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Ken and Pat were in their sixties when they discovered each other on an online dating site. Each was looking for a friend to spend some time with; they could not imagine the events they would come to experience together as they began their relationship. In A Journey of Love and Miracles, they tell the story of how they met and got engaged, and how Pat's cancer diagnosis changed the course of their love affair and their lives. This is a story of faith, love, and miracles that should be shared with others who face ...
Ken and Pat were in their sixties when they discovered each other on an online dating site. Each was looking for a friend to spend some time with; they could not imagine the events they would come to experience together as they began their relationship. In A Journey of Love and Miracles, they tell the story of how they met and got engaged, and how Pat's cancer diagnosis changed the course of their love affair and their lives. This is a story of faith, love, and miracles that should be shared with others who face cancer, its prognosis, treatment, and the aftermath.
They have chosen to share their journey through years of cancer diagnosis and treatment to provide hope and help to cancer patients and their families. Since the beginning of their time together, they have been faced with the insidious disease of cancer. Their story is proof that life can go on, full of love and friendship. For patients, families, and friends, the Birts share numerous helpful suggestions that have grown out of their journey together.
In A Journey of Love and Miracles, Ken and Pat Birt recall their inspiring life experiences, complete with fears and difficult decisions and tempered with love, support, joy, and miracles.
Ken Birt had moved to Independence, Missouri, leaving his previous home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to be near his sister, Barbara, and her extended family. He was recovering from a series of life-changing events. He had retired, attempted adjustment to not working and saw the end of a ten year relationship. And, little did Ken know that his life would be full of more changes and even miracles.
Ken found living alone in a new city, in a new state, in a new region of the country was not all he had hoped for. Without friends and with family members who had their own lives and priorities, he quickly became lonely. Enter, Match.com. Ken's profile on the dating site was simple. He emphasized he was looking for friends and was not a romantic relationship. And, most important, the friends had to live within twenty to thirty miles of Independence.
Pat Baker had also come out of a failed relationship. She lived in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, in the far southeast corner of the State. She worked as Administrative Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer of the regional hospital in Poplar Bluff. She was not a "regular" on match.com. However, on one lonely evening in October, 2009, Pat was looking at members of Match.com who were residents of Missouri and came across Ken's picture and profile. She was drawn to his pink golf shirt (Pat's favorite color) and his smile. She wrote a short e-mail congratulating Ken on his smile and the thirty-four pound weight loss that he had mentioned in his profile. Ken received the e-mail and thought, "No one ever contacts me on match.com. What is this all about?
Ken looked at Pat's photo and her profile and responded to Pat in an e-mail, "Where is Poplar Bluff, Missouri?" Regardless of the six hour distance between them, Ken looked at Pat's picture and thought, "She sure is cute." So much for the twenty to thirty mile distance rule!
Ken and Pat spent the remainder of October e-mailing and talking via Yahoo.com on a daily basis. Toward the end of the month, Ken began calling Pat and having lengthy conversations by phone. He learned about Pat's occupation and Pat learned that Ken worked part time in the "Leave No Child Behind Program" administered by a company called Achievia. Ken tutored groups of young elementary-aged children in Math and English and had recently become responsible for several schools, supervising the tutors assigned to those schools. As the days and weeks passed Ken decided, "I need to meet this woman regardless of my distance rule." Pat and Ken began to plan his visit to Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
In early November, 2009, Ken made his first trip to Poplar Bluff. It was a Friday and Pat was working. Ken, an early riser, had left Independence before daylight. He reached Poplar Bluff around Eleven A.M. After looking over the main thoroughfare of the small town and buying a pink rose for Pat, Ken met her at her home during her lunch break. They had a sandwich and Pat returned to work and Ken settled down for a much needed nap. Some things never change!
The weekend was fun. Ken and Pat went to Big Springs, a park a half hour from Poplar Bluff. There is a beautiful river running through the park fed by bubbling springs at the base of a rock cliff. Then they drove to Alley Springs and visited another nice park. On the way back to Poplar Bluff, they stopped for ice cream and at a small gift shop. Ken knew of Pat's love of bears and her favorite color, pink, so bought her a small pink stuffed bear.
Before Ken's leaving, Pat told him that her mother, a cousin and his wife, and Pat's half brother and his wife were coming to Poplar Bluff for Thanksgiving and asked, "Could you come for the weekend?" Ken had no plans so decided to make the trip.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Ken began another trip to Poplar Bluff. Pat had arranged to take the day before Thanksgiving from her job so they both worked together preparing the Thanksgiving meal. Ken offered to peel the potatoes for Pat. Ken peeled a dozen or more potatoes, dropping the peelings into the sink. Then he turned on the garbage disposal. Bad decision. The sink refused to drain and it was obvious that the potato peels had clogged the drain. Ken got a plunger but nothing would clear the clog. This event introduced Ken to another side of Pat. Pat calmly went to her tool chest, found a wrench, got under the sink, loosened and removed the drain pipe, cleared the obstruction (pounds of potato peels) and the problem was solved. "Wow," Ken realized, "There's more to this woman than I thought."
Pat's half brother and his wife arrived mid-Thanksgiving morning. Her brother's name is John and his wife's name is Tammy. Pat had shared the story of John with Ken earlier. It seems that John was the product of a relationship of her father's some forty-plus years earlier. Pat had known of John's existence but had never met him. After her father's death, Pat found a relative of John's mother who contacted John and told him of the sister he never knew he had. John had contacted Pat and they met for the first time. It was exciting for both of them. Pat had no other siblings and John had no idea he had an older half-sister. Pat and her new-found brother seemed happy to have begun a family relationship.
Pat's mother, Dorothy, arrived with Pat's cousin, Gary, and his wife, Terri. Ken was a little nervous about meeting Dorothy and Terri since he had heard Terri was a no-nonsense woman who either liked you or didn't. Fortunately, Ken seemed to pass the test with everyone. Dinner was great and the family had more time really to get to know one another. Ken returned to Independence on Sunday knowing he had to work on Monday.
During the following week, Pat invited Ken to come back to Poplar Bluff for a Physician's Christmas Party sponsored by the hospital. This would be the second weekend in December. Ken accepted. By now, both Ken and Pat knew this relationship was more than casual. Ken, joking, even asked Pat what kind of ring she would like if they got even more serious. Ken thought, "We are in our late 60's. Pat will just want a plain band that will match one for me." WRONG! Pat replied, "A solitaire in a gold setting." Pat now says, "Well, he asked what I wanted and I told him. But, I didn't expect to get it." Did she get it? Read on and see.
Ken made the third trip to Poplar Bluff, helped Pat decide which of three very nice formal dresses to wear and attended the Physician's Party. Ken got a chance to meet many of Pat's co-workers, friends who would mean so much to them over the next year.
During this visit to Poplar Bluff, Ken had decided that he did want to propose to Pat. Ken and Pat drove the two hours to Antonia, Missouri, outside St. Louis, to see Pat's mother. On that trip, Ken asked Pat to go outside while he spoke to Pat's mom. Ken told Dorothy that he was going to propose to Pat. Dorothy seemed happy with that news. Later, Ken invited Pat to come to Independence the week between Christmas and the New Year. Pat accepted and planned to drive to Independence on December 26 after spending Christmas in Antonia, Missouri, with her Mom and Pat's younger son, Bryan. Ken began thinking about proposing during that week and began to look for that solitaire.
Ken's oldest niece, Martha, and her husband Dennis, had a friend who owned a jewelry store. Martha assured Ken that Carolyn, the friend, would make him a wonderful "deal" on the ring. Ken went to the jewelry store and asked to see a solitaire so he could get an idea of the price. Carolyn brought out a beautiful stone. It was perfect. Ken asked the price and almost needed smelling salts. "Can you show me something a little smaller?" Ken asked. Well, as anyone who has first seen the perfect stone can attest, everything else looked small and cheap. Ken bought that first solitaire that he knew Pat would love.
Now, how would Ken propose to Pat? Ken has a sister, Barbara, two nieces and their husbands, and numerous great nieces and great-great nieces in the Kansas City area. After some discussion, everyone thought the proposal ought to happen on December 27, 2009, at the home of Becky and B. J., one of Ken's nieces and her husband. The plan was to have a nice sit down dinner with the whole family in attendance and then Ken would propose after dinner in front of everyone. Ken had an idea for a cake and Becky's daughter, Julia, would arrange it. It would be a sheet cake, half in Duke blue since Ken is a Duke graduate and an avid alum, and half in pink, Pat's favorite color. To emphasize the twenty to thirty mile rule of Ken's, the shape of the state of Missouri would show a line between Independence and Poplar Bluff. At the Independence end, a basketball would represent Ken and at the Poplar Bluff end, a cell phone would represent Pat, since so much of their early sharing had happened by phone. The cake would simply say "Congratulations Ken and Pat."
The day for Pat's arrival in Independence was December 26. The Kansas City area had experienced one of its worst snowfalls in years. Pat's older son, Jeff, lives near Kansas City and is a police lieutenant. He warned Pat, "Mom, it's really bad here. Are you sure you want to come?" Pat was in Antonia and the weather was sunny and pleasant and she said, "Sure, it'll be OK, son." Pat left Antonia and started the four and a half hour drive across the state. About half way, it began to sleet. The sleet was mixed with rain. And then, the snow started falling. Only one lane of I-70 W was open. Pat fell in behind a large truck and just followed. She was afraid to pull off the Interstate to get something to eat or drink or even take a bathroom break for fear of not being able to reenter the highway. Ken and Pat stayed in communication by phone as she made the trip. About four in the afternoon, Pat told Ken she was drawing near his duplex. Ken went to the front door and saw Pat at the base of a long hill leading up to the cul-de-sac on which his duplex sat. On the phone, Pat said, "Ken, I can't get up the hill." Ken said, "Back out and drive to the shopping strip area a block away, park and my neighbor will come in his four-wheel drive truck to get you." Pat nervously backed down the street with cars on both sides, scared she would slide into one. She did make it to the shopping strip and parked. The neighbor in his truck pulled up beside her. Now remember, Pat left beautiful weather. She was in a nice pant suit with dress shoes. The snow was over a foot high. She just passed her bags to the neighbor and slid to his truck. He delivered Pat to Ken's door.
Ken didn't know his neighbors well, having only spoken to them several times sitting on their patios. The neighbors invited Ken and Pat to have dinner with them.
Not being prepared for the amount of snow, the following day Pat took a gift card she had received for Christmas and bought a pair of boots she still refers to as her "logging boots." Living in Missouri, she got a lot of use from them.
The "engagement" party was planned for that evening. The road was clear enough for Pat and Ken to drive to Becky and B. J. Moyers' home. Upon arriving at the Moyer home, Pat was shocked at the number of people. There were over twenty family and friends there for the sit down dinner. Pat met everyone and was a hit with the family. Ken's sister, Barbara, and his niece's husband, Dennis, a policeman in Independence, had to leave to play and sing for a sing-along in a retirement home. But, they promised to be back for dessert. Upon their return, everyone was invited into the living room. Pat thought this strange since the house was huge and the living room relatively small. But, chairs were set up and Pat thought, "Maybe this is a family tradition, having dessert in the living room." Ken invited Pat to sit on a sofa next to him. Then Ken did the strangest thing. He began telling the assembled group how he and Pat had met. It was a rather long and drawn out story. Pat was convinced that Ken was crazy. Then closing the story, Ken said, "Now Pat, the family has met you and you have met the family. It's time to make you an official member." One of Ken's nieces had crawled around behind the sofa where Ken and Pat were sitting and had the ring on a heart-shaped dish. Ken got on his knees and asked Pat, "Will you marry me?" All twenty-plus people applauded. Thankfully, Pat accepted. The only concern the family had was whether Ken could get up from his knees. Congratulations flowed for a long time and the cake was brought out and enjoyed. Pat and Ken were engaged.
Over the following days Ken noticed that Pat was experiencing some pain as she got in and out of the car. She excused this by saying that she probably pulled her back lifting her luggage out of the trunk at her mother's. This story satisfied Ken but was something less than the reality. Pat had been suffering pain for a long period of time, but nothing had been uncovered after numerous visits to a number of doctors. (The history of her attempts to find the source of her pain will be covered in a later chapter of this book.)
Throughout this book, things that Ken and Pat have learned will be listed as suggestions.
Suggestion #1: It is important to tell those closest to you if you experience any discomfort or symptoms of any kind that concern you. Another person, friend or family, can support and perhaps advise you.
During earlier conversations, Ken had promised that he'd take Pat on a cruise for their honeymoon since Pat had never been on a cruise. The day after the engagement, Ken took Pat to AAA where they booked a one-week cruise to the Caribbean in May, thinking they'd marry in that month. Pat was flabbergasted. So much had happened in a relatively short period of time and Pat was overwhelmed.
Suggestion #2: It is always a good idea when planning a cruise or trip where trip insurance is available to pay the small amount for that. In the event of sickness or emergency, the insurance will save you from the lost investment.
New Year's Eve came and Ken had made reservations at his favorite restaurant, Yia Yia's in Overland Park, Kansas just outside Kansas City. They had no plans after dinner so decided to go to a casino where Pat played a slot machine near Ken. They were both dressed to the hilt for New Year's Eve. A lady playing next to Pat said, "Is that your man down the line here?" Pat replied, "Yes, it is." The woman continued, "You are a striking couple." That's a comment they have often heard and continue to hear. Pat beams every time.
Two days later, Pat returned to Poplar Bluff ready to show off "the rock" to everyone. Pat worked with a young woman, Stacy. The first morning Pat approached Stacy, held out her left hand and asked, "How do you like my new finger nail polish?" Stacy looked and replied, "Yes, it's nice" and walked away. A minute later she stopped in her tracks and said, "My God!" She had just realized that Pat was wearing an engagement ring. Everyone in Pat's office was thrilled for her.
The snow that had hit the Kansas City area returned the first week of January, 2010 with a vengeance. Ken was not tutoring but was substituting and also managing the tutors in the school assigned to him. Since the weather caused school closures he was getting no work. Pat and Ken had decided on Ken's joining Pat in Poplar Bluff in May when school was out. Because of no work, Ken thought, "My lease on the duplex ends in February. By moving earlier, I can actually save more money than I make. I can join Pat earlier." Ken and Pat began to plan the move. It was set for February 14. Ken began packing boxes and storing them in his garage. He arranged the rental of a truck and Pat contacted some friends to travel with her to Independence and help load the truck. On Friday, February 13, they arrived, loaded the truck and left for Poplar Bluff the morning of the 14th. They began unloading the truck on Sunday, February 15.
Suggestion #3: Listen to your inner-self. Sometimes a change of plans might be exactly what God directs. God works in marvelous ways and Ken and Pat believe He does communicate with you and directs you in the correct path.
Ken had made the move to Poplar Bluff. Again, little did they know that the next week would further impact their lives as nothing in the past ever had.
What were the climatic events of the week of February 16, 2010, that so changed their lives?
Excerpted from A Journey of Love and Miracles by Ken Birt Pat Birt Copyright © 2012 by Ken and Pat Birt. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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