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Cancer can transform
your point of view.

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Church member says learning you have cancer
transforms your point of view on many matters

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--Mac Overton had become lax in his Christian practice, he says. But something recently caught him up short and snapped him out of his indifference.

That something was a diagnosis of cancer in his pancreas.

Since a doctor informed him of his findings after examinations that included CAT scans and endoscopic ultrasounds, Mr. Overton, a member of The Journal's volunteer staff since this newspaper's beginning in 1997, has turned introspective.

"I tell you there are trials and there are trials," he began at the Church of God Big Sandy's Fellowship Club after Sabbath services here Aug. 15, 2009.

"Once you're told you have a serious illness, it kind of changes your perspective on a lot of things. Financial trials don't seem so big anymore."

Fellow church member

Even before February 2009, when Mr. Overton, 59, heard a doctor first mention the "C word," as Mr. Overton sometimes calls it, he had undergone some life-changing experiences. One involved a fellow Church of God member who also lives in Gilmer, a few miles from Big Sandy. That man is 57-year-old Robbie Tuel.

"Robbie is an invalid brother," Mr. Overton said recently. "He was in a nursing home about to have his legs amputated, suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes, many things."

Mr. Overton had known Mr. Tuel years before but had lost track of him. He heard from a mutual friend that his friend was under hospice care in a local nursing home and was looking for a copy of Mystery of the Ages, the book by Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong.

So Mr. Overton visited Mr. Tuel, a church member who had not attended anywhere for many years, to present him a copy of the book.

"I went out and gave him the book and we became reacquainted," Mr. Overton said.

'Give Robbie a harmony'

Then something unusual happened. A couple of weeks later, at maybe 2 o'clock in the morning, Mr. Overton woke up and heard a voice, "maybe inside my head, that said, 'Give Robbie a harmony.' I said, 'What?' It said, more emphatically, 'Give Robbie a harmony.'"

Mr. Overton, who owns hundreds of books, searched through them and found two copies of Christian Biblical Church of God pastor Fred Coulter's Harmony of the Gospels and took one of them to Mr. Tuel.

When he saw Mr. Coulter's book, "Robbie was just like a Baptist kid on Christmas morning," Mr. Overton said.

This wasn't long before the Passover of 2008, and Mr. Overton could see from Mr. Tuel's condition that he could not travel anywhere to observe the Passover with other Church of God members.

Private Passover

"I said to Robbie, and I would not have been offended if he'd turned me down, Robbie, would you like for me to come to the room and have Passover with you?"

During the Passover service in the nursing home, with only the two of them present, Mr. Overton helped his friend Robbie with the traditional ceremony that included the foot-washing.

"I was able to wash his feet," Mr. Overton said. "He wasn't able to wash mine. He was bedridden. Robbie's feet were black, covered with ulcers. Gangrene, I think, had set in."

In the following days several church members called on Mr. Tuel, either in person or by phone. They were Dave Havir, Fred Coulter, Ron Dart, Larry Watkins, John Warren, Dixon Cartwright and others.

Mr. Tuel was so encouraged, commented Mr. Overton, that one day he suddenly announced: "You know, I'm going to get out of here."

And from that day Mr. Tuel's "feet started healing, and in six to eight weeks he'd gone home.

"This year at Passover his feet were pink, with new tissue. Only God could have done that, and I found that to be such an inspiration."

(See Darlene Warren's article featuring Robbie Tuel in the May 31, 2008, issue of The Journal.)

Like Ping-Pong

The next thing Mr. Overton knew, he was faced with a serious health challenge of his own: cancer.

"I feel like a Ping-Pong ball," he said. "I've bounced around among so many doctors."

After his diagnosis Mr. Overton learned that, if his situation is judged to be treatable, the advised regimen would be a drastic procedure called a Whipple.

The Whipple is named after Dr. Allen Oldfather Whipple, the physician who invented it in the 1930s.

"As I indelicately term it," said Mr. Overton, during the Whipple "they gut you like a dead fish. They take out your pancreas, your stomach, your gall bladder and your duodenum."

At this writing he still has a few more weeks before he must decide what he should do about the cancer. But at this point he's thinking he would rather do anything, or even nothing, than take such a drastic step.

Another possibility: something called a CyberKnife procedure that would be less invasive than the Whipple. But his doctors aren't sure the CyberKnife would be effective in his case.

Not as major

Mr. Overton waxes philosophical: "Suddenly things that were major issues before, now they don't irritate me. I just let them slide off."

He is heartened by the encouragement from Church of God members and other friends and acquaintances.

"My assistant [at The Gilmer Mirror] goes to Rosewood Baptist Church out by Harmony School. They put me on their prayer list. She gave me a book, Facing Illness With Hope: Leaning on Jesus," by Tim Wesemann.

Mr. Overton read from the book a few Bible verses including John 14:27:

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

And Romans 8:28:

"All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."

Pain and energy

Mr. Overton says he's thankful he's still feeling pretty well.

"I would make a pretty crummy martyr," he mused. "I'm allergic to pain."

But so far so good in the pain department, he said. There is pain, but it's bearable.

He doesn't have as much energy as he once had. He used to come home from the newspaper office at 5 p.m. and then work for a few hours on freelance articles for knife magazines.

(Mr. Overton is an acknowledged expert and consultant about anything to do with knifes: their manufacture, use and collectibility.)

Now he doesn't feel like doing too much more than sitting and reading, listening to the radio or "just crashing."

East Texas warmth

"I'm washed out in the evenings," he said, "and heat just melts me . . .

"If I didn't have the hope that I have, I would be a mighty depressed person right now.

"I tell you, it changes your perspective from theory to practice. I used to think I was indestructible, and I lived my life that way. Like they say, if I had known I would live this long I would have taken better care of myself.

"I'd prayed for some time, 'God, when it comes my time to go, give me a fatal heart attack, fatal stroke, fatal aneurysm, but don't let me be eaten alive by an alien life-form.' Cancer is like an alien life-form. So often you don't know you're under attack until it's too late."

A question for God

Lately Mr. Overton has had a question for God:

"Why are You giving me that which I asked You not to give me?"

But "I think I know the answer. If I had a fatal heart attack, stroke, whatever, I wouldn't be around anybody else to help somebody else ... I wouldn't be able to be here and talk with you today."

Friends have commented on Mr. Overton's positive demeanor and good humor in the face of a potentially devastating circumstance.

For example, a positive aspect of his situation, he says, is he has more clothes to choose from.

"I've lost 25 pounds since early February, and that's without trying." As a result, "I have a whole new wardrobe."

He summed up: "Either I'm going to beat this and I'll still be here with friends and family and brethren, or it'll beat me and I'll wake up in the Kingdom and see friends and family and brethren I hadn't seen for some time."

Late-breaking news

Just before this issue of The Journal went to press, Mr. Overton and his doctors agreed he would undergo CyberKnife surgery, which is not as drastic as the Whipple procedure.

Contact info

Write Mr. Overton in care of The Journal at P.O. Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A.

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