Cancer diagnosis takes couple on an even closer walk with God and each other
By Paul Thomas Moore l The Catholic Post
Mark and Pamela Buettner want to make it clear from the get-go — they’re not perfect.
“It’s not like we are that family that’s the poster child for dealing with cancer right, I mean because we’re human,” says Pamela.
“I’ve learned so much in this five-year journey about the value of redemptive suffering. Why wouldn’t I pass that on to others and maybe we can make a difference spiritually in the world?” — Mark Buettner
“I hope I don’t paint a picture that I’m this levitating saint just because I offer things up,” he said.
At the same time, the Peoria couple wants to testify about the hope they have found.
“I’ve learned so much in this five-year journey about the value of redemptive suffering,” Mark said. “Why wouldn’t I pass that on to others and maybe we can make a difference spiritually in the world?”
On a recent summer evening at St. Mark Church in Peoria, where the Buettners and their five children, ages 8-17, are parishioners, the rock of hope on which their faith is founded was on full display during a night of praise and worship for Mark’s healing.
INTERSTATE 55 COURTSHIP
Msgr. Brian Brownsey, pastor, told The Catholic Post the attitude toward Mark’s illness can be, “Oh, what a terrible thing,” but the Buettners have chosen a different perspective.
“It’s not that they’re not suffering, but they’re a witness that suffering is not evil: it is suffering that saved the world,” Msgr. Brownsey said.
Mark is a physical therapist at OSF HealthCare Rehabilitation on North Glen Park Road in Peoria, and also operates a private chiropractic/physical therapy practice out of his home. Pamela, a neonatal intensive care nurse by training, has been a homeschooling mom since the children started arriving.
They didn’t have long to wait.
After meeting on a Catholic dating site and a whirlwind weekend “I-55 courtship” between Peoria and Chicago, where Pamela was working at Rush University Medical Center, they were married. They honeymooned in Rome, arriving in the Eternal City as two souls, and leaving as three — Pamela was pregnant.
The next decade was hectic, averaging a new baby every two years. As Mark noted in his witness talk at St. Mark, “My wife and I joke that we were both so much holier when we were single.” Post-children, “Our actual relationship to our Lord was more akin to roommates. We would give him a head nod in the morning. . . . At night another nod. Things were good, so God was just an afterthought.”
A NEW ABNORMAL
Everything changed in 2012 as they were about to welcome a baby to be named Elizabeth. In the 40th week of gestation, a pregnancy “abruption” ended Elizabeth’s life, and the complications almost ended Pamela’s.
As a neonatal nurse, she knew what was happening.
“As I lay there and knew I was dying . . . I had to decide — is all this real, because I don’t know where I am going,” Pamela said.
Before that day, she admits, she used to procrastinate about being more patient with her children. But lying there she thought, “Wow, I can die and they won’t ever know that I could have been better.”
The quick action of Dr. John Mueller, an obstetrician and gynecologist with OSF HealthCare, saved her life.
Since then, and in the five years since Mark’s original diagnosis, the Buettners have learned to walk even closer with the Lord. But now they are dealing with “a new abnormal.” Over the past year Mark’s cancer has sped up and mutated from his pancreas, lymph nodes, and liver to his bones — including his pelvis and ribs — and resulted in three compression fractures to his spine.
AN EVEN GREATER PLAN
Mark exercises daily, is there for his wife and children, and still manages to work 35 hours a week as a physical therapist.
“He comes in every day in pain, and he never complains,” according to physical therapist Kristina Russell of OSF HealthCare Rehabilitation. “He’s taught me a lot about redemptive suffering.”
She even uses the “s” word.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met a living saint, but . . . when I’m in his presence, that’s what it’s like,” Russell said of her colleague.
Mark lays the credit at heaven’s door. He is grateful for “the constant, unrelenting community of prayer warriors that have been with me since day one, praying for me and my family.”
He posts regularly to his Facebook support blog, “The 300: Mark Buettner’s Prayer Warriors.” (facebook.com/300WarriorsforMark)
A few months ago at St. Philomena Adoration Chapel in Peoria, Pamela poured out her heart to the Lord about her husband’s updated diagnosis, asking “Why did it have to get so much worse?” Slowly a picture came to her of darkness covering the earth, and she knew the earth was Mark’s body, and the darkness was cancer.
“Then there was a flash of light that took away all the darkness,” she said, adding, “God has an even greater plan.”