At 29 years of age and in the best shape I had ever been in I was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. This cancer is a great mystery. Physicians have no idea what causes this cancer and can’t predict how it will behave. Sometimes it will spread quickly and lethally, other times it lies dormant and silent for years maybe even decades before it is discovered. As I said in my previous blog Cheryl was expecting to deliver our first child at any moment when I was diagnosed with this cancer. In this blog I share how:
A STRANGER BECAME MY FRIEND!
That Tuesday had been a whirlwind. I woke anticipating doing a little pastoring and a lot of golfing that day. This was the norm when I was young. By the end of that day I was alone in a hospital room running through my mind that I had a cancer in my body. After I was admitted to a room I insisted Cheryl go get some rest and she went to her parent’s home for the night. A lady 9 months pregnant did not need to sleep on a couch in a hospital room. As I lay there that night a million thoughts ran through my mind: who was going to preach for me Sunday, how long would I be out of the pulpit, when could I play golf again, how much would this surgery hurt.
I must confess, in all honesty, I was not very concerned at this time. I trust Jesus and was not afraid. I also must say I was disappointed with Cheryl a little. She is the strongest woman I have ever met in my life. Believe me, it is both a good and bad thing for a husband to have a strong wife. However, ever since I was diagnosed with cancer she had been emotional. She was scared I could tell. I concluded I must have had a greater faith than her. I even prayed her faith would increase and she would have peace. Now I know why she was so emotional. She was carrying our son, Micah. He was real to her. She had felt him, fed him and even talked to him. I knew Micah was in her womb but he was not real to me yet. I have learned this truth – children become a reality to moms before they do dads. She was afraid for me and she was afraid for our son she was carrying who was already very real to her.
Wednesday morning around 5:00 a.m. Dr. Stout opened my door and asked, “Dwight are you asleep?” I replied, “Not anymore.” Dr. Stout walked across my room and leaned against the window and asked how my night went. He asked if I got any sleep. He asked if I ate well. He looked down at his shoes – something was bothering him. I quizzed what was wrong, afraid of what his answer might be. His reply to me made him my friend as long as we both are alive, “Dwight, I didn’t sleep much last night. I thought about you being 29 years old and expecting your first child and I had to diagnose you with cancer. I couldn’t sleep so I wanted to come tell you if you need anything let me know. I am here for you.” Dr. Stout and I grew close over the next 10 years. We have grown apart over the last 7 years but I still love him because of these words he shared with me the very first morning I woke up as a cancer patient and for the friend he has been through the years.
Wednesday and Thursday were a whirlwind of tests. I can remember going to a nuclear imaging test. The technician told me to watch on a monitor as the dye entered my right kidney. The dye flowed through parts of my body I did not recognize. When it reached my right kidney the dye was blocked by the tumor and began backing up. It would have been cool if I had been watching a doctor’s program on television. The test I disliked the most was the bone scan. I lay flat on my back for what seemed an eternity with my hands tied at my sides not able to move a muscle. An old antiquated looking machine began scanning at my feet. It would scan a section of my body for a few minutes and then move up and scan another section of my body. I want to say everyone who worked at Hattiesburg Clinic and Forrest General Hospital were diligent to take care of me and make me comfortable. No man could have been treated better. I had a nurse named Hatch who took great care of me post-op. Through the years as I would visit in the hospital as a pastor I would make my way up to the seventh floor to check on Hatch. One day I asked for Hatch and was given the news that this special lady who had nursed so many back to health had her health fail her. She had finished her race. I can’t speak for anyone else but every health care professional who cared for me was better to me than you could ever dream.
By the end of the day Thursday I was ready for the surgery that would take place the next morning. I had passed blood for three days and this was not something I could get used to. I was ready. I didn’t sleep much the night before the surgery. I was nervous about the pain of recovery. The morning of the surgery all my family, many pastors and several church congregations gathered at the hospital for my surgery. I was grateful for the expressions of love. One of my church members said when they approached the guest services counter the lady said before they opened their mouth, “Bro. Stewart is on the seventh floor, he must be a popular man.” This outpouring of love says nothing about me but so much about the Godly people I have pastored through the years. A brother who I pastored in a previous church, Kenneth Wells, called Cheryl the day before the surgery and volunteered a kidney if I needed one. First Cor. 13:5 says love is not self-seeking. I experienced that kind of love from so many.
Down the hall and into a holding room I went leaving behind everyone but Cheryl and her sister Gail. They had given me magic elixir to calm my nerves. It must have worked. Cheryl said when Dr. Stout came into the holding room and asked if I had any questions my reply was, “Will I be naked?” He assured me I would be. My reply was, “Don’t let anyone make fun of me, please!” It was great to see Cheryl and Gail and my new friend, Dr. Stout, laughing at me as they wheeled me off to surgery.
In my next blog I will share the results of the surgery and the birth of Micah.