each other. Things seem to be settled down now. We’re all back in a rhythm.”

Tracy found connection with her Charles, and their similar experience of spouses with cancer. When her mom remarried, Brooke continued to be blessed by her family’s closeness with two new siblings Wesley, 11, and Emma who is eight. They too understood what losing a parent was like because they had gone through a similar situation as Brooke and her 18 year old brother Evan.

“They would talk about their spouses together we would all talk about what we went through and the challenges we faced,” Brooke said. “That just brought everyone closer. It helped a lot.”

Keith’s constant example of positivity is motivation for Brooke. The phrases he said and the happiness he gave is a reminder to be joyful.

“I’ve become more knowledgeable of how cancer can affect someone and everyone around them,” Brooke said. “He always said it is what it is and just take everyday like it’s your last and that’s just how I’ve always looked at it now. He never let his illness affect him he was always happy always and had a smile on his face.”

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