The man reading with my son in this picture is my Uncle Abe. He should be dead.
But he isn’t. This picture was taken in June. Abe’s still very much alive and well.
In late 2007, Abe began having chronic, acute digestive issues. After lots of tests, waiting and misdiagnosis, the real diagnosis fell like a ton of bricks.
Abe had a cancerous tumor on his right kidney. It could kill him. However, it was not responsible for his digestive issues.
So after a CAT scan and more waiting, the second diagnosis fell. Abe also had a cancerous tumor on his pancreas.
Anatomy is not my forte, nor is math my uncle would tell you. But I know you need your kidneys and pancreas to live. And I know my show biz obits. Pancreatic cancer killed Patrick Swayze in 2009 after a 20-month battle.
Uncle Abe was a dead man.
My experience with cancer and close relatives equals an immediate death sentence. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
I could hardly speak to Abe on the phone without crying. I knew I would never see him on earth again alive. That was 2008.
This is 2011.
Abe has always had a special something. He lives out loud. Gives generously. Exudes resilience. Manages to be both realistic and positive.
But that doesn’t buy a ticket to a cure. Or even a remission. Plenty of people who die of cancer have those strengths and more.
I don’t know why he survived and others don’t. I don’t know how he survived.
At 68 years of age, the man underwent a major surgery called the Whipple Procedure. And removal of his right kidney. And chemo. And radiation. For two cancers that should have killed him.
Yet today he is well. Thinner than he used to be, but just as sharp, sassy and humorous as ever.
Unashamed, he openly shares his experience. Credits God with sustaining him, providing the doctors and treatments, and letting him live. His Creator simply did not allow him to die yet.
A snapshot of Uncle Abe wouldn’t be complete without mentioning music. Abe is a masterful pianist and singer.
He’s directed or accompanied music in churches and choirs for most of his life. He sings and plays at nearly all our family reunions, weddings and funerals, including my mother’s funeral when she died of cancer in 1996.
Upon release from his treatment, Abe picked up right where he left off, playing and singing. He accepted a part-time job as music director for a small church. We attended that church with him and my aunt the weekend we visited them.
Abe sang with abandon. Gleefully he called my husband the tenor to join him. He worshipped with vulnerability, as one who was dead but is now alive.
When I spoke to him last week about this post, he was preparing to sing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in German with a collegiate choir. He’s 72, but I’m sure he’ll fit right in. Abe still has his edge, now tempered by fire.
On my bed I remember You;
I think of You through the watches of the night.
Because You are my help,
I sing in the shadow of Your wings.
I cling to You;
Your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:6-8 NIV
Great is Thy Faithfulness is a cherished hymn. Sara Groves sings a beautiful interpretation in He’s Always Been Faithful.
Thanks to Tim Robbins, writer/director of Dead Man Walking, for inspiring this post’s title.