A Loving Wife & Mother: A Tragic Loss

I’ve never actually met Andrew Swingler, but I consider him a friend. Andrew is a fellow voice talent who lives in Southern California. Like many VO friends I have, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Andrew through Facebook, Twitter, and Voiceover Universe, as he is an avid contributor to the VO community through these social media outlets.

For the past few months, Andrew has shared a personal struggle for he and his family, as they have dealt with the ill health of his wife, Sandra, after she was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2011. Andrew has shared many of the trials and tribulations along the way, and hasn’t been afraid to ask for prayers and support, which he has graciously received from the wonderful members of the VO community.

Sadly, Andrew posted last week that Sandra lost her battle with this terrible disease, passing away with family and friends at her side on June 27. From the accounts Andrew had shared over the past few months, Sandra was a loving wife and mother to the very end, and will be greatly missed.

Many have offered love and support to Andrew and his two daughters, Elizabeth and Rachel, through their posts on Facebook, Twitter and the Positive Thinkers Unite group on Voiceover Universe. Others are going a step further. Anne Ganguzza has set up a scholarship fund through her website.  Andy Boyns has provided links on his blog, including a link to Natalie Cooper’s auction for her 50,000th tweet to help raise funds for the Swingler family. I encourage you to visit these blogs and help in any way you can.

My offering to Andrew is my blog, to use as a forum to tell us more about he and Sandra, as a way to work through his grief, but at the same time, share the joy of the life they shared. As you read Andrew’s words, please keep him and his family in your prayers.

Sandra’s Story ~ by Andrew Swingler

Boy meets girl. Boy takes girl on date. Boy and girl fall in love, get married, have children, settle down. That’s how it started, nothing special to write home about.

Sandra and I were both born in England but came separately to the US before finding each other. We clicked instantly and were married within a year. Our two beautiful daughters Elizabeth and Rachel came along soon afterwards. Life was good – I had a great job and we lived in a lovely home that echoed with laughter. The girls thrived in a small private school close to our home. We were living the American dream. For a while at least.

We had tough times. Very tough times. I owned my own small business and the economic downturn decimated it. We lost the business, our home and had to take our children out of the school. We had no income and were living off handouts from the local food bank. From prosperity we became paupers.

Throughout the good and the bad times Sandra was the rock of the family. She made sure that the girls never missed a single meal, home-schooled them for 18 months when we couldn’t afford to send them to the private school, cooked, cleaned, did the washing – all without complaint. Sandra was never a complainer.

Life was beginning to turn around a little during 2011. I’d got some steady work and we were slowly digging ourselves out of the very deep financial hole we had found ourselves in. Sandra and the girls were both loving the home-school program which gave her so much quality time with the children, and she’d got them plugged in for piano lessons and the local swim team.

Sandra never did things by halves – when she wasn’t buried in something for the schoolwork she’d be sitting poolside or assisting at a competitive swim event, ensuring that the girls had all of the support that she could possibly give them.

And then, one Friday, it happened.

December 9th, 2011. Sandra was getting ready to take the girls to a very important swim competition in Palm Springs. She’d been suffering from increasing headaches and neck pain for the previous few weeks and the local doctor had referred her to a neurologist the previous day who immediately sent her for an MRI. That Friday, the day following the MRI, Sandra looked at me and with tears in her eyes told me “I can’t do it Andrew, I can’t take the girls to Palm Springs”.

I knew immediately something was very very wrong as Sandra would never let the girls down if she had a choice. Within a minute or two Sandra sat down in her chair and stopped responding when I talked to her. When she did speak her voice had suddenly become very quiet. We packed the kids up and sent them off to friends, and I drove Sandra to the doctor who retrieved the MRI results. “It’s bad news” she said, “they have found two masses; one wrapped around your brain stem and another in your thyroid”. We rushed Sandra to the ER.

From that point on, Sandra fought one problem after another. They weren’t able to determine the type of cancer even after three biopsies (one surgical) and reviews by 3 of the best pathology labs in the country. She was passed around 3 hospitals and had numerous long-term visits to each of them. She couldn’t swallow and her tongue didn’t work properly, which along with the problem with her voice turned out to be the tumor pressing on the nerves – there was no way to fix those issues unless the tumor could be removed somehow.

Surgery wasn’t an option due to the position – it was pressing on the base of the brain and many nerves and vital vessels were in the area. Because she couldn’t swallow Sandra had to be fitted with a tube into her stomach. This tube would cause endless complications throughout the next 7 months. Still Sandra didn’t complain. An E-Coli infection, pneumonia, sepsis, even an emergency surgery with a 50% mortality rate when she perforated her bowel were handled with grace and even humor. She would lose her hearing and the use of her legs – no complaints from Sandra.

We learned in May that the cancer was probably a dedifferentiated chordoma – a cancer so rare that less than 100 cases have ever been recorded worldwide.

At the beginning of June 2012 the doctors told us that everything that could be done to fight the cancer had been done, and now the care she would receive would be palliative – simply to make her comfortable. It was almost 6 months to the day when we finally realized that the fight was over, and that we would lose Sandra. We took Sandra home on hospice for a few days around the girls’ birthdays and spent a lovely couple of days opening presents with Mom around her bed.

Sandra just wasn’t comfortable at home though, so we took her back to the hospital and on June 27th 2012 at 2:45am we said goodbye to her. The moment was peaceful and the girls were holding their Mom’s hand as she passed away.

We’re still hurting of course. Perhaps that won’t ever go away, but there has continued to be a peace around the house since Sandra’s passing. The girls have their sad moments but are doing well – they laugh and play with their friends; I’m sure they’ll be okay.

The future is uncertain but we will get through it together, as a family.

Throughout this process, and since Sandra’s passing, it has been amazing how we have been blessed by friends and family and even people we’ve never met who have helped us in so many ways. It’s a testament to Sandra and the giving, thoughtful woman that she was.

In closing, I wanted to talk a little about who Sandra was. She was a giving, honorable woman who always put others before herself. Even when she was extremely sick in hospital she would put her arms around visitors and tell them not to worry, and that she’d pray for them. Sandra was selfless with everything she did. She cared deeply about other peoples’ happiness.

I’m proud that she is the Mother of my beautiful children, and I’m proud to be able to say that she was my wife.

Sandra – you will be missed by many. You will live on in our hearts and your legacy of selfless love and caring has changed the world. You made a difference – thank you.

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