The conventional thinking is that stage 4 cancer is a terminal illness.
"I’m trying to not think about it that way," said Monica Beakley, who has a type of lung cancer that afflicts the unluckiest of nonsmokers and that has spread to other parts of her body. "I’m just trying to work with my physicians on the next treatment."
Beakley, 47, and her 19-year-old son, Jesse Jakob Estala, are part of the Statesman's Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families each year through local nonprofit agencies. Beakley and Estala were nominated by Wonders & Worries.
Beakley goes to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston every three weeks for chemotherapy. Even with insurance, it’s costly. She has to pay for gas or bus fare to get there, plus for overnight lodgings.
Some days she feels wiped out. But on a good day, she’ll relax with some hot yoga or take a horse ride, something she has done all her life.
Beakley takes care of herself so she can take care of Estala, who is blind and has brain injuries from an accident a decade ago. He speaks and walks with difficulty; he is capable but needs reminders and encouragement.
Beakley has to think about who will provide that kind of support and a home for Estala if she can’t. When she was diagnosed with cancer, the doctors gave her five years to live. That was four years and eight months ago.
She’s come to peace with the thought her life won’t be as long as she’d hoped. But she can’t rest until she’s put together a plan for Estala’s future with attorneys and other experts who understand people with special needs.
"I wake up knowing my son needs me, and I don’t really believe in giving up," Beakley said. "So what kind of example would I be (for my son) if I gave up?"
The story of Beakley and Estala touched Girl Scout Troop 1124 in Southwest Austin. The girls — sophomores and juniors at Bowie, Akins and Dripping Springs high schools — created a tradition their first year as Girl Scouts, when they were in kindergarten and first grade. They would read (or be read to) the stories of each of the Season for Caring families, and then they would choose one to bring gifts for at their annual holiday party.
Sometimes the vote was contentious. Other years it was an easy choice. This was a year where they all agreed on Beakley.
The first year, they brought in loose change to buy a Toys R Us gift card for a family. One year, they brought dog toys for a senior who was housebound, but had a dog as his companion. Most years, they’ve donated gift cards from H-E-B, Target or Walmart. This year, they collected $160 in gift cards for Beakley.
The troop has only missed one year of giving to Season for Caring. That was the year when one of the girls’ aunts had her home badly damaged by Hurricane Harvey. That year they voted to bring Home Depot cards for her.
Beakley still has many items on her wish list. In addition to the big wish of an attorney, Beakley would like mother-son outings in the Austin area that can be enjoyed with limited sight and mobility, or trips to the beach; a new laptop computer; a couch that would provide better seating support; gift cards to H-E-B, Natural Grocers or Casa de Luz; gift cards to New Balance or Brooks for sturdy shoes; bathroom towels; queen-size bedding; and cleaning supplies.
To find out more about the Beakley-Estala family or to give an item on their wish list, contact Wonders & Worries, 512-329-5757; wondersandworries.org.
Statesman videographer Ana Ramirez and Season for Caring editor Nicole Villalpando contributed to this report.