Lincoln family starts We Care Endowment after tumor diagnosis
Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Larry Zitek of Cathedral of the Risen Christ Parish in Lincoln was as fit and happy as could be early last summer.
He had just sold his business two weeks earlier. One of his two grown daughters had recently closed on a house down the street from where he and his wife live. Retirement looked good as he enjoyed yet another round of golf with friends.
Then he suffered a seizure.
Since the Ziteks had good insurance and financial stability, they were able to get medical testing in short order. A biopsy proved that Zitek had a Grade IV Glioblastoma Multiforme brain tumor, a highly aggressive cancer for which there is no cure.
He returned home from the biopsy very ill and still having 10-15 small seizures a day. His wife Brenda and their daughters desperately wanted him to have a second opinion and treatment at MD Anderson, a preeminent cancer center. Alas, Mr. Zitek was not well enough to travel to Houston either by car or commercial airline.
“Dear friends made it possible for him to fly privately down to MD Anderson,” Mrs. Zitek said.
That was one of the beautiful things that came out of Mr. Zitek’s diagnosis – the outpouring of love, spiritual support, and offers of practical help.
He started to formulate an idea. Knowing how much he and his family were blessed, and knowing how much they relied on the help of others to get through this difficult time, Mr. Zitek felt the urge to help others who were also facing terrible health crises.
“It’s a real fight,” he said. “Nobody should go through this alone.”
On the private plane to Houston, Mr. Zitek sensed the familiar precursor to one of his seizures – the stench of rotten fruit.
“My earthly body was going through some serious junk,” Mr. Zitek said. “I just fell asleep, I guess. Then I heard two voices say, ‘Go to Jesus, get under His cloak, and He will take care of you.”
Following these instructions, Mr. Zitek felt himself resting his head against the Lord’s shoulder and becoming overwhelmed with a warm, happy feeling.
“What I remember most is how great He smelled,” Mr. Zitek smiled. “It was like the freshest, cleanest thing you could possibly smell.”
At one point in his experience, Zitek followed the Lord a short distance, understanding that he could go to a more “permanent” place.
“But I could hear Brenda crying in the background,” he said, “So I said, ‘We’re not ready. This happened way too fast… I need to get a foundation set up, and I want to do that before I pass on.”
Mr. Zitek’s experience ended with him awaking in the hospital. He felt more resolved than ever to create some way to help other people.
Following surgery in Houston and during rehabilitation, chemo and radiation treatments that lasted into mid October, the Ziteks had all the help they needed.
“Friends and family literally never left my side,” Mrs. Zitek said. “When we made the decision to stay in Houston for radiation and chemo treatment, dear friends found us a furnished apartment, loaded it with groceries and took care of me until Larry was released from the hospital.”
Despite the best possible medical care, the tumor continues to cause decline in Mr. Zitek’s physical and mental abilities. It will take his life at some point. As regrettable as that is, the Ziteks don’t ask, “Why us?”
‘“We accept it as God’s will,” Mr. Zitek said.
“Yeah, I think we have,” his wife agreed. “We just pray for Divine Mercy, to handle these things as they come up.”
As they wait on the Lord, the Ziteks are focusing on building up the We Care Endowment – a chance to offer help to others deal with similar diagnoses.
There are two components to We Care. First, money is being raised to fund the endowment. These dollars are being carefully managed by the Catholic Foundation with a goal to produce at least 5% earnings each year.
The 5% will be used to pay for medical-related or travel expenses for applicants who have received devastating health diagnoses so they can get second opinions or specialized treatment. Meanwhile, the rest of the funds are reinvested so that the We Care Endowment will exist for hundreds of years.
“It’s going to go on for a long time, and it’s going to help a lot of people,” Mr. Zitek stated.
So far, $60,000 has been raised, but Mr. Zitek’s goal is to see the fund reach $500,000 to ensure that many people can get the financial help they need.
The second component is the spiritual support. The Ziteks envision a network of people who can be called on to pray, make Mass intentions, and send encouraging letters to recipients of We Care funding.
With the foretaste of heaven he experienced, Mr. Zitek is comfortable resting in the will of God.
He quoted Saint Padre Pio: “Hope, pray and don’t worry,” adding, “This whole experience has elevated my relationship with God to a level that I didn’t know was possible.”
Applications for We Care funding can be filed with Catholic Social Services. Call (402) 474-1600 for more information.