In these columns, I vary from topic to topic, but most of the time, I try to bring a little humor and happiness into the lives of readers. (Unfortunately, that’s usually result of my unintentionally typographical errors or misspellings.)
My friends and associates know that I’m what’s called “laid back”. Non-conventional. (Some would call it “goofy”). I wear funny-looking Hawaiian shirts. I’ve always valued friends WAY more than money… (which works out well for me since I don’t HAVE any money.) And I enjoy my sense of humor… even when nobody else does.
Taken all together, it makes writing these columns each week one of my favorite pastimes. But this week is VERY special… a column about how truly blessed I am. I feel like the luckiest man on earth.
I actually have proof. Three times in my life, I’ve escaped “near death” experiences. At age four, I fell out of a car traveling down the busiest street in my hometown of Lexington (U.S. 1) with speeding cars zooming around me in the dark of night. I escaped with a hospital stay, a permanent bump on the noggin’, and a picture in the local newspaper of “the little boy whose head was bandaged like a mummy”.
Then, in the fifth grade, I suffered a double-ruptured appendix which kept me hospitalized for nearly a month. Had my mom and dad waited two hours ‘til daybreak to take me to the hospital rather than leaving their beds in the dead of night, I would not have survived, doctors told us.
In 1983, I was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer – melanoma – and given a 30% chance of survival. Yet, 25 years later, I’m still kicking.
(I should probably add in the high school football injury that ruined my left knee, ended my sports career – one of the reasons you won’t be seeing me in the Olympics this month – but kept me out of Viet Nam. In 1971, that seemed a lot like luck to me.)
And then, just a few days ago, when I went to see my close friend, Dr. Oscar Lovelace, for something that seemed no more serious that a headache, I sensed his concern. We had worked together for over a year on his campaign for Governor, and I had somewhat learned to read his heart. A saw the great concern and compassion that I had often seen in his eyes before, especially when I told him of my previous melanoma. Within hours he had the results from an MRI, telling me “the news is not what we hoped for”.
Now before I go any further, let me assure you, my friends and readers, that I am optimistic that I will be writing his column for many years to come. And I hope that’s what the Good Lord has planned for me also. (Right now, I’m really hoping the Lord enjoys my off-the-wall style of humor that I sometimes slip into the weekly columns. If not… no offense, Lord… and forgive me for my bad sense of humor.)
As a political consultant and a newspaper publisher, I’m familiar with “spin”… but there’s not really much way to spin this:
A few days ago, tests revealed I have a cancerous brain tumor.
Along with Dr. Lovelace, Dr. William Butler, my previous oncologist from SC Oncology Center, confirmed the cancer, and this week, I will be visiting a specialist at MUSC to help determine what, if any course of action, can be taken.
I don’t know how other people would react to such news. But in the days since, I have been completely overcome with one central thought: I truly feel like the luckiest man in the world! I can’t even begin to count my blessings.
Obviously, I’m lucky to have a friend like Oscar, who has helped me think very clearly about my medical condition, and spent countless hours to shepherd me through tests that might normally take weeks in only days, even hours.
I also think of my friend Jerry Fowler, who during his last years allowed me to share his weekly journey with cancer with the readers of my newspapers. His courageous, positive approach of sharing his battle as a way to help others is now a blessing for me, allowing me the insight to follow his lead, and talk openly with you, similarly, I hope, in a way to benefit others. Without Jerry, it would never have occurred to me. Now, however, I am calmed by this very act of sharing with you.
But my greatest blessings are the friends and family, with which I have been blessed. At the top of the list are the Mom and Dad who brought me into this world and gave me the most loving and supporting family environment a person could have. And, most importantly, they took me to Sunday School and church every week from the youngest age I could remember, giving me a foundation of faith which has never allowed for a single solitary second a doubt that I would end up anywhere but Heaven. And, that, right now, is a very nice thought: It takes the only real issue off the table! They took me to church, I grew up believing I would live in eternity, and no other thought has ever crossed my mind.
I’m lucky to have an entire family that makes me nothing but proud. My sons, Rod, Jr. who makes me proud every day when he follows almost exactly in my footsteps, and Ross, who makes me proud when he chooses his own path, are both perfect to me. I don’t tell my wife Pat nearly often enough how happy I am to have her in my life, and she forgives me. My step-daughter, Amy, has filled my life with joy. My first wife, Becky, gave me the sons I cherish, and did it without the help she deserved, and managed to turn them into the special young men they became.
I have brothers, sisters, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and ex-relatives all of whom return the love that I have for them… topped off with two wonderful grandchildren who love their “Rod-Boy”. I cannot even recall a truly cross word spoken between any two members of my family. And, to a person, they overlook my flaws, my controversies, my occasional “black sheep” tendencies… and accept me for who I am. A lucky man.
And I have some of the most wonderful, trustworthy friends and associates you can imagine. Starting with my long-time business associates who somehow find a way to make my businesses succeed: Kirk, Kelley, Annette, Vi, Keith and many others; and my loyal and trusting clients: Jim, Andre, Henry, Richard, Catherine, Randy… the list is too long, the riches of friendship too plentiful.
In the hours since the suspicions slipped out that “something might be wrong with Rod” (or I should say “wronger than usual with Rod”), I have felt like the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Friends have poured out of the woodwork.
And as rumors started that there may be a serious problem, that I could be out of my businesses for a few weeks, that I might need to fly away for special treatment, that my insurance might not cover the bill, that I need friends to step in and help with some of my day to day responsibilities, offers to help solve any and every problem have some how found their way to me.
I’m not ashamed to tell you that I have wept many times in the last few days… Never once out of fear or concern for my life or my health… but many times out of the joy of knowing what wonderful friends I have. And, just like the movie, that to me is worth all the money in the world.
I learned two things from the blessing of Jerry Fowler’s recent experience.
First, I would have never thought of writing about this. But, if I’m able, I certainly plan to follow that lead. I’m not sure what I will write, but I will share this experience in my own way. (And I should warn you that I’m pretty sure I will attempt to mix in some humor… I just can’t help it!)
Second, near the end of Jerry’s journey in May, I learned that it’s okay to say a prayer in my own newspaper if I want to, which I did. And that, too, I will do, starting now:
“Lord, I thank you for the life you have given me, for the many friends and blessings you have showered upon me, and for making me truly feel like the luckiest man in the world. Watch over and care for all these people, your blessings to me. And, as for me, I pray only that you make me an instrument of your will. I know its not really about this life, it’s the next one… and while I sure do LIKE this one -- and would like to stay in it a while longer -- I also know I’ve had more than my share of goodness. So I’m not going to worry about myself, and just pray that you use me however you have planned for me, and I’m sure everything will work out fine. In your Sons name. Amen.”
If the Lord is willing, I’ll give you an update and let you know more next week, and every week until he says not. And I expect I can improve on the prayers I may occasionally publish… because I plan to be practicing a lot.