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February 2009 Archives

Mama Died Much Younger, So Why Should I Complain?

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God bless you.

It's 3:45 a.m. Thursday morning and I am wide awake, sleepless as usual and

thinking of my death while listening to one of my favorite classical music recordings on

my Direct TV's satellite radio station.

It is the "Love scene" from Hector Berlioz' Romeo and Julliette symphonic opera.

Ever since I was diagnosed last March with end-stage congestive heart failure

(requiring a heart transplant), prostate cancer and a brain tumor that was quickly ruled

benign, I have had trouble sleeping at night partly because I am frequently awakened by

shortness of breath or some other discomfort associated with my illnesses and the dozen

different medications I take for them daily.

Still, the Lord is good. His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all


There were many times last spring I did not feel I would live out 2008. Much of my

suffering, I kept private. Like so many sufferers, there is only so much pity that we can

take. Especially if we are fighting feverishly to live as I am doing.

So many people hand out pity in the form of a compassionate death sentence. It's

like they have already given up on you and feel they had better get their expressions of

sadness and sorrow out of the way just in case I die in the next five minutes.

I have accepted the conclusion of many doctors that death, without a heart transplant

or an implanted heart pump, is a real probability for me within the next year. At the same

time, I have faith that God is in the process of healing me slowly for all the world to see.

There isn't a day that passes without me not just considering the inevitability of my

death but with me feeling the nearness of it, yet refusing to surrender to it.

But when I think of the fact that my mama, the late Sarah Lorraine Sanders Banks,

died at age 43, I know that I am a blessed man to be living at age 65. I also have outlived

my father, the late Rev. Anderson Douglass Banks, Sr., who died at age 63 and my

youngest sibling, a brother Hansel, who died at age 52.

Then, there were my twin infant sons that my wife Joyce gave birth to prematurely in

1974, the same year my father died. They did not survive the cradle. One was born dead.

the other died within a day.

And here I am 65 years old, seriously ill but not too sick where I still can't do my jobs

as a newspaper reporter and preacher. I just have to pace myself better, do more

advanced planning and minimize stress and strain while praying for my healing and taking

my medicines as prescribed.

Maybe it's best that God took our twin sons in the cradle before we could ever really

get to know them personally and love them tenderly and see parts of us in them as they

grew to open their eyes, cut their teeth, smile at us, say "mama" and "dada" for the first

time, crawl, take their first steps and attach themselves to our hearts, minds and souls

the way children do to their parents.

So God took them before they could imprint themselves upon us and make us

miss them more by dying later. They never wore a diaper, a shoe or used a pacifier, a

bottle or a toy that could remind us of them. Maybe, it was better they died that way even

though it still hurts us, my wife especially, to this day.

But my mother? She gave birth to 12 children, of which eight survived, and she was

pregnant with a 13th that died in her and set up blood poisoning that doomed her to a

slow, excruciatingly painful death while leaving eight children ranging from ages two to 19.

All my mama's surviving children have outlived her. If there ever was a time I argued

with the Lord and really got angry at Him, it was when He allowed my mama to die at age

43. She never lived long enough to see one child get married or to see one of her

eventual 16 grandchildren or to get treated to one dinner by one of her children.

I was 11 years old when she died. I had been preaching two years at that time and I

felt that I had a special relationship with God. I had had visions of conversations with

angels. I heard the voice of God Himself call me to preach one February Tuesday night

after He had awaken me from my sleep while we were living in a duplex as 2307 North

Oxford St., Indianapolis, Ind.

Surely, the Lord would grant me my prayer, heal my mama and let her live. I prayed

and cried, prayed and cried, prayed and cried, begging God to please spare my mama.

But He took her anyway.

Ever since then, I've learned to accept God's will as Jesus teaches us to pray that

God's kingdom come and that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But what my mama's death has done ever since is temper me in my zest for life. Her

death at a young age gave me permanent perspective on life, its value and its uncertainty.

Her death gives me cause to pause whenever I start to feel sorry for myself that I am

battling so many sicknesses simultaneously.

At least I have lived long enough to see all three of my daughters graduate from

college and become grown. I've lived long enough to see, hug and kiss five grandchildren.

I've lived long enough to enjoy a loving wife for more than 40 years. I've lived long enough

to have my children to have me over for dinner and to take me out to dinner. I've lived

long enough to enjoy a great marriage and to grow old with my wife, whom I have taken

on vacations to Paris, New York, London, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Cancun, Munich,

Amsterdam, Toronto, Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Ft.

Lauderdale and Miami.

So if the Lord does choose to take me this year, I have not been cheated. I have

already enjoyed more things than either of my parents and any of my sisters and brothers

in terms of honors and travel and excitement and wonderment.

Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

My doctors continue to strongly urge me to let them implant a pacemaker and

defibrillator in me as a precaution against a heart attack for which I am a very likely

prospect. I have been considering it but don't feel I really, really need it. After all, it didn't

save Norm Van Lier and it didn't save Wilt Chamberlain. They were two of many who still

died of heart attacks despite having pacemaker-defibrillator devises implanted in them.

I appreciate your continued prayers and I'm hoping that you are profiting from this

blog in some way or another. Please be encouraged. Our heavenly father sees and He

cares and He who watches over Israel slumbers not nor sleep. The Lord is our keeper.

The Lord is the shade upon our right hand. The sun shall not smite us by day nor the

moon by night. The Lord shall preserve us from all evil. He shall preserves our souls. The

Lord shall preserve our going out and our coming in from this time forward and even

forever more.

God bless you.

God bless you.

I went to see my doctors this past week and and I knew the news wasn't good before

I stepped into the office to be examined by Dr. Allen Anderson, renown cardiologist of the

University of Chicago Medical Center, and by Dr. Jeffrey Trunsky, my earthly primary care

physician at Northwestern Hospital.

"If not for my cancers, would I still need a heart transplant," I asked Dr. Anderson.

"Yes," he said. "Your heart is still pretty sick. But you can strike brain cancer from

your list. That tumor (on my brain's pituritary gland) is benign."

So that's one down, as officially acknowledged by my doctor, and two more to go.

"And how is your prostate cancer coming along?" Dr. Anderson asked.

I told him, as I recently reported in my blog, that the radiation therapy still has

yielded some painful side effects. It still hurts me when I urinate. Medication has

reduced that pain and also greatly reduced my incontinence issues. But the radiation did

destroy much of my nerve bundles in the prostate. That's one cause of the incontinence.

Plus, my PSA had been lowered to 2.1.

So that leaves me with the bad heart, which is what drove me to be hospitalized

last March in the first place, and moved UCMC cardiologists to conclude that I needed a

heart transplant to save my life. But while I was going through the necessary tests to clear

me for a transplant, the brain and prostate cancers were discovered and that disqualified

me from transplant candidacy until I could bring the cancers under control.

In the interim, new medications prescribed by Dr. Anderson, have relieved my

shortness-of-breath, extreme fatigue, weakness and severe coughs. But they were

never intended to permanently equal the effectiveness of, or replace the need for, a new


What has become apparent to me over the last few weeks is that while my lowered

PSA suggest that the implanted radioactive seeds are dissolving my prostate cancer, my

weakening heart is killing me.

Unless the Lord heals me and reverses that trend I will have trouble living out the

year unless I undergo a major operation to have an artificial pump implanted in me to

improve and control my circulation of blood.

So your prayers are not in vain. Through your prayers and the help of God-gifted

physicians, the brain cancer has been ruled benign and the prostate cancer is undergoing

effective treatment.

"At this rate, it's very unlikely that you would die of prostate cancer," Dr. Anderson


I had already figured as much because he and other doctors had told me that

prostate cancers grow slowly even if not treated.

But my heart?

Well, I'm dying. I can feel it in my legs, my lungs, my heart action, my back and my

mind. Medical tests have already confirmed it, with the ejection rate now reduced to 19

percent because of my defective mitral valve and my greatly dilated or enlarged left


At least I am dying in slow motion and without severe pain. But I feel myself dying

nonetheless. Of course, there are many other people also dying from bad health and

won't feel it or know it until it's too late. I am blessed that I know it before hand. I have

begged for honesty from my doctors and I believe thaty've been honest. That's

why I am fighting the health issues with all my spiritual, physical and mental might.

I still am fighting the good fight of faith. I am praying to God, with your help, trusting

Him for my miracle and waiting on Him to heal my heart. I am taking my nine different

medications daily. I am exercising regularly and I am pacing myself in my return to work

as a Sun-Times reporter and I thank God that I have an understanding and kind boss

in sports editor Stu Courtney and an outstanding employer in the Sun-Times. It has

put me on the honor system and is allowing me to do the work that I feel I am capable of

doing. The paper is not trying to play God or doctor. And I am not trying to play martyr

or hero.

I will share this painful memory with you, however. Three years ago, a superior of

mine, perhaps in a fit of anger, told me I should retire because he felt I had slowed

down physically and he knew I had undergone a triple-bypass in 2001 and still had a

weak heart.

"Why don't you retire and enjoy life," he said. "You ought ti be able to do so."

Obviously, he knew nothing about my financial obligations, my need for the best

health insurance and medical care available and what I could financially afford to do.

When other people dare to speculate and count your money, they always end up with a

whole lot more than you KNOW YOU HAVE.

Those words hurt me more than anything I had ever heard in my 36 years of

working for the paper. It is true that I am no longer young. At 65, I am the oldest writer in

the Sun-Times sports department and also the second longest in tenure. But I am still

healthy enough to do my job. I've never had a heart attack. Dick Cheney has had

several, as well as bypass surgery, and he was the vice president of the United States

for eight years!

Millions of Americans with congestive heart failure still work and live productive and

enjoyable lives.

Yes, I'm 65 years old and now officially drawing social security and I'm proud of my

age. I thank God that I have lived this long.

But even before I had a talk with the Lord and my lawyers, I knew that as long as

I was healthy enough to work and, even more important, was doing my job properly, I

could achieve something no black writer has yet achieved at this paper: and that is a

normal retirement, not a forced one.

Meantime, back to my death.

My body is breaking down because of my weakening heart. My legs are thinner

and weaker. My breathing is frequently labored. My heart rhythms are often flawed

and raced. I seldom enjoy an entire good night's sleep. If I stand or walk too long my

back and legs start hurting and giving out.

My heart medications appear to be reaching their limits. But I can't allow my heart

to weaken too much to the extent that poor circulation causes irreparable damage

to my other vital organs. That would also eliminate me from heart transplant

candidacy. So I am monitoring myself (and being monitored by doctors) closely.

How does dying, or my kind of dying, feel?

Scary and sad and anger-provoking from the emotional sides.

But from the physical side, it's an increase in weakness, in assorted non-specific

pain and general fatigue. I feel all these breakdowns in every joint and in every limb and

it frequently takes its toll on my nervous system. Sometimes, I just feel so downright

weak and sore that it really scares me. Especially when I know I haven't been out doing

something really strenuous like shoveling snow, which my wife Joyce retired me from

this winter, as well as putting up outside Christmas lights and mowing the lawn or any

other yard work.

An artificial pump could add at least 18 months to my life. But that would be point of

no return. I'd have to go from there to a new heart, not back to my original. Plus, I'd

become a battery-operated man outside the house and an AC-current man inside. My

oldest sister, Maude Lee Burrell, was hooked up to an artificial pump for six months in

the Cleveland Clinic awaiting a heart transplant. When they coudn't bring an infection,

caused by the pump, under control, she was disqualified from transplant candidacy,

sent home with her heart pump still keeping her alive and died within four months of

returning home.

Yes, I know I'm dying, children. And I'm ready to die in terms of my soul's

salvation. But I'm not dead yet, I don't want to die any too soon and I'm going to fight

as best I can to stay alive as long as I possibly can.

I'm sorry I took so long updating my blog. But I wanted to get an update from my

doctors before doing so.

God bless you.

Lacy J. Banks

Lacy J. Banks, 67, has been a Sun-Times sportswriter/columnist for 38 years and a Baptist preacher for 58 years. He has preached at more than 100 different churches in the Chicago area. A native of Lyon, Miss., Banks graduated from the University of Kansas with a B.A. in French and he served three years in the Vietnam War as a U.S. Naval officer. Lacy and wife, Joyce, have been married 42 years and have three daughters and five grandchildren. Among beats Banks has covered for the Sun-Times are the Bulls, Fire, defunct Sting, Blackhawks, Wolves, Cubs, defunct Hussle, Rush, Sky, college football and basketball and pro boxing.



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