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Giving with Love

The community rallied around this family in its greatest trial; now they're returning the favor.

Almost 11 years ago, Patty Bekkers, St. Lawrence, 1190, Stangelville, Wis., was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, their daughters were just nine and 14 years old, and as her husband Tom said, “They were forced to grow up too fast. It turned their lives upside down.”

Tom works in the outpatient cancer clinic at a local hospital, so when Patty was diagnosed and getting treatment he could visit and sit with her. “It was nice having him there,” she said. Tom is often asked how he’s able to deal with the kind of work he does day after day, to which he responded, “It has its moments, but it’s a privilege to help people work through that time of their lives and bring families together.”


Just after Patty’s diagnosis, a gentleman Tom knew lost his wife to breast cancer. He asked Tom to co-author a book called The Widower’s Toolbox about how to repair your life after losing your spouse. Both Tom and Patty attested to the bad timing of this with a touch of humor. Patty described it by saying, “It was like, ‘Excuse me? What’s going on, what are you not telling me?’”


They credit the support and generosity of their community and loved ones as the reason they have been able to conquer so many challenges. “They were making the meals, running errands, cleaning the house and driving the girls everywhere,” Tom said of the community’s and family’s actions while Patty was undergoing treatment. Patty added, “Without the whole family involvement, there’s no way I could have done what I’ve been able to do.”  


Although this help was vital to keeping their household functioning as normally as possible, Tom noted how receiving this kind of help was not easy: “People want to help,” he said.  “Allowing them to help and being humble enough to accept it is easier said than done.” Patty described how she would often leave the house when people came to clean, timing it so that she could go to her treatments while they were around. No matter how necessary the aid, having the humility to allow others to help you can be incredibly difficult, especially when you’re used to providing the assistance.


Both Tom and Patty were big on volunteering before the diagnosis, but ever since, they have made an extra effort to return all the love the community showed them. Tom refers to it as “Giving as you receive”, responding to generosity and kindness with the same, wherever it is needed. Patty agreed, saying, “It has been a journey. There are so many people [who helped us], so it’s time to give back, time to share that with others.”


The Bekkers are extremely involved with their parish youth ministry, volunteering at various fundraisers throughout the year to support their mission trips. Brittney and Elizabeth, their daughters, attended these mission trips, and now they take part in campus ministry. Tom and Patty coordinate meals for parish families who are enduring what they went through with her diagnosis and treatment. “It’s helping them with their journey through cancer and everything,” Patty said.


Patty mentioned a few outreach efforts that are still in the works; among them is organizing a group to participate in the high school’s annual cancer walk. She added, “It’s been amazing to try to work with so many people.”


The list of activities they have a hand in or plan is extensive. “And we can’t do it alone,” Patty added. “We’ve said that through everything. We cannot do it alone, because it truly is more than us. It is a community [making] things work. It’s not just one person, it’s everybody.”


They continue to show their daughters the value of giving back by their actions. “We sit down and talk about our schedules and see what works, and make things work,” Patty explained. “We see how we can make it doable…and the girls are very good at being flexible when they’re home from college.” Tom continued, “We don’t force them to be involved, but we help them see the value in it.”


Tom and Patty say the most challenging part of serving others is finding the time to help to the degree they want. “There are so many more people who need help than we’re able to help,” Tom said. “It’s been a challenge, getting that balance in our lives where we have family time, outreach time, and time for ourselves.”


On the other hand, Tom expressed the most fulfilling part of outreach is knowing that they are making an impact. “I have the privilege of helping a grief group through church,” he said. “There are people who can truly appreciate and understand what they’re going through. It’s helpful to know we’re making a difference in the most difficult times.”


For Patty, the most fulfilling part is seeing people smile and hearing their expressions of gratitude. “You don’t know what their world is like or what they’re dealing with, so a simple smile could really make the difference,” Tom said. “It doesn’t have to be miraculous. It’s the simple things.”


Feeding God’s Children and other outreach events can have a major impact, no matter how many people are involved. “It doesn’t have to be anything great or gigantic, just do something little for somebody,” Patty explained. But, Tom added, there is strength in a partner: “Find someone with the same passion and help each other out so you’re not doing it all alone.”


Not in spite of, but rather because of the challenges their family has faced, Tom and Patty expressed how much closer their family feels. They know with absolute certainty they will offer support for each other no matter what. “That’s what families are all about,” Tom said.


It might have been difficult for the Bekkers to feel this positive energy when Patty was diagnosed with leukemia 11 years ago. But now that Patty’s been given the “all clear” and no longer has to see her oncologist, they’re on a new mission to spread hope and optimism throughout their parish and community. They’re on a mission to see not only how they can support others, but also how they can help someone enduring a difficult time feel understood. And while you might think their mission is accomplished, they’ll tell you otherwise, as they make every last blessing of this life count.


Article by Alison Mink.


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