To Beth, with love
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 21, 2010 1:46 PM
News-Argus Video Report
Col. Tim Lamb runs the last few minutes of his 82 mile trek from Duke on a journey dedicated to his late wife, Beth.
RALEIGH -- As darkness fell on Glenwood Avenue, Tim Lamb maintained a steady pace -- the same light jog that had carried him, in just under three hours, some 15 miles.
To passers-by, the sight of a lone runner making his way down the sidewalks that line one of the longer stretches in the state's capital might have seemed ordinary.
They had no way of knowing that his presence there represented only a small part of a journey that would stretch far beyond the next sunrise -- that this particular run was symbolic of a battle that saw his most treasured love lost.
Her name was Beth.
And her courage during a fight with breast cancer that lasted until her death in July is the reason her husband is still on some road or sidewalk even now -- why he won't stop until he completes the 82-mile route from the Durham hospital where she endured numerous surgeries and chemotherapy to the annual fundraiser for cancer research she loved so much.
Nearly a year after Lamb said goodbye to his wife, he chose to take on a challenge he wasn't sure he could meet -- a small symbol, he said, of the uncertainty that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
"A lot of people do marathons, but I wanted to do something more, something I really don't know ... if I can do," he said Wednesday. "Maybe in some small way, it symbolizes the fight against cancer. Not only will I need help from my friends and family, but hopefully, God is going to be there beside me. That's the only way I could do this thing. Obviously, I can't do it by myself."
And since he left Duke Hospital Thursday at 6 p.m., he hasn't had to.
Members of his family, including two of his daughters, Meghan and Chloee, have stayed within a few blocks of him the whole time -- offering words of encouragement and cold drinks from the comfort of their cars.
And Lamb is certain Beth has been beside him, too -- her ever positive outlook reminding him that giving up is not an option until the body finally succumbs to it all.
"I can't tell you for sure I'm going to be able to do it. I hope I can and I'm going to do everything that I possibly can to try and finish, but I can't guarantee you that I'll do it," he said. "Just like Beth had no guarantees. Just like any cancer patient has no guarantees."
Their love was born almost instantly -- on a blind date that unfolded more than 25 years ago.
"It didn't take either of us long to figure out that this was special," Lamb said. "I just felt like, 'This is it.'"
Nine months later, he asked for her hand.
And over the two decades that followed, they welcomed children -- and then a grandchild -- into their lives.
"She was just one of those mothers. She was special," Lamb said. "She had unbelievable amounts of love to offer."
He can still see her taking picture after picture -- filling more pages of the family photo album as each milestone passed.
And he can see her out on a softball field -- coaching their other daughter, Jessy, to play with the same sense of fearlessness and determination she brought to her cancer battle years later.
"That's just who she was. She really loved coaching the girls," he said. "She would be out there even when she was pregnant with Chloee. We have pictures of her on the field with her stomach out to here."
Lamb's voice trembles when he talks about the day Beth was diagnosed with cancer.
It was January 2003.
"Beth, because she was so strong, I think sometimes, she wanted to do things on her own. She actually didn't tell me originally when she was getting the routine exam at Wayne Women's Clinic and the doctor there felt the lump on her breast," Lamb said. "She didn't say anything about it."
But when a follow-up revealed she had cancer, she knew she had to.
"She was alone when she found out. I think when they did whatever they did, the doctor immediately knew it was cancer," he said. "She called me on the phone and when I got home, it was just, I don't know, it's hard to describe the feelings that were going on through my mind. You're wanting to be positive about everything but at the same time, it's just devastating news. It's hard to know how to deal with it, really."
And then, more untimely news came.
Lamb, an Air Force colonel, was to be deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"Obviously, that brings its own set of issues. I was asked, 'Well, can't you get out of it?' It was, mentally, just a hard time. I'm thinking on the one hand, 'We've got family here. We've got our daughters and her parents, all kinds of family. So even if I can't be here, they can,'" he said. "But at the same time, I'm saying, 'Yeah, but I should be here. I should be going through this with her.'"
The only thing that eased his mind was knowing that 82 miles away, some of the world's best doctors would be taking care of her while he was overseas.
"After the initial shock, I think you adjust. You think, 'We're getting the best treatment possible and you're going to beat this thing.' You have no other choice than to be positive because that's not a time to be negative. And somehow, your mind is able to adjust," he said. "And we made a decision early on that we wanted to go to Duke for her treatments. That was what we considered the best we could find."
And when he returned from theater months later, things were looking up for Beth.
She had made it through the surgeries and chemotherapy -- even without him there beside her.
And she had done it with a smile on her face, something that inspires her husband long after her death.
"She always had just the best attitude about it. She was so positive about what the outcome would be," Lamb said. "She prayed and she just continued her life. She didn't just give up and say, 'It's not worth going on like this.' She continued to live a full life.
"And when I got back, we went through the radiation and at that point ... they do some scans and you're declared, a lot of people say, 'cancer free' or 'in remission,' things like that. And I guess, at the time, that's what we thought the case was for Beth. So our lives continued on, just like before she had cancer."
Lamb remembers another phone call and fights back tears.
Beth's cancer had returned.
"I remember, I was taking Meghan and Chloee, we were going to see a show ... and we were driving ... and Beth called me and said that in one of the scans they had just done, they found a tumor had wrapped itself around her spinal cord," he said. "At that point, it went from there to surgery, to her being in a wheelchair. We basically realized that the cancer had not only come back, it had spread to her bones. Once it spreads to your bones, it's not good. It not life-threatening by itself, but you can't do surgery. You can't get rid of it.
"From that point on, she was on chemotherapy, and from there, she would live her life kind of on this one-week cycle. It was not the kind of chemo where it knocked her out completely for several days ... and it didn't cause her to lose her hair, but it would pretty much put her out of commission for about a day. So the rest of Thursday and Friday, it was just kind of recovering from the chemotherapy. And then, she would go on living her life until the next week."
Beth died July 6, only a few days before the birth of her granddaughter.
"But she got to see our grandson being born and she just loved him to death," Lamb said. "She was 'Nanny' to him and that's one of the things I just hate for my grandkids. They are gonna miss that."
Somewhere between Duke Hospital and Wayne Community College, Lamb continues to battle a tiring body.
But his mind remains strong -- a tribute, he said, to the strength Beth taught him a person stacked against tremendous odds can have.
And he won't stop -- even if he is crawling by the time he reaches her home county's Relay for Life.
"I don't intend to stop for extended periods unless I get to a point where I have to," Lamb said. "But I have no idea how my body is going to react to this. I'll just keep trying to put one foot in front of the other."
Just as Beth did during the last weeks of her life.
Just as he and his children have tried to do every day since they lost her.
But even though, in body, he knows she is gone, he can't help but believe she is with him on that run -- wearing the same smile that lit up his life for more than 20 years.
"Obviously I miss her. I miss the companionship, having somebody to talk to," Lamb said. "But I have prayed about this run. So I hope she's looking down. And I hope that she can look down and smile a little bit at what I'm trying to do."