Several years ago, while shopping in a mall in Eugene, Oregon, I began to stagger, and was hard-pressed to make it to a nearby espresso shop where I could sit down and try to collect myself. I continued to have mobility issues the rest of the day, but soon forgot about it.
A month or so later I was walking towards the pew in which my wife and I sit in church, and I began to stagger again. I grabbed the side of each pew along the way to stabilize myself enough to make it to our customary location. I was okay by the time the service was over, but throughout the day, my walk was not consistent.
The following morning, as I started to rise from my bed, the room began to spin like a top, and the force of the dizziness almost threw me back on the bed. From 5:30 until 8:00 a.m., I kept trying to get up. After continual nausea and sometimes vomiting, my daughter called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital by ambulance.
I was hospitalized for five days while they ran every kind of test imaginable. They determined that I had likely had an inner ear infection that affected my balance. But they also discovered something else.
A cat scan revealed a small dark spot between the base of my neck and the top of my spine. The doctor told me that it had likely been there from birth. It looked old and harmless. Nevertheless, he said, he wanted to check it every three months over the next year just to make certain.
We went through that process the first year, then every six months. Nothing changed so he said, “I don’t need to see you anymore.” Then he paused and said, “Let’s do this one more time just to be certain.”
Six months later I went back for the routine checkup. I went to the lab for the cat scan, and upstairs to the doctor’s office.
When he entered the room, he had a look of concern on his face I had not seen before. He said, “The spot has grown and appears to be cancerous. It has eaten out parts of the two vertebrates below. Surgery is not an option—it’s an absolute necessity. If we do not operate soon and run rods and pins in to secure your head, neck and shoulders, your head will flop, and you will be paralyzed from the neck down.
“We cannot do a biopsy to determine whether it is cancerous because it is in one of the most sensitive areas of your body. We can only do it when we do the surgery.”
The surgery lasted eight hours. The biopsy revealed cancer from an invasive protein.
I was not able to return home for a month following the surgery. I moved into the new veteran’s home for rehabilitation.
I had to wear a brace that locked over my upper back and shoulders, across my chest and strapped up against my chin so I couldn’t move my head.
A day or so following, I went down to the community room, a large multipurpose room where vendors from all kinds of organizations were gathered to present information on available services for veterans.
The chaplain, a friend of mine, saw me and asked what happened. I told him, and he pointed to three men standing nearby and said, “Do you know who those men are?”
I didn’t. He said, “They’re fellow chaplains.” Then he called to them and said, “Hey guys! Come over here. Let’s pray for Bob.”
They gathered around me, laid their hands on me, and prayed that I would have a complete healing.
I cannot begin to describe how reassuring that moment was, but my time in the veteran’s home turned out to be a highlight of my life. I feel certain that God put me there.
As a pianist during that holiday season, I played Christmas music for all kinds of events, including a scheduled concert that was made before the surgery. I heard so many stories from fellow veterans, several who had survived World War II. Staff people, administrators and friends dropped by my room, and I was there to listen to them. God used me to listen and often pray with them.
I was home in time for Christmas, but there were many more opportunities in The Fisher House, temporary housing for veterans having radiation and chemo therapy.
We were there for a month of radiation treatments, then we returned home to resume a new normal.
O, did I mention? That was two years ago, and today I continue to be cancer free. Praise the Lord! And a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.