Rainbow Nurse Loses Two Brothers But Finds a Calling in Life
Jodi Badura wonders what her two brothers would be like today and what they would be doing with their lives. She’s curious if she would have a bunch of nieces and nephews running around. It’s something she finds herself thinking about more and more but won’t ever get to experience.
October 3, 1994, was a day that changed Jodi and her family forever. She was just 16 years old when her older brother, Mark Ballman, was killed in a car accident on State Highway 26 on his way to school. Mark would have graduated later that spring from Fort Atkinson High School.
“Growing up, it was always my brother Mark and me,” said Badura. “He truly was my childhood best friend. We went everywhere together. He’d beat up on me a lot because I was his younger sister, and his friends liked me, and he didn’t like that.”
Mark’s death was sudden and unexpected. He was always supposed to be there with Jodi like he had been, and now he was gone.
When her younger brother Lucas (“Luke”) was born on January 15, 1996, Jodi felt an instant connection.
“He obviously couldn’t replace Mark, but Luke gave us a new meaning for life,” Badura said.
By then, Jodi had already started thinking about a future career in the medical field.
“I always wanted to help and take care of people,” Badura said. “Losing Mark, I couldn't do anything to change that situation. But being there for people is a way for me to give back.”
In 2005, Jodi started working for Rainbow Hospice Care as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). For seven years in this role, she helped support patients and families going through the end-of-life journey.
“Mark’s death was very tragic,” Badura said. “I didn’t get to hold his hand, but I could do that with hospice patients and their families and give them that comfort and support.”
Jodi left Rainbow for a short time after completing her LPN degree in 2012 but returned in 2013. Ever since, she’s been working as Rainbow’s Referrals, Admissions, and Intake Specialist and is often the first person patients and families talk to when they need Rainbow’s services.
Jodi kept busy with work and raising her two daughters, but she was there to watch Luke grow up. She also made sure that he knew about his older brother, Mark.
Like most siblings, Luke and Jodi shared a special connection. She always tried her best to look out for her little brother and protect him. Luke had been battling Crohn’s disease for several years and got very sick a few weeks after graduating from high school in June 2014. In the fall, he went to St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison for numerous blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy, but they didn’t find anything abnormal. Doctors thought that Luke’s fatigue, weight loss, fever, chills, and bloody noses he had been experiencing were all related to his Crohn’s disease. A week later though, another more detailed test revealed Luke had a rare type of cancer, Hepatosplenic T-Cell Lymphoma.
“I remember walking into Luke’s room and seeing the scared look on his face,” Badura said. “That memory will be in my mind forever. I leaned over, kissed his forehead, and told him that I loved him.”
Doctors believe that Remicade, the medication that Luke took to treat his Crohn’s disease, was the cause of his cancer. After a spleen biopsy confirmed it was cancer, Luke’s blood had trouble clotting, and his blood pressure dropped suddenly. He was rushed to the intensive care unit and placed on a ventilator. Doctors didn’t think he would make it through the next day.
Jodi spent her actual birthday, September 12, in the hospital praying for her brother’s survival. Luke spent nearly an entire month in a coma but continued to find the strength to fight. At the beginning of October, he woke up and was taken off his ventilator. Jodi and her family felt fortunate to celebrate her birthday with Luke in his hospital bed. Her little brother wasn’t ready to give up and his family wasn’t ready to let him go.
“I remember him saying, ‘What do I have to lose?’ Badura said. “Luke wasn’t afraid to die, but he didn’t want to die and wasn’t ready to die. He was a fighter.”
Luke went through several rounds of chemotherapy and stayed in the hospital until early December. Unfortunately, his health wasn’t improving, and he started getting weaker. Even the powerful love Jodi and her family had for Luke couldn’t help him conquer the battle he was about to face. As his cancer progressed, Luke made the tough decision to stop treatment. Jodi didn’t want to lose her brother, but she also didn’t want to see him in pain.
“Watching him go through all those obstacles every single day was just really, really hard,” Badura said. “I couldn't imagine how hard it was for him living it and making those decisions.”
Jodi helped Luke create a bucket list of all the things he wanted to experience. And at the top of that list was to go ice fishing one last time. He had missed the deer and duck hunting season when he was in a coma, so Jodi and his family took him up north to his uncle’s cabin, where they spent a few days fishing together and enjoying the outdoors.
Not long after returning home, on January 31, 2015, Luke and his family decided to sign him onto Rainbow Hospice Care’s services. When Luke was at home in his final days, Jodi was always there taking care of him. The family made sure someone was always there for him, so he was never alone.
“I was giving the medications and making sure he was comfortable,” Badura said. “I was his nurse and caregiver at home and set my alarm every two hours to reposition him because he was so weak and skinny. But Rainbow was great. They gave me the support I needed and the reassurance that I was doing the right thing by answering all the questions I had.”
Luke continued to get weaker and couldn’t get out of bed, but he still had friends coming over to see him. Jodi and the family invited all his buddies over for a guys’ night with pizza and grasshoppers.
“We had to kick the guys out because they didn't want to leave,” Badura said. “They were all reminiscing, and that was really special for all of them, even Lucas.”
Jodi was there when Luke took his final breaths and died on February 5, 2015, less than a month after his 19th birthday.
“I feel like my work at Rainbow Hospice Care helped prepare me for what comes next,” Badura said.
It didn’t make things any easier, but Jodi got a chance to say goodbye to Luke, something she didn’t have with Mark.
“We don’t say that Luke’s death was any more or any less important than Mark’s,” Badura said. “But the impact that Lucas’ life and death had on us was different from Mark’s. They were two different people.”
With family, friends, and the entire community rallying around Luke and hoping for his recovery, “Team Luke” was born, first as a simple website that shared his courageous story and offered him support. Eventually, it grew into something much bigger. Family and friends designed “Team Luke” bracelets, which were the color camouflage because of Luke’s love for hunting, and t-shirts that included the words “I Wear Lime Green for Luke,” in honor of Lymphoma awareness. “Team Luke” is still going strong today, made up of people across the community who donate their time, food, and money to support others who are going through a tough time, like the Ballman family.
Jodi continues to inspire others by how much she gives back to her community and those in need of a helping hand. She has taken part in fundraising efforts to form a “Team Luke” scholarship that was presented for two years to one Fort Atkinson High School graduate. She also volunteers and has adopted several families over the years for the Jefferson County Christmas Neighbors program, a local non-profit that helps families and children in need with donations of toys, clothing, and food. Despite her busy schedule, Jodi still finds the time to donate what she calls “Sunshine Bags” to local schools, bags that she fills with feminine hygiene products and inspirational quotes.
“During Luke’s journey, our community came together,” Badura said. “Everybody was there to support us, whether it was with meals or picking kids up from school, mowing the yard, or taking care of animals. This is the least I can do to say, ‘thank you’ for that.”
Jodi also makes her own arts and crafts and sells them at local fairs and flea markets. But her passion and love for photography started after her brother Mark died.
“There could have been more photos of him,” Badura said. “I missed out on a lot of memories that we didn't capture in a photo with Mark.”
It was a photo she took of her brother Luke for his senior pictures that led Jodi to push herself and develop her own photography business. Now Jodi often donates her photography services to others, so they don’t miss out on those memorable moments.
Jodi discovered that losing a loved one changes your life forever and living life without them is even more challenging. Life goes on all around us, but for those experiencing grief, life seems to stand still. Sometimes the sadness creeps up on Jodi when she thinks about her brothers. That grief becomes unbearable, and the emotions and tears keep coming. Her heart feels like it’s been shattered into a million pieces, along with a feeling of emptiness. But Jodi knows she needs that time to reflect on her journey through grief.
Jodi honors Luke’s memory by living every day like it’s her last and remembering their good times together.
Whenever she sees a beautiful sunrise and sunset, some breathtaking clouds, a cardinal flying in a tree outside her window, or an eagle soaring in the sky, she thinks about Luke and Mark and imagines they are responsible for nature’s beauty.
“I always look for signs, and they don’t happen every day,” Badura said. “But when they do, those are goosebumps moments for me. There’s a reason they happen. I always think that’s totally Lucas or Mark.”
Their birthdays are tough, but she remembers Luke and Mark on those days and finds ways to stay connected to them.
“I try to do fun things that don’t make me sad on those days,” Badura said. “We honor them with cupcakes on their birthday at the cemetery. We sit around and tell stories about them.”
Luke would have turned 26 years old in January, so that birthday, like most of them, was especially hard since the guest of honor wasn’t there to celebrate.
“I spent the day talking to Luke, remembering funny things about him that made me laugh out loud,” Badura said. “Then I sat in the hospital parking lot and remembered the day he was born. I visited his grave, played our song, and shared a beer with him. I enjoyed a steak dinner with my loved ones, and we reminisced while sipping on an ice cream drink in his honor. I shed tears, thinking about how much I miss him. If that’s not honoring my grief, I don’t know what is.”
Jodi feels her brothers’ presence every day and knows they’re not far away. Mark and Luke will always be in her heart. Remembering them is important for Jodi because they had an unbreakable bond.
“Jodi learned that hiding her grief doesn’t work,” said Rainbow Bereavement Counselor Laura Wessels. “She allows herself to be sad or to be happy. Jodi knows she can’t control her life, but she can choose to live in a way that honors her brothers in all the ways she misses their presence in her life. Jodi understands that it’s up to her to honor her grief in ways that help her and her heart.”
Rainbow Hospice Care provides bereavement services and support groups for families and loved ones of hospice patients by allowing them to acknowledge and better understand their grief and loss. Rainbow’s bereavement team also offers community grief support to any individual who is experiencing grief and loss. Support is available through groups and individual counseling by phone or in-person meetings.
Jodi mourns not only for herself and her family but also for Mark and Luke, who still had a long life ahead of them. She would give anything to see her brothers and hug them both again. It’s even more painful knowing that others won’t ever get the chance to see that same spark that so many people loved about them.
“Mark was loud and obnoxious and the class clown, but he was so entertaining,” Badura said. “He could make everybody laugh. Lucas had a contagious smile, and he would be a professional hunter. He was that talented. Both were very hardworking and would be making a difference somehow.”
Jodi continues to make a difference too, in the lives of her family, friends, co-workers, others in the community, and with Rainbow Hospice Care’s patients and families. Her broken heart will never fully heal. But Jodi finds peace and comfort in knowing that her two brothers, who never got a chance to meet on this earth, are together now, watching over her and her family. And someday, they will all be together again.
“When Lucas was dying, he said ‘I get to meet my brother Mark now,’” Badura said. “He had this strong love and bond with somebody he didn’t even know because of how much we kept Mark’s memory alive.”