Car enthusiast organizes fundraiser in his wife's memory to benefit Lincolnland Hospice.
Doug and Cindy Hawkins were living the life of their dreams when a cancer diagnosis changed everything.
“I remember that morning thinking ‘Boy, life is great. I’ve got
the job I want. We’re living where we want. The family is good.’
I was so happy I was near tears. By that night, I was near tears for another reason,” Doug said, reflecting on the day the love of his life was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was November 14, 2014, an autumn day permanently etched in his mind.
The Hawkins had been Oblong High School sweethearts who’d married after Doug finished college and landed a job with General Motors. Doug’s job took the couple to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Chicago before he had earned a position that allowed him to work remotely from anywhere. The couple packed up and returned home. It was 1996 and back to Oblong they went, this time to raise their two daughters on the family farm where Doug had grown up.
To Doug, that perfect morning in 2014 felt like “… the culmination of everything we’d worked for, and we got thrown a big curve ball that day,” he said. “We grew really close living in places where we didn’t know anyone. It was just the two of us supporting each other.”
With the diagnosis, the battle began. For four years, Cindy fought the cancer with courage, grace and dignity. She thought she had it beat after completing an aggressive treatment regimen— and a surgery she had had to fight to receive— when she was pronounced cancer-free in March 2016, following a scan. “It was a very happy day and we were praising the Lord,” Doug said.
As soon as Cindy regained her strength, the couple started traveling again and enjoying time with their daughters and grandchildren. As avid car enthusiasts, they also had a blast driving their ’72 Chevy Suburban through various states on a Hot Rod Power Tour. Sadly, the cancer returned in the fall of 2017 and, despite Cindy’s determination, the cancer prevailed. By August 2018, Cindy had exhausted all treatment options, so she and Doug turned to Lincolnland Hospice of Sarah Bush Lincoln for help.
Lincolnland Hospice helped the family make the most of their final days together. “We took our wedding vows very seriously and hospice helped us keep those vows,” Doug said, reflecting on how only death could separate him from Cindy. “It meant so much to be able to keep her home. We were unbelievably sad and overwhelmed, but hospice took away a lot of the burden by answering ‘How do we care for her?’ They prepared us for what was going to happen.”
The couple’s journey was also eased by their strong faith. They found the talks with hospice chaplain Joy Starwalt especially healing, as well as the many prayers they received. “We needed those as much as anything,” Doug said. “Cindy didn’t want us to be angry at God. She felt like she had lived a good life and she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.” Doug said he is also grateful for the tremendous support he received from friends and family. Cindy’s sister, Teresa, even moved in with the couple on more than one occasion to help with caregiving.
Family and friends enjoyed spending time together at the house, and Cindy was alert most days to enjoy their company. “She never lost her sense of humor and positive spirit. Even when she was bedridden and could barely talk, she would thank her caregivers every time they came,” Doug said. “Being surrounded by such caring, compassionate people enabled our family to live each day to the fullest as a gift from God.” Cindy died peacefully on November 6, 2018, with her family by her side. She was 59 years old.
In gratitude, Doug and his fellow classic car enthusiasts organized a fundraiser in Cindy’s honor that generated $3,000 for services provided by Lincolnland Hospice. “When you rally everyone around a cause, you can get a lot of stuff done,” Doug said. “Hospice made it possible for us to keep Cindy home and in an environment where we could all be comfortable, and I want to do my part to make that service available to others.” The donated funds will help ensure that people without resources can have a similar experience.
Doug was touched by the outpouring of support from friends who travelled from near and far to support his January fundraiser: Wire and Fire. “Cindy was like one of the guys. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and everyone loved her,” he said.
During the day-long event, “gear heads” worked to refurbish a 1948 Chevy Suburban, while other supporters sold specially designed t-shirts and raffle tickets for donated items. Cindy’s sister organized a meal for participants, and more than 100 people stopped by to contribute. Doug hopes to make the fundraiser an annual event.
Lincolnland Hospice cares for people in 20 counties in East Central and Southern Illinois, regardless of their ability to pay, and it provides comprehensive bereavement services.
For more information about Lincolnland Hospice, go to www.sarahbush.org or call 1-800-454-4055.