16th annual Sherry's Run held in Memory of Geoff Sadler
Faith Over Fear
The Sadler family knows a thing or two about facing storms in life. When the couple met in 2012, what followed was a whirlwind of events that would force Heather and Geoff Sadler to cling to the only source of true peace this world offers: faith in Christ.
Though their first date almost never happened, as Heather was nervous and running late, fate stepped in. “I was giving you 5 more minutes, and then I was out of there!” Geoff would later laugh. Both of them had lived a lot of life before committing to marriage, Heather involved in positions with marketing and healthcare, and Geoff serving four years in the US Navy, during which he served as a submariner in Desert Storm before becoming an IT specialist and senior network engineer.
“The world needs more Geoff Sadlers in this world,” says Heather. “He was a wonderful and genuine guy and was honored to serve his country.” The couple married in Trenton, Tennessee, just outside Heather’s hometown of Milan, in the same church where Heather’s parents married and were also buried. “I wanted to get married where my parents could be a part,” Heather says. After losing both of her parents when she was just 25, she wanted to find a way to honor her past and connect her future. Heather and Geoff were eager to start a family and quickly welcomed 2 daughters, Sophie and Savvy Jean, and although both pregnancies were high risk and full of surprises, both girls would be completely healthy. The family of four would have one year of “normal” before their world was shaken and their faith tested.
Just after Thanksgiving in 2017, Geoff suddenly began coughing up blood. Alarmed, but figuring the blood was from an ulcer brought on by stress, the couple headed to Vanderbilt. A few days later, with their small girls in the stroller beside them, they faced their worst fear- Geoff was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer. “I will never forget that moment” Heather remembers. “The doctor told us he had six months to live. I looked at my girls beside me and then told the doctor she couldn’t tell me that. God makes those calls. I told her that we were going to M.D. Anderson for a second opinion.”
Geoff quickly supported his wife’s quick thinking and said, “Yes, we are going to M.D. Anderson.” When the doctor left the room, Geoff then looked at Heather and asked, “Who is M.D. Anderson and where are they?” After Heather told Geoff that she considered M.D. Anderson to be the number one cancer hospital in the U.S. located in Houston, he replied, “You were so confident about it that I decided it was best to just go with it!”
By December, the couple was in Houston at M.D. Anderson. The doctors decided that Geoff qualified for a trial study and would receive two immunotherapy drugs. At first, Geoff seemed to tolerate the drugs well and the couple headed home. One week later, Geoff began to break out in hives, which quickly became blisters, which then turned into burns. After rushing to Vanderbilt for emergency care, Geoff was diagnosed with TENS- topic epidermal necrolysis, a rare side effect from the immunotherapy. Burns covered 80% of Geoff’s body. He was admitted to Vanderbilt’s Burn Unit and would spend 15 days there recovering. Although the cancer was dying from the immunotherapy, he could not continue in the trial because the doctors were unsure which of the two drugs had caused the reaction. Any further treatment with the drugs could prove deadly to Geoff’s already weakened body.
After recovering from the burns, doctors at M.D. Anderson decided that Geoff would begin chemotherapy. Because the chemo would weaken his immunity and being around his girls could expose him to sickness, the couple decided that Geoff would take the chemo in Memphis at West Clinic, a partner with M.D. Anderson and then stay with his parents in nearby Germantown. Geoff’s mother and stepfather of 36 years took on the roles of caregivers and cheerleaders during his treatments at West Clinic. His stepfather, Boyd Webb, took him to every treatment and was the person in charge of the calendar; he was the family’s operations director. Never did Geoff go alone to any appointment thanks to the help of his mother and stepdad. This allowed Heather to maintain some normalcy for the girls back home in Lebanon. They had decided early on that “cancer” was not part of the vocabulary they wanted their girls to hear, nor would their family be defined by it. Geoff drove himself to and from Memphis for each treatment and worked from home the entire duration of his chemotherapy. “He was tough,” says Heather. “Even when he didn’t feel like working, he did.”
That toughness seemed to be paying off until late October 2018 when Geoff again began coughing up blood due to an esophageal bleed. After receiving an emergency blood transfusion, Geoff seemed to be bouncing back. Unfortunately, Geoff’s scans showed that the chemo was not working and the tumors in his esophagus were growing. He had also begun suffering from frequent headaches. The couple returned to West Clinic, and Geoff underwent a CT scan. Although the doctors reassured the Sadlers that esophageal cancer rarely spreads to the brain, the scans showed three brain tumors. The cancer was now in his esophagus, liver, lungs and brain. Doctors advised Geoff to spend time with his family and to begin radiation, which would possibly slow the cancer and give him more time.
Heather and Geoff returned home, stunned, and huddled together. “That’s all we could do,” Heather says. “Geoff didn’t want to tell anyone that the cancer had spread to his brain.” Geoff had always been brilliant, and the thought of cancer stealing anything from his brain was unbearable. “He did not want to do radiation on his brain. There were so many fears with that. But I told him I was fighting for more time with him.” Because of his great love for all three of his girls and his desire to have as much time as possible with them, Geoff decided to proceed with radiation and completed 5 out of 8 sessions, also taking these treatments in Memphis. Though he was exhausted from treatment, Geoff put on his tough face for his family; Thanksgiving was coming, and he wanted to enjoy it with his loved ones.
Heather and the girls headed to Germantown the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The family was all gathering, and Geoff was excited to have everyone together for Thanksgiving. They ate, laughed, joked and took family pictures. On Friday, the family enjoyed a quiet day in their pajamas and watched football. Though Geoff was very tired, he enjoyed watching the girls play. Their plan was to return to Lebanon the following day, so they went to bed early. Geoff told his girls goodnight and that he loved them.
During the night, Geoff’s condition quickly deteriorated, and Heather knew something was horribly wrong. Geoff was again rushed to the ER, where it was discovered that he was in a diabetic coma, caused by the ravages of the chemotherapy to his thyroid and the high doses of steroids. Another scan was ordered, and Geoff was placed on a ventilator. This scan showed that Geoff had also suffered a pneumothorax caused by growth of a tumor in his lung. By this time, Geoff was unconscious. Surrounded by family and friends, Heather made the decision to remove her husband’s breathing tube, and Geoff passed into the arms of Jesus while holding Heather’s hand.
Heather was now faced with the unthinkable task of telling the news of their father’s passing to their young girls. Though there were many tears, it was Geoff’s desire that his tiny tribe continue on with a celebration at First United Methodist in Lebanon, TN. Heather wanted her girls near her side during visitation, so the church opened the gym, and friends and family brought in bounce houses and Chick-fil-A nuggets. “Geoff would have loved it,” says Heather. “He wanted a party for his girls.” The following day, the family held a celebration service where family and friends spoke, and the Sadler girls colored on the steps of the altar of the church. “This is real life, and I wanted my girls to be a part,” Heather says.
Throughout their journey, Heather and Geoff clung to their faith. “Psalm 91:4 tells us that He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge,” Heather says. “When the worst happens, you can choose to either walk away from God because He did not answer your prayers or choose to trust Him through it.” Geoff encouraged Heather to trust in God’s plans for their lives and to use their story to encourage others. “Although I’ve been the mouthpiece of our faith, make no mistake, Geoff was the foundation,” says Heather.
Heather, Sophie and Savvy Jean are walking forward, gradually putting the pieces of their lives back together. It has been seven months since Geoff’s passing, and the dust continues to settle. They continue to lean on family and friends and are thankful to everyone in the community who has upheld them throughout their journey. “I’ve been very vocal to everyone that Sherry’s Run paid our utility bill the entire time during Geoff’s treatments. It was one less thing for me to worry about,” says Heather. “That made a huge difference. Sherry’s Run helped us, and now we want to help them help others.” Heather and her girls are committed to being part of Sherry’s Run because raising money to help families in similar situations is one way they can fight the ravages of cancer. “I know that money stays right here and goes to families who look like us and are fighting this same battle,” says Heather.
This year, the 2019 Sherry’s Run 5K will be held in Geoff Sadler’s memory. Heather and the girls plan to be at the event and are forming a team named Princess Protection Agency to honor Geoff. “Geoff always said he was the founding member of the Princess Protection Agency, and we have had so many who have stepped up to help us protect our girls,” says Heather, “This is a way for us to give back and make it fun for the girls.” Giving back is one way the Sadler family has continued forward while honoring Geoff’s legacy. “Geoff wanted to teach the girls to help those who help others, whatever organization or mission you believe in,” says Heather. “For us, one of those missions is going to be Sherry’s Run.”
Our God is always at work for His glory and our good, even when our world seems shaken to its core. Jesus knew and experienced the heartbreak of this world, and He overcame it. Heather Sadler chooses to trust that God is upholding her family and will bring good from their journey. “I pray that everyone has seen our faith shine through our dark days and will know that faith is what helps me face each day with my girls,” she says. Heather is thankful for every day God gave her with Geoff. “Geoff and I may have only been married for 5 years, but I had the best for 5 years. He was worth every tear.”