September 24, 1995 in Nation/World

He Fought Death With Courage, Wisecracks

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:column

Mark Busse, 18, didn’t want the typical chin-draggingin-the-dirt funeral.

No sappy crying, he told his parents as he neared the end. No sissy flowers.

If not, “I’ll have to come punch your lights out,” he added in his trademark way of using a wisecrack to take the sting out of a bad moment.

What Mark wanted was for everyone to be filled with joyous memories.

Memories of a young man who idolized basketball star Michael Jordan. Memories of a once-energetic kid who reacted with cocky optimism and a mischievous half-grin after life dealt him a lousy hand.

Mark’s battle with lung cancer made international headlines two years ago after his Reardan High School pals shaved their heads in a show of support.

He died at his home west of Spokane in the early morning hours last Monday. True to form, Mark fought death as if it were game seven of an NBA championship.

His ravaged lungs laboring for each breath, he turned to his sister, Jill, 20.

“You think I’m getting better? I think I am,” Mark said, pausing a moment to add, “It could happen.”

Twenty minutes later he was gone.

“Nothing kept him down,” said his mother, Bonnie, a teacher at Spokane’s Salk Middle School. “He loved life. He did the most he could. He didn’t want to die.”

Although in the final stage of a terminal disease, Mark ignored the pain and tried to cram a lifetime into his last summer.

He played in Spokane’s Hoopfest basketball tournament. He water-skied. He drag-raced the jet-black ‘68 Camaro given him by the Wishing Star Foundation.

Mark commemorated his 18th birthday on Sept. 2 with his first trip to a casino. He began his senior year earlier this month and, though barely able to stand, attended a football game a week before he died.

“I don’t think we’ll ever know what he really went through,” said Bonnie Long, Reardan High’s athletic director who was Mark’s confidant at school.

“He never griped about his cancer. His philosophy was, ‘Suck it up and do it.”’

That tenacious spirit won him legions of fans.

Consider that more than 800 people attended his memorial Thursday in Reardan, a farm town with a population of just 525.

The service was held not in a chapel, but appropriately on the school’s old basketball court where Mark worked on his jump shot and warred against rival schools.

Despite his wishes, there was a flower or two and more than a few tears as Mark’s loved ones bid him a deeply moving farewell.

“A soul like that will always live on,” said Abayomi “A.J.” Adejokun, a family friend. “He was like a beautiful rose walking by.”

Calling Mark his “hero,” Tim Busse, 24, offered a raw glimpse of the daily turmoil his younger brother quietly endured. “I’d hear him puking his guts out in the bathroom,” he said.

“The toilet would flush. The door would open and there’d be Mark, a little pale, but with this look of determination on his face. He’d say, ‘C’mon, Bud, let’s go play some ball.”’

Mark’s courage was fueled by a gang of amazing friends who never deserted him.

Diagnosed with a rare, inoperable cancer in the fall of 1993, Mark began chemotherapy that made his hair fall out. He worried about going to school bald.

He had little to fear. Mark and five of his closest buddies gathered at a house one Sunday night and took turns shaving each other’s head.

“I really appreciate this,” Mark said at the time. “When I told my friends they didn’t have to do this, Josh (Jenkin) said, ‘Shut up. I’m first.”’

The Mr. Clean look quickly caught on. Soon the halls of Reardan High were bobbing with smooth, round symbols of support.

Mark’s story broke in this column and was quickly carried all over the world. The Busses were flooded with calls. Mark was asked to appear on TV talk shows, but he declined, saying the media needed to “get a life.”

The Friday before he died, Mark called his gang together one last time.

“The room was full,” said Mark’s father, Larry, an East Valley School District administrator. “He joked, said goodbye and then asked everybody to come shake his hand.”

They did “but nobody would leave.”

Mark looked at his weeping pals. He realized it was time to take the sting out of yet another bad moment.

“Aw, don’t be such a wuss,” he scolded them, flashing that half-grin. “If you’re not gonna leave, sit down. Let’s watch some TV.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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