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Friday, July 11, 2014

Remembering Tommy: He'll Always Have a Seat at our Table

Tom is the little guy in front with brothers and cousins 1991.
Aunt Chris Brady

Our family is grieving the loss of a son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle and cousin. We’ve been with him on an emotional roller coaster for more than two years now, and sadly for us, the ride ended on July 10.

Thomas Stepek, age 30, learned he had a rare sarcoma cancer in 2012. I will never forget the phone call from my sister telling me about his diagnosis; the heartbreaking fear and grief in her voice spoke volumes. Thus began a journey with Tom and his family of good times like weddings, births, holidays, and beach time offset by hospitals and doctor visits, and everything you don’t want to know about cancer.

Death brings an end to his suffering, but dammit, we were not ready to give him up just yet. He gave us so much hope because no matter what cancer threw at him, he hit back with courage, humor and grit.

Tom was a professional chef, and his illness forced early retirement, so if there was a silver lining to this cloud, those of us outside his immediate family had more quality time with him. I think we all wanted to overdose on Tom, poaching invites to his family home so that we could hug and kiss him one more time, and enjoy his gourmet cooking.  

Cooking at the shower; his mom watching.
Tom’s meals showcased his art and talent. He catered my daughter-in-law’s bridal shower in May. I will never forget his energy hopping on one leg as he prepared eight small bite courses.  He channeled inner strength that day to give us an unforgettable meal. Always an optimist about his illness, he told me that day that he wanted to do more catering to stay active and to have a purpose beyond fighting cancer.

Tom had lost his leg to amputation soon after his diagnosis, and he made the best of that situation, learning to use a prosthesis until the wasting from chemo took that help away.  He suffered from the phantom pain that you hear about with amputation, still feeling your lost limb because your brain doesn't know it's gone.

I think that's how we all feel today as we settle into a new chapter without Tom, still sensing his wonderful presence in our lives because our brains and our hearts will not accept that he is gone.

Thanks to the many caregivers who gave us extra moments with Tommy, especially the doctors and nurses at Fox Chase Cancer Center, who gave him hope and kindness, and peaceful final hours with family and friends.


  1. Chris, I wish I knew what to say. I hope you keep finding comfort in knowing the joy Tommy had cooking for the shower. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

    1. Carol,
      His contribution to our wedding memories are priceless. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.

  2. I’m really sorry for your loss. There isn’t much anyone can say to comfort the pain and heartbreaking from losing a loved one to this devastating disease. I’ve been there and I know…

  3. Thanks Angel. The outreach of people like you is comforting

  4. Chris, this post really touched me. I lost a dear friend, way too young, a few years ago. And though any loss hurts, a loss of someone young hurts in a different way. It seems so unfair. Like how could their journey possibly be over? And yes, it still hurts. His daughter just had her fifteenth birthday, she just posted on Facebook a beautiful tribute to her dad on father's day and these moments physically pain me. I try to love her as much as I can, and share memories with her that she might not otherwise have. But ouch, ouch ouch. I hope your beautiful memories help take some of the sting away.

  5. Hi Julie,

    Writing this the day after his funeral, which really does begin the closure needed to heal from grief. Though like you, I can see that our loved one will be remembered by our family forever. We talked about how we would share the memories of Tom with the nieces and nephews who were held by him many times, but are too young to understand what a wonderful uncle they have lost.

    Ouch is a good word to describe the dull ache that won't go away.