Remembering Rebecca: Family showed spiritual strength, peace in cancer battle
On May 7, Rebecca would have celebrated her 21st birthday.
Her parents, Barry and Tonda Stafford, have been dear friends since before Rebecca and her older sister, Lauren, were born. In fact, we have been friends of Barry’s since he began practicing law, before he met Tonda. The Staffords are devout Christians, and they serve faithfully in the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City. Loving, caring for and educating their daughters have been their principal concerns. In 2001, Tonda Stafford joined the staff of The Christian Chronicle as administrative assistant.
Rebecca had much energy as a child. She was sweet and a little feisty. She and her parents tackled every obstacle she faced. She loved vacationing with her family, tagging along with her older sister and swimming. She grew into a secure young woman who loved being with friends, sharing activities with her youth group and planning ways to serve others.
In January of her junior year of high school, she fainted and was ill. After undergoing batteries of tests, she was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, an insidious cancer that attacks bone and organ tissue. She began chemotherapy and other treatments for the cancer. Her strong, optimistic determination never failed.
In the summer of 2009, Rebecca had surgery to remove four ribs and the cancerous tissue. The waiting area was filled with family and friends from church. Knowing the procedure Rebecca was undergoing, Barry and Tonda showed their strength, faith, courage and determination to help their daughter through the pain and suffering. The Staffords’ faith made me see how heroic they are, and during the following months, they communicated only their trust in God.
Rebecca returned to high school to graduate with her friends. During her treatments, she had decided that she wanted God to use her life to help others. Students at her high school were known for working hard to raise money for important causes. They had decided to collect money for cancer research as their project for 2009-2010.
At the assembly to launch the drive, Rebecca, a shy and somewhat timid person, spoke to 1,500-plus students, rallying their full support for the project. The students raised a record-breaking $527,000 for the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Children at OU Medical Center.
In May 2010, Rebecca graduated from high school, determined to go to college and possibly become a physical therapist. Despite moving in and out of remission, having countless infections, chemotherapy and radiation, she completed her freshman year at Oklahoma Christian University, living in the dormitory. She had one class near my office, and I would often see her going or coming. She always managed a smile and a quiet greeting. If I asked how she was doing, the answer was always “Fine.”
She planned to return for her sophomore year, but she decided she would have to find online courses. Her health troubles continued, but she was at church if she was not in the hospital. Her friends continued to rally around her. She and Victoria Wilguess, another teen at our church with health issues, spent a lot of time together, talking about their futures and worrying about their parents.
A few months ago, new tests showed numerous small tumors, too many to deal with. The Staffords faced the inevitable with grace and courage.
Rebecca, Tonda, Barry and Lauren are my heroes. I have seen God giving them physical, spiritual and emotional strength to support each other.
In her last year Rebecca kept warm with a blanket inscribed with Psalms 73:26: “My strength may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, But God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.”Peace at last.
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