When Brian Henry ’04 wanted to cheer up his friends, he baked them bread. Whenever they were under stress or unhappy, he would inevitably show up at their doors, a fresh-baked slice lathered with butter and honey in his hands and his big smile full of reassurance.
Henry succumbed to cancer early yesterday morning at home in Fairbanks, Alaska, after a two-year long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma. According to friends and family, he kept his hope and good spirits until the end.
“Brian was such a genuine, caring guy,” Emily Brown ’03 said. “There was just something about his smile and his handshake and his constant positive spirit even until the last days of this.”
Henry returned to Dartmouth for Fall term after nine months of cancer treatment , but had to leave abruptly just before Thanksgiving when two life-threatening tumors in his head called for immediate radiation treatment.
“I know that it was a very, very difficult term for him,” Brown said. “He was still undergoing a lot of very, very menacing pain and he didn’t know where it was coming from — he was far away form his family and from his fiancee.”
“That took a lot of courage to come back to Dartmouth and to start over again with his classes and to start over again with us and try to tell us what he’s been doing over the past year,” Darlene Hilburn ’03 said.
Nevertheless, Henry tried to make the best of things, starting classes Fall term just two weeks after finishing grueling radiation chemotherapy. Even though all of his hair had fallen out, he kept his sense of humor and began growing a goatee, Hilburn said.
And even when it became clear that Henry’s cancer was spreading uncontrollably, he and his high school sweetheart, Heidi, decided to get married right away, instead of waiting or calling off the engagement. They were wed at home in Fairbanks on Dec. 21.
Actively involved in the Campus Crusade for Christ, and a former member of the men’s crew team, Henry was also pre-med and had long wanted to become a doctor, even before being diagnosed with bone cancer in his left arm in December of 2001. His wife, Heidi, currently attends nursing school in Washington State.
“He wanted to be a doctor and she wanted to be a nurse,” Hilburn said. “Brian was even trying to learn about being a doctor and shadowing doctors while he was undergoing treatment in Seattle this winter.”
Friends also describe Henry as a committed friend and a dedicated husband who was always ready to listen to their problems — except when he was talking about his beloved Heidi.
While undergoing treatment in Seattle and later in Fairbanks, Henry persistently read his favorite book, The Princess Bride, aloud to Heidi. Later, Heidi would walk down the aisle to the sounds of the movie theme.
In fact, Henry wanted so much to walk alongside her to the sound of the theme that, defying the proclamations of his doctors, he spent the weeks before the wedding re-learning how to walk, Hilburn said.
“He had so much courage-and he had that to the very, very last,” she said. “He was just a go-for-it kind of guy.”
Adventurous and thrill-seeking, Henry loved winter sports and thought nothing of braving icy Hanover temperatures.
“He loved to laugh at us when we were wearing a lot of clothes and it was not all that cold outside for him,” Hilburn recalled fondly.
Friends learned on Monday from Henry’s mother that he was not expected to survive much longer and decided to send a batch of letters to him and his family urging them not to give up hope.
They plan to send the letters to his family all the same, to show their sympathy and support, Brown said.
“I just want to celebrate his life because he had so much faith — faith in other people that they would be really awesome people and that they would grow and learn, faith in God that he was in control, faith in his fiancee . . . he was just a strong man of God,” Hilburn said.