What a difference a year can make.
On the last Sunday in March in 2012 my lovely wife Lisa and I checked into a room in the Rotary House hotel at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. We had been told to come prepared to stay from two days to six months. That’s a pretty wide range.
I was a total wreck the entire week before we left for Texas. Since we didn’t know how long we would be there, we drove and tried to make the best of a bad situation — my friends Rick and Jane Caruso, who had made that same hopeful journey with their daughter Kate just a couple of years earlier, called it making lemonade out of the lemons we had been handed.
We tried. We really did try. We went by way of Baton Rouge and toured the Capitol — a 34-story monument to the persuasiveness of Huey Long — and even saw the spot where that celebrated Southern demagogue lay dying after being shot leaving an elevator, way back in 1935. We dropped by the LSU campus and said hello to Mike the Tiger and even talked one of Les Miles’ assistant coaches into letting us enter Tiger Stadium and take a walk on the same grass that Coach Miles has been known to nibble on.
And we sat and soaked our feet in the muddy Mississippi River.
And in the back of my mind, the entire time, was the specter of impending death. I came to intimately understand what the psalmist meant when he spoke of walking through the valley of death. I was battling cancer — and if my lovely wife Lisa doesn’t want me to speak of that battle, she will just have to not read today’s epistle — and I seemed to be losing the battle.
I had undergone three major surgeries in a span of three months and two months of daily radiation and the supposedly “slow-growing” disease has already taken up in my bones and was spreading rapidly. My PSA — the blood test that indicates the presence of prostate cancer in the body — was rising exponentially every time a nurse stuck a needle in my arm — which happened frequently throughout the winter of 2012.
I had heard several doctors tell me that I had stage four metastatic prostate disease, and while they all insisted that it could be treated, not a single one was willing to express any hope that the treatments would succeed for long, if at all. Like I said, I was a mess as I prepared to head west. Worst of all, I was missing spring break on Jekyll Island.
I married into a long-standing tradition of camping beneath the Live Oaks on Jekyll Island during spring break. Virtually every spring for the past 30 years-plus had found us on Jekyll, riding bikes all day, cooking scrumptious local seafood every evening, watching the sun drop into Sidney Lanier’s beloved Marshes of Glynn and sitting by the campfire at night, talking, laughing, dreaming, reading Uncle Remus to the kids and telling stories about Jekyll adventures of years past.
And there we were, 365 days ago, a long, long way from the Georgia coast, in mind and in body and in spirit.
But we were not alone in Houston, Texas. We carried with us the prayers of thousands and thousands of friends, many of whom we still are yet to meet. The message we received from the folks at M.D. Anderson was similar to the message we had been given at other prestigious institutions — but it was given with so much more hope. Plus, their message contained an addendum. They promised that if and when the first treatment option failed, it would be followed by another — and then another and another and another.
So here we are, a year later. I still have stage four cancer. There is no cure for my type — yet. But here I am. I have survived another year — and it has been a fruitful year. I have fulfilled my promise to God and to follow a personal path that will allow me to preach the Gospel. I have become a certified Methodist lay preacher and am finding many opportunities to share my story — and God’s love — with receptive congregations far and wide. I have been blessed in so many ways by so many people who offer me so much support, asking and expecting nothing in return except the joy of helping a fellow human being.
And tomorrow morning, as you read this column, I am on Jekyll Island, welcoming the rising sun and celebrating the Risen Son, with my wife and my in-laws and all of my children and all of their significant others.
My cup, on this glorious Easter, doth indeed runneth over.
Happy Easter, y’all.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.