The Case of a Slow, Agonizing Death

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series The Victory of Death

Having consulted briefly with the oncology and surgery teams at the Cleveland Clinic, it is now apparent my pancreatic cancer cannot be surgically removed right now. Stage 3 development is underway, and even chemotherapy is not promising—even the most aggressive, 3-way toxic chemo. The big question is whether the toxic chemicals will do anything but increase the misery of my remaining miserable time on earth. I seem headed towards a slow, agonizing death.


Pancreatic cancer actually is rather aggressive, compared to other cancers. The biggest problem is not the cancer growing outside the pancreas and spreading to other organs—if that were the case, then I’m in good shape, because Stage 3 local-advanced means the cancer is still local. The big problem is how the pancreas excretes insulin and other pancreatic juices directly into the stomach and digestive system, where it is picked up and circulated by the bloodstream everywhere else. Now it includes cancerous goop, drip-by-drip.

As my boys grew up, I often embellished the word “death” as “a slow and agonizing death,” which is the exact opposite of the candy-coated words parents should use to describe death to children, with phrases like, “he passed on.”  Once, when standing in line at a Target store, I told the boys their grandma was dying “a slow, agonizing death,” and they nodded their heads with understanding. (Of course, they thought, how else would someone die?) It made another dad standing behind me with his son laugh—so I think I started a new trend! Even though it sounds macabre, it is closer to God’s view of death, where He says, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Death is the enemy of everything beautiful in life. Modern efforts to sanitize death and make it seem like “a natural part of life” is truly laughable. Not even close to reality.

Death and growing old is a rude, painful and often agonizing intrusion in life as it severs relationships and causes the world’s greatest suffering. There’s nothing friendly or natural about it, especially if you’ve ever watched someone dying of brain cancer—it’s revolting, disgusting, nauseating, and a multitude of words like that still don’t capture the horror. No doubt, soon enough, I will look and smell disgusting as the cancer spreads to other organs. Just sayin…

Fate Accompli?

Perhaps I’m not looking at the “brighter side of life” like I should, but the most definitive revelations lately are anything but bright and cheerful. They came from the Whipple surgeon’s report from 1/27, which we saw after our Cleveland Clinic meetings, unfortunately, because the primary reason for meeting with Clinic doctors was to get a second opinion. So we did not get a second opinion because the first opinion was mysteriously missing! Our prayers are to get another opportunity to get a second opinion.

Bruce, my oldest brother with the medical research background, interpreted the Whipple surgeon report for us. It was very explicit about all the scar tissue he cut through to gain access to the pancreas and remove the gall bladder. There were at least two major, previous surgeries in my abdomen, including a failed liver biopsy where the pancreas was accidentally pierced instead of the liver. Taken together, the pancreas area was rather heavily scarred and there was much scar tissue with many vessels that had to be cauterized or clamped as he worked towards the pancreas. Only then did he notice the cancerous mass was also abutting the major vein and artery, which called a halt to the surgery. That stage of the surgery was not well-described, and nobody knows exactly what he saw. That’s where we needed the second opinion. My oncologist at Summa thought we should take the Whipple surgeon’s report to the Clinic because they might have a vascular surgeon who could plow past that “abutment” and at least recidivate (remove) the cancer mass, which would greatly increase my chances for survival.

As it stands now, the cancer is untouched, intact, growing aggressively, and spreading its filthy, cancerous DNA throughout my body for at least another two weeks or more while I heal. Healing is required before they begin any chemotherapy. Pancreatic cancer is not only aggressive, it usually has a 9% survivor rate, so this delay is not good news. The Clinic oncologist said the end of February would be the earliest he could begin chemotherapy, if we do it—it may be too late by then. Slicing through all the scar tissue is part of the reason for a prolonged healing.

So am I excessively negative? I doubt it. I still pray for the Lord’s intervention, of course. But I’m also not going to overlook how generous he’s already been.

Too Many Miracles for One Body?

I was already healed of Hep-C and my liver was left relatively undamaged even though I carried it around since age 19. I fully expected to die before age 60, which Cleveland Clinic hepatologists estimated as an exceptionally long life for me, but I’m 63 now. I also survived a blockage in my small intestines and an intestinal bisection (cutting out part of the small intestines) nine years ago. In short, I should have died many times over before this most recent threat, but I always dodged the bullet. For this I am eternally grateful. I suppose there comes a time when it’s ridiculous (i.e., selfish) to expect to survive yet another slow, agonizing death!

Actually right now I’m fine and recovering (slowly) from my latest batch of surgeries. But here’s the rub—I’m trying to tie up all my business before I become more incapacitated or die, whichever comes first, which includes passing my work on to the Freedom Fellowship elders, my fellow home church leaders, and cleaning up my finances and household so my family is not excessively burdened by my absence. There’s a lot involved.

Furthermore, there are many brothers and sisters I wish to see, and it would be delightful to pray together and laugh and do whatever, but I must ask all my dearest friends to hold off a little while so I can sew up these loose ends. I also want to pump out the 1.5 books that are sitting inside me, and I feel excessively burdened to get them written before I can’t. So I would ask for a little patience here. Soon enough I’ll be in good shape to spend time rejoicing with my brothers and sisters.

I will do a better job of communicating on this blog site, so please leave a comment or two so I can say “Hi” on the run! And please, please continue to pray that JC and His Holy Spirit can keep strengthening me and especially those poor souls who get to pick up the mess I’m leaving behind. (As Connor put it so well, “At least you get to die!” I was aghast, but had to admit he had a good point! I think this is  part of the emotional damage I inflicted on my kids growing up, describing death in such macabre terms.)

Please pray especially for Connor, who is still so young, but beginning to flourish, and Sean, who is also trying to deal with this rude interruption into his otherwise highly-controlled life, and poor Kyle, who has to at least pretend to be strong, and then poor Darlene, who is strong, but I do not know if she’s strong enough for what’s coming our way! And Greg, Joel and Neil, who most definitely are prepared for the work ahead, but they’re also completely unprepared for it, especially at a time when we’re trying to get this property purchase—please support these men, who are wise and struggling to do their best in their spare time to service this fellowship.

Series Navigation<< What Is It Like to Die? (Pt.2)The Amazing Comfort of God >>
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24 thoughts on “The Case of a Slow, Agonizing Death

  1. Elli Rozler

    Keith – Hello, thank you for letting us in on your trials. Somehow in the face of all this, you’re as encouraging as ever. As I’ve been praying for you, Dar, your family, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for all of you. Especially the fact that most of what I know about my heavenly Father, my best friend, my anchor – Jesus – you taught me. I’m eternally grateful for that (and for your patience with me.)
    Praying for your strength. & for those books to be finished! That would be quite the final gifts, if you left us with some more of your wisdom & insight!
    Thank you for everything. We’re praying all of the time. I wish it wasn’t like this.

  2. Zeb

    Keith your impact has stretched so far and wide, my homechurch benefits everyday from the love you poured into us all especially our deacons! Atlas will continue to pray for your health and give gratefulness to the lord for the enormous work the lord has done through you! Much love brother!

  3. Dan Wilson

    I’ve really valued getting to hear your perspective on everything that is happening. I know we’ve only talked a handful of times, but I can say I’ve always walked away from you having grown or changed in some way! You’re a great guy!

  4. Hakes

    Keith! I have been praying for you every day! Emotional overload doesn’t even begin to describe how it’s been on my end, so I can only imagine what it’s been like for you. You’ve been such an inspiration as a sanctified Mel/Sanguine, especially considering your damaged past (both in and out of the hospitals). I think it’s fair to speak for so many of my closer brothers when I say we’re not ready for you to go yet. I’ll keep my eye out for more of these updates so I can learn how to better pray for you!

  5. Paula

    Keith thanks for updating.
    We are praying the Spirit to give you time to do the things you want.
    Prayers to family ?

  6. Ben Masserey

    Hi Keith! Great to hear from you! Super grateful for all you’ve done for our fellowship and how you’ve impacted so many lives. I’ll always remember our few talks as being extremely enlightening, surprising and refreshing.
    With love, Ben

  7. Sarah Farrance

    I pray often for you, your family, and your close people. Praise God for our BOC and the eternal impact you’ve had on it. Whether you go “home” soon or not, I’m sure you’ll hear,”Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

    With love and more prayers,
    Sarah Farrance

  8. Bethy L

    Hi Keith! I’m beyond grateful for how you have been obedient to the Lord and how He’s used you in my life and I’m so many others- that’s all I keep hearing lately from people, is how you’ve represented the grace, truth and bold love of JC to so many. Praying for you and the whole Mccallum gang. Thank you for keeping us updated.

  9. Chris

    Hey Keith, thanks for the update. Continuing in prayer. Thank you for putting up with this airhead those years back while I stubbornly wamp and piss into the wind. I miss our jockhead cell group. I’m still trying to see the forest from the trees. I love you bro, thanks for always being there for me.
    Chris “Not all there” McCleary

  10. Katrina

    Thanks for the update on where things stand. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to process all this. I’ve been praying for you and the Fam continuously. I am so thankful to have so many memories of many fun times with you brother!!! And you have been a very good friend to me and my family!!! I am here to help in anyway needed!!!! Love you!!!

  11. Sarah Lance

    Hey Keith,

    It’s very good to hear from you-we’ll continue to pray for you and the McCallum clan. Love you very much. Thank you for seeing my potential in Christ when I couldn’t.

  12. Indre

    Dear Keith,
    I’ve been singing this song to myself and thinking about the lyrics for a couple months now, on and off. It’s so applicable to every frickin’ event in life. I hope this will encourage you too, old friend ?

    Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
    O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There’s light for a look at the Savior,
    And life more abundant and free.
    Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
    Look full in His wonderful face,
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
    In the light of His glory and grace.
    Through death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    O’er us sin no more hath dominion
    For more than conqu’rors we are!
    His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
    Believe Him and all will be well;
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!

  13. Adi McCullough

    Geez Keith you’ve got a lot to do before you die! I guess there may be time if it is indeed a slow and agonizing death. I will pray for slowness for these things, some relief of the agony, and a truly joyful meeting of Jesus in the flesh when you finally get to the death part.

    I am so grateful for you, and for how you’ve loved the people I love.

  14. Kathy

    Keith, I’m praying unceasingly for you, Dar and your boys. And praying that as you lean into our Immanuel God, resting in Him, He will constantly make you aware of His love and Presence, and lavishly provide all that you need right now to go through this. With much love and gratitude, Kathy

  15. Kathy

    Keith, I just wanted you to know that I am continuously praying for you, Dar, and your boys. Praying that in the midst of this news you are leaning into our Immanuel God, resting in Him, constantly reminded of His love and His presence with and in you, and that He is lavishly providing all you need to continue on in His strength. With love and gratitude, Kathy

  16. Dave and Deb Smalley

    Dave and I are ? that the Great Physician will perform a miracle for you and your family!
    You have touched many lives for Christ, including our son Jeff. Thank you! May the Lords name be lifted up through it all and may He give you peace in this journey over the next several months. ✝️❤️
    In Him,
    Dave and Deb Smalley

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