Several weeks ago, I was diagnosed with renal cancer. I had been suffering from back pain and I had assumed it was a sciatic nerve issue, but Dr. Lonnie Miller discovered I had a tumor on my right kidney and it had grown over into my lower spine. The cancer in my spine was pressuring nerves and causing pain and numbness in my back and right leg.
Just like many others that have faced similar health challenges or much worse, I did not have time for surgeries and treatments. However, my body required an extended timeout for me, whether I liked it or not. My first surgeries were scheduled for early August, and how in the world was school going to start without me? It was time for us to test a couple of points I have been preaching for a long time. First off, the superintendent is just one person that works at school like many others. We all have our roles and as a team, together we make the school system function for our students. Second, and as I told the athletes I coached for many years, we all need to be prepared in case someone may be sick or gone on ball-game or contest night. I would tell the team they would need to be ready to call their own plays and to win in case I was in the delivery room with my wife on ball-game night. We were not going to forfeit because I had a higher priority to attend to. Of course, there were other coaches, but the point remained.
I started to march through the various surgeries and treatments and it quickly became apparent to me what kind of people and team we have at Creston Community Schools and in our community. The attitude of the board of education, administrative team and each and every other member of our staff could not have been better! Also, the support I have received from our staff, community members, my church family at Creston First United Methodist Church and friends has been truly overwhelming and unexpected! I am very fortunate to enjoy strong family support, but beyond that, the concern shown by so many others has been unbelievable. I am a person of strong faith, but my faith has grown much stronger through this little detour on my journey. The presence of this support has transformed my outlook on life.
School started well and I joked with folks about how they might find out how much they really don’t need me around! I continue to communicate with several folks at school through emails, text messages and the phone. I even Skyped into our big opening staff day in the CCHS auditorium and offered to show our staff my scar from a recent surgery on the big screen! That was a joke, of course! I have been working some partial days at school. We’ll see how upcoming treatments and procedures impact how I feel.
As I continue to recover, I have been reminded how easy it is to find folks who are suffering from much tougher challenges than our own. Some of these individuals are new friends, but many are lifelong friends and acquaintances that I have bumped into at our Greater Regional Medical Center Cancer Center or in labs at GRMC. Cancer always changes a person’s perspective on life, but understanding the number of people facing physical, mental and emotional hardships each day drives the point home we all need the support of others. I have prided myself in being 100 percent independent in life, but I realize there is truly no such thing as total independence. We all need others in our lives, sometimes more than others. Nobody lives life independently.
Recently I have also noticed how this world gets smaller every day. During my various appointments and procedures in Iowa City, Des Moines and here in Creston, I have run into several former students of mine. Many of those now have careers in the health field and have been in positions to really help me out or to put me in great pain! I’m glad my relationships with those former students were positive.
As I’m sure you realize, we have seen other challenges at school in recent weeks. At school and in the community, we are doing our best to look at ourselves in the mirror, to learn through the adversity and to address issues that cannot be ignored. It has taken a long time for us to reach this point related to our values and perspectives, so it will take time to determine the best ways we can heal and become better as a community and as a nation. At school, our focus always remains on our local children and their learning. We realize teaching and learning true respect and compassion for others will not happen through token efforts. We will make stronger and more extended efforts to prepare our local children to respect and appreciate others and to build the skills necessary to work with others peacefully and constructively. Several moves have already been made. For example, our administrators are working closely with a group of individuals from outside of our community that specialize in race relations and accompanying educational practices.
I believe this is the most important challenge we face as a country and community today. As you and I have witnessed, this community is loaded with good people who know how to unite and rally behind a cause. It is clearly the time for possibly our strongest and most meaningful rally ever. Someday history will mark our success or our failure in this crucial time.
We are all in this together!