(The following words were first written for the Birmingham News in 2010. They also appeared on my blog that year. But this week as the leaves were ablaze in color dear Bill Cash slipped into the mystery. His funeral will be in Birmingham at his church tomorrow afternoon,October 28.
He was an amazing man. he was told in 2008 his chances were living very long were almost impossible. But Bill was a stubborn and courageous man. He lived four years longer than anybody expected except Bill and his family.
I took him to see a friend of mine that was dying of cancer. He had never met my friend but he leaned forward and listened intently and then told my friend his story. From time to time he would ask me how this friend was. He did this for an amazing number of people. So I grieve this week-end for as courageous a man as I ever met. And I share with you the words I wrote him in 2010.)
What would you say if the Doctor said you had the most aggressive kind of brain tumor and there was no cure? Bill Cash sat in the Doctor’s office two years ago and was told after an operation his chances of survival was less than 50% the first year and only 25% the second year. The Oncologist told him his cancer was Stage 4.
In June 2008 they removed the tumor and they told Cash he would be lucky to be around in 14 months. So he began a hard regiment of radiation and chemo which lasted a year. He finished his last treatment four days before his daughter’s wedding in Charleston. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it—but we went and I danced at that wedding reception.”
Bill Cash is a stubborn man. He refused to give in to this cancer in his head. He had always exercised and five days after surgery he began to work out again. Three months after his operation he had already run in two 5K races and one year after surgery Cash finished a Triathlon. He went back to his doctor in September 2009 and the MRI showed no traces of cancer. Bill celebrates his two-year anniversary this June. Oncologists at UAB encouraged him to tell his story and help others who struggle with brain tumors.
Sitting in the sunlight, drinking coffee one morning, Bill Cash had a smile on his face. “They cut a hole in my skull took out a plug, dug out the cancer and stapled the plug back into my head. It’s been two years and I’m still here.”
I asked him what helped. He said his wife and family helped greatly. He and Kathy have been married for 40 years. Over and over she would encourage him and remind him how important it was just to keep fighting. Doctors helped too, he said. He followed their orders, had round after round of chemo which lasted a year and used their expertise to help him get back on his feet. And then he added, “You can’t just rely on doctors or anyone else—but you have to do some things for yourself.” He discovered that that a healthy diet was essential for his well-being. Cash said that a large variety of fruits and vegetables helped reduce inflammation in the cancer. He said this new way of approaching food has helped produce powerful antioxidants which support the healing process. Change in diet was most important.
Solitude became very important to Cash. He confessed that his Type A personality had not given him much time just to sit and be still. “There was something about the quiet that brought me great peace,” he said. Nights when he could not sleep he would sit on his porch in the dark and padding behind him would be his 120 pound German shepherd, Samson. “He would sit there as close as he could get and just look up at me. From time to time he would put his paws on my lap and lick me in the face. My dog has helped save my life.”
Bill has always been a person of faith. But he said church took on a whole new meaning after his surgery. He found himself surrounded by church members and Sunday school class members. He told me that his favorite Scripture verse is: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts…” That’s my mantra,” he said, “Faith kept me going—still does.”
Work also helped. But he has turned his attention to other people. After consulting with neurologists and Doctors at UAB he established a foundation he named Gaining Life Initiative which helps people who have gone through what he has experienced. His goal is to raise five million dollars in the next four years. Hopefully research will extend the life expectancy of those with this dreaded cancer.
Bill Cash, who is not supposed to be alive, is finding his way. He doesn’t do it alone. He has discovered that family helps. His physicians and specialists certainly help. Taking control of the parts of life he can change has been a great benefit. Healthy eating and consistent exercise keep him going. He is finding strength in solitude and in his faith. ealthy and consistent exercise helps. And he rolls up his sleeves and reaches out to help others who walk this same scary path he has walked.
The poet, William Stafford confessed that “I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” Bill Cash understands those words. He has taken his own broken things and the parachute he continues to weave is something to behold.
"Into paradise may the angels lead him ; may the martyrs take him up into eternal rest, and may the chorus of angels lead him to that holy city, and the place of perpetual light."
--Roman Catholic Prayer for the Dead