(ATLANTA) — One Georgia son is trying to fulfill his father’s dying wish to go to the big game.
Steven Skinner, a father of four children and husband to his wife of 32 years, is battling for his life after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an incurable type of brain cancer.
The 56-year old Navy veteran, who lives with his wife and son in Atlanta, has only months to live, according to his wife, Lisa.
His son, Andrew Skinner, 23, has started a campaign to raise money to help his father check off one of the last things on his bucket list: attending the upcoming 2019 Super Bowl.
His GoFundMe campaign, “The Commander’s Final Send-off,” was also created to raise awareness for the incredible life Steven has lived.
Since Andrew launched the campaign on Dec. 2, it has surpassed the halfway point of its $30,000 goal.
“My dad’s been wanting to go to the Super Bowl for the longest time. He’ll have times where he’ll ask if I want to go and say, ‘Hey if I’m able to get tickets for this Super Bowl do you want to go with me?’ At least for the last good while, he’s been saying that to me,” Andrew told ABC News’ Good Morning America.
Andrew has been by his father’s side throughout the battle with cancer, leaving school at Xavier University to help his mother care for Steven. The couple also have a ‘honorary son,’ Daiyaan, who lives with them and helps care for Steven as well.
“Since he only has a few more months — I know he has other stuff on his bucket list that he wasn’t able to do — but that’s the one thing I know for a fact that he’s been looking forward to and wanting to do his whole life,” Andrew said.
With the upcoming Super Bowl being held in Atlanta, it would be easier for Steven to travel to and from the stadium.
“I figured I would at least see if I could do anything to try to help him get to the Super Bowl,” Andrew shared. “I don’t know if it’s actually going to be possible or not, but I feel better at least trying and saying at least I tried than not doing anything.”
Steven Skinner has been an avid sports fan his entire life. Originally from Monmouth, Illinois, he was an excellent athlete growing up, Andrew said. All-state basketball, baseball and quarterback of his high school football team are just a few of Steven Skinner’s early achievements.
His athletic prowess and strong academics helped him advance to the United States Naval Academy. While he was at the Academy, he met the woman who would later become his wife, Lisa.
Skinner was a sophomore, and she was a freshman at nearby Immaculata College. They dated throughout the rest of their college years and got married at the Naval Academy about a year after she graduated.
The pair then headed to Long Beach, California, where Skinner was stationed while working in the Navy. He was deployed to the Persian Gulf for 10 months to work as a weapons officer during the second year of their marriage.
He served aboard the USS Rueben James FFG-57 in 1985. Four years later he went into the reserves, and through the reserves he reached the rank of commander.
Skinner later decided to enter civilian life to be with his family. He worked at several different companies throughout his distinguished business career, eventually becoming senior vice president of products & resources at a consulting firm, Cognizant Technology Solutions.
He was even named one of Consulting Magazine’s Top 25 Consultants in 2015.
But his career and life changed forever in December 2017, while he was traveling in New York for business.
“Steven had been on a business trip for a day and was coming home,” Lisa Skinner said. She said he called her from the Delta Sky Lounge and said he was feeling funny.
“About a half hour later or so I got a call from the Port Authority on his phone that said that they were taking him to the hospital. They thought he had a mild stroke,” she said.
“Once he was at the hospital, they saw a brain tumor,” she continued. “It was too late for me to fly out, so I flew out the next morning to New York. Within an hour I signed everything and he went into surgery.”
When Steven’s 18-year daughter, Sarah, heard her dad had gotten sick in New York, she wasn’t fully aware of his condition.
“I didn’t think anything of it, like I thought it was pretty serious, but I thought he was going to be OK,” she said. “Maybe it was something he could get over.”
Then she heard the news from her mother that it was a tumor.
“She didn’t say anything about it being cancerous or anything. She said it was just a tumor that could be completely benign or fine,” Sarah said.
“I held onto that,” she added.
Skinner spent three weeks in New York at Long Island’s North Shore University Hospital, where he underwent multiple life-saving surgeries.
“They did 2 brain surgeries, one day after another — not to remove the tumor — but to relieve the brain pressure. Saved his life frankly,” Lisa shared. “The surgeon here at Emory said that it was so unusual and most doctors wouldn’t have been skilled enough to do it.”
During one of the surgeries, the medical team removed part of his skull and placed it in his abdominal area, “for safekeeping,” according to Mrs. Skinner. Her husband was able to return to Atlanta, wearing a helmet to protect his skull.
Skinner’s company, Cognizant, got him a Learjet because the couple were having problems with their insurance when attempting to secure a flight. Lisa said the CEO just wanted to get her husband home.
Later that month, Sarah found out the gravity of the situation.
“Me and my mom were driving to pick up some food for Christmas and we were talking about my dad. I finally just asked her ‘Did they figure out if it was cancer or not?’ And she told me that the tumor was cancerous,” Sarah said.
“She told me it was glioblastoma and that’s like all she told me. I didn’t want to hear any more about it. That’s all I asked her,” she added.
In April, surgeons at Emory repaired Skinner’s skull, removing the skull piece and using a prosthetic piece of bone to make sure there was a 100 percent seal.
“I didn’t even know they could do things like that,” Lisa said.
Skinner went through chemotherapy and radiation for the glioblastoma, completing 2 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy pills up until recently.
“This last hospital stay they found out that the tumor has grown another branch of arms, so they did radiation on that,” Lisa said.
Her husband is now in the in-home hospice stage.
“We’re hoping to keep him home at least through the holidays, if not longer, but we’ve learned this year to just do short-term goals,” she said. “That’s our goal — trying to get everybody under the same roof for the holidays, and then we’ll reassess in January when the other two go back to school.”
“In the back of my head, I knew the odds weren’t good,” Sarah said. “I try not to think about it. It wasn’t until my family came up to visit me in Annapolis for Thanksgiving, when my mom told me that my dad only had a couple months to live.”
Andrew’s campaign to bring his father and extra family members to the Super Bowl stems from his desire to share what kind of person his father is with the world.
“Everything he’s been through, from the military to working hard his whole life, if I can just spread awareness on how great of a life he’s had — because I feel like not enough people know how great of a person he is and all the great things he’s done in his lifetime,” Andrew said.
“I feel like he deserves it more than anyone I know,” he added.
“He’s literally done so much for my family. He’s done so much for others. He has one of the biggest hearts I know. That’s why we wanted to do something that he wouldn’t forget and that he would really love,” Sarah added about her father. “He’s always been constantly working and constantly helping us.”
Their mother shares the sentiment.
“He was somebody who was gone a lot, in a lot of ways, between the military and with his career, but when you came one-on-one with him — you realize that he was a person that when he was there, he really just genuinely wanted to help you,” Lisa said.
“I think that’s why there’s so many people that are coming out of the woodwork and sending us stories,” she added.
Lisa said classmates of Sarah’s from her high school, friends of Steven’s from the Naval Academy and friends from his childhood are among those that have reached out to offer support.
“He’s even had a childhood friend that flew out — that he hadn’t seen in years — just to take us to lunch, he and his wife. Because he had told his kids how much over the years about Steven Skinner, the big guy in high school he played basketball with, and how much he meant to his growing up,” Lisa said.
Despite the hardships the Skinner family has experienced since December 2017, Lisa believes some good has come from it.
“This year’s been very hard for our family. It’s brought a lot of changes and helped us realize what is so important,” she said.
“I wondered for a while, why this year? Why are we having to go through this year when we’re ending the way we are? But I told the kids that Steven is getting his wish — he’s seeing that Andrew is figuring out the type of man that he is and what is important to him — that Andrew is rising above some of the challenges that he had recently to help his dad,” Lisa said.
One of the things that Skinner said about Andrew when he realized the magnitude of his illness was that he wanted to live long enough for Andrew to realize the type of man he is, Lisa says.
Along with Skinner, Lisa doesn’t take Andrew’s incredible gesture of putting his life on hold for his father for granted.
“For Andrew to be home and help take care of Steven — he’s been such a very loving son,” she said.
“My brother-in law-says that Andrew is determined to keep his father’s dignity, so he’s been doing things for his father that not only him but most kids don’t even imagine,” she added.
Skinner has also had the opportunity to see his son, Joey, 20, managing successfully in college, after struggling with auditory processing disorder, dyslexia and sensory problems throughout his life.
“To see Joey — I call ‘adulting,'” she shared. “The child that we struggled with — with learning disabilities and other issues — to see him living on his own apartment off-campus, going to school and taking care of himself, and cooking. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Her husband has also gotten to see more of his daughter Sarah’s basketball than he’s ever been able to in his life.
“He doesn’t like it when we say she’s following in his footsteps — he wants her to make her own path — but I know it warms his heart to know that she’s chosen the Naval Academy and she’s excelling,” Lisa said.
The family could never have imagined these past months of indescribable pain, but Lisa is finding the silver lining.
“It’s been a gift in a lot of ways, this year,” she said. “It’s not been what we hoped for when we started this and were hoping to get Steven well — hoping that he could get off the golf course like he loves and spend some more time traveling.”
But the family has grown through the experience.
“Just talking and spending time with the kids, that’s been great,” Lisa said.
The Navy man has also had to meet the fact that he’s had a tremendous impact on the lives he touched.
“I think he’s realizing — well he does know now — how much people just like him,” she said.
She’s also learned something important about life through Steven’s battle.
“It’s funny how we’re all so focused on accomplishments. He grew up being the jock and the academic … he’s good at business, he was good at sports, but I think what he’s realizing and he worried about was — was he a good person? There’s a difference,” Lisa said.
“The amount of money you make, the awards you get, the championships you win, doesn’t necessarily tell you whether or not you’re a good person. And to have this year for other people to take the time to do that and to tell him what’s been most important to them and how he’s impacted their lives, I think that’s been a real gift for everybody,” she added.
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