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
"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
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
"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
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
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.