Fight with cancer shed light on little joys, Wheaton pastor shares pain of wife’s battle, death
Posted by ssbg on August 15, 2006
By James Fuller Daily Herald Staff Writer Posted Tuesday, August 15, 2006
There are events in life when even people with the strongest religious faith find it tested. Watching Carol Bugh suffer as cancer spread through her body was that test for her husband, Rob Bugh, and her best friend, Joan Robbins. Carol Bugh died Friday of a rare melanoma. She was 50. Her husband is senior pastor at Wheaton Bible Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in the region. The entire church community prayed with him, getting updates on her condition through regular Web site entries. Rob and Carol Bugh were engaged months after an initial blind date of tennis when they were in college in the 1970s. “It was a hot summer night in Dallas, and it just sparked things,” Rob Bugh said. That spark endured, fueled by their mutual love for God. Mission work took them to some of the most troubled places in the world, and also into the presence of miracles. For more than eight months, the Bugh family and the 3,500 members of Wheaton Bible Church prayed and sometimes fasted for just one more. The illness seemed unlikely. Just last year, Carol and Rob Bugh climbed 14,000 feet to the snowy mountain summits in Colorado. She was diagnosed six weeks later. Her days outdoors, often water-skiing barefoot, were over, but she would not relinquish her love of helping others. In nine years of friendship, Joan Robbins cherished walks with her best friend, Carol. They’d see each other up to six times a week. When they were feeling energetic they’d head to Wheaton Sport Center and try to rationalize their love of Dove dark chocolate, eventually deciding chocolate was a vegetable and thereby healthy. It became their motto. By June, Carol Bugh was getting daily radiation therapy that no amount of chocolate could take the edge off of. Yet she never missed a chance to be with Robbins. Carol often focused on Robbins’ well-being, a signature of her personality. The day before Bugh’s death, Robbins shared memories until Carol grew sleepy. Then she held her hand in silence, not ready to let go. “I left there thinking she helped me, when I was supposed to go there and help her,” Robbins said. “That friendship of hers was such a miracle to me. I’ll never have that type of relationship with another friend. I can’t wait to see her in heaven and pick up where we left off.” In his heart and on the pulpit, Rob Bugh struggled with his wife’s cancer. He devoured books on suffering and death, sparking conversations with Carol about their powerless situation. Every day brought the same mission of finding good in something that seemed so bad. One of those was staying physically strong enough to see her oldest daughter, Shannon, walk down the aisle. Others were found in appreciation for the little things in life, like the laughter of her children. “On the one hand, cancer is horrible,” Rob Bugh said. “We hate it. My wife had a horrible experience, and she died a brutal death. On the other hand, we believe that God is sovereign. He doesn’t delight in this. God permits what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves. It’s part of His plan.” So Bugh doesn’t allow himself to be bitter and angry. That would result in a life lived “backwards,” he said. Yet he doesn’t deny his pain, which helps him avoid a heartless, “plastic” existence. In one conversation, the pastor choked through the worries Carol had about leaving him and their four children behind. “I told her that we were going to be OK,” Rob Bugh said. “I said it was OK for her to die. We hate it. We don’t like it. But we’re going to be OK. Life on the other side, in the presence of Jesus, was going to be incredible.” Carol Bugh died the next day. Those present said she wore what seemed to be a smile on her face in her last moments. Visitation for Carol Bugh is from 3 to 9 p.m. today at Wheaton Bible Church at Main and Franklin streets in Wheaton. Funeral services are at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wheaton College’s Edman Memorial Chapel.