Written by mother, Paula McQuillen
Our son, Sean McQuillen, was born March 8, 1977, at Methodist Hospital, St. Louis Park, MN. After graduating from Eden Prairie High School, his love of skiing took him to Montana State University where he graduated in 2000 with a B. S. degree in Marketing. He also was a ski instructor during college at Bridger Bowl. Along with his teaching, he would dress up as the “Powder Pig” for the Mogul Mites in the kids ski program. On June 23, 2011, which would have been Sean and his wife Gina’s 10th wedding anniversary, 14 family members made the trek up Bridger Bowl to spread his ashes on top of the ridge where Sean had proposed to Gina in Jan 2001.
Besides skiing, Sean loved mountain biking, and at the urging of Gina, became a runner which led them both to participating in triathlons in the Twin City area and beyond. Sean ran his first marathon in Chicago in 2007, and again the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009. In October 2010, he and Gina ran the 10 mile race as part of the Twin Cities marathon. It was around Thanksgiving 2010 that he began to complain about a dull pain in his back; however, as any trained athlete in great shape, he (along with several professionals he saw) felt it was injury related. In March 2011, he was pronounced healthy at his annual exam, in April he experienced more and more pain in his upper abdomen, he became quite jaundiced, and tested positive for mono. On May 4th, after an emergency endoscopy and colonoscopy at the U of MN, he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer and on June 4th he died. It was a rapid downward spiral but one that he faced with courage, dignity, and reality.
As parents and caregivers, our emotional roller coaster was full of peaks and valleys over a very short period of time. In the beginning, we were given hope that chemo treatments could extend his life. However, even after three stent procedures within 10 days to help the bile ducts, Sean’s liver was still compromised and we were told that his next step would be hospice. Not wanting to leave any door unopened, we were able to get an appointment at Mayo Clinic within 3 weeks of his diagnosis. It only took a morning to determine that he did not have much time and that his only option was to begin chemo even with his compromised condition. Gina, his two young daughters, his brother, sister, his father and I were in Rochester as he bravely accepted his prognosis. His brother Scott kept the humor that they always shared going at his bedside while Sean received his “cocktail” over 3 nights.
Saturday, June 4th – it is time to go home. Mayo has done all they can do. We decide on a medi-van to transport Sean. I had the privilege of accompanying him. I can tell Sean is uncomfortable during the 1-1/2 hour ride. He keeps lifting his head to see where we are. I assure him that we are close to home. As we approach the Twin Cities, I call ahead to make sure the driveway is clear for the van to back in. The doors open, Sean looks at me and says, “Mom, thanks for getting me home”. I reply, “It is my honor, Sean”. It will be our last words to each other. Approximately two hours later, his entire family will rally at his bedside to cheer him on through his final race which ended at 6:48 PM.
We have learned much since this day. We have learned that our family is stronger than we would have ever imagined. We have learned that God provides the ultimate strength. We have learned that friends are the ultimate treasures. We have learned that it is “okay” to ask for help, to weep, to not seek perfection. We have learned that grief will be a continuous journey taking on many different emotions along the way. We have learned that we need to love like we have never loved before. We have learned that the future is not ours to predict—but we must learn to live with what the future gives us. We are supporting all efforts, including the “Get Your Rear in Gear” race, because we need to find answers as to the increase in colon cancer – especially to those victims 40 years and younger. We need to campaign for earlier screenings and build an awareness to recognize symptoms of this very silent disease in order to save the lives of those mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, wives, husbands, and sons – like Sean.
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