ST. JOSEPH — There were no clouds on the horizon for Dan and Beth Wheeler.
They had a wonderful marriage, two loving daughters and a beautiful home near Philadelphia. Dan, a St. Joseph native, had his dream job as host on the QVC home shopping network, interviewing celebrities from Mickey Mantle to Bob Hope.
Then the tsunami hit.
In 2012, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. But the illness encountered a stronger force.
“Beth’s love was like a hurricane,” Dan Wheeler writes in “Hurricane of Love: My Journey with Beth Wheeler,” his memoir of how they shared life and death together. “It hit everyone in its path.”
Dan, a 1973 graduate of St. Joseph High School, will attend a book signing from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at Forever Books, 312 State St. He also will speak at 10 a.m. Aug. 4 at The Bridge of St. Joe, which meets at Schu’s Grill & Bar, 505 Pleasant St.
The cancer diagnosis “turned our lives upside down,” Dan said. Then it “turned it right-side up again” as they focused their priorities on faith and family.
Dan, the son of Marjorie and Dr. Joseph Wheeler, a local dentist, recalls St. Joseph as an “idyllic town” to grow up in, where he visited Silver Beach amusement park and ate at Chicken Coop. Even after traveling the globe, Wheeler stills tells people that St. Joseph “is the prettiest place in the world.”
It is also the place where he found his faith on the shores of Lake Michigan, watching golden sunsets from the piers and hearing nearby church bells ring.
“It’s where I got to know God,” Dan said.
He was co-captain of the basketball team in high school and the starting center fielder on the baseball team.
He attended Evangel College, in Springfield, Mo., on an athletic scholarship, majoring in communications and Biblical studies.
It was while he was working at a Christian TV station in Chicago that a bit of divine intervention took place.
An “adorable young woman” got on Dan’s commuter train one morning and sat in the seat ahead of him. Dan found the nerve to ask if he could sit next to her. She smiled and said “Sure!” It turned out they worked in the same building.
That was Sept. 21, 1978, and their song became Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” They called each other Babycakes, which evolved into the endearment “Cakies.” They married in 1984.
Dan’s career progressed, and he joined QVC in 1991, where he met many of his childhood heroes.
“We had a dream life,” Dan said. “It was perfect.”
Beth began experiencing severe stomach pain in 2012, but resisted going to the doctor because she was afraid “they are going to tell me I have cancer.”
Tragically, those fears were confirmed. Surgery revealed that it was an aggressive form of cancer. Chemotherapy was prescribed.
It was at this point that Dan decided his focus would be on caring for his wife. They enjoyed each other’s company, and had “chemo dates,” sharing French croissants as they had when they were first dating.
“It’s all about loving what you have, loving who you have,” Dan said. “You have to pour your love into that person.”
The staff at QVC supported him, and even Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, sent Beth an encouraging letter.
All during her treatment, Beth thought more about the people around her than herself, Dan said. She was the kind of person who treated everyone like they were her best friend. Their daughters, Kirstyn and Kelsey, were constant supports, as were family members, neighbors and friends.
Through the ravages of the disease, Beth could still say to her husband “‘Cakies, this has been a really good day.’ She was dying and she could still say it was a really good day.”
In 2015, Beth decided to stop the treatments, which had not reduced the tumors, and came home to die. During the last months, she told Dan she received glimpses of heaven. A friend of theirs even saw an angelic figure at their home.
“She was sad, but she wasn’t afraid,” Dan said. “The smile never left her face.”
Beth passed away Oct. 30, 2015, surrounded by family.
Following his wife’s death, Dan experienced grief along with guilt that he could have done more for his beloved wife.
A counselor assured him, “Beth is not in heaven judging you, she is cheering you on.”
He eventually felt compelled to tell the story of their life together, and share their experiences as a way of helping others.
“I felt like God was telling me to write it,” Dan said.
He said it was hard reliving the experiences, and some days “I cried my eyes out.”
But he wanted to tell Beth’s story. “She was my hero,” he said.
Chapters end with bold-faced advice for readers.
“Take time to visit with your spouse, your child, your sibling, your parent or your friend. ... Don’t miss the chance to be together,” he writes.
He retired from QVC in 2017, and went into the full-time ministry. With two college friends, he launched Fearless Faith Ministries, which offers brief messages on its Facebook page that Dan calls “a morning cup of inspiration.”
And life goes on. Their daughter, Kirstyn, gave birth to a girl weeks ahead of her due date, on Sept. 21, the same date Dan and Beth met. She was named Brooke Elizabeth, after her grandmother.
“I felt like Beth was in the delivery room,” Dan said.
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak