Kassandra Spears has battled cancer for most of her life. The 44-year-old mother of two from Port Lavaca, Texas, discovered a melanoma spot on her neck at age 15. She underwent surgery and appeared to be cured. Two decades later, Kassandra had married her husband Andy and was caring for her two kids, 12-year-old Ashley and 9-year-old Steven, when cancer came back in 2008.
Kassandra went to the doctor after having a back spasm to discover a ping pong ball-sized tumor in her brain, Andy said. Doctors found additional tumors near inoperable areas of her heart and lungs and diagnosed her with stage IV melanoma. Years after she appeared to have overcome cancer, Kassandra was back on drug treatments.
“Some months are very positive and we see progress, some months are trying,” Andy said. “We have to learn how to survive the highs and lows as we fight this process.”
The process involves Kassandra driving three hours to Houston every month and grandparents occasionally flying from Florida to watch Ashley and Steven when their mom is away. The family juggles a schedule of doctor appointments, basketball and volleyball practices, and church activities, and the kids have already learned to do their own laundry. Andy said he and his wife have been open with their children about Kassandra’s illness, confronting the emotional pain and concerns together as a family.
“The kids had to grow up a little bit more,” Kassandra said. “It can be a test, but it’s been a part of our lives so long.”
It was Kassandra’s mother who learned about Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreats® and recommended the Spears family attend. Andy said he was initially skeptical of the all-expenses-paid trip and struggled to accept the unconditional opportunity, but he ultimately warmed to the faith-based openness of Inheritance of Hope.
“We wanted to make sure we had something that would allow us to not only enjoy ourselves but also have a better understanding of what we’re going through,” he said.
The Spears family attended the IoH Legacy Retreat® in New York City just before Thanksgiving in 2010. Ashley and Steven said they remembered touring the city with its holiday decorations and having fun with the retreat volunteers, some of whom had terminally ill parents themselves. Andy and Kassandra said they enjoyed having the freedom to attend counseling sessions and sightseeing tours or spend time as a family.
Legacy Retreat® sessions offered the Spears family opportunities to share with other families also dealing with a life-threatening illness. Andy said the kids enjoyed fun activities that encouraged sharing about stresses and fears while parents engaged in meaningful discussions about their experiences.
“I remember meeting other kids who have absolutely been through what I have been through and realizing that we have a lot of things in common,” said Ashley, who hopes to return to Inheritance of Hope as a volunteer. “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
Andy and Kassandra said the Legacy Retreat® continues to be have impact two years after they attended in New York City. The family ran a 5k race together with Team IoH, the running group that supports IoH with fundraising, and they stay in touch with other families they met at the retreat. Kassandra said she visits the Inheritance of Hope website for its encouraging stories and devotions and now strives to appreciate every moment with her family. Kassandra continues her battle with cancer that began at age 15, but the Spears family has learned new strategies to face the situation together.
“It really allowed us to bond as a family,” Andy said. “I know as I watch my kids, they’re able to deal with a mom having cancer and feel comfortable talking about it.”