Rosemount cancer survivor sings: ‘Tell My Father’
Lt. Col. Mark Weber of Rosemount delivers Army Birthday address
Lt. Col. Mark Weber of Rosemount ordered the crowd assembled during the Army Birthday ceremony last Thursday at the Minnesota History Center to keep it together. Not once, but twice.
“Listen up, and listen good. I need you to keep it together at least until the end of the song,” said Weber, 41, who was about to sing a duet with his son, Matt. “I mean it, bury your head in your hands, bite your tongue, stick a pen in your leg. I don’t care. But keep it together. I need your strength for just a few minutes.”
He had one last measure to protect himself.
“I’ll take these off so I can’t see you,” Weber said, removing his eyeglasses.
Please forgive those gathered for disobeying this lieutenant colonel’s order and shedding a few tears as Mark and Matt, a Rosemount High School junior, along with some of his choir classmates, sang “Tell My Father,” a song from the Broadway musical “The Civil War” that recounts the message a Union soldier dying on the field of battle wanted carried to his father.
“I don’t want to state the obvious, but I am dying,” Weber said.
Weber, whose father also was in attendance, has Stage 4 inoperable neuroendocrine cancer after being diagnosed in June 2010.
He has 17 tumors on his liver, a permanent draining tube is attached to his body and recently a feeding tube was removed after he went about four months without food. Infections visit him once or twice per month that he said are often more deadly than the cancer because of his weak immune system. He says there’s another visitor.
“I hate to sound morbid but if you feel a chill in the air it’s because I’ve got another uninvited guest in the back row,” he said. “His name is death. I mention him because I see him and hear him at least once a month. He whispers something in my ear that I would like to pass along to each of you. And he says: ‘Live, because I am coming.’ ”
Weber’s diagnosis came after he underwent a standard medical exam required for his deployment as the military assistant to the incoming Afghanistan minister of the interior. It was a position that the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, personally selected Weber to serve. It was the second time Petraeus had chosen him for such a post. Petraeus selected Weber to serve as the military assistant to the Iraqi chief of defense in 2005.
The exam revealed that Weber, who says he was feeling weak and had lost a few pounds, had a low hemoglobin level. Weber pushed for another test, an endoscopy and then a CT scan revealed tumors on his liver.
“It was just, bam. To get asked by the most powerful and popular general in modern history to work for him was great to have that honor. Then, you’re told two weeks later you’re going to die,” he said at the time. “It was beyond a thunderbolt. … It was like I got woken up from a dream come true by electrocution.”
The surgery that rearranged his internal organs and systems while removing some portions, including 60 percent of his liver, was unsuccessful.
“During the first week after I woke up, I thought I’d killed myself,” Weber told Sun Thisweek in October 2010.
He learned two weeks ago that chemotherapy is no longer working to kill one of the rarest forms of pancreatic cancer.
Weber and his wife, Kristin, have three sons – Matthew and twins Noah and Joshua, 12.
Weber’s message to the Army on its 237th birthday was one that focused on the present – both in the military and personally.
His personal message was to encourage people to deal with their own “Bufords” – the name he has given to his cancer.
“First of all, we all have Bufords,” he said. “Mine just happens to be 6-10 and 700 pounds. But the methods for dealing with Buford don’t depend on weight class or your occupation.”
He said he’s heard repeatedly how being a soldier is why and how he’s been so willing to deal with cancer.
He said it bothers him that people think a non-soldier couldn’t have carried on the way he has.
“It does not take a soldier to deal with Bufords in your life,” he said. “Dealing with Buford takes perspective, personal courage, perseverance and an occasional middle finger.”
He said those skills are not unique to soldiers.
“The potential is in each and every single one of you,” he said.
He said if you can manage to gaze on a soldier, you might learn what you are capable of doing.
“That my gift to you on the Army’s Birthday,” he said.
After Weber’s speech and song were complete, it was clear it was not the only gift Weber had given on that day.