Doug Starkey was understandably subdued on a recent Tuesday afternoon. His shoulders were slightly rounded as he spoke, and his face reflected the agony of losing his wife to cancer just four days earlier.


Mista Starkey, who would have been 44 early next month, died at home Saturday afternoon with her family and friends sharing her final moments. The Camdenton Oak Ridge Intermediate School librarian had lost the battle to breast cancer after a year-long fight.


Doug Starkey was understandably subdued on a recent Tuesday afternoon. His shoulders were slightly rounded as he spoke, and his face reflected the agony of losing his wife to cancer just four days earlier.

Mista Starkey, who would have been 44 early next month, died at home Saturday afternoon with her family and friends sharing her final moments. The Camdenton Oak Ridge Intermediate School librarian had lost the battle to breast cancer after a year-long fight.

But as Doug spoke of her spirit, of her love for her family and her faith in God, his eyes brightened a bit. He smiled as he told of her selflessness as she fought the fight. In March 2010, Mista was told by doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that her disease was terminal.

The irony is that in 2005, Mista was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a precaution she had a double mastectomy. Doctors assured her there was no trace of the cancer and that follow-up chemotherapy and radiation weren’t necessary.

Five years later — the typical “cancer-free” time frame — Mista became ill. Doctors initially thought she was suffering from some type of gastrointestinal problem and ran further tests. They found that her breast cancer had metastasized and was consuming her liver. She was sent to MD Anderson for further diagnosis and testing, but there news wasn’t good.

“She was a trooper,” Doug said. “She went from test to test, she was poked and prodded, and she was moved from here to there and never complained. She taught until a week before she died.”

Mista started back to work at Oak Ridge in January, and her illness caused her to miss some days.

“But she was determined that God was going to use this for some good,” Doug said. “She came home just about every night and said she had gotten a chance to share her story, to talk to others. That was the reason she went back.” Among the messages Doug knows Mista wanted to tell was that if her story, if her battle could convince just one woman to get a mammogram and be diligent in the follow-up, then she had done what God intended.

Doug said Mista wanted to make sure her illness impacted people, that her illness wasn’t in vain. Faced with speaking at her celebration of life May 1, Doug said he wanted to help people make sense of her death.

“People would say to us, why? All of these people loved her. She was an angel,” he said.

Doug and good friend Denise Decker said Mista was blessed not only by her faith and her family, but also by her friends. Fellow teachers at Oakridge Intermediate and other schools in the Camdenton R-III district donated their own sick-leave days so Mista could stay at home when necessary but retain her health insurance.

“That allowed her to stay. People have been unbelievable,” Doug said.

An example of how people reached out to the Starkey family came from Lebanon businessman Bob VanStavern. He learned of Mista’s plight through a mutual friend, and arranged for his private jet to transport her from Lebanon to a private airfield in Houston, and then had an SUV take her directly to MD Anderson.

The outpouring of support and love has been posted on a special Facebook page called “Love and Prayers for Mista.”

Here’s an example:

“I got to know Mista while coming to the cancer center for chemo with my friend Donna. Her smile each time we visited with her was our true blessing, but most importantly she taught me courage and her faith in God was amazing. I remember like yesterday the day we gave her a crucifix necklace and gave her a hug. We are so blessed that God gave us the gift of knowing Mista. We are thinking of you and praying for you during this most difficult time. She is God's arms now and no more pain but peace in heaven.”

And another:

“I feel so blessed to have known Mista, your wife, and mom. She had the most wonderful spirit, encouraging words, understanding heart and beautiful smile. We had so very many long talks in the Happy Church Classroom! Even though I know where she is, and am quite sure that she is probably sitting in a circle with little ones at the feet of Jesus, with a child on her lap... I must admit that I am overwhelmed with sadness and tears, that I will not see that smile again. Know that I grieve with you, love you, think of you and plead God's comfort to 'hug you great big' as you adjust to these difficult days ahead.”

Friendship

Another close friend, Kerri Roettgen, said the death of her mother by cancer brought her and Mista together.

“We become friends after my mom died of cancer four years ago,” Roettgen explained. “She’s just one of those people who I was instantly best friends with.  I went with her to chemo treatments, and we talked every day about life and what she was going through and how she was maintaining her trust in God. She looked to Him for comfort and peace and asked Him long ago to give her peace throughout. He certainly did. She never lost a night’s sleep about worrying. Her trust in God was very deep.”

Responsibility

Doug says Mista “almost looked at this as a responsibility to live up to her faith as a result of this. She continually said people were watching her and her family, so we had to live out our faith even during these difficult times.”

She also felt she had a responsibility others who were less fortunate. It was her idea to adopt a family at Christmas despite the struggles she and her own family were facing.

“She had a hard time with people giving to her,” good-friend Decker said. “One of her dreams was to go to Mackinac Island in Michigan, so Bart and Sue Labrum and friends raised funds for “Mista’s Dream.” She was looking forward to the trip and was scheduled to go this summer. But Mista felt guilty about going when she knew there were so many other people at the lake with needs. That’s just like Mista.”

“She never lost her faith,” Decker said.

“Never,” echoed Doug.

Contact FOCUS editor Dan Field at dan.field@lakemediaonline.com.