The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

January 19, 2013

Lt. Col. Mark Weber's story will live on

Former aide to Petraeus, dying of cancer, father shares his experiences for sons

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From one battlefield to another

There's a dark sense of irony that Weber is dying so young. He's been to war and came back unscathed. Now this.

A St. Paul native, Weber enlisted in the Army and joined the ROTC in 1989. After graduating from MSU with honors in 1994, he went on to an Army career that included multiple deployments, one of which was in Iraq working on the personal staff of Gen. David Petraeus in 2005-06. He served for 16 years before transitioning to the Minnesota National Guard in 2009 to be near his father-in-law, who had cancer.

Petraeus chose Weber in 2010 to serve as an adviser to the Afghanistan interior minister. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and had to decline.

Weber had been misdiagnosed with an ulcer for several years and then misdiagnosed again with pancreatic cancer, finally learning it was intestinal cancer on Thanksgiving 2010.

"I thought, "This is what happens to other people." And I immediately felt a crushing sadness for my wife, who had already endured 16 years in the active Army -- four years short of my retirement -- and would have three young boys to care for without me."

Matthew was 14 at the time.

"It was really unexpected for me, so intense and confusing at the time," Matthew said. "Sitting on the couch and just looking at him and the way he said that he had cancer, and you don't know how long he's going to live -- I was shocked. Too shocked to do anything."

Weber had a risky surgery that included removing part of his intestine, pancreas, his gallbladder and 60 percent of his liver. After surgery, the cancer rapidly spread in what was left of his liver, he said, going from five tumors to 17. He's been on non-stop chemotherapy ever since.

With the realization of his fate sinking in, Weber knew he had to start making plans for after he was gone. A big part of that involved his wife and his sons, Matthew and 12-year-old twins Joshua and Noah, who wouldn't have a dad to ask life's little and big questions to.

His book gave him that opportunity. He had kept journals over the years, and those entries became the basis of the book.

It begins, "Dear Matthew, Joshua and Noah, I wrote a book for you. I started writing it long before any of you were born, and even before I met your mom, but it was always written for you."

Weber goes on to say he had hoped to share the stories from his journals with his boys and grandchildren in person, but his body was giving out sooner than it should.

'I may look invincible in my Army uniform or while cutting down trees with a feeding machine strapped over my shoulder, but to suggest that I'm not dying is just dishonest. ... Along the way, I hope you'll consult these pages as often and as casually as you would if I were still here and you could pick up the phone. I hope you'll ask this book different questions at different times in your lives. And I hope you'll find answers or perspective to match."

The message is one of "empowerment, encouragement and inspiration -- to focus on what you have and what you can do with life when it doesn't go the way we want it to." And it's reached more people than Weber imagined it would.

Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams was so inspired by Weber's story, he wrote the foreward. And the book -- a Minnesota Book Award nominee -- has been given rave reviews by Mitch Albom, best-selling author of "Tuesdays with Morrie," former Vice President Walter Mondale, and Gen. Martin Dempsey, 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others.

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