Editor’s note: Today’s column by Auburn Mayor Ron Anders is one in a series of articles being published in the Opelika-Auburn News this week in support of Auburn basketball Coach Bruce Pearl’s AUTLIVE cancer campaign. The 2019 AUTLIVE game will be 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Alabama.
By Ron Anders
Mayor of Auburn
This is a proud honor to support Coach Pearl and his campaign to AUTLIVE Cancer. Thank you also to editor Troy Turner for inviting me to offer my experiences, my outlook in the fight with cancer.
I announced my intention to seek the office of mayor of Auburn on May 31 of 2018. This was an exciting day, surrounded by dear friends, fellow employees, and many members of my family. A life- long dream to serve the community I love.
But, our plans almost were altered by this devastating news: “Your Dad has cancer.”
The ‘punch in the nose’
Earlier that spring my father had been diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer. His struggles swallowing was the byproduct of a significant tumor at the base of his esophagus, at the connection to his stomach.
I watched Dad chew Rolaids constantly over the years. I figured the antecedent for this habit naturally grew from owning his own business or just raising teenage boys. What we know now is chronic indigestion is a catalyst for the formation of cancer in the esophagus.
After the “punch in the nose” our family did what all families do: circle the wagons and get a game plan. My brother, the single most tenacious person I know, began to make calls and provide research.
We immediately met with the local team at the EAMC Cancer Center, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Cabelka. From there we met with thoracic surgeons at two university research hospitals. The outlook was not all dark, but let’s just say the light of hope was not shining bright.
With all this information now provided, Dad made the decision to put his therapy in the hands of the local team at EAMC. To be honest, the Anders go way back with Dr. Johnson. His Dad, James, was one of the very first people we met in 1965 when we moved to Auburn.
James was our barber. He and Larry and then Jeanette gave the three Anders men their monthly haircut for years and years. Campus Barbershop was a single source for a solid haircut and plenty of life skills advice.
As a young man you always left their barber shop with less hair, less $, and a good life lesson. Ironically, Dr. Johnson’s hair length would have provided a great opportunity for his Dad’s vocation but, that is another story for another day.
And then, the fight
Now it was time to fight the fight.
Radiation, chemotherapy, nutrition, activity, rest, repeat — week after week after week.
All summer, Monday-Friday.
I would join him for many of his chemo days. Sit by his side, watching the medicine enter his port, just talking. This was a time of blessing, strangely, those afternoons with Dad.
Mr. Ray Chambliss, an old friend, was receiving his treatments many of those days. I love he and Ms. Alice.
My classmate Cricket was doing her thing as a nurse bringing lifesaving therapy to her patients but just importantly, a life-giving sense of enthusiasm to the families affected.
As I reflect on this past summer, the perspective of a race to lead a community was certainly balanced by the race for many to beat this disease. My moments of uncertainty and fatigue were always in comparison to those who were in a position of fighting for their lives.
As schools began and the summer ended, Big Ronnie’s treatment concluded too. We took some time off, allowed his body to rest and heal. Then, the appointment to evaluate how we did. Many of you can imagine how our family felt as we approached this appointment.
Dad had been through a battle; his hair, body, face displayed the signs of struggle. Honestly, our options were limited if the therapy was unsuccessful.
The Anders gathered in Dr. Johnson’s office for the news. Brandon sat at his desk, turned on his computer and looked toward his monitor and stated:
“ The tumor is gone.”
Because of that...
Stunned, we asked Brandon to repeat his diagnosis multiple times. Yes, that cause of this insidious disease has been defeated.
I remember us being a little loud. I know tears were running down some cheeks but so what? Dad was moving on. Big Ronnie was AUTLIVING cancer.
Because Dad has AUTLIVED this disease, he saw his oldest grandson’s engagement to a beautiful future Anders lady and will attend their upcoming wedding.
Because he has AUTLIVED cancer, he will watch another grandson pursue his dream of flying.
Because he has AUTLIVED cancer, he will watch hIs only granddaughter perform in her final year of dance, graduate from high school, and begin her new journey as a college student.
Because he AUTLIVED cancer, he celebrated the holidays with all his family and enjoyed all of his meals.
And yes, because he AUTLIVED cancer, my Dad saw his son ultimately become the mayor of the community he brought our family to more than 50 years ago.
Reasons for pride
There was a day, last May, when I discussed with Dad the appropriateness of a political race during a grueling family health race. Basically I said, “Hey, should I even be doing this, running for office?”
Dad’s response, “absolutely, you’ve been working toward this opportunity for a long time. Your Mom and I will be fine. Now… GO WIN.”
We were blessed to be victorious in the political race. Dad was there the entire way, doing all he could to support his boy.
I’m proud to lead this awesome city, but more proud that Dad is still by my side. Offering his advice and input along the way — just like a Dad.
Thank you to Dr. Johnson and Dr. Cabelka. Thank you to all the nurses, technicians, assistants, etc.… in the EAMC Cancer Center. We look forward with hope toward the opening of the Spencer Cancer Center this year.
Thank you to all the dear friends of my family who offered their help to Mom and Dad during the trying days of treatment and uncertainty. My Mom was the devoted spouse that committed herself to Dad’s well-being. She is a one of a kind.
And one final thing Coach Pearl:
Dad will be there on Saturday. Row 2, midcourt. He is ready to get after those guys in crimson just like he got after cancer.