When I was a child, my father once said that he would never wish cancer on anyone. He explained that cancer is a long and painful way to die. I wonder if he had a premonition that he would get cancer at the end of his life or if people do get end-of-life premonitions. From a biographical point of view, I’ve noted that some people who die by drowning live with that fear their whole lives, of death by drowning. Anyway, after the partial lung removal, only a couple of months had passed before a bad x-ray in a follow-up doctor’s visit cast a shadow over my father’s prognosis. In fact, emergency surgery was scheduled within a few days to remove the rest of that cancerous lung. While his chest was open, they discovered that the lung cancer had metastasized to his breast bone and collar bone and the upper portion of his remaining lung. They removed the upper fourth of his remaining lung leaving only three-fourths of a lung. After stitching him back up, a stronger chemotherapy treatment was prescribed. In the fall of 1978, my father was given a terminal cancer diagnosis by his physician.
I began my sophomore year at Blue Valley High School then. I remember I was enrolled in Sophomore English, Geometry, Physical Education and Drivers Ed. I also volunteered to be Class Treasurer, and I met new people but we only had a few meetings. I had met the Class President, Rick, the previous year in Freshman English. I didn’t have Coach East for Sophomore English, but Rick had her as teacher both years. Rick was the varsity basketball center. By the end of golf season which was the end of October, Rick was already having trouble with English. Coach East was telling Coach Taylor that Rick’s performance in Sophomore English meant he should be benched at the start of the basketball season. Coach Taylor asked me to tutor Rick in English so his academic performance would improve in English class. If I remember correctly, I met with Rick a couple times a week to talk about English homework and grammar that year. I don’t remember if he was ever benched or not because of English.
When the golf team came together at the start of the season, we had two new freshman players, Julie and Shannon. Julie played golf as well as Megan and Lisa and hoped for a full golf scholarship also. Megan, Lisa, and Julie eventually were awarded full golf scholarships to the University of Iowa in Ames, IA. Shannon could beat me at golf and was an alternate for the Varsity team. Since we were a 5A school we were now in the same organized sports system as Shawnee Mission Schools which were many teams. In 1978, we lost the state championship to Shawnee Mission East High School. During that fall season, Megan’s parents, Julie’s parents, and my parents, agreed we girls would travel the next summer of 1979 to Pine Needles Golf Camp in North Carolina. How exciting.
My best friend Debbie moved into the school district right after the start of our sophomore year. She lived two doors down from Megan in Leawood South. She was in the same Physical Education class as me, taught by Coach East. We became friends at the trampoline. Debbie was much more athletic than me, but I beat her at sit-up competitions. When I was 13, I had started doing calisthenics with the Jack Lalanee Show which was on TV in the 1970s. That was my preparation. Anyway, Debbie had a couple of older brothers and a sister that were no longer living at home. She was the only kid at that Leawood South residence like my home life as an only child, except my parents scheduled routine tasks and Debbie’s family life wasn’t structured and predictable like mine. Their family life was unpredictable and could change at a moment’s notice. Debbie’s father was a business entrepreneur and owned a plastic manufacturing company in Kansas City. Debbie’s mother often assisted her father at the company and could also not have to work sometimes. Debbie played Junior Varsity basketball as a sophomore, but she wanted to develop new skills so she could make the Varsity team the following year. They had a basketball court in the driveway. Sometimes I would throw her the ball so she could practice shooting layups.
I didn’t witness much of my father’s struggles with the chemotherapy and reduced lung capacity. He went to chemo treatments from work and then returned to work. After golf season ended, he asked me how my classes were going. I was sure glad he did because I needed hours of driving with an adult other than the Driver’s Ed teacher. Doris wouldn’t ride with me driving or any kid driving for that matter because of her nerves. My dad said he would ride with me driving. Unfortunately, the advancing bone cancer was causing him much pain for which he was taking Demerol. When I initially ran over a curb or dropped into a pot hole on a country road, he would seize up in pain so that I felt terrible although it was the cancer that I had aggravated with bad driving not on purpose. My dad was such a dutiful father. He also started trying some experimental therapy. One doctor gave him some kind of harness that hung from the top of a door that he strapped himself into. Why someone thought that harness was some kind of cure for terminal cancer was beyond me. That therapy made my parents angry because the initial physician hadn’t been aggressive enough, and this therapy was painful and not effective. My dad didn’t want to die.
In November, we went downtown to dinner at The Lobster Pot at Union Station which offered an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. Then, in the middle of eating, my dad started to cry. Doris said that he had been demoted at work to some kind of clerk position and was no longer an executive. He didn’t say anything. She said that he was gone so much for surgery, doctor visits, and chemo treatments that the company’s production was suffering. They needed someone else to do his job before he died. What a tragic loss to his ego. We knew his professional identity was a big part of who he was as a man, and that this was an emasculating loss. This chronic illness would get worse although I didn’t really expect any particular loss until it would just appear like another bend in a winding stream of pain and loss. Anyway, my parents had applied for disability pay and were waiting for that approval so he could quit his job. They also started planning a trip to the Mayo Clinic for a clinical trial that would just be a few days out of town. They traveled the following month to Mayo. They left me alone in the condo with our next door neighbor, Pam, to go to in any crisis that I may have. I didn’t have any crisis. I turned sixteen in December, 1978. I passed the Driver’s Ed course and the driving test. The course had been taught by the football coach, Coach Long. I think he also taught Biology, unless I have him confused with Coach Hamilton, and worked as brick layer or brick maker in Olathe, KS in addition to teaching at the high school. He gave the driver’s examination, and then I received a completion certificate to take to the DMV. We had a group that drove together; Mitch, Chris D, and Chris C. were in my group. Chris D. was a female and Chris C. was a boy. Chris D. said that I was a scary driver, but the group rode together with Coach Long whether anyone was scared or not. He had a brake on the passenger side of the car although it was rare for him to step on the brake.
At the end of January, 1979, I found out about a part-time job opportunity in the evenings at Quality Control Services, a telemarketing company, which rented new office space that was developed along College Boulevard. Because I wanted to earn spending money for the golf trip to North Carolina, Doris said that I could apply and work there. This job became my first pair of Levis, but I only worked there for a couple of months when Doris told me to quit and focus on my grades at the end of the semester. That company had telephone books organized by zip codes. In the evenings, I worked in a call center. We would call people in the telephone books and ask them to watch a half an hour TV show. Once they agreed to do that, we would schedule a time for a follow-interview to ask their opinions about products advertised during the TV program. I learned consumer psychology and developed professional telephone and interviewing skills. Shortly after I started working there, I was home on a Sunday evening. My father got up to go to bed but had to sit right back down. He couldn’t walk. We had an armless office chair with wheels and got him to the waterbed with that. He then decided he could no longer walk. The physical pain was too much. He and Doris decided he would go on a pain relief medicine that would knock him out much of the time. The medicine was a liquid concoction of controlled substances or narcotics that were medically-prescribed for pain relief. Doris couldn’t care for him in the waterbed though. They rented a hospitable bed that was placed next to the waterbed. A nurse gave Doris training about how to care for him. She tried to care for him by herself for a month, but the care was too much for her. My dad was six feet tall. She asked Mary Ann to move to Leawood from Minneapolis and help her. As a teenager, she didn’t want me to remember my dad so incapacitated nor was I to be so intimate with his body. The bed pan was too much for Doris by herself. After a bout with diarrhea in the sheets, he had to stop eating meat and go on a liquid diet that would lead to him becoming bony and skeletal over time. I really only witnessed them moving him every two hours to a new position in the bed to try to prevent bed sores. They filled latex gloves with water that they would use as bubbles to prop up limbs from the sheet or to keep him off an area of skin where a bed sore was forming.
At the end of the basketball season, one of the players, Lavon, reached out to me for her church. She was learning to follow the Holy Spirit’s outreach in her community. She said Jesus wanted her to bring me to her church. She said she prayed with the Youth Pastor, and he thought that the church’s Youth Ministry should do this outreach. Lavon said she would have me to her house to spend the night on a Saturday and go to church with her the following Sunday morning. Her church was an Assembly of God located in Stanley, KS. I remember it was Easter season. The Pentacostal pastor of her church would announce the presence of the Holy Spirit. This was my opportunity to learn about Christian spirituality because although Methodists would talk of having a relationship with a Living Christ, they wouldn’t speak about the spiritual dimension in a way that I could understand as a child. The pastor said that the Holy Spirit would move amongst the congregation and bless us. I felt the spiritual presence and my body reacted with goose bumps. Then, after about 10 or 15 minutes of quiet, the pastor began to speak of someone who wanted to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. I knew that God spoke of me then. I was losing my blindness to see the Holy Spirit through this third eye and articulated through the pastor to the congregation. I had received clues from the Native American Journey because my ancestors said that I would need the healing power of the Holy Spirit. They said that I couldn’t access the reservation and I would need medicine. They agreed to remove anything that might be construed as “bad” from the Native belief system because I would become a Christian. Lavon and I didn’t become close friends. She idealized the Billy Graham Crusades. We went together to see the movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. What I remember most from this movie is the masses of people rushing at Jesus and mobbing Him for God’s healing power that emanated from Him. Lavon slept over, and we attended a Mother’s Day church service on Sunday. At a church service, the Pastor was again filled with the Holy Spirit. He said he was stepping on a mystical pathway, and the Holy Spirit began to prophesy through the pastor’s lips, because I would receive the gift of Healing in my future and that I was to bring the gift to the ministry that formed and developed from this church’s Youth Ministry because the pastor that came forth from the Youth Ministry would begin moving toward an evangelical ministry and the spiritual gift was meant for the conversion of unbelievers to Christianity. I don’t know if anyone in the congregation knew that all that prophesy was about my future. I believed all of it, but I wasn’t ready to convert yet. I knew that once I did, I would eventually become celibate after a youthful era with multiple lovers. I was still a virgin. Lavon didn’t want to be friends since I wasn’t ready to convert then. What I gained from this church experience, was an introduction to The Fellowship of Christian Athletes whose purpose was to form communities between institutions for Christian athletes. Coach Taylor was a Baptist who was most interested in the Sociology of Sports. I had many diverse relationships with athletes from all walks of life. The Fellowship of Athletes would be a big influence in my immediate future walk as a sojourner in various Assemblies of God in Kansas and then in Missouri.