Faith, focus on others sustain Estes family during father’s cancer fight

by W. Winston Skinner


The Estes family are all smiles after Rob and Christi renewed their wedding vows in February — an especially festive day after Rob’s cancer diagnosis last year. From left are Robert Jr., Rob, Christi and Sara Ashley. 

When Rob Estes found out he had a brain tumor, he dug into a well of faith — and some memories from childhood and youth.

When he was a youngster, his mother, Martha Ann Parks, would work with him on his homework. Estes, an only child, often fell back on the “I can’t do it” excuse.

His mother’s response was always the same: “Can’t never could.”

Then, when Estes was in high school, he played for the Newnan Cougar football team. At a team breakfast, Dr. Gene Tyre, longtime pastor at First Baptist Church of Newnan, shared Philippians 3:14: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me.”

His mother’s teaching and the verse from Philippians blended together in Estes’ mind — and stuck. “It fired me up back in 1988, and it fires me up now,” he said. “I focus every day on it.”

Estes and his family have needed to rely on their faith since their lives took an unexpected turn a year ago. Estes was running his successful landscaping business when he began to experience some mood and personality issues that he and his wife initially attributed to the typical stresses of life.

“In June, he started having some dull headaches. In July, they were more persistent,” Christi Estes said. Estes was taking aspirin, Aleve and Goody’s powders, but they were no help.

In early July, Estes went on a retreat to the BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C. He got to drive BMWs on a test course. Estes had a great time driving himself, but when he rode with someone else, something happened that had not happened to him before.

He had a severe attack of motion sickness.

Estes visited his doctor, who prescribed medication for migraines. There was “very little relief,” Mrs. Estes recalled.

Eventually, Mrs. Estes took her husband to an urgent care clinic, where they were directed to Piedmont Fayette Hospital. A CT scan showed Estes had a mass on the brain on the front right lobe. “With swelling, it was about the size of a tangerine,” she said.

Mrs. Estes said brain cancer “is really a tough one” to diagnose. Because blood and brain are separated, tests that can detect other cancers are not helpful in finding brain tumors.

Estes underwent surgery on July 20 to remove the tumor. Two days later, he learned he had a grade four glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer considered incurable.

Subsequently he had 30 days of radiation and 40 of chemotherapy. Four weeks of rest followed.

Estes’ spirit has remained positive, and he has focused his attention on reaching out to others with cancer or other struggles. He and his wife founded Can’t Never Could, Inc., which will hold its first major fundraiser on Friday in the parish hall at First United Methodist Church of Newnan.

Husband and wife have found their Christian faith deepened and strengthened in the past year. Major spiritual growth for Rob Estes began seven or eight years ago when his father was diagnosed with cancer.

Since then both Rob and Christi have experienced the Walk To Emmaus, and he is scheduled to lead a Chrysalis gathering, the youth version of the Emmaus program. He also has been part of the Newnan Iron Men, a group meeting weekly for spiritual fellowship and support that has grown from eight to more than 100.

“This all happened before his diagnosis,” Mrs. Estes said. “We feel like God prepared us — for so many different reasons. I would probably be having a nervous breakdown right now if we didn’t have our faith.”

Rob Estes is sharing his testimony — telling how Christ has led him through this challenging chapter in his life. “I have felt He is calling me to speak about the brain cancer part of it,” his wife said.

Earlier this week, the couple went shopping in Newnan. At a store, Estes was approached by a young woman he did not know. With tears in her eyes, the woman told Estes she was facing her own health crisis and that his story was inspiring her. “For me, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Estes wears bracelets with “Can’t Never Could” on one side and “Philippians 3:14” on the other. The bracelets are gray — the color of brain cancer. He slipped his off and gave it to the young woman.

The Estes have two children. Robert Estes Jr., 14, is a ninth-grader at Newnan High, and Sara Ashley, 12, attends the Bedford School in Fairburn.

The family took a holiday trip to Jackson Hole after Christmas. There were snowmobile trips across Yellowstone and a memorable sleigh ride.

Married for 18 years, Christi and Rob renewed their wedding vows at First Methodist on Feb. 15. They met at the downtown church as children, dated in high school and reconnected after college.

“We have really come together as a family because we know how precious life is,” Mrs. Estes said.

The Estes do not focus on the prognosis for glioblastoma. He takes an oral chemotherapy medication five days a week and gets an MRI every two month. Otherwise, he lives his life and shares his story.

“He wants to be out in the community. He wants to be contributing,” Mrs. Estes said.

Rob Estes said getting a cancer diagnosis has sharply rearranged his priorities. “I don’t want to be remembered for all the landscaping work I’ve done,” he said. “I want to be remembered because I shared the love of Christ with everybody I met.”

Christi Estes reflected on where her husband is — emotionally and spiritually. “He’s facing life,” she said, “with hope and determination — and with a can’t never could attitude.”

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