Andy and Robyn Stearns: Their Kavanagh House Story

Andy and Robyn Stearns

Ewing tumors, also known as Ewing sarcoma, is a rare type of cancer that most often affects the bones of children. About 1% of all childhood cancers are Ewing tumors. Rarer still is to be diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma as an adult. When 42-year-old Robyn Stearns, who had already battled lymphoma in 2019, noticed a large lump in her leg in December of 2022, she and her young family did not expect the diagnosis that resulted from two biopsies.

Robyn had cancer again and surgery was needed to remove the Ewing sarcoma in her leg. A scan during the radiation treatment intended to shrink the tumor found more cancer throughout her body, including her lungs and spine. Cancer therapies were not working and by September 2023, Robyn decided to stop treatments.

“When the doctor told us she was not going to survive cancer a second time, we talked to our oncologist about hospice care,” says Robyn’s husband of 22 years, Andy. “We decided to have her receive care at Kavanagh House [EveryStep’s hospice home in Des Moines]. It was not easy because although we both wanted Robyn to be at home as long as possible, she didn’t want the kids to have the burden of her dying there.” Robyn and Andy’s children were aged 9 and 6 at the time.

Andy’s mother, Kay Stearns, whose mother passed away at Kavanagh House, remembers the kindness both her mother and Robyn received. “The facility itself is set up to bring comfort to the families, as well as the patients. Shared sorrow lessens the blow a bit, and it helps to navigate such a painful situation. The Kavanagh House staff and facility make it possible to have “normal” activities during such a surreal time.”

In a testimony Robyn wrote before her death, she shared her thoughts about hospice and the care she received at Kavanagh House. “How do you make the decision to not go back home? To not see my family, Andy and our kids in our own house. To spend my final days in a place that is unfamiliar to me,” wrote Robyn. “But that is what we did. And by the end of the first day or two, we knew it was the exact right decision for us. The treatment we received in hospice has been nothing short of caring. The nurses and aides in [Kavanagh House] have gone above and beyond in taking care of me. They have gone above and beyond showing love and kindness to Andy and our children in ways that are so kind. We will never forget.”

Andy says there were many moments that he will remember from Robyn’s care at EveryStep’s Kavanagh House, but several are especially clear. “I can’t say enough about the amazing care and kindness we experienced from Robyn’s nurse Colleen [Strawn, Kavanagh House hospice nurse].” Andy also is thankful for the laughter and encouragement of RN Sandy Verville, also a member of the EveryStep Hospice Kavanagh House team.

But most striking to Andy was the deck overlooking trees at Kavanagh House, part of a $3.6 million dollar renovation completed in 2022. The deck’s doors are large enough to allow patients’ beds to be taken outdoors to enjoy fresh air and nature. “We were out there almost every day,” remembers Andy. “We loved it out there.” He also appreciated the large family area that allowed their children to play, and visit with friends and family. One special moment occurred when almost 350 people from Faith Baptist Bible College & Theological Seminary, where Andy is a professor and Robyn also worked, sang hymns to Robyn on the deck of Kavanagh House.

“It had been so long since Robyn had been to church,” Andy wrote in a Facebook post after the visit. “But to sing again with your own church, there is just something special about that. In the midst of all the pain and sorrow, there is a grace that God gives that passes beyond human understanding.”

Robyn passed away November 29, 2023. Though doctors had advised Robyn and Andy she probably had two weeks left, she lived 11 weeks and 5 days at Kavanagh House. Andy says the care Robyn received made their journey easier, but their faith got them through. “We were sad that Robyn would be gone and unable to see the many good times in our children’s future. But Robyn knew where she would go when she died. She knew she would be with her Lord and Savior.”

Most of EveryStep Hospice care is provided through in-home services, but when a patient needs around-the-clock hospice care, Kavanagh House hospice home is available. Kavanagh House provides a home-like atmosphere with private bedrooms, living rooms, family kitchens, children’s play areas and other family amenities. Patients and families can also enjoy being outdoors where they are surrounded by nature and scenic gardens.

EveryStep Hospice’s local hospice teams work with you and your family to create a customized plan for your care, which is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance policies. The EveryStep Foundation provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable care each year, assuring care is available to everyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay. EveryStep Hospice supports patients of all religions and beliefs.

For more information about EveryStep Hospice, with teams in Des Moines, Centerville, Mount Ayr, Mount Pleasant, Osceola and Winterset, along with Kavanagh House hospice home in Des Moines, visit here. To find care for yourself or a loved one, click here and fill out the easy, confidential online form. An EveryStep staff member will then contact you to offer support.