Cuero man uses final days to inspire friends, family
Editor's note: This is Part II of a two-part story on Andrew Heard. The first part of Heard's story published in the Victoria Advocate on Dec. 15 in the Faith section.
Andrew Heard stirred in the darkness until he awoke in the middle of the night with uncomfortable chest pain, unable to breathe.
For weeks, he'd been experiencing symptoms of pneumonia, coupled with traces of blood coming up when he coughed.
Struggling to breathe in his bed, Heard, 30, woke his wife, Bailey, and his parents sleeping down the hall and let them know something was wrong.
"My left lung had shut down," the Cuero resident recalled of that night. "Thankfully, I was staying with my dad. He's a doctor, a general practitioner, and he was able to help me."
After visiting the hospital, Heard said his father encouraged him to request a computed tomography, or CT scan, to better view what was going on inside his lungs.
The three-dimensional scans are commonly used to supplement X-rays to better detect abnormal growths or changes in the body.
"When I think about it now, it's such a God thing that I got that CT scan because without it, my doctor probably would have taken the X-rays and sent me home with adult onset asthma," he said.
The scan revealed a tumor in Heard's lung and other various parts of the body. Further tests concluded the tumors were cancerous. He had stage 4 lung cancer and a four percent chance of survival.
Heard and Bailey received the news on Sept. 11 that his diagnosis meant he had eight months to live.
It was the second time in Heard's life he'd been told he had cancer and was likely going to die.
"My neighbor found out he had what I had and he died five days later ... a lot of people with this die really fast," Heard said.
Heard and Bailey, 28, had recently returned to Cuero with their 2-year-old daughter, Ellie.
It was to be a new beginning for the couple, who had recently moved from the Dallas area after Heard, a licensed Baptist minister, realized he was having irreconcilable theological struggles with Christianity. He decided his only option was to exit ministry and move his family home to Cuero to be near his parents.
"When we got married, he was in seminary and those questions he had about his faith were there. They started to profoundly affect me because I was very focused in my Christianity and wanted to please the Lord," Bailey said. "His questions eventually became my questions, and I started to feel lost. And then it kind of carried into our marriage."
Bailey said the marriage suffered for a time, and it was a challenge to watch her husband battle with God and his theological questions when he'd spent his entire college and post graduate career obtaining degrees to serve him full-time in ministry.
But Bailey loved her husband, and supported his decision to step down from his youth pastor role because he was leading children to believe in a God he wasn't certain he believed in.
"He felt his integrity was comprised," Bailey said. "I watched him wrestle with it, and I felt relief from him when he was able to step away because he was in such spiritual turmoil."
Heard strayed from Christ entirely in the months after leaving ministry and slipped into what he describes as an intense clinical and spiritual depression. He decided, he was at best, a functional agnostic.
But Heard's religious self-assignment didn't last long.
When he learned of the cancer diagnosis and eight month life expectancy prognosis, he said it was the jolt he needed to realize he was asking the wrong questions. He realized God was real and for the first time in his life, Heard said he couldn't deny his presence.
"I never thought I'd move back to Cuero to be honest, but getting sick again has allowed me to see God show up in my life in crazy Old Testament ways," Heard said.
Bailey, too, has been surprised at her husband's spiritual connectedness.
"What's been amazing is that the whole time we've been married, he's had a lot of questions about God. And now, he has some answers," Bailey said. "Some of those questions are still there, but I would say that he's focused more on the things that really matter in his personal relationship with God. He can see God, and allows the questions to stay in the background."
Heard decided there were too many coincidences of provision and answered prayer in recent months that demonstrated God's presence.
And for the first time, he didn't need an academic or theological answer to understand God was near.
So with a few months left of life, he decided to share his experiences with the public.
Heard has long been a writer and public speaker on faith matters - his next book "A Gray Faith" is due to publish in the spring.
But since September, Heard has been traveling the state, speaking in churches about his struggles with theology and cancer and how people can know God intimately in places of uncertainty. He said he wants them to know they can have questions and be imperfect, and still embrace a personal relationship with Christ. He's made it his final mission to reach the masses.
And he takes his message everywhere, even to the workplace.
Chase Graves, a friend and Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers co-worker, said he's been changed and empowered from his relationship with Heard in the past year.
Graves has watched his friend positively evolve and transform in the past year, especially since the cancer diagnosis, and has continued to be one of Heard's biggest supporters and cheerleaders.
Graves also decided to shave his head when Heard went through chemo treatments and started to lose his hair.
"He's the guy that you meet and within five minutes of knowing him, he makes you feel special and important," said Graves, 24, a Regency recruiting coordinator. "Since we met, he's been more than a friend. He's like a mentor."
Graves said working with Heard and watching him fight cancer with courage and strength has forced him to analyze his own relationship with God and ask some hard questions about life and death.
"I've been so mad at God the past few months and I've just found myself yelling, 'This guy is not supposed to die.' If I could give him my lung, I would," said Graves. "It's definitely going to hurt me (if he dies)." "If the world knew who Andrew Heard was, they would definitely be affected."
Heard and Graves both expressed appreciation for Regency employees who've shown unwavering support for Heard and his family in recent months. Regency allows Heard flexibility in his role as senior recruiting and leadership coordinator, so he can stay on with the company while continuing his chemo treatments.
The company also designed blue "Stand up for Andrew" cancer bracelets, which are displayed and distributed in the front reception area in Regency's downtown Victoria corporate office.
"In a lot of ways, I've experienced the church in that company, which has nothing to do with Jesus, more than I ever did when I was working in ministry," Heard said. "I appreciate everything they've done for me."
In the last few months of his life, Heard is writing and chronicling his experiences with cancer and God on his blog, andrewbheard.com. He's asking hard questions and stirring conversations among Christians that challenge church traditionalists as well as the Christian status quo.
But he's also making sure to spend quality time with family, especially his two favorite girls.
For Ellie, Heard decided to illustrate a cartoon book of her favorite animals with encouraging quotes on each page - signed, "Love, Daddy."
He's also recording special video messages for her to watch on special days of her life, such as prom and, one day, her wedding day.
"It depends on which day you ask me," if I'm mad that I'm dying. "Anytime I look at my daughter, I cry, and I think yes. But when I think about what's to come and what God has planned for me, I think no," he said.
Heard is also planning something special for Bailey, though he hasn't yet decided what it will be.
Heard and Bailey recently bought a house next door to Heard's parent's house in Cuero, and the pair are working to develop and launch Bailey's life coach business.
"This whole situation, I have a peace about it . I shouldn't, but I do," Bailey said. "I think I'm most scared about being a single parent. I feel sad for Ellie because she won't know her dad, but she gives me the courage to not throw in the towel, and live my life."
Both Bailey and Graves are convinced that Heard's perspective on God and his relationship in their lives has shaped and changed them for the better.
And when they think about him not being around to lead others to God, the realize how much the world will be missing out.
"I really do think the world will suffer with him not being here and not hearing his message the way only he could present it," Bailey said. "But he knows where he is going. He's not afraid of death, and he's open to the adventure of heaven. A lot of my strength comes from Andrew's strength ... I know I'll see him again."