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This post is part of an ongoing series on Shine presented by Rally.org, the crowdfunding site for social good. Rally explores thousands of user stories to find and share with you their most inspiring examples of people helping people across the country and around the world.
This past summer was hardly a slow season for Andrew Westphal. In June the 26-year-old finished an 18-month preaching mentorship at the church his family has attended for years. He married his best friend from college at the end of July. Six weeks later he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, upending his expectations for his marriage, for graduate school, and for his development as a church leader.
Andrew began experiencing strange numbness and tingling around his mouth and along the right side of his body in April. By then he was engaged to his best friend of his life, and the two of them were pondering whether to remain close to his hometown of Folsom, Calif., or move to Bowling Green, Ky., where his now-wife Sharria Westphal works in the corporate offices of Fruit of the Loom. They decided to move close to her job, which provided both of them health insurance, and Andrew started graduate school in business at Western Kentucky University.
"With everything going on, moving and getting married, [the symptoms were] just an annoyance," Andrew explained. "I didn't have health insurance while we were engaged," so he kept putting off going to the doctor.
Once they became Mr. and Mrs. Westphal and returned from their honeymoon, he visited an orthopedic surgeon, then a neurologist. After Andrew underwent an MRI, his wife had barely made it back to her cubicle when the doctor's office called and asked that they return to discuss the results of the scan. The neurologist found Grade IV glioblastoma multiforme in the left frontal and temporal lobes. This tumor is diffuse, meaning it has several "fingers" and no defined edges. The location of the tumor combined with its size and shape make it inoperable.
"Andrew looked at me, and you could see the almost-tears, the terror, in his eyes," Sharria said. "I told him whatever happens, we'll handle it. We'll take it step by step. We have strong faith in God, so we stay strong."
Andrew's immediate and extended family share that faith and have reached out to friends from the church in which they grew up, Folsom Church of Christ, for emotional support.
Family members have created a Facebook page, Rally for Andrew, and an online fundraising page, to share photos and updates about his story. Supporters have donated more than $37,000 in two weeks to help cover Andrew's living and medical expenses, and family members have pitched in to assist with logistics.
"I want to provide everything, but it comes down to, what am I capable of?" said Phil Westphal, one of Andrew's two older brothers. "My wife and I have taken over the bill-paying and the bigger things, like social security, how to deal with Andrew's school [enrollment]. So we've taken on all of that so [Andrew and Sharria] can really focus their energy and attention on his health."
The tumor diagnosis has family zigzagging in from California, Oklahoma, and across town in Bowling Green. Fervent prayer has kept the Westphals' biological and church family focused on Andrew and Sharria's day-to-day wellbeing, as well. The head pastor at Folsom Church of Christ preached about the importance of unity during a time of suffering and published a two-page essay honoring his student preacher and friend the weekend immediately following Andrew's diagnosis. And the youngest Westphal spouses have established a daily morning practice to reflect on their lives and their faith, meditating, praying, and writing down what they're thankful for.
"We're being put through the fire," Andrew said. "Faith can be something that's fluffy, but in the darkest hours, that's when it's going to be tested the most. We're in the beginning stages of that."
Sharria is the household's head chef, prepping organic, nourishing meals (no sugar allowed!) for everyone. But she's also thinking about the possible scary outcomes for herself and the family: the prospect of Andrew dying far sooner than anyone expects, but also the chance that his physical health could decline in a rapid and irreversible fashion.
"Something that has been on my mind a lot is the size of the tumor and seriousness of it," Sharria said. "It's located where a lot of his memory is.
"One of my fears is that he won't remember who I am, that I'm his wife. I told him if that happens, I'll help him out and be by his side no matter what, even if he might not remember me."
Right now she's by his side researching and considering medical options. They have chosen to pursue aggressive treatment, with Andrew seeking admittance this fall to the neurohospitalist program at the University of California, San Francisco. Until then his wife will keep working, and his friends, family, and strangers from across the country are looking to a verse from the book of Ecclesiastes as they rally around Andrew: "Two are better than one, because they get more done by working together."
Send the Westphals support and get updates on their story at rally.org/andrewandsharriawestphal.