MaryO'Note: This article says: Rowell did not have to have chemotherapy or radiation for his tumors because such treatments are rarely effective for his type of cancer.
I'm so glad to see that they printed this. When I tell people I didn't have chemo or radiation they think that means my cancer wasn't a serious one and they dismiss it. It's nice to have this bit of validation!
Fighting the good fight
Pastor learns valuable lessons from battle with cancer
The Duncan Banner
DUNCAN — Billy Rowell enjoys Christmas. In fact, the Duncan pastor enjoys every day of the year because it wasn’t too long ago that he thought those days might be coming to an end.
A self-employed carpenter and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Rowell’s life was fairly routine, revolving around work, his church and family. He’s lived east of Duncan all his life, and graduated from Comanche High School in 1978. Rowell served as youth minister at the church for three or four years, as song leader for a year or two, then became its pastor almost two years ago, succeeding his father-in-law, the Rev. Bill Florez, who was pastor for many years.
Early in 2003, however, he began to have some “minor” health concerns. A trip to his doctor proved to be an eye-opener and the beginning of a long journey through the valley of the shadow of death to a new appreciation of life and a realization of the many blessings that life bestows.
“I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma — cancer — in my left kidney. That was a shock. I now know how people feel when they hear the ‘C-word.’ My kidney was removed in March of 2003 in Lawton, just before my 43rd birthday.
“My prognosis was good until July 2004. You know, when you have a serious illness like that, they watch you carefully. I had check-ups every three months, and PET scans, and they’d give me a good going-over. In July of that year, the tests showed two spots, lesions, I guess you’d call ’em, on my liver.”
A fairly new technique called radio frequency ablation literally “zapped” the liver spots away, and Rowell thought he was home free until his doctor walked into his hospital room.
“He said, ‘The liver is OK, but I found a tumor in your right kidney.’ I knew then that I was in trouble,” Rowell said.
Because Rowell had already lost one kidney, it was vital that his remaining kidney be saved, if at all possible. The tumor was removed but the kidney was severely damaged. What followed was a miserable year of bleeding, inability to work, pain, 23 times under anesthesia and four major surgeries.
“I have three scars over 14 inches long each on my gut. When they have to make an incision like that, they make the cut through all the muscles and stuff and then insert this huge stainless steel ring to stretch the opening and give them room to work. It takes a long time to recover from something like that,” he said.
During 2005, Rowell had at least one hospital stay every month except for April and May. The attempts to save his remaining kidney were making him really sick, he said.
“I learned then that Duncan is one of the greatest cities in the world. I love the people of Duncan. The whole community pitched in to support us with prayers and donations. One anonymous donor alone gave $16,000. Some oil field workers in Velma held a golf tournament and raised over $9,000. The outpouring was amazing.
“I’m so grateful for all the prayers. A man in Iowa learned about me on the Internet and put my name in a Catholic prayer chain that went to computers all over the world. Me, a Baptist preacher, and Catholics I never knew were praying for me. I’ve seen how God works, and it’s miraculous!”
Finally, his remaining kidney failed and had to be removed at OU Medical Center.
“My right kidney was the first known kidney to have been removed with radio frequency ablation. All of the surgery was done through a chest tube. A week and a half later, I was able to work again,” Rowell said.
Rowell did not have to have chemotherapy or radiation for his tumors because such treatments are rarely effective for his type of cancer.
“Not good enough odds,” he said.
“I’ve learned you had better enjoy every day you’ve got. Don’t take family or friends for granted. Life was OK before, now I love life. Faith got me through some difficult times. I feel blessed,” Rowell said.
Rowell credits his wife, Kim, with helping him get through the worst days. Kim Rowell is a human resources coordinator at Hydra-Rig. She stayed with her husband constantly during his hospitalizations, making sure he got the right medications and that his condition was carefully monitored as his disease progressed.
“She’s also got good medical insurance through her job. They don’t tell me what things cost. She and the insurance just take care of ’em.”
The couple has been married 30 years, and has two sons: Chris, 28, who lives in Blanchard, and Ryan, 26, who lives in Duncan. They also have a 19-month-old granddaughter, Brooklyn Grace, who is the apple of her grandfather’s eye.
Rowell went on kidney dialysis in March of 2005. He still takes the treatments that cleanse his body of toxins and fluids three days a week, along with about 30 pills a day. He continues his carpentry work on the days he’s not taking dialysis, and carries out his pastoral duties day and night, according to the needs of his congregation. He was ordained earlier this year.
Rowell said he’s learned some amazing things during the course of his illness.
“This body isn’t an accident. It’s too complicated not to have been made by God. It works good, too, until people mess it up,” he said.
Along with the support of his family and the overwhelming outpouring of help from the community, Rowell credits his recovery to staying positive and staying busy. While he’s taking his lengthy dialysis treatments, he talks with the people around him who are also taking treatments, and asks them how they’ve made it this far. The overwhelming response is “prayer and staying positive.”
“I want to last a while. I push myself and stay strong. You go downhill when you sit around,” he said.
“When you get a diagnosis of cancer, you’re going to have fear. You might act tough, but no matter what you do, you’re not dying until God says it’s time. Pain lets me know I’m alive. I look at things differently now.”
Rowell hopes to get on a kidney transplant list soon. He has to live nine more months cancer-free, then he can begin the lengthy testing process to get on a waiting list.
“I’m not sick. I don’t have kidney disease, I just have to depend on a machine to carry out the functions my missing kidneys would ordinarily do. I don’t feel normal, because of the poison levels in my body, but I choose to stay positive. I look forward to days. Worrying burns energy, takes away your life force. When things get to be too much for me, I just say, ‘God, you’re doing to have to deal with this.’ I don’t have to understand it all. I trust God and I know he has a wonderful place waiting for me, and that’s fine with me,” Rowell said.