Years ago, in November of 1979, I witnessed my father dying from late-discovered aggressive prostate cancer. I was in my last year of seminary at SMU.
He was discovered to have it the previous December while I was fulfilling my internship in San Antonio at Travis Park UMC. When it came time for me to return to SMU for my last year of classes, I was placed under extreme pressure to forego school that year and stay home with my Dad. First, I was incredulous that my family would ask me to do that. What would I do all of that time? Just sit there and watch him deteriorate and place my life on hold? What if I was never able to return to school to finish what I started? Where would I get my income?
I loved my family, but I thought it was really odd that they would ask me to do that after I had been working so hard for so long. I was 25 years old and ready to get on with my life. It was 1979 and a diagnosis of prostate cancer back then was a death sentence. Even my father felt that was so much that he didn't want to be any more of a burden to us...so he left his doctors at Downtown Baptist Hospital and went out to the VA. He said to me, "Richard, I am going to die anyway...so I might as well do it out at the VA so it doesn't break the bank." He had given up.
I had two choices. Go back to school and stay in touch with my family as much as I could while I finished...or... Stay there in the house with my Mom, Dad and my not-to-be-named-sibiling and watch him die inch by inch. I thought it was extremely selfish of my Mother to demand that I stay home and I never understood why she wanted me to do that.
After considering my options, it was a no brainer. I was going back to finish school. For me, it was a matter of emotional survival. It had become a situation that was toxic to me.
The Fall of 1979, while I was back at school, I heard almost every day about how terrible he was doing and how terrible I was for going back to school. When I talked with my Dad, he understood why was there and knew I could return at any time that he needed me.
In November, of that year, I received a call from my Mother that Dad had suddenly taken a bad turn and that I needed to come. My best friend Don rode with me to San Antonio to help keep me awake and to keep me company. When I arrived, my Mom was in bed at home with something like pneumonia and was weak and couldn't go to the hospital to be with Dad. My sibling was in some other hospital in town being treated for something. (He was always getting sick with something...) It was all up to me to tend to my Dad.
I went to Audie Murphy Hospital and found Dad laying in a room by himself watching a Dallas Cowboy game. He was very weak. He had really gone down quickly since I saw him a couple of weeks before that. He told me that he was glad that I was there. I didn't leave the hospital until three days later when he passed away. The only other family member that was with me most of that time was my Aunt Ruth.
What I saw over those three days was the most painful and distressing sight I had ever seen. No drugs could help his pain. When he passed on, there was a sense of peace in the room knowing he was no longer hurting.
That day, I swore to myself that if I was ever diagnosed to have prostate cancer, I was going to jump off a cliff or go out into the desert...or do anything other than go through the pain and suffering that I saw my Dad go through. What a terrible thing to have to go through! It did horrible things to him and to my family that we never really recovered from.
I am telling you this for one reason, and one reason only. I want you to understand that these were the memories and the images that flased through my mind on March 3, 2010, when I was told that I had a moderately aggressive form of prostate cancer. I remembered my pledge to myself that I was NEVER going to put myself and my family through something like that.
My MD, however, sounded rather reassuring...telling me that this was something that could be dealt with and that there now was all kinds of technology available that could help me geet over this cancer and go on to have a fairly normal life. I didn't say it out loud at the time, but my first thought when I heard him say that was, "What a bunch of BS. He just wants to make a lot of money off of me."
As I began to talk to more people and hear stories of successful treatment, I decided that it was worth listening to the doctors to see if they REALLY thought I had a chance to beat it. Everyone in my family that had ever had cancer died from it until recent years...when my cousins Peggy, Mary and Linda all had to deal with breast cancer. Two of them are still alive today and doing well. My cousin Linda, the one person in my family that was more like a sister to me, finally passed away from complications. I miss her terribly until this day.
So, it was apparent that some people could beat cancer under the right circumstances and if it was caught early enough.
In a period of a couple of days, I moved from someone who was convinced that he was going to die to a person that might have a good chance of beating it. I was willing to give it a shot.
On September 30th I went to the MD and had my first PSA test done since I completed radiaton treatments.
On October 1st...I was told that my PSA levels were less than 0.1...the best possible reading. No active cancer cells...WOW!
The love and support I have received from family and friends has been precious and there is no way I can adequately express my gratitude. Its amazing how something like this gives you a different perspective on life. I still have problems that have to be overcome...physical, financial, organizational, etc. That being said, I am a fortunate man with a second chance at life.
I am also a man who has felt rather separated from his faith for quite a few years as a result of unfortunate experiences. Some were of my own making...others were not. My faith is still being tested and challenged every day, but its making a comeback. God is good...and hangs in there with you even when you are not aware of it. Healing does take place.
I am still under hormone treatment...and will be until next March...but things look very, very good. Much better than I ever thought it would.
Thank you for your support....