PARK HILLS — Throughout her elder daughter's struggles with brain cancer, and even after her death, Katie Schwent believes God was with them.
And when she reflected about that struggle and her faith, Schwent realized she needed to share her faith story with others, in hopes it will help them get through their own struggles.
The result of that realization is "Still Standing Through Christian Faith," Schwent's new book. The self-published memoir is available at Oasis Book Store in Farmington, as well as online.
Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of the book go to the American Cancer Society through Myranda's PALS Relay for Life team. The team is named after Schwent's late daughter, Myranda Starkey.
Starkey graduated high school early and headed to school at MU. Months before, she had suffered what seemed to be a panic attack. A week after she started school in Columbia, however, the attacks became more frequent.
On Jan. 31, 2001, Starkey stepped out of her car and immediately felt a pain in her head that stretched down her arm.
"Myranda told me that she heard a voice telling her to drive to the emergency room, Schwent said. "She said it was as though she were arguing with someone. She kept saying that it was silly to go to the hospital for a headache, and she would hear again, 'Drive to the emergency room.'"
Doctors at first attributed the pain to stress and suggested Starkey have a computed axial tomography (CAT or CT) scan in a few days. However, Schwent insisted the scan be done then.
The scan showed the teenager had a cranial hemorrhage bleeding in her brain. She was flown to St. Louis for surgery.
The surgeons found that a tumor had invaded blood vessels in the brain to form its own blood supply, and pressure from the arteries had caused one of the veins to burst. Doctors removed the tumor but discovered it was a kind of cancer that usually affects only children.
Over the next three years, Starkey battled the cancer and attended the Women of Faith prayer group that met weekly at CiCi's restaurant in Farmington. There, she grew to know Donna Hickman, who started the Myranda PALS Relay for Life team in 2002. PALS stands for prayer and love sisters/support.
"When we started the Relay team, it was our way of supporting Myranda and helping others in her name," Hickman said. "We were all old enough to be her mother — or perhaps her grandmother, but she had endeared herself to us so much we wanted to do whatever we could to help her."
Throughout her daughter's struggle, there were constant signs of God, Schwent said.
"There were just so many things in Myranda's illness where God placed people in our lives," she said. "God was there through the whole thing and after. So many people don't see that, or they doubt He is there.
"I don't know why God shows Himself to some people and not to others. I just know that He did with us, and we should share that with others."
It took six years before Schwent could finish the book. She left her job in June to work full time on the book.
"I'm a private person, and this was so emotional, so it was sometimes hard to write," she said.
Partway through, Schwent decided to use her faith story not only as a testimony to help others but as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Her daughter had hoped to major in marketing to help promote the society and the need for research.
Starkey's younger sister, Valeria, was 6 when Myranda died.
"She was always happy, at least in front of me," Valeria said. "What has happened to my family has changed my life for the better. With the anxiety I went through after, it made me a stronger person."
Hickman said Starkey was a wonderful person who was filled with joy.
"She loved the Relay," Hickman recalled. "We would walk the track with her and cheer for her when she walked it. ... At the last Relay she attended, Myranda was too weak to walk around the track, so we all just sat with her."
Dealing with her elder daughter's death was difficult, but God helped her through, Schwent said. On her website she wrote, "It was that faith that enabled us to wake up each morning, and it was that faith that kept us looking for a better day."
Starkey's brother, Nicholas, decided to pursue a career in cancer research as a result of Myranda's cancer. He is working on his Ph.D. in biochemistry.
Schwent hopes the book will help those who are struggling with their faith but believes even those who have no doubts will be spiritually uplifted by the book.
"For those of us who knew Myranda, Katie's book rekindles our memories of this beautiful young woman with the bright smile and the deep faith," Hickman said. "Her story shows how Katie helped Myranda fight the cancer, but they both faced Myranda's illness with the knowledge that her life was in God's hands. Myranda kept sharing her faith with others for as long as she could.
"She touched so many lives. Now, Katie's book will touch lives with Myranda's story."