The alarm blares the alert that morning has arrived, but before she can fully shake the slumber from her eyes, Cathy Campbell reaches across to the other pillow and feels an empty space. It has been one year since her husband Jim passed away, but some habits are hard to break. The date dawns on her, and an uneasiness settles in her stomach. She prays for God’s strength—tonight, January 8, 2019, she will attend her grandson’s memorial service.
Cathy has lost three wonderful men in her life: two husbands and 20-year-old grandson Tyler Trent. She took care of each of them in ways that others may never know about. Cathy simply loved on her loved ones, day in and day out, without fanfare.
“It was extremely hard, yet an honor to serve my family and to be there as much as I could,” said Cathy.
While all of us feel devastated by loss, we can also allow God to transform us through loss. Cathy is a testament to a life that has been transformed.
It Was a God Thing
Cathy has 2 sons, 1 daughter, and 14 grandchildren. Through a path only God could see coming, Tyler, her daughter’s oldest son, had a chance to share his faith with thousands of people across the U.S. and even around the world, and it all began because he wanted to watch a college football game.
“Tyler was not an athlete himself, but he loved sports,” Cathy described.
Growing up in Carmel, Indiana, Tyler used to root for Indiana University and against Purdue just to mess with his dad, a Purdue alum; but when Tyler became a Purdue student himself, he went all in as a fan. By September 2017, Tyler had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, for a devastating third time. Undaunted, he went straight from one of his chemo sessions to camp out overnight with a friend in order to be first in line to get tickets for the Boilermakers’ 2017 Big Ten home opener against Michigan.
“This had never been done before at Purdue,” Cathy explained. “People saw them out there. A couple of reporters stopped by, even the coach stopped by. God, from that point on, used his story as a revival for the sports community across the nation.”
With his dedication to the Boilermakers and his hope-filled spirit, Tyler built friendships with the football players and coaches. The Purdue team was a terrific support network as Tyler’s fight against cancer progressed. The players found inspiration as Tyler bravely fought his physical battles; they named him their honorary captain and visited Tyler’s home to pray with him.
“We all have a story. There just needs to be somebody to listen to it.” —@theTylerTrent
Purdue’s 2018 winning season propelled Tyler into the national limelight: ESPN got wind of Tyler’s passion for Purdue and his combat against cancer and had him on SportsCenter; Tyler was also interviewed by USA Today, Forbes, and Sports Illustrated; he was presented the 2018 Disney Spirit Award at the College Football Hall of Fame. Tyler used every opportunity to both raise money for cancer research and demonstrate his faith in the Great Physician. He raised over $150,000 for Riley Children’s Foundation, over $150,000 for the V Foundation, and over $1 million for a Purdue scholarship fund for incoming freshmen with cancer.
“Tyler knew it was a God thing when he went to Purdue, and God gave him a platform,” Cathy said.
His Faith Took Off
During this season of Tyler’s life, full of both pain and publicity, his faith became the strongest it had ever been.
“In his first round of cancer, Tyler was angry at God,” Cathy revealed. “He lost a lot of friends—at 15 years old, his group of friends had a very hard time dealing him having cancer. He lost the beginning of a relationship with a girl. He was saved and had faith, but he did not lean into it. When he was diagnosed again, he said, ‘I’m going to lean into it.’ His faith took off.”
With this invigorated motivation, Cathy watched Tyler use every chance he got, until his final breath, to glorify God.
“Tyler would say, ‘We all have a story—there just needs to be somebody to listen to it,’” Cathy said. “There are other people dying of cancer. Yet God chose for people to listen to Tyler’s story. We don’t know why, but He did.”
With the family’s connections overseas, Tyler’s story has now spread around the world. Emails and letters have poured in to the family, expressing prayers and sharing testimonies. Through Tyler’s story, some have heard about Christ for the first time and have been baptized.
“It’s awesome to know that God used a terrible thing for our family to glorify the Kingdom and bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ, as well as finding money for research to eradicate cancer—so kids don’t have to go through what Tyler did,” Cathy said.
Though it is heart-wrenching, Cathy and her family—especially Kelly, Tyler’s mom; Tony, Tyler’s dad; and Blake and Ethan, Tyler’s younger brothers—honor Tyler by continuing to tell his story.
“Cancer is a private thing, but we’re all willing to talk because Tyler wanted to make a difference. I’m happy to do it. It keeps Tyler’s name alive.”
God & I Have This
Because of his relentless positivity, most people did not see the pain that Tyler suffered at the end of his journey. In what became a daily routine, Cathy went over to their house to help Kelly and Tony, as it took two or three people to get Tyler ready and provide for his medical needs. Moving him caused pain, so with tears in their eyes, the three tried to be as gentle as possible as they cared for this young man in the prime of his life, whose body was ravaged by a brutal disease.
“On the back side of cancer, it’s extremely painful and humiliating,” said Cathy. “Yet God gave Tyler a strength that was supernatural. He never complained; he always had a smile, even when he was in pain. He’d say, ‘Stop asking me if I’m fine. God and I have this.’ He just persevered.”
Even in the struggle, Tyler’s humor remained intact. Cathy recalled one day when she and Kelly awkwardly tried to turn him this way and that, until his head was hanging off the bed. “Are you doing OK?” Cathy asked Tyler. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m just hanging off the edge of glory!”
That humor and good nature typified Tyler’s life. Cathy recalled that, even as a young child, he was unusually dynamic. “I can look back now and see God’s hand from the beginning of Tyler’s life to prepare him for what he was going to have to go through. That’s my take.”
Tyler clung to the truth of his favorite verses, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and lived out their words: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
As Tyler worsened and his journey on this earth came to an end, an additional piece of suffering for Cathy was watching her daughter grieve.
“It’s awesome to know that God used a terrible thing for our family to glorify the Kingdom and bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ.” —Cathy Campbell
“It was an honor and privilege to be a part of Tyler’s journey. But it was hard. I’m not going to say that it wasn’t. It was hard for me to watch Kelly. If God chose not to heal Tyler, we knew where he was going. We’re a family of faith; we’re all Christians. And that helps, knowing that when someone in your family is terminal, there is a hope beyond it. But to watch Kelly watch a child die was very hard.”
God Is Good
Perhaps the memories Cathy treasures most are the ones watching Tyler’s close relationship with his grandpa, Cathy’s late husband Jim.
It was a second marriage for both Cathy and Jim; each had terrific first marriages for over 34 years. In fact, the two couples had been friends through East 91st Street Christian Church, and their kids grew up together. After they lost their first spouses, “Jim and I would’ve never put us together, but God had a different story. He knit our hearts together,” shared Cathy.
Cathy and Jim chose to put family first in their relationship. “Jim asked what I wanted from our marriage. I told him, ‘To leave a legacy for the grandkids of a Christian marriage and how you walk with the Lord.’” Even as the grandchildren grew, they loved spending weekends with Cathy and Jim, all the cousins sleeping in the basement and enjoying their time together.
Tyler adored his grandpa, and he and Jim had a bond: they shared a love of reading. After Tyler’s third diagnosis, Jim was also diagnosed with cancer, and their bond grew even closer. They strengthened one another as they relied upon the Lord together. “They both knew that they won either way,” Cathy said. “Whether God healed them here or on the other side of the veil.”
Today both Tyler and Jim have won their eternal home of peace and wholeness. Jim passed away on January 24, 2018, and Tyler passed on January 1, 2019.
The Body of Christ Is Our Lifeline
Before Jim passed, he and Cathy created another legacy. Hearing about CDF Capital several years ago, they invested their resources to grow their finances and serve the Kingdom simultaneously. Cathy continues to help God’s church grow in this way.
She testifies that God’s church is what has sustained her and her family, especially the three Indianapolis area congregations where they serve. Kelly and Tony and their boys are supported by the amazing College Park Church; Cathy’s sons, Mark Crull and Mike Crull, are both on staff of the wonderful Northview Church; and Cathy remains steadfast with her loving church family at East 91st Street.
“We have a body of Christ around us with our family’s three churches and other churches that have been praying for us,” said Cathy. "They have been our lifeline. The body of Christ has played a huge, huge part in keeping our family protected and prayed up and loved on through these last five years. God’s good in that way.”
Read more from The Cornerstone Summer 2019
We hope that you are inspired by the stories in the issue of The Cornerstone. Thanks for being a part of God's work to transform churches and lives.