A few days ago, my father would have been 102. He died almost 30 years ago of pancreatic cancer.
Whenever I hear of someone suffering from that disease, my thoughts go first to the person who has been diagnosed and then inescapably back to my dad.
His death came quickly following his diagnosis, less than 10 days afterwards. He and I had just gone to Baton Rouge, La., for a football game between our Ole Miss and their LSU. Anyone who knows anything about college football knows that LSU’s Tiger Stadium can be a rowdy place and one of the toughest places for a visiting team to emerge as the game’s winner. It was both that night.
Ole Miss had beaten LSU many times in that stadium over the years. But this time, everything went Louisiana State’s way and they walloped our Rebels, who fumbled and lost the opening kickoff and saw things go downhill from there.
He had not yet been diagnosed and we didn’t realize then that Dad was experiencing his final days while watching his favorite college football team take such a beating. If we had known, of course, I would never have put him through it. As a working sportswriter at the time, I spent the game in the cozy confines of the press box. When we met back up at the car, I asked for his opinion and he said rather bitterly, “If I were running Ole Miss, I would fire every coach they had, and I would do it tonight.”
I have taken some solace over the years in knowing that we at least had that final night together doing what we both loved, watching college football. One of Dad’s grandsons had sat with him in the stadium, and I hope that boy, now a man, has also cherished the moment. And before the game, Dad had enjoyed one of his favorite meals, oyster stew, at a quality Baton Rouge eatery. So, it was a good night, despite the game’s outcome.
All of this has come to mind because the date of his death has recently passed and the date of his birth, Dec. 7, coincides with a famous event, Japan’s attack on the U.S. installation at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A longtime reporter, Daddy’s first story for the newspaper where he worked for more than 30 years was about the death of a local serviceman in that attack. I can’t help but think of both of them each year on that anniversary date.
However, it also comes to mind because I currently know a few people who have been stricken with pancreatic cancer. One is Sandy Challender, the wife of Blakely Schools Superintendent Tom Challender. Sandy, who is of strong Methodist faith, has been fighting this disease for more than a year. She was diagnosed not long after they arrived in Blakely from Missouri — and anyone who knows of her battle is aware that it has been a relentless, courageous one.
During this hectic holiday season, please rest a moment and pray hard for Sandy Challender and for Col. Challender and the rest of her family. And pray just as hard for medical researchers to someday conquer this terrible disease.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.