I remember it like it was yesterday. “You hurry back before dinner, young man,” my mother ordered, “there’s no need in you worrying poor Mr. Jack any longer than necessary.” As I hopped on my bike to ride down the street I threw a half-hearted “Yes, mother,” over my shoulder, accompanied by a wave and a smile. I knew that even if I was a few minutes late, or if I missed dinner altogether she wouldn’t mind; she knew that I was in good hands with Mr. Jack.
Jack Gibson – a very pleasant, mild mannered yet highly energetic man. Our family went to the same church, and he’s known my family quite well down through the years. Momma even told me that a while back he was even a little sweet on my great-Aunt Linda. But I came to know Mr. Jack in a different way. After my father left us I didn’t really have any other male figures around me. My grandmother had all girls and my grandfather died before I was born. I guess that’s why I loved Mr. Jack – he was like the grandfather and role model I never had.
It seemed Mr. Jack always had time for me. Sometimes he would take me fishing or toss the baseball with me in his big back yard, or show me how to fix up the old gar in his garage. Depending on the season we would open our doors for business, raking leaves, shoveling snow, and chopping wood for the neighborhood. I’m sure that’s where I developed my entrepreneurial spirit. All the while he would tell me stories of what life was like when he was a boy, the first time he knew he was in love, and how he lives his life with passion and conviction in his beliefs. He told me how every morning he would wake up and say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” With those words of encouragement, somehow he would find the strength to face life’s challenges with courage and faith.
Well, the day I found out that I had cancer, I did anything but rejoice and I was a far cry from courageous. The sun was shining but its rays felt like sharp pains shooting through my heart. I kept asking myself over and over how I could have lived so normally for over 20 years of my life and then be given such a fatal diagnosis. I felt fine, and I completely ignored the symptoms; a little cough or hoarseness was meaningless. Occasionally I felt fatigued, but I simply overlooked it, attributing it to just being overworked. I began to lose a little weight, but I considered it a benefit, even though I really hadn’t taken any proactive measures or made any significant changes in my diet or lifestyle to warrant the loss.
When my wife suggested that I have some blood work done, we discovered that my iron levels were low. Doctors’ prescribed supplements to assist my anemic levels and I thought that would be the end of it. But then I noticed shortness of breath. My wife was extremely concerned as it didn’t result from any strenuous activity; in fact, it often seemed to come out of nowhere. Then, heavy chest pains followed and the coughing got worse, this time producing heavy phlegm which later turned to coughing up blood. Eyebrows were raise, particularly mine, as I’ve never been prone to chronic sickness. It was becoming painstakingly evident that this was no common cold, and I needed to take action to find a solution.
The next coming months would prove to be the most challenging time of my life. My days were dominated by X-rays, MRI’s and CT scans. In attempt to find a solution, surmounting medical expenses became an added stressor, and I began to wonder how much more I could possibly bear.
Just when I thought I couldn’t carry another thing, the burden became unbearable. The test results were in, and by the look on my doctor’s face as he sat down next to me, I could tell that it wasn’t good news.
“You have Mesothelioma,” he said cautiously, “it’s a rare yet aggressive form of asbestos cancer.”
“Asbestos?” I questioned in disbelief. “When have I ever been exposed toasbestos?” I scratched my head while I held it in my hands.
“It’s possible to have been exposed to asbestos decades prior to the actual onset of the disease. Mesothelioma has the longest latency period of any other asbestos diseases,” he stated. “Basically this means that there can be a long period of time between exposure to a potential disease-causing agent and the time the disease becomes apparent.”
The next few moments it was as if my doctor’s mouth was moving but there were words that I could understand coming out of his mouth. The only thing that stood out was my life expectancy, which sounded more like a sentence to jail for some civil infraction: less than one year. What had I done to deserve this type of punishment?
I asked for a second opinion, and my doctor referred me a few specialists in the field. With the same end result all the doctors suggested chemo therapy, but there was still the unanswered question of how I came in contact with the disease causing agent asbestos. Before acquiescing to any certain treatment, I needed to know how this problem began. The more I searched the more I found myself baffled. Until one day it all became crystal clear.
One day as I was sitting in my study, my eyes landed on a book about positive thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. It was a book that Mr. Jack gave me years ago. As I reminisced on the good times with Mr. Jack, warmth filled my heart as I recalled his legacy, how valued he was in the community, and how much I appreciated all that he had taught me. Then it occurred to me that one of our projects one summer had to do with working on fixing up houses with some of his friends in construction. Mr. Jack was famous for exposing me to new things, but this time the exposure was fatal.
I realized that it was during that time of construction that I was exposed to asbestos. At that time there were no guidelines as to how to work with such materials. According to my research, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards were not put into practice until 1971, and it wasn’t established by congress until three years later.
Now that the mystery was revealed, I felt a sense of relief mixed with pain and regret, yet I knew that I could not blame the memory of a man whom I held so dear. As I opened the book I found a phrase that Mr. Jack quoted every morning: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It was at the moment that I realized that while it was under Mr. Jack’s care I was exposed to more than just asbestos; I was exposed to the secret ingredient that lasted him through his entire life. Now my mission was clear… I realized that I wasn’t living to die but that there was a much greater purpose for me, and I began to receive strength and hope to pursue that purpose with passion.
I was very apprehensive about chemotherapy, especially since my doctor and the other specialists that he recommended admitted to the fact that there were new scientific findings still being discovered. As an entrepreneur, I understand the importance of facing risk, and I decided to forego the radiation treatment suggested. I wanted to live the rest of my life – no matter how long they might be – possibly suffering from the effects of an experiment.
With the support of my wife and family and friends, church and community, I faced each day with courage and faith, just like Mr. Jack demonstrated. I became a vegan and incorporated daily exercise and meditation into my normal routine. I’ve taken an active role in my community in speaking out regarding cancerous diseases as a whole and how to start the journey toward healing. It’s not been an easy road, but some 4 years after my original diagnosis, I have enjoyed the journey.