Dead Man Walking

June 12, 2011

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.

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Filed under faith, family & friends, life

15 Responses to Dead Man Walking

  1. Kari

    You are right – totally God. And I praise Him that you are still making memories with your uncle and now T can have some precious memories as well.

  2. Sara Barberio

    How wonderful this post is!
    I started to tear up reading it but stopped myself. This is a story of hope and victory. We should celebrate Uncle Abe’s life and health that God has given him.
    His boisterous personality and humor has always brought us happiness even in our times of grief. Uncle Abe is truly a blessing to our family. I thank God for placing in our lives.

    Thank you for sharing this post.
    Sara Barberio

  3. suzie

    Great words, Aimee! So glad you wrote this. :) I think Poppi is still alive because there are many people left for him to inspire to love the Lord. As much as he has mastered his instrument, he himself is an instrument of God. And He plays wonderfully. <3

  4. God does work in mysterious ways. I believe human will and spirit also play a role in these things as well as possibly even genes.

    I’ve known people who’ve died of pancreatic cancer within less than a year and some who lived in remission for several years.

    It’s important and awesome that your uncle knows his future as evidenced by your post. Your uncle is an example of living life to its utmost.

  5. Joy

    What a beautiful tribute to your uncle! It is a true testament to his personality, in my business, I see a lot of folks give up when diagnosed with terminal disease. I LOVE it so much that he is livin life.
    Livin’ the life I was born to live
    Givin’ it all I’ve got to give
    You’re invited if you wanna come
    Better get ready to have some fun
    – Steel Dragon from the movie Rock Star…ha!
    Go Abe!
    Better get ready to have some fun

  6. I love the way you write! But more than that, I love what you choose to write about. This post is like a refresher preceding the Sabbath. I have to help out in church tomorrow and I was feeling kind of stressed but somehow after reading this I feel a bit better. Thank you!

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