Going out with grace: Ubben thankful for family, faith and a life well lived

From left to right, Madison, Darla, Conner, Samantha and Eugene Ubben at Iowa River Hospice in Marshalltown. Darla, the Conrad Chamber/Main Street Executive Director, passed away on Monday after a yearlong battle with colon cancer that spread to her liver. (Robert Maharry/The Grundy Register photo) 

Nobody loses their battle with cancer. Some just fight it longer than others.


Darla Ubben’s journey on Earth came to an end Monday morning, but just over 72 hours prior—during her final interview—she remained remarkably candid, optimistic and relaxed. Lying on her bed in a quaint room— below a wall plaque that read “Brave,” a gift from the Roland-Story girls basketball team—at Iowa River Hospice, surrounded by family, keenly aware of her impending mortality and at peace with her situation, she had plenty on her mind: physically tired but mentally stirring, Ubben warned that a greater struggle between good and evil was underway, one that won’t be subsiding anytime soon.


“I know I’m going to go to heaven. I know where my eternity lies. I pray that these kids know where their eternity lies,” she said, pointing to her three children. “I just really believe with my whole heart that God’s going to win. He’s winning this war, and he’s not going to quit until it’s done.”  


‘None of us knows when that last day or that last hour will be’


Around the areas of both her hometown (Aplington) and her adopted home (Conrad), where she served as the Chamber/Main Street Director, Ubben’s story is intimately familiar by now. In November of 2016, after what she thought was a routine check-up, she went back for further tests and got the worst news possible: she had stage four colon cancer at just 45 years of age.


A few successful rounds of chemotherapy later, Ubben was declared cancer-free last summer. But the disease, in its senseless and nihilistic malice, returned with a vengeance this fall, and by November, doctors informed her that she likely only had a few months to live. Another chemo attempt failed to restore proper liver function, and the family was quickly running out of options.


“How much do you put yourself through? Is it worth it?” she asked. “And what’s God’s plan?”


At this moment, Darla faced a pivotal choice—do I live the rest of my days in hospitals and undergo constant treatments in hopes of prolonging my life by a few years, or do I depart on my own terms? Ubben chose the latter option, and upon leaving Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, surprising her youngest daughter Madison at BCLUW’s game against Roland-Story in Story City and going viral in the process, she settled in at IRH, where she was just a hop and a skip away from her husband Eugene (a teacher in Marshalltown), Madison and middle daughter Samantha, a freshman at UNI. 


“In hospice, the concept is to enjoy your time, be at peace and not be interrupted. It’s just a whole different realm,” Eugene said. “It’s a big change in how you look at things.”


Conner, her oldest son, is a senior at Northwestern College in Orange City and has been on the road almost constantly throughout the school year. He arrived in time for last Thursday night’s interview, and next semester, he’ll have a new friend joining him: Sam is transferring to NWC to join the softball team.


“With the long car rides, the positive is (that) you have a lot of time to think about stuff—which can be a good thing or a bad thing,” he said. 


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