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April 1, 2009: Dead Man Walking

By Steve Farr
Vice President for Administration, Guest Contributor

September 26, 2007, 2:30 pm. My wife, Scarlett, and I were sitting in a doctor’s office where we were told I had masses in my kidney, adrenal gland, and pancreas. When the pancreas was mentioned, the look on my doctor’s face and Scarlett’s face suddenly changed to even worse. In shocked silence, we walked to the elevator, where my wife broke down as she told me pancreatic cancer was terminal.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I had taught these five stages of grief in college courses before becoming an administrator. On the outside, I tried to remain focused, keep my daily schedule, and appear strong. On the inside, I felt condemned to live on death row – I was a dead man walking.

I didn’t sleep much. Late at night, I would review medical websites where I tried to not obsess with the glaring statistic that only 5% of pancreatic cancer patients were alive after several years. I met with a minister, reviewed my will and life insurance policies, and signed documents that allowed an autopsy with the cells of my diseased organs to be injected into mice. I met with my personal hero, Darlene Mettler, and discussed quality vs. quantity of life. I planned a series of video messages that could be played for my eight-year-old daughter on her birthdays, wedding, and other special occasions. I even somehow enjoyed watching my “older brother” Phil Taylor jokingly measure my Tate Hall office in preparation of claiming it when I was gone.

One month later, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, at Johns Hopkins Hospital for the first of two difficult operations led by John Cameron, who pioneered ground-breaking procedures in pancreatic surgery. My life changed at Hopkins. I was on a hospital floor dominated by pancreatic cancer patients. While at Hopkins, I quickly learned how patients and their families bonded in a special fraternity which protected and encouraged one another. One of these patients was Joe Cathrall. Despite being terminally ill and in severe pain, Joe unselfishly expressed more concern with me than himself. His wife, Wendy, spent a lot of time with Scarlett where they too consoled one another. Joe passed away on February 17, 2008.

Sixty percent of my pancreas, my spleen and gallbladder were removed in the first surgery. My right kidney and adrenal gland were removed in the second surgery a month later. Of the three masses, only one was cancer – my kidney. If not for the prayers and support of the Wesleyan community, friends and family, my wife’s love, and two of the world’s best surgeons, I would not be here today. Saying thank you is always important. But thank you is sometimes an inadequate term. How do you honor the memory of Joe Cathrall, Darlene Mettler, and thousands of others who have shown tremendous courage and compassion in their darkest moments of life?

As a survivor, I chose to pay it forward by becoming more involved with the American Cancer Society and its fight against cancer. As the president of the American Cancer Society Leadership Council in Bibb County, I have the privilege of meeting and working with an incredible team of staff, volunteers, survivors, and caregivers all sharing the commitment to stop cancer.

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy, and service. The American Cancer Society offers an incredible number of extremely important services that range from information, resources and support (1-800-ACS-2345 or cancer.org) to investments of more than $120 million annually into the most promising new research areas. As the leading non-profit source of cancer research dollars, the Society’s research program is saving lives.

One of the most well-known American Cancer Society efforts is the Relay for Life. Last year, the Relay for Life in Bibb County raised over half a million dollars. These funds helped provide much-needed programs and services here in our community. In 2008 the American Cancer Society in Bibb County served 1,281 patients with 1,595 requests. These requests included help with medications, financial assistance, rent, utilities, and free wigs and prosthesis for cancer patients. Important patient support groups which include Look Good… Feel Better, Man To Man, I Can Cope, and Reach to Recovery helped 291 cancer patients. The Atlanta Hope Lodge provided 17 cancer patients from Bibb County a total of 395 free nights of lodging, which saved area cancer patients and their families $59,250. Transportation was also provided to 86 patients who needed assistance to receive their cancer treatments. This assistance included volunteers who drove patients to and from their treatments, or even airfare for cancer patients who were required to receive treatments farther from home.

In addition to the annual Relay for Life in May at Lake Tobesofkee, this is the first year a College Relay for Life will be held in Central Georgia. This Relay, on April 3 and 4, to be hosted on our campus, is the result of the hard work of students at Wesleyan College, Mercer University and Macon State College. Originally envisioned by Horace Fleming, a cancer survivor and previous president of the Bibb County Leadership Council, the efforts of the College Relay for Life are being led by Glenda Davis, our own Lisa Ohman, and Akil Thomas from Mercer University.

I am still haunted by cancer. Cancer will not beat me, but my diabetes and periodic CT scans assure it will always remain more than a memory. Within the last couple of months, the mothers of two of our staff in the Office of Admission have been diagnosed with cancer. I hate cancer. It steals too many of us and our loved ones. Please join us in the Relay for Life and our fight against cancer. This is a war we will win in our lifetimes.

Click image for Relay's official site.

Click image for Relay's official site.

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About wesleyanword

The Wesleyan Word is the official student newspaper of Wesleyan College. Operated and produced by students, The Word is printed twice per month during the fall and spring semesters. Online editions are released every Wednesday throughout the school year. Wesleyan College is a 4-year private residential college for women in Macon, Georgia. Established in 1836, Wesleyan College is the first college in the world to charter degrees to women.

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