Dan Boyer’s Story
“The Lord is the Glue that Holds Us Together”
“I’m part Cajun, so you can pronounce it ‘boy-yay,’ he says, but he can only hold a straight face for a split second before cracking up. “No I’m not; I just made that up.”
When describing Dan Boyer to someone else, you have to start by saying he’s funny, and then end by describing his—often longwinded—storyteller nature. That’s how his family members do it, although his wife, Linda Boyer, would tell you that only everybody else finds him funny; she’s heard his jokes one too many times to really laugh anymore—sometimes. “Even with what he’s got going on now,” Linda says, “he still does a pretty good job making people laugh.”
“Usually, you can’t get my dad because he likes to pull jokes on people,” his daughter Deanna Owings says. When she and a cousin were teenagers, though, they were able to get him back. After getting permission from Linda, the two girls switched out the cash in Dan’s wallet with Monopoly money. When Dan’s commanding officer asked him to go out for drinks that night, Dan agreed. The commanding officer was skeptical. “Yeah right, Boyer, you never have money,” he said. Dan replied, “Yes I do!” and confidently pulled his money out in front of his boss. “I think it’s the best he’s ever been ‘got,’” Deanna says, laughing, “and it was by his 13-year-old daughter and 13-year-old niece.”
Before giving life to his prankster family, Dan joined the Air Force when he was 21 years old in 1971. He worked on jets for eight and a half years before cross-training and changing careers to the safety field. Through the Air Force, he and his family got to see the world “for free,” living in various countries and in different places around the United States before retiring twenty years later in 1991.
In addition to retiring, his life was going to take another drastic turn: Before he got out of the Air Force, he became a born again Christian—After the Air Force, he became a minister.
“I was home on a weekend one time, and the Good Lord just did a total turnaround on me,” he says. “It shocked the people I worked with because I wasn’t the same guy that wanted to go partying and cussing and smoking. Totally changed my life. I said a prayer and asked the Lord into my life, and he just turned me around.”
Dan began his ministry in nursing homes and preaching in various churches around central Illinois and the quad cities. After a year of Bible College, he made his way back to Illinois. “I didn’t think I’d ever come back to Illinois, because I didn’t want to come back to Illinois. But when I got saved, the Lord said, ‘You’re going back to Illinois.’ So I said, ‘Okay!’”
Dan suddenly had a new life goal besides trying to make everyone around him laugh all the time: witness about his faith and spread God’s light and love to everyone he met, as it had been shared with him.
“It’s really important to be on the kind side and treat people as nice as you can. You don’t know really what they’re going through. You have no clue a lot of times. You get a lot more time with them if you approach them with a smile on your face and a pleasant attitude. That’s who I want to be day to day—and hopefully put a smile on everyone’s face."
Dan was diagnosed with cancer of the bladder in January 2012. Initially when his primary care physician tried to set him up with Springfield Clinic’s William Severino, MD, in Urology, Dan didn’t feel up to “dealing with it,” so he skipped the appointment.
“My doctor jumped on me really quick: ‘We’re talking life and death here.’ I said, ‘You have my attention, what are we talking about?’ And he said, ‘I’m talking about the possibility of you having cancer, Dan. You can’t be messing with this.’”
“Some people would really get in the blues and the blahs from receiving that kind of information,” Dan says. But his family never really did “go to the low tides, if you will, and just hang around and have pity parties.” Dan says his and his family’s faith is a big part of that. After he got his diagnosis, he told himself and those around him: “Oh well, it’s just another journey.”
In addition to his wife, Linda, and daughter, Deanna, Dan also has three other children—a daughter, Danella, a son, Jason, and a son-in-law, Tom—and four grandchildren. He has a “wonderful and fantastic” family that means everything to him, especially as he has worked through his cancer diagnosis and treatment. “They’ve been there for support since I’ve had this cancer. They’ve learned how to become nurses and aides. I can’t describe what they do and what they’ve done and where we’ve been through all of this,” Dan says.
“I wasn’t scared,” Linda says. “Since I’ve been a Christian, I’m not as afraid of everything that’s going on around us. They told us it wouldn’t be able to be cured, so we just go one day at a time.” She says a big change in their lives has been how they can’t just jump in the car and go places anymore. But thanks to their strong family net, Linda knows that Deanna can come take care of her dad when Linda needs to take a break or run errands.
“My life has changed pretty dramatically,” Deanna says. “It’s okay that it’s changed, though.” Dan realizes that his cancer diagnosis and care has created a shift in everybody’s paradigm, not just his. “They’ve shifted gears in their own lives to be able to come and see me.” Deanna lives across the street from her parents with a family of her own. But she comes to every doctor appointment and takes a big part in helping with Dan’s home care.
Danella travels for her job a lot and doesn’t get to see her dad in person all the time. But she knows that Deanna is a phone call away and can update Danella with all the information anytime. “I know I can just call her and check on Dad to see,” Danella says. “She knows everything, knows everyone’s doctors by heart. She’ll give me every bit of information that I want to know.”
While the Boyer clan surrounds each other with love always, not every moment is perfect and rosy. “Not everything is hunky dory in everybody’s lives,” Dan says. “And we know that. And we’re all broken in pieces and parts in places of our lives.” Both Linda and Deanna can describe frustrating moments when they’ve been ready to walk away. Dan admits that sometimes he is guilty of trying to push the people around him away, Linda especially. “We’ve been pretty frustrated with each other; Linda’s been pretty frustrated with me. But the Lord is the glue that holds us together.”
Between these rough patches are moments of joy, however. Even something as terrible as a cancer diagnosis can bring some good into a person’s world. Linda says that something positive that came from this cancer journey is that Deanna and Dan have grown closer and gotten to know each other better as Deanna steps up to help with his care. “She’s never had that bond with him, and it makes me feel good that she’s got that with him now.”
“I think there’s strength in them,” Dan says of his family. “Maybe more than we thought sometimes.” When Dan or any family member is going through a rough patch, Dan has faith that things will improve at some point in the future. “We just live with it, try our best to move on, and be happy. And we just grab each other’s hands and pray.”
“I have a lot of joy in my life,” Deanna says. She homeschools her children, two of whom have special needs. One of her sons, Micah, is funny, just like his Pa-paw. “I have to laugh; he literally makes me laugh every day,” Deanna says. “And I can talk to my dad and tell him these stories, ‘Oh, you know what Micah did today?’ and there’s a continuous momentum of joy. I don’t have time to be down.”
Dan’s incredible net of support extends further than his family and friends close by. He describes his providers at Springfield Clinic as part of that support team as well. “They’re really honest and caring—heart-caring—people,” he says. “Springfield Clinic is a super super place with people who are genuine and are willing to talk with you and also just listen if you need someone to talk to.”
“I could not have asked for better doctors than who we’ve had,” Linda says. “I just love his doctors; they’ve been so good. I hope if it happens to me that I have the same doctors he has.” Deanna agrees. “The care at Springfield Clinic has been amazing. The doctors and nurses are down to Earth. They’ll laugh with you, joke with you.” And as anyone learning about Dan and his family will know by now, laughter and joking are priorities in the Boyer family.
The main difficulty of his cancer journey, to Dan, is coming to terms with the change it’s created in his family members’ lives. “I can’t thank them enough. I don’t have the words to fully express that and what they’ve been doing and how they’ve treated me and taken care of me. They’ve given me so much more than I can give back,” he says. The sentiment rebounds with all of the family members. “His kids love him, no matter what,” Danella says. “He’s worried about what he’s done in his life, and we don’t care. We just love him.” Deanna echoes, “No matter what.”
Dan’s advice to someone who has recently received a cancer diagnosis is to contemplate it for a second. “You’re going to have to really sit back and really think about it, because it’s going to be a journey for you and everybody around you. You can either be an influence or break down over it all.” Dan would encourage anybody who is starting a journey of cancer treatment to circle the wagons and surround themselves with friends and family. He knows that’s what has gotten him this far and kept him going this long. “The Lord Jesus Christ keeps me motivated every day, as well as seeing family and friends every day. When it comes down to those last hours, I’ll probably be in that room, and I’ll probably be still visiting with the people that come by.” And that’s exactly how Dan wants it.