THERE IS NO ‘I’ IN TEAM­WORK CAN­CER OR GO'’S GLORY

Jeff Busby has known suc­cess, but his re­cent bat­tle with can­cer strength­ened his re­la­tion­ships with God and his wife in ways he couldn't imag­ine.

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Features - by G.R. Schi­avino

Jeff Busby has known suc­cess–both in the arena and in life–but a can­cer bat­tle strength­ened his re­la­tion­ships with God and his wife in ways he could never imag­ine.

TEAM ROPER JEFF BUSBY, 55, OF BROCK, TEXAS, spent his early years chop­ping weeds in cot­ton fields for $1 an hour. As an engi­neer in his garage some years later, he be­gan what would be­come Av-DEC, a com­pany that spe­cial­izes in anti-cor­ro­sion avi­a­tion tech­nolo­gies and caters to the needs of in­di­vid­u­als fly­ing per­sonal air­craft, busi­nesses main­tain­ing their com­mer­cial fleets, and even the U.S. mil­i­tary, which read­ily in­cor­po­rated Av-DEC’s well-tested prod­ucts into its man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

In ad­di­tion to sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess in aero­space en­gi­neer­ing, Busby, with his wife An­drea, owns and op­er­ates Busby Quar­ter Horses in Mill­sap, Texas, where they raise and train team rop­ing and bar­rel horses, fea­tur­ing their stand­ing studs, Blazin Je­tolena and Blazin Honor, as well as run cat­tle. An­drea’s is a rec­og­nized named in the bar­rel rac­ing arena and she was com­pet­ing in San An­to­nio, not quite one year ago, when she got the news.

“I just started bawl­ing right there in the al­ley­way.”

Jeff had can­cer.

The Bus­bys went to work find­ing a dream team of doc­tors in Fort Worth. The type of can­cer Jeff had—squa­mous cell car­ci­noma of the throat—was cur­able, but the treat­ment would be bru­tal. They were given an 80-per­cent chance of sur­vival, and that’s where they set their sights.

An­drea, who was a nurse prior to mar­ry­ing Jeff, de­voted her­self to Jeff’s care from the get-go—a de­ci­sion that would earn her the en­dear­ing nick­name of “Nurse Ratched” be­fore too long.

To pre­pare for the 35 ra­di­a­tion treat­ments and six rounds of chemo­ther­apy, surg­eries were planned in March to re­move all of Jeff’s bot­tom teeth and some of his jaw, and to insert a feed­ing tube that would be nec­es­sary when the ef­fects of the ra­di­a­tion would pre­vent Jeff from swal­low­ing. And that was only the be­gin­ning.

An­drea’s ac­count of Jeff’s bat­tle in­cludes minute de­tails like which med­i­ca­tions Jeff was on dur­ing which week of his ther­apy and how he re­acted to each of those med­i­ca­tions pro­gres­sively. She was with him in their home, where they would re­turn af­ter their daily hospi­tal vis­its, and she was with him for end­less treat­ments and ap­point­ments. In his func­tion­ing hours, she would cater to his needs, like mak­ing him meals he could swal­low and stom­ach, while, when he would crash, she would de­sign in­spi­ra­tion boards to keep Jeff mo­ti­vated, and call upon friends for much-needed ad­vice and strength.

“It’s kind of hard to see it at the time, but God just puts things and peo­ple in place,” An­drea mar­veled. “We would not have got­ten through this with­out our faith and with­out the peo­ple we had around us who had faith, who held our hands through it.”

Jeff agrees, though his ac­count of stand­ing toe-to-toe with can­cer is more big-pic­ture. Of­ten times, he doesn’t ac­tu­ally re­call many of his own har­row­ing mo­ments un­til An­drea re­counts the story back to him—a phe­nom­e­non that may sim­ply be the re­sult of be­ing pre­scribed co­pi­ous amounts of pain med­i­ca­tions, or the hand of some­thing much greater … or both.

“I re­mem­ber it very vividly when she brings up the hell we lived through,” Jeff ex­plained, “but it’s like some­how some­thing’s pro­tect­ing me from dwelling on it.”

Not dwelling on it was a large part of Jeff’s ap­proach through­out his treat­ments, which he refers to as “men­tal war­fare.”

“I thought I might die,” he ad­mit­ted, “but I never wor­ried about dy­ing. I nev-

er let it creep into my mind—what’s go­ing to hap­pen if I’m not here—be­cause I couldn’t have any weak­ness in my mind that I wasn’t go­ing to make it.”

An­drea, on the other hand, cer­tainly wor­ried about it, par­tic­u­larly when, af­ter com­plet­ing all of his treat­ments, Jeff was rushed to the emer­gency room for an in­fec­tion that was de­vel­op­ing at the site of his feed­ing tube in­ser­tion. The ef­fects of the ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy at this stage meant Jeff could barely tol­er­ate swal­low­ing or keep­ing much down, and that his re­sources for fight­ing off in­fec­tions had been se­verely de­pleted. He was losing weight at a rapid pace and when he was fi­nally re­leased from the hospi­tal some eight days later, he weighed a mere 149 lbs.

“Not the weight-loss plan you’d rec­om­mend for some­one,” Jeff joked.

“I didn’t think he was com­ing out of the hospi­tal,” An­drea re­mem­bered of that post-treat­ment scare. “I would lay there in my lit­tle cot and have this ar­gu­ment with God: I don’t want to lose him. Now, I keep say­ing it was God who was so faith­ful in the hospi­tal. So many times, He just an­swered our pray­ers.”

Grow­ing up in the Texas pan­han­dle town of Sla­ton, near Lub­bock, Jeff’s brother-in-law in­tro­duced him to calf-rop­ing, which his fa­ther al­lowed for the sim­ple be­lief it would keep Jeff out of trou­ble. But af­ter a few months of jump­ing off a horse that never re­ally stopped and run­ning down the rope to where a wild brahma-cross would come and meet him half­way, Jeff turned his attentions to team rop­ing, and stay­ing on his horse.

In col­lege, with the aid of a pro­fes­sor who thought bet­ter of Jeff’s am­bi­tions to be a vet­eri­nar­ian, Jeff dis­cov­ered the en­gi­neer­ing lab. He rodeoed at South Plains Jr. Col­lege be­fore pur­su­ing his de­gree from Texas Tech, where he’d vol­un­teer for the rodeos with no less than four me­chan­i­cal pen­cils in his shirt pocket—a sure sign he’d be re­turn­ing to the lab post-rodeo.

Fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion, Jeff pur­sued his en­gi­neer­ing ca­reer with Exxon, fol­lowed by Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics, which landed him in Fort Worth, amidst myr­iad rop­ing events and op­por­tu­ni­ties like the Coors Rop­ings, the Bud Light Rop­ings, and even the start-up of the USTRC. In 1992, Jeff was mak­ing $34,000 at Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics when, in one month, he won $6,200 and a USTRC sad­dle from the Lazy E.

“Those were change-of-lifestyle type num­bers,” Jeff re­called. “I could af­ford a trailer with a full top in­stead of a half-top stock trailer, which is what I used to col­lege rodeo.”

That kind of money was in line with Jeff’s goals at the time: Two horses to rope on, five acres, and a few prac­tice steers. But by the end of the year, Jeff’s win­ning streak was long over and his dad’s ad­vice to rope for fun in­stead of money was be­gin­ning to make sense, par­tic­u­larly on pa­per. He put his mind to his pro­fes­sional work, and in 1997, be­gan his aero­space en­gi­neer­ing start-up, Av-DEC, a ven­ture that has al­lowed him to meet those orig­i­nal goals, and more.

“You’ve got to be your own ad­vo­cate,” Jeff as­serted. “Your prod­uct isn’t any good un­less you can sell it.”

It’s a be­lief that ap­plies to both his busi­ness prac­tices and his ap­proach as a can­cer pa­tient. On a few oc­ca­sions in the hospi­tal, Jeff and An­drea each had to be staunch de­fend­ers of Jeff’s well-be­ing. De­spite re­ceiv­ing what Jeff con­sid­ers to be the best care, as they say, the devil is in the de­tails, which can some­times be over­looked by even the most well-in­ten­tioned nurses and tech­ni­cians. Jeff made sure to ask lots of ques­tions as he headed into var­i­ous pro­ce­dures, while An­drea main­tained a spread­sheet of data with Jeff’s med­i­ca­tions, dosages, and other notes.

Also, Jeff didn’t com­plain. Not through the surg­eries, the ra­di­a­tion, the chemo­ther­apy, the post-treat­ment scare; not any of it. Not only did he not com­plain, but he was—and re­mains—grate­ful.

Ac­cord­ing to Jeff, through all of it, he couldn’t rea­son how God might be will­ing to bless him with heal­ing if he couldn’t ad­vo­cate his faith in God’s plan.

“When I’m pray­ing and thank­ing God,” Jeff said, “I know that His heal­ing might not be for phys­i­cal heal­ing to turn me back to the way I was be­fore. It might be for spir­i­tual heal­ing. But, I’m thank­ing God for the chal­lenge be­cause spir­i­tu­ally and men­tally, it’s mak­ing me who He planned for me to be.”

The chal­lenges Jeff has faced and will con­tinue to face as he learns to live with the aftermath of can­cer treat­ment are not to be min­i­mized. Even at 6.5 months can­cer-free, Jeff was see­ing a doc­tor no less than four times each week for check-ups and CT scans and un­pleas­ant re­cov­ery ther­a­pies like elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion shock ther­apy to help him re­cover the abil­ity to use his tongue as he did be­fore. From start to fin­ish, it is a process that re­quires a lit­eral army, even when God is in on the fight, and there is re­search to prove it.

“My doc­tor and nine other col­leagues,” Jeff posited, “col­lected 12 years of data from 1994 to 2006 on sin­gle males that had throat can­cer at their North Amer­i­can can­cer cen­ters. Of all the males with­out a sup­port sys­tem, there was not a sin­gle sur­vivor 24 months af­ter treat­ment. Zero.”

Jeff and An­drea’s con­cen­tra­tion on the ini­tial 80-per­cent chance-of-sur­vival was so fo­cused that they had given scant con­sid­er­a­tion to the re­main­ing 20 per­cent— the one in five pa­tients who don’t sur­vive.

“That’s the sig­nif­i­cance of Nurse Ratched,” Jeff revered. “It is huge. The doc­tors were rec­om­mend­ing things be done, and there were two of us try­ing to do it, but even with me and my full-time wife, there were still things to be done. There’s no way any­body could do it phys­i­cally, much less men­tally, to keep the strength to do it with­out a sup­port sys­tem.”

It’s a fact that has Jeff and An­drea look­ing into ways to of­fer such sup­port to other can­cer pa­tients. Jeff knows well the im­pact of the com­mu­nity around the pa­tient, and is hop­ing to re­turn the fa­vor of the out­stand­ing sup­port sys­tem he was blessed with.

One day this past sum­mer, when Jeff was feel­ing par­tic­u­larly thank­ful for Nurse Ratched, he and a trusted em­ployee stopped in at the lo­cal florist and planned to have his and An­drea’s home dec­o­rated for the hol­i­days come Novem­ber.

“My doc­tor said to me, keep plan­ning,” Jeff re­vealed. “Keep your plans for six months from now. Keep your plans for Christ­mas. Keep your plans for your next big va­ca­tion. Just keep plan­ning.

“I wanted to do some­thing for An­drea be­cause I love her so much, be­cause she’s so sig­nif­i­cant. So, I bought all those flower ar­range­ments and I sched­uled it for a day or two be­fore Thanks­giv­ing so it would be done be­fore we left for Ari­zona. Be­cause we were go­ing to Ari­zona.”

And they did. Dur­ing his treat­ments, Jeff had parked his dummy out on his back pa­tio where he could see it.

“I might only rope it three or four times, then I’d have to go back in the house,” Jeff ad­mit­ted, “but I would get out there.”

His per­sis­tence paid off, too. La­bor Day week­end, Jeff man­aged to en­ter in his first post-can­cer jack­pot in Kremm­ling, Colorado, as a 5-heeler, though he’s taken to head­ing, too, lately.

“I was 6-point-some­thing sec­onds with some­one and ac­tu­ally got the sad­dle horn and got dal­lied,” Jeff re­counted.

The team took fast time for the whole jack­pot, which lasted an­other two days. And though the jack­pot was on the small side, the vic­tory was sweet for Jeff, and hard-won, too.

“If An­drea had been there the first day, I wouldn’t have got­ten to go back the sec­ond or third day. Nurse Ratched would have had my ass at home.”

Jeff didn’t win any­more at that rop­ing and his heat tol­er­ance was min­i­mal thanks to the ef­fects of the ra­di­a­tion, but with one jack­pot down and a check for fast time, he could fo­cus on the USTRC Cinch Na­tional Fi­nals in Ok­la­homa City, where he and An­drea would be en­tered to­gether for the first time ever.

Prior to Jeff’s di­ag­no­sis, An­drea was squarely fo­cused on her bar­rel rac­ing, but with the news came a fresh view­point.

“Ev­ery­thing gets pulled back into per­spec­tive,” An­drea said. “Life’s lit­tle wor­ries be­come pretty in­signif­i­cant.”

But what did be­come sig­nif­i­cant to An­drea was cher­ish­ing her re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band, right from the house­hold messes that used to drive her crazy to the rop­ing arena, and it be­came her se­cret plan to learn how to rope and sur­prise Jeff with a new rop­ing part­ner when he was ready to re­turn to the arena.

The plan didn’t work quite like she thought it would since be­ing Jeff’s pri­mary care­taker re­quired far more time and much less sleep than orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated, but when Jeff started re­cov­er­ing, An­drea made good on her prom­ise to learn how to dally.

“The first time we ever en­tered, we were 8.49 sec­onds on the first steer An­drea ever roped for me,” Jeff said of their go at the 2017 US Fi­nals. “We didn’t win a damn thing, but it was a huge vic­tory.”

The cou­ple roped in Ari­zona and the WSTR Fi­nale in Las Ve­gas, as well. An­drea’s not quite ready to turn in her bar­rel horses, but she and Jeff seem to have zero in­ten­tions of let­ting any op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­joy life to­gether pass them by.

“It’s been a bless­ing,” Jeff im­parted, as he con­sid­ered how his re­la­tion­ships with An­drea, and God, too, were af­fected. “At the time, I didn’t think my re­la­tion­ship with my wife or the Lord could be any stronger than be­fore I went through can­cer, but the #1 thing I’ve got­ten from can­cer are these re­la­tion­ships.”

And for Jeff, that’s what this jour­ney has truly been about: Re­ceiv­ing.

“The part that’s about Jeff and An­drea Busby, God gave us the strength to do it. He blessed us with heal­ing. But it’s not about us. We did the things that had to be done and made the de­ci­sions that had to be made, but, you know, God’s the one that gives us that strength and gives us that wis­dom. We just have to act on it.”

AN­DREA BUSBY TURNS A STEER FOR HER HUS­BAND, JEFF, JUST SEVEN MONTHS AF­TER HIS DI­AG­NO­SIS, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME IN THE #9 AT THE UNITED STATES TEAM ROP­ING CHAM­PI­ONSHIPS CINCH NA­TIONAL FI­NALS OF TEAM ROP­ING.

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