Today’s post will be the last in this series sharing my dad’s final weeks. As promised, on the day of my dad’s memorial service, I’m posting the prayer testimonial he had my sister, Erica, deliver to five church services a few weekends ago. If you’ve read this full series, you already know that my dad did not always believe in prayer, energy and things unseen. Although he opted for different treatment routes than I personally would have chosen, his cancer journey brought us much closer: between “chemo brain,” miraculous healing and divine intervention, my father finally began to understand the way I live my daily life.
He considered this speech one of the most important offerings of his life, and it seems appropriate that the “Prayer Is” conference takes place this week in the same location as his memorial service. The night of my dad’s “aura” experience, he had also finally given me permission to send him Reiki and to request all the Reiki students and Master Teachers I had trained to send Reiki to him. Prior to that day, he had felt varying degrees of fear or skepticism towards Reiki, but since that day, he gladly received it. In fact, his final moments on this Earth passed with me providing Reiki to his heart until I could no longer distinguish between its beating and my own pulse. Having my sister read this testimonial for him when he was too ill to do so himself was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given him.
I have also included as my first comment below the beautiful obituary my brother, Craig, wrote for Sunday’s Morning Call. My dad always enjoyed teaching, and last night we encountered many students, colleagues, ride recipients, bridge partners, friends, relatives and casual acquaintances my dad affected in profound ways. Somehow, the combination of my dad’s words and my brother’s words about my dad seem like the fullest way to complete this series. I’ve heard from so many of you how this journey has affected your own lives, and I know my father would feel honored and humbled by his impact. Thank you for all the love and care for our family during this sacred time together.
Steve Derbenwick’s Witness Statement
Good Morning. My name is Steve Derbenwick. Around here I am probably best known as Jane Derbenwick’s husband with the weird cancer. I had no exposure to religion as a child and only a little bit of church attendance in high school and graduate school plus a rigorous undergradate course on the Old Testament. I have struggled with religious issues for most of my adult life but it has been hard for a highly analytical science oriented academic introvert like me to find the answers I sought. Although I have been coming to First Pres for over four decades, I never went through the process to become a member.
With that preamble you may be wondering why I am up here today. The answer is what happened in July 2011. I was hospitalized with a type of total intestinal blockage that rarely affects adults. Before my surgery Jane asked if I wanted to be on the Prayer Chain. I said yes, but I confess I wasn’t very optimistic then that it would make a big difference.
During surgery, my doctor uncovered a marble sized lymphoma that had triggered the blockage. Subsequent tests revealed I had a very rare and highly aggressive cancer called Mantle Cell Lymphoma with many golf ball sized and larger lymphomas throughout my body. My case was the worst of its four varieties. The quoted mortality rate was 95% at 4 years but before I could deal with this life threatening cancer I faced a more immediate crisis.
About a week after my surgery, I awoke from a short afternoon nap, rang my buzzer and told my nurse I had no idea what was wrong with me but I felt horrible. That complaint triggered a whole flurry of activity ending with a CAT scan that revealed a very large pulmonary embolism that would eventually make my right lung virtually useless for over 5 months. That night I lay in bed fearing I could die if another clot affecting my other lung came through. I remember thinking how terrible it would be to die without being able to say goodbye to the people I loved. I remember praying that they could forgive me if that happened. But before I got around to praying for myself, something amazing happened that I cannot really describe adequately.
Suddenly a very bright gold or orange aura appeared inside or surrounding my head. The accompanying message was an assurance that everything would be all right and I relaxed. What I thought then and still believe is that the prayers of everyone who had been praying for me somehow coalesced and formed this amazing protective shield. I survived the night and the next day my nurse told me I was already turning blue when I rang buzzer the day before. A week later I learned that one of the new resident doctors had spent that entire night in my room or just a few steps away from it.
My battle with the cancer then began and followed the usual progression – chemotherapy, radiation, remission, and relapse followed by a different chemotherapy. Along the way my body decided a 6 week long nasty case of shingles in my head would just add to the fun. The second type of chemotherapy was a total failure. When it was finished in December 2013, all my tumors had at least doubled in size and I had twice as many. I figured I had a couple of months to live but another miracle happened for me – the FDA had just given super accelerated approval to a new daily oral chemotherapy drug for my cancer based on just a Phase II study with only 111 subjects. I started on that medicine immediately and 3 months later only one tumor was left. In the spring of 2015, that tumor was presumably destroyed with radiation treatments although its shell still appears on a CAT scan.
During this long ordeal it was very easy for the negative thoughts like anger, frustration, self-pity, and depression to creep in. Every time that happened I remembered that special night in the hospital and I relaxed.
In May 2015, I made a list of my 12 personal miracles – things that went my way but just as easily could have gone the other way. Just imagine the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads 12 times in a row when your life depends on it. That has been my experience.
What do I think I have done in my life to deserve such good luck – absolutely nothing. I attribute it all to the power of all those prayers being said for me. I am constantly amazed at how many people tell Jane they are praying for me even when I am not on the Official Prayer Chain. Many of you do not even know me personally. Thank you all so much. I won’t classify my life as easy now but the fact that I am here today is evidence that those prayers really work.
On March 13 through March 17 First Pres will be offering its annual Prayer Is event. I hope you can appreciate how meaningful and emotional this opportunity is for me every year. I think everyone can benefit from devoting as many moments as you wish to the solitude, peace, introspection, and opportunity to pray for yourself and others that this dedicated prayer time and environment provides. Please try to attend.
When I prepared these remarks a few weeks ago I expected to deliver them from a position of strength. Instead I again find myself facing serious health issues and extreme fatigue. Nevertheless I am very grateful to be able to tell you my story today. Thank you for listening.