Brad Etcheson died on Feb. 19, 1998, at the age of 42, following a 2 -year battle with cancer. During this battle, he kept a journal, filling five notebooks to record what he came to refer as his Spiritual Biography.
During school years, Brad excelled in all sports, and later became an avid golfer. He later played with a group of older men that was affectionately called The Wobblys.
Although it was after he became ill that Brad seemed to have developed a knack for writing, the ability to express his innermost feelings fear and joy alike indicates that the talent or gift was always there, lying dormant, overshadowed by the sports-loving, life-of-the-party guy that was the old Brad.
Brad used that newfound talent to tell others about his love for Christ, and the change that love and trust made in his life. Through the worst of his illness, to the very last entry a few days before his death, Brad had nothing but praise and gratitude for his Savior. He also repeatedly expressed love and gratitude for his wife and family.
Brads parents, Don and Berniece Etcheson, shared some of their sons innermost thoughts in his writings on this anniversary of his death.
His mother condensed the five journals into a published book, which has traveled (to her knowledge) to nine states and to Africa. It is also used by hospice and has been featured in several publications, including The Illinois Baptist.
On June 1, 1995, feeling that he was in good physical condition, Brad thought he was just experiencing acid reflux. He went to his doctor only when he began feeling like he had a chicken bone in his throat.
After undergoing tests, an endoscopy and biopsy, the diagnosis of cancer of the esophagus dealt Brad a reeling blow. It was Monday, Aug. 17, 1995, when he received the dreaded news.
On Sept. 9, Brad began recording his thoughts and feelings in the first of five journals, when he wrote, in bold letters, THE THREE DREADED WORDS-YOU HAVE CANCER.
He followed with, The first thing I thought about was my eternal life with Jesus Christ. I knew I was not ready to meet my maker, and I cried out to God to save me. Whether it was to save my life or my soul, I was not really sure. I just knew I was petrified! All the material things in the world suddenly became meaningless. All I wanted to do was live!
He faithfully wrote in the journals as often as he was able. He made the last entry on Jan. 31, 1998, shortly before his death.
In sharing special meaningful excerpts from Brads journal, Berniece also shared a mothers thoughts about suffering through the terrible battle with cancer and losing a beloved son.
More importantly, also shared is Brads victory through Jesus Christ, in his own sincere and inspirational words describing the frustration, depression and pain from the dreaded disease, and the joy, peace and comfort he found in his spiritual growth and walk with God.
When he would be up there for chemotherapy, Berniece said in describing his personality, the girls (nurses) would try to see which one would get to take care of him, because he always had high fives for all of them.
No matter which hospital he had to visit, he always had a smile, hug or wave for all the caregivers. Even when he was at his sickest and vomiting, he still always had that sweet attitude when anyone came in.
Berniece, as his mother, realizes that, although Brad was, by nature, always sweet, he was also a fun-loving, normal human being.
I do want to make clear that Brad, being born here and raised here, everyone knowing him here, that they know that Brad was no angel, she said.
He liked a good time, and during his later high school days and college days, he was kind of known to be a party boy. He probably did a lot of things that Mom and Dad wouldnt have approved of, and, of course, the community knew that.
She wants people to see the true Brad that he was and then the true Brad that he became. His personality was still there, the same, but his outlook and what he saw as important in life totally changed.
These changes are evident in some of the passages in his writings. On Thursday, Nov. 2, 1995, he wrote in part, There is definitely more to life than Bud Light beer possessions, physical health, love of self, looking toward the future that everything will be OK because it probably will not.
Over the course of time, Brad underwent serious major surgeries, with devastating outcomes and prognosis. He returned home with a feeding tube and tons of liquid food.
Following one six-hour surgery, with devastating biopsy results and facing chemo and radiation, Brad wrote: The Lord, and faith is the greatest healer of all, is where I am putting my greatest trust. If he wants to use me for some purpose to glorify His name, then he will see me cancer-free as long as He wants.
If He wants people to come to Him trough my illness, and see how vulnerable we are, that death comes to anyone, even those who seem to be in great shape, then I surrender to Him. Whatever it takes, let His name be glorified.
Thanks to my new rebirth in Christ, I am stronger and am able to accept the future and also what I have yet to face.
But in his honest and sincere way, Brad also wrote, I am still an emotional wreck at times, and often cannot hold back the flood of tears. But Christ is always there to pick me up and bring comfort back into my heart. I CAN FEEL THIS!
Brad expressed his love for his wife, Gayla, his parents and his brothers, Steve and Mark, and his appreciation of their loyalty and love for him. He also mentions his dog, Max.
Brad improved enough to return to work at one point, also enjoying his family and teaching a Sunday school class.
Even when receiving chemo and suffering the effects of it, he considered his illness a blessing in his life, and his mindset toward everything had changed. He thanked God for, freeing him from his old-self and bringing Jesus back into his life.
On Jan. 23, 1996, he wrote a prayer of thanksgiving, for his wife, family and his little dog. He also prayed for a future for him and his wife.
As the chemotherapy progressed, so did the after-effects. However, he wrote, Ive got to remember to have faith that He is running the showGet your lip off the ground, and quit whining, Brad.
In February and March 1996, things were going better, but the chemo treatments continued. On April 7, Easter Sunday, Brad went to church. He wrote on April 13, 1996, that the past seven months of treatments and poison are done.
That winter he had went through 22 chemo treatments and 25 radiation treatments, six months with a feeder tube, post-surgery recovery and lots of doubts and fears. He continued his writing and glorifying God, as he continued to grow spiritually.
On May 13, 1996, he wrote of going that day to Carle Hospital in Urbana. The CT scan looked good and he praised God, more for what He did for him spiritually than physically.
That was the last entry until September 1996, when he said that the Lord wanted him to continue writing. He was leading a Sunday school class and wrote, I feel whole, not empty; secure in Christ He was feeling better and stronger, and was wondering if the cancer was gone.
During 1996 and 1997, the cancer did return, to different sites. Brad returned to Carle Hospital and underwent chemo and radiation treatments many times. Through them all, although there were times of discouragement and fear, he never lost faith in Good or failed to praise Him. He continued writing as long as he was able.
There were up times. In August 1997, he wrote of finding a bunch of golf balls in the woods and of playing Wobbly ball. He enjoyed playing golf with the group of older men, who gave him encouragement to keep on going when he was physically drained. As his strength waned, he told his mother he was moving like a Wobbly.
As Brads body weakened and pain medication brought some confusion, Brad still tried to write. Even when he could no longer concentrate or write, he made a last entry in his journal, on Jan. 31, 1998.
Although most of the entry is not very legible, Brad printed very clearly, Lord Jesus. His last words were still to his Lord.
Brad died peacefully in his sleep on Feb. 19, 1998, with his wife and family at his bedside. He had planned his own gravestone, which bears the message he shared with all he loved, words from the scripture, John 14:6.
Brad wrote in a loved ones Bible on July 12, 1997: My eternal life is forever secure with the Father. Nothing can snatch me from my Fathers hand. If I lead the way, rejoice for me and know how happy I am. Heaven is so beautiful. I will see you soon. I love you very much. In Christs love, Brad.