In memory of Elaine

NB family donates iPads for cancer patients undergoing treatment at Fairview Lakes Medical Center—

Steve Obitz and family know what it feels like to lose a wife and a mother to cancer, but they can feel good about giving something back.

Steve and Elaine Obitz at the Hoover Dam when they went to Las Vegas for their 25th wedding anniversary. Photos supplied

Steve and Elaine Obitz at the Hoover Dam when they went to Las Vegas for their 25th wedding anniversary. Photos supplied

It’s been just over two months since Elaine Obitz succumbed to the disease. She fought long and hard for three and a half years, kept a positive attitude and always thought of others, noted daughter, Kayla, who helped care for her mother at home in North Branch.

The latter quality — her passion for thinking of others — along with keeping people from feeling alone or isolated in their treatment, were the driving factors behind a recent gift from the Obitz family to the cancer clinic at Fairview Lakes Medical Center. They hope it can provide some comfort, healing, peace, relaxation and even a little entertainment for patients who are going through or about to experience what Elaine did.

Steve, Kayla and her older brother Nate, with his fianceé, Samantha Jones, presented two iPads — complete with styluses, iPad covers and boards, subscriptions to Netflix and iTunes, and downloads including popular games —  March 11 to the Lakes Cancer Clinic at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming.

Accepting the gifts on behalf of the clinic were registered nurses Wendy Cright, Jenny Savino and Rebecca Stopfer. The iPads will be used by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

“They are a warm and welcoming family,” said Jody Rick, manager of Lakes Cancer Clinic, who got to know the Obitz family through Elaine’s treatment. “Their donation will allow patients to have something to do to pass the time. They can play games, watch movies, listen to music and surf the Web. The clinic also offers free Wi-Fi.”

And not everyone has the support of a friend or family member with them during treatment, so an iPad can help with that, too, she added.

Steve Obitz and family donated two iPads for patients undergoing chemotherapy in the Lakes Cancer Clinic at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming. Pictured, from left: Kayla Obitz, registered nurse Wendy Cright, Nate Obitz, Samantha Jones, Steve Obitz and registered nurses Jenny Savino and Rebecca Stopfer.

Steve Obitz and family donated two iPads for patients undergoing chemotherapy in the Lakes Cancer Clinic at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming. Pictured, from left: Kayla Obitz, registered nurse Wendy Cright, Nate Obitz, Samantha Jones, Steve Obitz and registered nurses Jenny Savino and Rebecca Stopfer.

Steve Obitz got the idea of donating the iPads from Rick, with the understanding that they would be a gift in memory of Elaine. He also wanted to show his gratitude of the caregivers who became “like family.”

“Going through the process for three and a half years at Fairview in Wyoming, the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic and the Cedar Valley Cancer Clinic in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the people in the oncology department become an extension of family,” Obitz said. “I wanted to do something for people in need, put something to use that is comforting. That’s what drove that decision for us.

“It’s a very taxing time in people’s lives. My wife stayed positive for three and a half years. She had a will to live and try new things and plug away from day to day. We kept moving forward and tried to stay positive through the treatment. I’m very grateful for the caregivers who helped us.”

Nate Obitz, a 2006 graduate of North Branch Area High School, said: “The donation to Fairview was a way to say thank you for everything they did for Mom. She was a very inspiring, courageous and amazing woman. Mom always loved her iPad and was on it all the time. For people going through infusion or chemo, if it (one of the donated iPads) helps them in their process, then maybe we accomplished our goal a little bit.”

Samantha Jones added: “Elaine would want nothing more than to give back to those who cared for her during her treatments. She loved being on her iPad, and I know the donation to the Fairview clinic will allow other cancer patients, like Elaine, to enjoy listening to music, playing a game or watching a movie on the iPads. It was very comforting for me going to the hospital and meeting all of the wonderful nurses she often talked about.”

Graduating from North Branch Area High School in 2009, Kayla Obitz noted, “It makes me feel good knowing that although they’re just iPads, if (patients) can get joy out of playing a game or watching their favorite movie or something that makes their life even slightly better, it makes it all worth it.”

Kayla with her mother, Elaine.

Kayla with her mother, Elaine.

Health troubles begin

Kayla Obitz said her mother’s health began to take a turn in 2010 when the family was about to travel home from their cabin at Lake of the Woods, Minn. She experienced a shooting pain in her back when she tried to get into the truck. She laid in the back seat, in pain, the entire trip home, Kayla recalled.

Once they arrived back home, Kayla brought her to the emergency department at Fairview Lakes, where a doctor thought the pain was related to her sciatic nerve and suggested a follow-up appointment with her regular doctor.

During that visit, an X-ray revealed the source of Elaine’s pain: a tumor that fractured her L5 vertebrae.

In June 2010, Elaine started going to the oncology clinic at Fairview Lakes. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. “Her doctor gave her six months to a year, even before chemotherapy treatment,” Kayla said.

She noted her mom’s reaction was shock.

“You never think it’s going to happen to somebody you know, especially yourself,” she said. And though Kayla wanted to come home to take care of her mother, Elaine encouraged her daughter to remain at Moorhead State University. Ultimately, Kayla went back home during her junior year when her mother’s health worsened.

Dad’s reaction? “Denial,” she noted. “This isn’t happening.”

Of her own reaction, Kayla said it was “utter, utter shock. It didn’t feel real at all. And then there’s how do we tell Nate, in Alaska?”

The Obitz family had this photo taken for their 2013 Christmas card. Also pictured is Nate’s dog, Faith.

The Obitz family had this photo taken for their 2013 Christmas card. Also pictured is Nate’s dog, Faith.

Nate, who customizes the interiors of Yetti fish houses closer to home during the cold months, works as a fishing guide captain aboard a fishing charter in Sitka, Alaska, from May to September. Joining him over the last couple of years has been Samantha, who runs the office part of the business.

“You can’t hear that kind of news over the phone,” Kayla said. “My opinion was they needed to fly out there and tell him (Nate), and they all agreed with me.” So Elaine and Steve booked a flight and shared the news in person.

“It was a very interesting three and a half years,” Nate said of his mother’s battle with cancer. “I feel very grateful to be given the amount of time that we had with her. We didn’t go the journey alone, that’s for sure.”

Though Elaine would surpass her estimated time frame, she endured three years and seven months of surgeries and chemotherapy. Her doctors included a brain surgeon at the University of Minnesota.

On how her family coped with mother’s health issues, Kayla said: “We leaned on each other a lot. We had the support of close friends, and we took it day by day. Chemo was our most important hurdle, but there were a lot of hurdles. In January 2012, she had brain surgery for a tumor, since the cancer had spread to her brain.”

Kayla explained Elaine had Gamma Knife radiation for nine tumors in her brain, and she had a liver biopsy done, as it progressed to that part of the body. A lumbar puncture determined the cancer had spread to her spinal fluid. The family was running out of options at that point.

“It wasn’t until the very end that we didn’t have hope,” she said. “They gave us four months at best; more like two.”

After a time in hospice, Elaine passed away less than a month later on Jan. 25, 2014.

“She was a gem, one of a kind,” Kayla said. “She always thought of other people, even when she got sick. She worried about telling people (about her health). She didn’t want Nate to fly home that time or me to quit school.”

Jones added, “She is deeply missed every day by all of us, and to all of the families currently going through the battle with losing a loved one to cancer, my best advice, which I always told her, is to keep holding on.”

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