Mark & I have always wanted to go on a mission together. It is something that I made Mark promise that he would do when we got older and grew an inch or two (mostly around the middle!) Well that time has come; in fact it started about 3 years ago when we were not quite as old...
Selling Our House: Step one began in the spring of 2015. As we talked about a mission we knew that part of the preparation would be to sell our family home with a very large, high maintenance yard. We did not want to trim the hedge and stain the fence or the deck when we in our eighties. Real estate prices were just starting to rise after a rather long real estate bottoming out and since I knew a good Realtor, we decided that we would start the process. But oh, where to start? Do you know how easy it is to collect stuff in a house with a 4-car garage, a carport, an attic and lots of storage space? Needless to say we had a lot of “stuff”. We had a huge garage sale and sold a lot for cheap. Some was hard to part with but very impractical to keep. The Halloween Butler for one example. I am kind of sorry it is gone. Foosball table, Christmas decorations, lawn mowers, tillers, etc, etc. We took every thing that did not sell to Good Will (at least 6 trailers full of stuff) and at least that many trips to the dump. It was months worth of work!
Now time to put the house on the market. Within a few weeks we had a near full price offer and the family that made the offer turned out to be members of our church with a large family. We were happy to have our home with so many good memories go to a family that could enjoy it as much as we had for 32 years! Our children seemed to have a harder time parting with the house than we did, but it was a sad day for all to say goodbye to the many memories that this “temporary rental” then purchased, fixed up, loved home had for all of us. Easter egg hunts in the “forest”, many, many whiffle ball games, parties on the back deck, jumping off the roof to the trampoline (not all of us had this memory) years of a big garden (not all of us liked this memory either), singing around the piano, Christmas nativity plays, hundreds of shakes made, friends and family memories will live at 3914 S. Bowdish forever!
With the house selling so quickly, we were in desperate need for somewhere to live! We talked about just renting an apartment but the price of apartments was outrageous. So we started looking to rent a house or duplex. We started looking at Craig’s list and there were no duplexes listed. Mark happened to look at The Spokesman Review online and found one listing for a duplex rental. We went to look at it and knew right away it was perfect! (another miracle in the mission saga. The duplex was on a dead end road, in very good condition. It had a 2-car garage, something that I was really thankful for and an unfinished basement with room for an office for Mark and a place to put beds for family visiting. We rented it as fast a we could and even paid for an extra month’s rent to hold it until we closed on our house. The rent for the duplex was less than any apartment we had looked at AND the landlord took care of mowing lawn and all the pruning of bushes and trees AND snow removal!
Sweet Scarlett Mary joined our family in February of 2016. After a 6-week recovery from her C-section, Michelle had colostomy surgery. A week after this major surgery the doctor called Michelle and told her that some of the intestine they removed was cancerous. They told her it was stage III cancer (meaning that some of the cancer had spread to at least 3 lymph nodes). Michelle started chemo treatments 6 weeks after the colostomy surgery. Scarlett was only 12 weeks old.
Thoughts of a mission at this time were set aside as we helped Jon and Michelle and their family of 4 young children, the oldest was 8 years old, through this very difficult 6 month period of chemo treatments. Michelle was totally amazing during it all with a smile on her face most all of the time. Jon and Michelle’s family and their ward (the Evergreen Ward) were super supportive during all of this time also.
Many miracles were witnessed including the recovery of Michelle to much better health. By the summer of 2017 Michelle was doing quite well and the cancer was in remission. In July of that year we had a 90th birthday celebration for Mom/Granny (Mary Worthen) at Bear Lake in Utah. All of the Mark and Karen Spear family, but Tanner who was thick into playing summer basketball trying to earn a good college scholarship, were present, as well as many other family members and friends. Bill and his family came from North Carolina to join with us!
Fall of 2017 found us 2 years out of our home and excited with Tanner’s senior year of basketball. We decided that we would start our mission papers in January of 2018 and put our availability date as April 1st (after high school basketball season was over). We had heard from others that the medical forms needed for Senior Missionaries was quite extensive, so we gave ourselves plenty of time for the process. We were both still working. The real estate market was hot and Mark was very busy, and I was working at least 40-50 hours a week.
In January 2018, we met with Bishop Anderson to get our Mission paperwork started.
We made our doctors’ appointments and got started right away.The doctor’s appointments went well, but it was the dentist that proved to be the problem. Mark had a dental cleaning appointment at the end of January and the doctor told Mark he had decay under an already existing crown. The dentist, Dr. Rich, recommended that the tooth be pulled and an false tooth implanted. The problem with this, besides being expensive is that it is a 6-month process. This certainly would NOT meet our April 1st deadline.
We finished our paperwork and had our final interview with the stake President, Brent Byers, and he submitted our mission paperwork electronically marking September 1st as our availability date. This would give us just enough time for the tooth implant to be completed.
The Church had a fairly new website where Senior couples could view the available areas where senior couples were needed. You could search by language, by price of mission and type of mission (i.e. Member/Leader Support(MLS), Church Education System (CES), Mission office, Humanitarian). We decided that we would prefer, Mission Office or MLS mission, and looked at only the English-speaking missions. Of the missions that were available with those parameters at the time that we submitted our paperwork, we submitted as our preferences, the following 6 missions:
New Zealand MLS (Member and Leadership Support)
Bulgaria Mission office
South Africa Mission office
Mark started the implant process as quickly as he could get an appointment with an oral surgeon. Dr. Sauter pulled his tooth on February 21st and grafted in some bone so that the new tooth could be implanted into his jaw. Then that bone had to heal for three months. On May 4th he had a second oral surgery where a socket for the implant could be inserted and that had to heal for 3 months.
In between all this craziness Jessy and Josh were trying to plan a trip to Germany where Josh’s parents, Bard and Adele were serving a Senior Mission. Before Jessy purchased the tickets, we knew about the implant and so told her that we probably would not be leaving on the mission until September. Jessy and Josh did not want to go to Germany too late in the summer, so they chose the middle of May and bought tickets.
Wanting to give the Medical Foot Center plenty of time to train someone, I gave her notice for my last day to be May 15th, just before going to New York to watch Jessy’s kids. The doctors talked about hiring someone in the 1st of April and that person could have 6 weeks to train before she left. Dr. Woolley had someone that he knew from the YCMA in mind and spoke to that person who agreed to take the job and start April 1st.
Come April 1st my job replacement had some family problems that prevented her from taking the job, so the doctors were looking elsewhere for a replacement and by then I knew I would still be around after our trip to New York so I ended up working until end of July.
Our mission call came via the mail on June 11th, 2018. Mark had always said that since we said we were willing to go to the Philippines, we would most certainly get called to go to the Philippines. I was all prepared to read Philippines when I opened that long awaited letter. We were quite surprised , pleased and excited when the call was to the Hamilton New Zealand Mission. The date we were to report to the Provo MTC was September 3rd, 2018.
We wrote our letters of acceptance to the First Presidency that night and were thrilled to begin all mission preparations. At last! A place and a date!
Little did we know that New Zealand had such strict requirements to obtain a visa to be in the country longer than 90 days. One of the requirements was to have a special medical exam from a “Panel Doctor”, a doctor qualified to verify medical status for Canada, Australia and New Zealand all of which have socialized medicine in their countries. The Church sent us a list of qualified Panel Doctors and the closest doctor to us was in Seattle and the next closest was in Provo Utah. Also, the tests were not covered by insurance and it was $650 for each of us! But we carried on and made an appointment to see a doctor in Seattle.
Just a couple weeks after we received our call Michelle started having some pain in her stomach. At first they thought is was her Crohn’s acting up, but a CT scan revealed a cyst on her ovary. A surgery was scheduled for her right away. The doctors did not think it was a return of her colon cancer. She had had regular scans for cancer and she had a blood test just days before the surgery and the doctor told her it was very unlikely that it was colon caner due to the decrease of markers for cancer in her blood test.
Michelle’s surgery was on June 27th, 2018, the same day that Tanner left for the MTC in Argentina. Early afternoon of that day I received a phone call from a very shaken up Jon that Michelle’s tumor was indeed cancerous and it was a stage IV colon cancer, stage IV meaning that the original cancer had moved to another organ. This was of course was overwhelming, traumatic news! Oh, how our thoughts on our mission changed at that point. I thought, I cannot be half a world away when Jon and Michelle are going through chemo treatments again. Everyone was in major shock. The OB/GYN surgeon who removed the tumor and performed a complete hysterectomy for Michelle told Jon and Michelle that Michelle would probably begin chemo treatments in about 3 weeks, qualifying her statement with “but of course, I am not a colon oncologist”.
What a hurricane of emotions we all went through for the next weeks! Michelle could not get a appointment with an oncologist at Cancer Care NW for weeks. Cancer Care NW had lost a lot of doctors, both of the doctors that Michelle had worked with before were no longer there. The one doctor that did see her almost 6 weeks later was only going to be with Cancer Care NW for another month. Jon and Michelle were beside themselves wondering what to do. They were very proactive and made an appointment with another doctor in Seattle. They were able to get into a doctor in Seattle before anyone could see her here in Spokane. The Seattle doctor told her that she would recommend starting chemo right away. The doctor also told Michelle of a rather new procedure that Michelle may be a candidate for. It was called a HIPEC procedure and the Seattle doctor told her that there was a doctor in Spokane that performed this procedure and gave Michelle the name of that doctor, Dr. Ryan Holbrook.
Michelle’s Spokane oncologist appointment was just 2 days after the Seattle appointment. The oncologist here in Spokane stepped into the room never having looked at Michelle’s chart yet and did not have any kind of plan for her treatment. She had waited 6 weeks on pins and needles with thousands of worries and questions swirling around in her head. That oncologist bluntly told Jon and Michelle that she would probably be on some kind of chemo medicine the rest of her life and come back in a few weeks after I have had a chance to test your tissue (and Jon said, you mean the tissue you’ve had for 6 weeks) and I will have more of a plan for what we should do next.
Whoa! What a hard day for Jon and Michelle. But nothing keeps Michelle down for long. She got right on the phone and called Dr. Ryan Holbrook to try and get an appointment. After waiting 6 weeks she was on the offensive to get an appointment quick. Jon and Michelle had found out that Dr. Holbrook was Brad Reimer’s oncologist, so they had Brad reach out to Dr. Holbrook and explain Michelle’s case. Also, Mark and I knew Dr. Holbrook from when they were in the Hill Cumorah Pageant with us in 1994….the year that Dr. Holbrook moved to Spokane. So I also called and sent an text to Dr. Holbrook hoping to elicit a quicker appointment. Dr. Holbrook responded quickly, but he was out of town on vacation. Michelle found out also that Dr. Holbrook was the President of Cancer Care NW. Dr. Holbrook saw Michelle within a couple of weeks and told her that she was a good candidate for this very new Hi-PEC procedure and scheduled a date of September 17th for the procedure. This was nearly 3 months from the date that the surgery finding the cancer had taken place.
Let me explain a little about this HIPEC procedure. HIPEC is a cancer treatment that involves filling the abdominal cavity with chemotherapy drugs that have been heated. Also known as “hot chemotherapy,” HIPEC is performed after the surgeon removes tumors or lesions from the abdominal area. The tumor on Michelle’s ovary had burst just before surgery and spread throughout the abdominal area. For Michelle the surgery involve cutting her open from pelvic bone to rib cage, examining all of her organs for visible cancer, partially closing the wound and inserting via a tube the liquid chemo, which is swished around in your abdomen for 90 minutes. Mind you, Michelle had just had major surgery 3 months ago!
So our mission plans during this interval were off and then on, then off and on again and again. We just could not figure out what to do. Jon and Michelle spoke very strongly for the “mission on” argument. But we did not feel the same. Of course during this time we did not know if or when Michelle would start chemo treatments (remember it took 6 weeks for the 1st appointment). We fasted and prayed and prayed and fasted. We were not getting a clear answer.
We made an appointment to visit with President Byers to glean from his wisdom. On the way to the appointment I said, “I just want someone to be absolutely certain about what we are supposed to do.” President Byers told us right away that he had a feeling about what we were going to talk to him about, but he asked us to explain about what was going on. We are pretty sure at this point we did not know about the HIPEC procedure.. We were still kind of thinking that Michelle would start chemo in July and chemo would continue for 6 months like last time. President Byers listened carefully and told us a few things that he had been thinking. He said that Senior Missionaries have a lot different rules than younger missionaries. President Byers said that we could call home everyday if we needed to and we could come home early if needed. We discussed a lot of different things, but still we did not know what to do. New Zealand seemed so far away. President Byers suggested that we fast and pray with our family and get our sons to give us a Priesthood blessing. Then President Byers asked if he could pray with us. Before he even began, President Byers was having a hard time with his emotions and was audibly sobbing as he prayed. In his prayer he stated that we should go on our mission and our family would be blessed. It was the CERTAIN answer I had been praying for. After he finished the prayer, President Byers said, “that was not me talking in the prayer. I had a very strong impression given to me from the Lord that you should serve a mission.”
We had a fast with our children. We related the experience with President Byers. We know there were mixed feelings among the children, but they all supported us in our decision to go forward with our mission, but we decided that we would delay it for one month so we could be of help to Jon and Michelle. So we asked President Byers if that would be possible and he found out that it would be, so we received new information from the Missionary Department that our date to report to the MTC would be October 1st, and all the arrangements from SLC were changed. At that time we were just thinking we would be around for half of the chemo treatments. As it later turned out we were able to be with Jon and Michelle’s kids for 10 days after her HIPEC surgery.
During this same time period my Mom’s health was starting to wane. In May she was taken to the hospital and it was found that her heart was working at only 20 percent of normal. She could have surgery to correct some of the issues, but the doctor did not think she could survive the surgery. They thought she would only have a few months to live. We made five trips to Utah between May and October. That was a lot of miles on poor Jeeves (we name our cars)! It was good, however, to have that time with Mom and Marsha.
So coming back to Michelle’s HIPEC surgery that was scheduled for September 17th. A week before her surgery she started having severe stomach pains. More CTs were taken and it was found that she had a bowel blockage. She was hospitalized and was treated for the blockage hoping that it might resolve on its own, but it did not. The only other choice was to surgically go in and fix the blockage. Dr. Holbrook said they would just have to wait until her surgery in a week. So more time for Michelle in the hospital, again a good thing that we were home to help with children, Michelle convinced the doctor to let her come home with a liquid nutrient fed through her port for a couple of days before the surgery.
With Michelle’s surgery pending and our departure scheduled for 2 weeks later we decided we would move out of our duplex by Sept 17th so we would be all ready to help with Jon and Michelle’s kids while Michelle was in the hospital. The doctor told her she would probably be in hospital for 2-3 weeks. So we packed up the house sorting out things that we would take on our mission and things that we would need for the 2 weeks that we would be staying with Emily before we left on our mission. Our bishop, Scott Williams and his wife were going to move into our duplex and had already made plans to do so. While packing up the last box in our kitchen, Mark received an email from the Mission Travel department letting us know that New Zealand was requiring more tests for Mark’s heart before issuing a visa. This was 2 weeks before we were to leave and after we had packed up and moved everything in our home!
We thought that we would have to go back to Seattle to have the additional tests performed but when we called the panel doctor in Seattle he told us that we could just have the tests done in Spokane and send the results to him. Mark got a recommendation from his Primary Care doctor, Allen Skidmore, for a cardiologist and an appointment was made within a week. I had a final cleaning for my teeth at the same time as his appointment and so could not go with him, but I remember the phone call that he made to me after the appointment. Mark said, “we won’t be going to New Zealand on Oct 1st, the cardiologist found that I have aFib and need to be monitored for at least a month.
We found out later that this heart problem had NOT been missed during all of the other medical tests, it could not have been missed, but it was a new heart problem. The cardiologist, Dr. Wagner advised Mark to get a Cpap machine immediately and started him on blood thinners. The biggest fear of aFib is blood clot and possibility of strokes. Luckily Mark had already had a sleep study test so he was able to get a Cpap machine right away. Dr. Wagner wanted to check Mark in a month to see if the aFib would resolve itself. So a month later Mark’s heart was still in aFib and a procedure was scheduled to stop his heart and shock it back into rhythm. That appointment was made for Oct 17th, two weeks after we were supposed to have been in New Zealand.
Michelle made a miraculous recovery from her HIPEC surgery. She came home after just 6 days in the hospital. Dr. Holbook said he had never seen anyone recover so quickly. We helped with kids for another week and then Michelle’s Mom Suzi and her sister Katie came to Spokane to help with kids.
Mom, who had surprised us all by still being alive, but was getting weaker by the day. With Michelle taken care of for a while and waiting around for the cardio version (shocking of Marks heart) procedure, Mark and I decided that we would go to Utah for 10 days to visit Mom and help Marsha. We drove to Utah October 4th 2018 and drove back on Sunday October 14th.
Mom passed away early Tuesday morning Oct. 16th, so I turned around and flew back to Utah on Tuesday and Mark had his cardio version procedure on Wednesday Oct 17th. Mark’s heart went right back into rhythm , but his doctor would not sign a release saying he was ok for missionary service until his heart had stayed in rhythm for at least a month. So another appointment was made for November, now almost 2 months after our time to be in New Zealand.
Mark and Emily and Jon drove back to Utah (an 800 mile trip) on Friday the19th and Mom’s funeral was Saturday, October 20th. Then the three of them drove back to Spokane on Sunday October 21st, just a week after Mark had made that same trip. I flew home on Monday and went to work for a couple of days at Medical Foot Center to cover for someone that was on vacation.
We felt so blessed to be able to be with family at Granny's funeral. There was no way, we had thought in June when we received our mission call that Granny would live through August. But the Lord knew and we counted this as one of our many “delayed mission” miracles.
Since we knew that we had to stick around until November 20th for Mark’s follow up visit to the cardiologist, we decided to visit Jessy and her family in New York for a while and the only airline tickets that were reasonable at the last minute were Nov. 8th to 17th. So we bought them. Michelle was recovering nicely and getting stronger every day and was not needing extra help most of the time.
However on Friday November 2nd that all changed. She began to have stomach pains again. Sadie's baptism was scheduled for Saturday, November 3rd and Michelle was feeling a little better (or she faked it well), but by Sunday afternoon she and Jon took a trip to the ER. A CT scan showed ANOTHER bowel blockage. Triple ugh!! Surgery was scheduled for the next day Monday the 5th of November. It turned out that the bowel was tied in knots but it still required opening up the same incision site nearly as long as the incision for the HIPEC procedure. This was a very hard setback. Michelle was just starting to feel much better from the huge HIPEC procedure and another major surgery was almost more than we all could take. We helped with the kids while she was in the hospital and thought of cancelling our trip to New York, but Michelle’s sister and Mom came from Utah to help when we left.
So here we are in November, still not knowing if we will get a visa to New Zealand, still not knowing if the cardiologist will even sign off that we can leave the country, still not sure if the Missionary Department will let us go out of the country.
One Sunday in November Emily came home from church and said that she had been talking with a ward member about how we were never going to get out on our mission. Her friend, Brytni Murray, told Emily that her parents were serving at BYU-Hawaii and they desperately needed more Senior Missionary couples there. They work with students on campus at BYU-Hawaii. That seemed to really ring a bell with both Mark and I. We said right away: That’s it! Let’s go to Hawaii.
We called Brytni Murry’s parents that night. They totally sold us on the mission. They said they loved their mission!! They worked with the students at BYU-Hawaii, helping the RA’s in the dorms and helping students with life skills. The students at BYU Hawaii come from all over, Japan, Mongolia, the islands….students from the United States are a minority. They gave us the phone number of the person that is their “boss”. Her name is Hannah, and Mark called her the next morning. They had a great conversation and she wanted to schedule a time to visit with me also. We guess we passed the initial processes because Hannah, with a cute London accent, said she would take it to the Lord and we would hear back from her. Within a day we got an email from BYU-Hawaii saying they had flagged us for the BYU-Hawaii mission and gave us verbiage for what President Byers should put on the information he submitted to Salt Lake. BUT, we still had to wait for the clearance from the cardiologist!
As we talked and prayed about whether to continue trying to get a visa for New Zealand or just say we would go within the United States and that we could go as soon as we had clearance, we felt that going within the United States and getting out sooner was the answer we felt best about. We conferred with President Byers and he agreed that it was a long shot that we would actually get to New Zealand. After we made the decision, Mark also talked to Mike Fisk who has a daughter living in New Zealand and from what Mike had heard from being in New Zealand and knowing a little about their visa process, Mike was also very doubtful that we would get a visa to New Zealand. That reinforced our decision. Also we knew that BYU-Hawaii had tagged us and we knew they needed us RIGHT AWAY!
President Byers thought that it would be best to submit other mission choices along with our choice for BYU-Hawaii, so the 2nd round of mission choices that President Byers submitted to the Missionary Department for us were:
Utica New York Mission (Jessy’s mission)
Washington DC North Mission
Raleigh NC Mission (where Bill and Kym live)
Therefore behold! As soon as we had medical clearance (Mark’s appointment with the cardiologist was Nov 20 and we had a clearance letter by Nov 21st) we sent an email to President Byers with our choices. We also added that we were ready to go NOW and we could be ready by December 3rd. Of course November 21st was the day before Thanksgiving and President Byers went out of town for Thanksgiving AND the Missionary Department usually meets on Thursday and would not meet on Thanksgiving Thursday. So we had to learn patience AGAIN. President Byers was really nice and responded the day after Thanksgiving and submitted our choices to the Missionary Department. By Tuesday of the next week President Byers received an email from the Missionary Department, quote: The Spears have been approved to go for a reassignment and to begin serving soon. A reassignment letter will be sent to them after the reassignment is made, most likely tomorrow or Thursday.
Then Wednesday, November 28th, 2018, President Byers received another email from the Missionary Department, quote: “President Byers, I wanted to let you know that Elder and Sister Spear have been reassigned. Their new call letter and packet will be coming to them in the mail, via FedEx, in the next few days. Please let me know if you have any questions."
But the Call did not come Thursday or Friday or Saturday. So now it is Monday, December 3rd and we told everyone at church yesterday that it would come Monday. FOR SURE!
In hindsight however, we have been so blessed and have seen the Lord’s hand in our grossly delayed mission call.
*If Mark had not had a tooth implant and we left in April or May as was the original plan we would have most likely been in New Zealand for both (and then all three) of Michelle’s surgeries. We probably would have been able to go to New Zealand because Mark’s aFib did not surface until the end of September and we would have been long gone but the aFib would have gone untreated.
*If we had left September 3rd like the original call, we also would have been half way across the world when Mom passed away. We felt so torn leaving before she passed away, but we really thought it would be before September or October. We really don’t know what decision we would have made if it were time for us to go and she was so close to dying, but with tender mercy, the Lord made that decision for us.
*We were able to be with Michelle and Jon and their family through some very difficult times. I know they would have made it without us because there are so many, many people that love and care for them, but my heart would have been very heavy if I had been gone during those three major surgeries.
*We would have missed sweet Sadie Sue's baptism. We were feeling sad that we were going to miss it and were so happy to be there for that special day.
And Nixon had his tonsils out and I would have missed teaching him how to play Casino and having some fun one on one time with him.
*We saved some money by staying with Emily and her family and it has been a delight to stay with them. They have all been so kind and accommodating. We love being affectionately called “the basement people” and we love reading scriptures with the Christensens and being a part of faith, hope, charity love...we are a happy family. We love Katie’s hugs and piano playing and Garret’s singing and great play by play commentary of Gonzaga basketball games. And now I am a wee bit educated about Harry Potter! We would have missed out on all of that!