In all things, give thanks

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The miracle of Thanksgiving is discovering a harvest of gratitude even in barren times.

Doug and Debbie Regier and their three children-Matthew, 23, Sarah, soon to be 18, and Bethany, 15-are reaping a bumper crop of gratitude on their modest farmyard situated between Marion and Peabody.

“We’re thankful we’re still together-that I still have my husband and the kids still have their dad,” Debbie said as the family approaches the holiday.

The same could be said in any household where husband, wife and children are happily together. But for the Regiers, its been a supernatural accomplishment in the midst of a long, sometimes grueling, battle against Doug’s kidney cancer.

“To have lived with this-and we are living with it 61/2 years years now-a lot of people tell us, ‘I don’t know how you can do this,'” Debbie said. “We always say, we aren’t doing it. It’s God who’s doing it.”

The journey began in May 1997. Doug, who was farming part time and working at the John Deere dealership in Marion now called Deer Trail Implement, suddenly became ill.

Doctors discovered a tumor had taken over his kidney. A few days later, surgeons removed it and the Regiers were told there was a good chance the cancer would never bother Doug again.

It did not turn out that way. Within a few months, Doug developed a persistent shooting pain in his lower back. Upon examination, doctors discovered the cancer had metastasized in that region of his body.

“That was a real blow,” Doug said about the news. “Once we realized that, we knew we were probably in for something.”

And they were. Kidney cancer, officially called renal cell carcinoma, is a relatively rare cancer. It is diagnosed in 31,000 Americans in an average year and has a tendency to spread and metastasize to the bone, lung or liver.

In Doug’s case, the cancer had metastasized to the bone. He immediately began radiation treatments in Wichita over several months. But if any thing, the pain only worsened.

Doctors in Wichita then sent the Regiers to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, one of the leading cancer hospitals in the country.

There, the Regiers found help and encouragement from Robert Amato, one of the top kidney cancer specialists in the country, and Kristy Webber, an orthopedic surgeon who oversaw the dozen surgeries that have ensued over the years to remove the tumors on Doug’s bones.

“We were just really fortunate to have her because she has such a wonderful attitude and she treated Doug as if he was her own patient,” Debbie said. “There aren’t many doctors in her position who would call you at home at 8 o’clock at night and say ‘Hi, how are you doing?'”

Numerous trips to Houston have followed-for chemotherapy treatment as well as the surgeries, including a knee replacement.

In the midst of it, Doug did his best to maintain his livelihood on the farm and at the implement dealership.

“Through a lot of those (surgeries), even the knee replacement, I’d only be off maybe a month, and I’d be back,” he said. “I feel like I worked a lot of the time.”

The frequency of the tumors-and the surgeries to remove them-increased over the past year or so to the point where Doug was unable to return to work. His association with the dealership ended this month.

In October, the Regiers began a new course of chemotherapy on the recommendation of Dr. Amato, who is now associated with The Methodist Hospital in Houston. The intent of the treatment is to prevent the tumors from developing in the first place.

The effect of this strategy has left Doug without hair temporarily, but he has been spared most of the more traumatizing side effects chemotherapy triggers in many cancer victims.

“We’ve been really blessed that we haven’t had to deal with anything like that,” Debbie said.

Doug’s treatments were halted for a time this fall when Doug’s hip broke-one more setback the Regiers have taken in stride.

“Right now, I’m relying on the wheelchair (to get around),” Doug said. “Since we’re focusing on the chemotherapy, we’re not risking anymore bone damage. We’ll hit the physical therapy when this kind of chemo’s done its job.”

The Regiers admit the rigors and setbacks of their journey have been discouraging from time to time. But they’ve gotten through it as partners.

“If Doug is down, them I’m up,” Debbie said. “And if I’m down, then Doug is up. We just seem to have what the other one needs at the right time-and that can only come from God.”

Friends and family have been another source of encouragement, they say. They speak with gratitude about the physical assistance provided by neighbors, friends and their church family at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church.

Beyond the physical assistance, the Regiers credit prayer as a primary reason for their survival to this point.

“What always amazes me are the people who come up to us in church-people we don’t really know all that well-and tell us that they’ve been praying for me,” Doug said. “That is so moving.”

“Some people tell us, ‘I haven’t missed a day of praying,'” added Debbie. “That just overwhelms you with gratitude.”

Doug said the bitter news in late 1997 that his cancer had returned was devastating. But the words of a family member changed his attitude about it.

“I was told not to trust your feelings, but to trust the Word of God,” he said. “That set my mind that you can’t trust how you feel about things. You have to learn to trust God for everything. Once that gets into you, it changes everything. That’s how I feel I began to cope.”

That conviction continues to fuel their expectation that Doug will eventually defeat the cancer.

“Looking at God’s Word, and what I feel God has said through other people, cancer isn’t a death sentence like most of society assumes,” he said. “People can recover from the worst things. You don’t have to be a person who doesn’t make it. You can be that person who recovers because they are out there.

“Getting that into your mind makes a big difference.”

The Regiers’ optimism has in turn had an impact on people who have sought to be the encouragers. Instead, the people themselves have been encouraged.

“That’s been a hard one to understand,” Doug said. “I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special. But when we get good feedback sometimes, it’s really encouraging. God uses us in ways that I don’t know.”

Added Debbie: “We just do what we have to do and God takes care of it.”

In addition to celebrating life and hope later this week, the Regiers said they will continue to express thanks for the small graces in life-and they encourage others to do the same.

“I think people don’t realize how they should be thankful every day that they can do those common things-like walking,” Doug said. “When you can’t do those things, it’s hard.”

Added Debbie: “You just don’t know when you’re going to lose those things. Be thankful even to be able to walk.”

The Regiers look to future with the same confidence that has carried them through these past several years.

“We just keep trusting God every day,” Doug said. “It doesn’t matter how long, or where you’re at, you can recover. I see nothing but hope for recovery.”

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