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Life Is What You Make It

February 6, 2020 9:05 a.m.

  • Paul and Joy Honnold

Paul and Joy Honnold’s tremendous sense of adventure carried them through nearly 50 years of marriage and to all 50 states and 25 countries. 

At 70 years old, Paul said, “I look back with pleasure at all the things we have done.” Paul and Joy met while they were attending different universities, yet they had their first date at the Kansas Drug Store. He recalls their attraction as “love at first sight.” Over the years, they juggled a full life that included raising two sons, Matt and Mike, and farming 520 acres as the fifth generation of farmers on their land in Kansas. The farm is now in a trust.

Paul recently embarked on his final journey, and he viewed it not with self-pity or heartbreak but as an opportunity to offer encouragement to others. A selfless couple, the Honnolds have had strong religious beliefs. “God gave us this life. It’s what we make of it,” Paul said.

A week before Joy and Paul were to embark on one of their adventures— hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail followed by a long-anticipated trip to Switzerland— Paul visited his primary care doctor, Jaime Martinez, MD, because he was having some difficulty breathing. Paul thought he may have a touch of pneumonia, and he wanted to be sure he was healthy enough to travel. Dr. Martinez ruled out pneumonia, so Paul and Joy continued with their plans. When Paul couldn’t keep up with the travel group, he knew something was amiss.  

As soon as the Honnolds returned home, Paul scheduled an appointment with Dr. Martinez. A chest X-ray revealed a mass on Paul’s lung. Dr. Martinez referred Paul to SBL Medical Oncologist Adbur Shakir, MD, who told Paul the devastating news. He had Pleura Mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer that is linked to asbestos exposure. His pleura, a membrane covering the outside of the lungs, was holding fluid around the left lung and making it difficult to breathe.

Paul is quick to praise his medical team. “Dr. Martinez, Dr. Shakir, Dr. [Kuppuswamy] Jagarlamudi, the Regional Cancer Center staff and the Diagnostic Imaging staff: they are all top-shelf people.” Weekly, the SBL radiologists drained the fluid with a needle, sometimes removing as much as 1.5 liters (just over 1.5 quarts). Dr. Shakir referred Paul to an expert in mesothelioma at the University of Chicago, where he had a procedure to expand the lung. This alleviated the frequent trips to Sarah Bush Lincoln to have the fluid drained so his lung could expand more fully. “I felt I was in the right place at the right time,” he added.

Paul underwent six rounds of chemotherapy consisting of an aggressive three-way treatment, but it was hard on him; eventually, his veins couldn’t withstand the treatment. “We were amazed at the Regional Cancer Center. Everybody was so warm and welcoming. We couldn’t have been treated better,” Paul fondly recalled.

Paul said that his “biggy” list of accomplishments was short and included faith, family, five grandchildren and being a good person, in that order. An accomplished pianist, he served Harmony Methodist Church in Kansas as the organist and pianist for many years. His favorite tunes were religious choruses, followed closely by Phantom of the Opera, a live performance he and Joy enjoyed in New York City. During his treatments, however, he lost interest in playing. Paul also expressed his gratitude to the wonderful substitutes who provided music at Harmony Methodist Church when he was sick and when he and Joy were traveling.

When Paul’s treatments became ineffective in October, he transitioned to hospice care through Lincolnland Hospice. “My nurse, Cassie Rich, couldn’t be more perfect. They have all been incredible,” he added.

Paul and Joy faced the last stage of his journey with incredible graciousness. “We believe in Christ, and my ʻfan clubʼ really gets me through. They send cards with private messages,” he said. “You just don’t know what others are going through until you’re there. And you pray that their faith doesn’t go away.”

As for the journey of health, Paul said, “We pray for divine healing, but you know, you don’t always get that.” 

Editor’s Note: Paul Honnold passed away on November 20, 2019. We thank him and his family for sharing this message of encouragement.

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