The Edmond Sun

October 23, 2012

Randy Schuneman

Kari Tompkins
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Sometimes, cancer survivors are individuals who haven’t suffered from the illness themselves. Sometimes the survivors are those who are left behind, once the disease has taken those who fought hard against it.

Randy Schuneman, who lost his daughter more than two years ago to liver cancer, knows how these survivors feel and has written a book describing his own experiences with such a loss.  

“When she was 4 years old, she was diagnosed with an ovarian teratoma, which is a multi-celled cancer of the ovary,” Schuneman said. “They had only 10 case studies, because it was so rare. One in three million. Teratomas aren’t that unusual, but maligant teratomas are unusual.”

The doctors were able to cure that cancer with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

“The oncologist that was working with us said, ‘You’ll never have a problem again with this cancer,’ which was true,” Schuneman said. “The only problem was that they didn’t know, for a child 42 pounds, they didn’t know how much radiation and chemotherapy to give her, so they kept trying and they ended up giving her as much as she could have in her lifetime. The radiation caused a secondary cancer 28 years later, and she ended up dying from that.”

Before her death, Schuneman’s daughter, Jennie Schuneman, was a pediatric oncology nurse, able to sympathize with the children who were suffering and help their days be a little brighter.

“She kind of reminded me of Patch Adams, the way that she handled the children,” he said. “She wasn’t scared of being able to put on a clown’s nose. She learned to juggle, specifically so the kids could have something to watch her do. Every time someone came off chemotherapy, she would have a parade in the hospital and lead them around. She touched their lives to the point that when any of her patients died, she wrote a poem for each and every one of them. One of them is actually engraved on the child’s tombstone.”

While he was grieving, Schuneman wrote his book, “Conversations With An Angel,” remembering his daughter’s life and allowing his grief to pour out on the page.

“When I started looking for books, I couldn’t find anybody who had written — I’m sure they’re out there — I couldn’t find anybody who had written a book from the present tense. Maybe three years later, or eight years later, for one of them and 16 years later for another. I am two and a half years from that time and I realize that I am different now than I was after that first six months. I wanted to write it in the present tense and I wanted the raw emotions to still be there.

“As Christians there is a tendency for us to kind of sterilize the environment, to make it look better than it is. We should be able to handle these things. I was a pastor at the time and I realized I hurt just as much as anybody else did. It started out really as a book about the grieving process, but in it also, I started to realize how many times God had worked in her life, how many stories I had to tell. So there’s really two books in one. The first part is about her life and the second the process afterward.”

Schuneman advises other survivors to not try to bear their grief alone.

“Probably the most important thing is every type of loss is different,” he said. “My wife came across a statement that read, ‘when you lose a parent, you lose your past. When you lose a spouse, you lose your present. When you lose a child, you lose your future.’

“People will say things, because they don’t understand and really, to be quite honest, we went to counselors at the beginning and they looked at us and said, ‘I’ve never experienced that kind of loss.’ You need to find somebody — support groups are throughout the city — and be able to sit down with people that have gone through the loss of a child or the loss of a spouse. Realize that the worst thing you can do is try to keep all of those emotions in or be what other people expect you to be, because they don’t understand. You’ve just got to forgive them a lot of times.

“You are not alone. There are a lot of people who are hurting.”

Schuneman’s book, “Conversations With An Angel,” is available in paperback, Kindle and Nook editions. For more information about “Conversations With An Angel,” or to purchase a copy, visit jennieshoe.com.