A short stack of folders full of medical records sat on the table between him and the empty rocking chair.
Coy Sharp looks out toward his Bargersville neighborhood, smiling and waving to neighbors as they pass by. When one asks how he’s been, Sharp grins with his response: “I’m looking forward to turning 80. I’ve never been 80.”
In the past 17 years, Sharp has defeated two different types of cancer, lost his son to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and in March, lost his wife after a massive seizure left her hospitalized for three days until she passed away.
Most of those memories, if they aren’t in the forefront of his mind, are detailed in the folders sitting next to the empty rocking chair that his wife should still be sitting in.
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Some days are harder than others for Sharp, but every day he remembers the one thing that got him through both bouts with cancer and the emotional turmoil he endured when his son and wife passed away: never giving up. Mentally, emotionally and physically, for the past 17 years, Sharp has made it a point to remind himself that he can’t give up, he said.
His battle began in 1999 when doctors found a malignant polyp during a colonoscopy. He was already familiar with cancer, after losing both his parents to the disease.
From the beginning, Sharp wanted to battle the disease on his own terms. When doctors wanted to schedule a procedure to remove a part of his colon as soon as possible, Sharp said no. He wanted to take advantage of his favorite season of the year, one last time, or so he thought.
“When they scheduled it on the first day of deer (hunting) season, I told them to go fly a kite,” Sharp said.
Eventually, the doctors agreed and waited to perform the procedure to remove about 10 inches of his colon until after hunting season.
His battle with colon cancer was merely the start of an almost two-decades-long battle with diseases and illness in his family that would test Sharp’s never-give-up-mentality.
Cancer has given me a positive outlook on life. I live in no fear of cancer ever coming back. Right now, I’m just ready to start hunting. —Coy Sharp
Just three years after his procedure, Sharp’s son, Barry, was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 45. For the next four years, Coy Sharp, his wife and his daughter, Angie Parmer, did everything they could to care for Barry so he wouldn’t have to live in an assisted living facility, Parmer said.
Barry died in September 2006. By April 2007, Sharp was in bad shape physically — down nearly 70 lbs. — and his family and doctors worried he was suffering from depression, Parmer said.
But Parmer insisted something wasn’t right and requested more tests.
When the tests came back, doctors had to break the news to Sharp and his family: diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was already Stage IV, Parmer said. Sharp’s family was told it would be tough to beat — about one in every 12,000 people diagnosed with the cancer at that stage will survive, Parmer said.
Doctors told Sharp that he needed to begin treatment as soon as possible, Sharp said. The chemotherapy was intense, and Sharp began losing even more weight. At one point he looked so ill, doctors and Sharp thought he was on the brink of losing his battle with cancer, Sharp said.
“There was one point when people would come and visit me while I was in the hospital, they thought it was the last time they were ever going to see me alive,” Sharp said.
“I thought I was going to go at any time. You get to a point where you can’t talk, and if you eat, you’ll throw it up. I’d lived a good life. I wasn’t going to give up, but I didn’t care if I went in that condition.”
Miraculously, Sharp hung on, though he doesn’t remember much from the time he underwent chemotherapy for seven hours a day, Sharp said. Sharp had to go every day for about six months.
During the next two years, while Sharp was still going through treatment, his condition would shift from bad to tolerable, never truly reaching a point where he felt healthy, though never returning to the state he was in when many thought his days were numbered, Sharp said.
Eventually, his health slowly began to improve and he was allowed to be at home more often, only returning to the hospital for treatment as needed and the doctor for follow-ups, Sharp said.
When Sharp and his wife and daughter came back to the doctor in 2009, the physician looking over his charts didn’t know how to explain what he was looking at, nor could he believe how healthy Sharp looked, Sharp said. The doctor told him his cancer was in full remission, and told Sharp he had no idea how lucky he was, Sharp said.
“For dad’s family, cancer is usually a death sentence — my dad is the only one in his family who’s survived cancer,” Parmer said.
But just months later, Sharp’s family once again would be faced with another difficult medical situation. Family members, and even some of the doctors who treated Sharp’s wife, Elvadene, aren’t sure if she began suffering from a series of mild strokes or multiple seizures, Parmer said.
But in late 2009, shortly after Sharp beat cancer again, Elvadene had the first of what would be several seizures during the next seven years that led to brain to damage and symptoms consistent with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“It’s like we would take a breath, then something else happened,” Parmer said. “When you hear something you would think, here we go again, and hope God could give you the strength needed.”
In March, Coy and Elvadene Sharp had just returned from the hospital after Elvadene had another seizure. Coy was feeding Elvadene when she had the seizure. She was taken to the hospital and died three days later.
For most of the seven years prior to his wife’s death, Sharp took care of her, just as he had with his son, he said. But that time spent caring for his wife of 58 years took a much stronger toll on him mentally and emotionally than cancer ever did, Parmer said.
“After my wife passed, I was about the most lonesome person you’d ever seen. Losing my son and her were the worst things I ever had happen to me. It didn’t bother me if I was going to die, but losing her just tore me up,” Sharp said.
“One of the things I remember, when I was taking care of my wife, I would ask her, ‘what do you want?’ and she would sometimes say, ‘Coy, I want you.’ That never got old.”
The Sharp family has always been close, but after losing Barry and Elvadene, Parmer and Coy are even closer than before, Parmer said.
Since his wife passed, Sharp spends time with his daughter and takes trips to his native state of Kentucky, where he has worked on small projects, such as restoration of a home or rebuilding a barn he owns, Sharp said.
Parmer and other friends and family worried about Sharp following his wife’s death, but he’s stayed busy and has made more time for his family, which has a lot to do with his positive outlook, Parmer said.
Sharp plans on making more trips to Kentucky to work on his property and get back to hunting, Sharp said.
“I had a wonderful life before cancer. I never thought I was going to go through what I’ve lived through. But I always liked a little competition — I never gave up and it’s the reason I lived,” Sharp said.
Name: Coy Sharp
Cancer: Colon cancer, October 1999. Surgery removed 10 inches of his colon. Large B-cell lymphoma, April 2007.
Treatment: Six months of chemotherapy.
What cancer taught me: To never give up on anything. When I was in chemotherapy, I thought it would be the last time I saw friends and family from Kentucky when they came to visit. When my mom had cancer they told her she had three months to live, she lived two more years. I know I’m still here because I refused to give in or give up.
How cancer changed me: I have a positive outlook on life. I was lucky to survive the second time around. There’s life after cancer.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer: Don’t give up.