Cecil Sherman, founding coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has acute leukemia, specifically acute myeloid leukemia. At 80 years old, he received his first round of chemotherapy early last week at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He knew going in that his protocol would require hospitalization for 30 days. Sadly his wife, Dot, died on Friday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.He knew going in that his protocol would require hospitalization for 30 days. Sadly his wife, Dot, died on Friday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Diagnosed several years earlier with a pre-leukemia condition, Sherman is not the only significant shaper of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship ethos to be treated for cancer this summer.

Philip Wise, former pastor of Second Baptist Church of Lubbock, Texas, has metastatic melanoma, discovered in June. The National Cancer Institute at the National Institute for Health in Bethesda, Md., accepted him as a patient for a medical trials program. He has now returned to Lubbock for “a 30-day ‘wait and see’ period.”

When he returns to Bethesda in late August, he will undergo scans to determine if the tumors have shrunk. Shrinking tumors means the treatment is working and opens the door for two more rounds of treatment. If the tumors have not shrunk, then he starts a new promising protocol.

“I feel good–having lost about 20 pounds. We’re hoping that the treatment I’m on will work, but I’m prepared to go on to the next protocol if necessary,” said Wise, a former leader of CBF’s Coordinating Council and a former vice president of the North American Baptist Fellowship, the regional arm of the Baptist World Alliance.

Charles Deweese, executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, is again battling cancer.

On July 26, 2007, he was diagnosed with lymphoma (abdominal cancer) and began chemotherapy 10 days later.

In a forthcoming article, Deweese reports on the side effects of chemotherapy, including “two hospitalizations, an intestinal infection, pneumonia, dizziness, fevers, chills, hair loss, loss of taste and appetite, weight loss, dehydration, cracked lips, mouth sores, sore throats, extended hiccups, nausea, vomiting, digestive difficulties, intense ringing in the ears, insomnia, muscle weakness, numbness in my fingers and toes, and extreme declines in white blood cell counts, thereby leading to extended periods of fatigue.”

After offering good reports at the New Baptist Covenant meeting in January, he shared two months ago: “My battle with cancer resumed on June 9. I will work from home or the hospital to execute endowment plans and strategies. My twin goals are to find personal healing and to complete the endowment effort successfully.”

Sherman, Wise and Deweese belong to a fraternity that no one wants to join. Of course, they are not the only fraternity brothers in the frat house, just the most recent ones.

By this point, these centrist leaders and their families have churned through confusing topics like risk factors, death rates, treatment options and survival rates. They’ve heard puzzling statistics and muddled medical terms.

They may know that the American Cancer Society estimates almost 1.5 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed this year and that 77 percent of cancers are diagnosed among those who are 55 years old and older.

They may know that the ACS estimates that “in 2008 about 170,000 cancer deaths are expected to be caused by tobacco use” and “about one-third of the 565,650 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2008 will be related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity and nutrition.”

What they know for sure is that they want to be made whole again. And that is what the wider centrist Baptist community wants for them.

What is also clear is that each retains a positive attitude about their outcomes as expressed by clearly defined goals or openness to new treatment options.

Attitude determines altitude. Cancer patients can fly higher and farther with a positive perspective, not the wishy-washy positive thinking hype or the rope-a-dope of the faith healers, but the realism of the impossible possibility.

One way to sustain a positive attitude through nausea, fatigue, discouragement and loss of control is for patients to know that their larger community has high expectation for a good outcome.

That may be the best gift we can give them, letting them know that their community expects and awaits their return.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Share This