Linda Budd thought she was the luckiest person in the world, until 2011. “I have a good husband, good children and a good family, I’d think to myself. I was unscathed,” remembers the soft-spoken, 68-year-old.
Then her world turned upside down.
When son Chris called Linda on that fateful Sunday morning in 2011, he was at the ER at a Las Vegas hospital. “On his way to the airport for a business trip back East, Chris started having terrible pain, so he drove himself to the hospital instead,” Linda recalls. “They thought he had appendicitis.”
After ruling out appendicitis, as well as a liver abscess, the doctors discovered Chris Budd, 35 and the father of two young children, had colon cancer. Stage IV. It had metastasised in his liver, where the tumor was the size of a baseball.
Six months later, Linda’s sister and best friend, Barbara, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain.
Chris and Barbara died last year, within months of each other, three years after getting their horrible diagnoses.
Linda agreed to sit down with FabOverFifty to tell us about how her beloved son lived, and died, and how she survived the tragedy of his loss, as well as that of her sister.
How long were you married before you had children?
Chris was born in 1976, three years after Mike and I married. Our daughter, Johanna, was born 14 months later.
Were you working at the time?
I was a nurse, but became an at-home mom after I had children.
How did you feel about being a mother?
It was so completely different. I loved the different stages. At every one I’d say, ‘I never want this stage to end.’ Until they hit 6th grade, she laughs.
Where did you and Mike raise the kids?
We moved from Connecticut to Colorado in 1979, where Mike took over a manufacturers’ representative agency. Then, when Chris was a senior in high school and Johanna was a junior, Mike took a new job in Ohio. While other kids would be outraged to move during their last year in high school, Chris treated it as an adventure. He was very outgoing and always made a lot of friends.
What did Chris do for a living?
Chris majored in hotel management at Northern Arizona University. N.A.U. was perfect for him since it reminded him of Colorado and the mountains he loved. After graduation he went to work for Marriott in the San Francisco area and followed with upward movement in the corporate work with Hilton, Sheraton, Westin, Wynn/Encore, and ultimately, the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale.
When did Chris marry and have children?
He and Bethany married when they were both 24, and had Christian in 2004 and Kate in 2007.
What did you do after his diagnosis?
We went to a liver specialist at UCLA, who told us Chris should first have chemo, to shrink the tumor as much as possible, and then surgery on the colon and the liver at the same time. We returned to UCLA for the operation, six months later, which became one of the worst days in our lives.
We were sitting in the waiting room with the Pastor of Chris’s church and immediate family, where we could see Chris’s progress on a big computer screen. We were told it was going to be a long, involved surgery which would take about 12 hours. After two hours, I happened to look at the screen and saw he was already out of surgery. I turned to Bethany, Chris’s wife, and said: ‘They stopped.’ That was awful, just awful. We soon learned there were little cancerous tumors throughout Chris’s abdomen, which were inoperable. The stark reality hit home.
The treatment protocol became radiation directly to the liver and more chemo. Nothing seemed to be working so Chris went M D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion, and they recommended he be put on oral chemo, which was a better quality of life process.
What was Chris’ attitude during treatment?
Chris continued to work and was unbelievable. He’d get chemo on Friday and be horribly sick, then go back to work on Monday without complaining. He never lost weight or looked sick, until three weeks before he died. He looked like the picture of health.
He had been at the Wynn in Las Vegas for a little over a year when he was diagnosed. The people he worked with and his neighbors in Henderson were unbelievable. To this day, they continue to do things in his memory. They planted a tree in the park and just put up a plaque.
At Christmas, a few months after Chris was diagnosed, his coworkers at the Wynn Hotel sent us to a little ski area outside of Las Vegas, while everyone decorated his house (Linda and Mike moved back to Colorado in 2002.) They brought food and presents for the kids. They even rolled out TVs. The support was incredible. There was a divine reason he lived and worked there during this difficult time.
Chris and his family moved to Phoenix the year before he died. The job of Director of Sales had opened at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, and he wanted to be in Phoenix because Bethany’s family lived in the area. After the interview he told the interviewers, ‘I need to tell you something. I have cancer,’ and their response was they already knew. He was picked from five finalists, despite his illness.
Chris went to church with Bethany while trying to live every day as a normal day.
How did you handle your sister’s illness at the same time your son was sick?
I was going back and forth between my sister in Delaware and Chris in Arizona. I was with my sister for two weeks, when Chris called to tell me he had decided to stop the chemo.
At the end, Chris had hospice come to the house, but when his medicine was not capable of maintaining his pain threshold any more, we went to a hospice facility. He also did not want his children to see him die at home. ‘Well, are we having fun yet?’ Chris joked when he entered hospice. Even in the end he was trying to make everyone feel better as he joked about the inevitable.
Bethany and I were in the room when he died at 2:30 a.m. on June 29 last year. He looked so peaceful and the pain had come to an end.
My sister died a few months later. I got to say goodbye to her two weeks before she died, but I couldn’t bring myself to go to the funeral as I knew I couldn’t handle the pain of another funeral so soon. I will be going back to Delaware in June to go through her things with my niece. It will be hard but I promised her husband I would do this for him.
What helped you cope throughout this terrible time…and now?
When anyone has cancer, it is a roller coaster of good news and bad news. You wait for the PET scans and tests, and hear of miracles and hope your child will be one of them. We spent the last 10 days of Chris’s life with him, which was wonderful on one hand but painful knowing the end was near.
I’m a pretty strong person and don’t always show my emotions outwardly, but this was a test like no other I’ve experienced. Although Mike and I were both raised Presbyterians, and went to church and Sunday school growing up, we didn’t go to church regularly with our kids. We’re both spiritual, and we’ve grown spiritually through this.
You have to believe there is something after we die. A book by Bob Olson, called Answers About The Afterlife, has helped me so much. I know that Chris is okay, he’s not in any pain, and we’re going to see him again. I want Mike to read it because I think it would help him, too. You learn that God has other plans, even if we don’t know the reason.
I talk to Chris and my sister all the time and know they’re with me. They’re not suffering. They’re in a better place and know it is harder for us to be without them. They don’t want us to be unhappy, but to remember and think about them. After my mom died, she would send me feathers, which Chris and Barbara both knew about. Now the feathers keep coming.
We have lots of snow here in the winter, but sometimes I’ll open a magazine and see a photo of a feather or a feather necklace. And my daughter found a beautiful white feather on her birthday. I was going through warranties and directions the other day, and suddenly a recent photo of Chris fell out. It was just weird to see it, in the middle of all these papers.
Chris had so many friends. There were over 500 people at his funeral. The day before he died, three of his best pals from Phoenix went in to see him separately. When one of them left the room, he asked me, ‘Is there anyone who didn’t like Chris?’ We had a celebration of Chris’s life after the 4th of July last year, which was very comforting. Everyone came back to the Fairmont for a big reception. No one wanted to get paid to work.
Chris’s strength also made it easier for me.
What advice would you give to a mother whose child is diagnosed with a fatal illness?
You have to hope and pray. I never prayed so much.
How are Chris’s wife and children doing?
She’s remarkable and his kids are doing well. It’s wonderful that he gave us grandchildren, but it saddens me that they’re growing up without a father. His son Christian, who has looked like Chris since birth, brings back many memories. Chris was cremated, and his ashes were put in a low vault in the Lutheran Church Memory Garden, where the kids can sit on a bench in front. We wrote letters and put special things in this vault.
The rest of his ashes were scattered at Vail Mountain, and we had a celebration for his Colorado friends the next day. Over 150 people came to the celebration, and I know Chris was looking down with a smile on his face.
Note: When we asked Linda if Chris’s colon cancer was rare for a man so young, she said he had a fraternity brother who was diagnosed a year after Chris, and died nine months before him. “Chris also had a high school friend who was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer, but she’s been treated and now is cancer free,” Linda added.
Colonoscopies aren’t recommended until you’re 50, unless you have a genetic predisposition for colon cancer, which Chris did not. “All these people out there who are diagnosed before 40 would be ok if they had had a colonoscopy,” Linda lamented.