Does it seem to you that there is an epidemic of cancer?  I counted on our church bulletin and found listed under “Prayer Concerns” names of 20 people who are suffering from cancer.  Everyone I know has lost a family member to cancer and most have someone close to them right now who has cancer. 

I was reminded of this tragic condition when Mike Brewer’s funeral was held January 21. He died of lung cancer.  Mike was in my English I class at Byng during the first year I taught.  He was an average student, but he became special to me because he was so kind.  My father died (of cancer) in January.  I was out of school for three days.  When I walked to school  that first morning, Mike was waiting for me at the edge of the school yard.  He took some of the books I was carrying and walked back to the building with me.  He gently said, “Mrs. Milligan, I’m sorry about your loss.  I know that you loved your dad a lot.”

I was touched.  Most freshman boys  feel sympathy but they have a hard time expressing it.  

After Mike graduated from high school, he went into the Navy and I did not see him again until early spring  of 1968.  At that time my mother was in Valley View Hospital. She had gone for surgery, but doctors found she was suffering from an inoperable cancer.  To my surprise, I ran into Mike,  who was working in X-ray.  We were glad to see each other and had a nice visit.  He had grown into a nice looking man with clean-cut blond good looks and the same slow smile I remembered from his teen years.  He was married to his highschool sweetheart, Bunny Roundtree. He tried to comfort me about my mother.  “More people are surviving now,” he said.

Despite our prayers and everything doctors could do, Mom died early in August.

I heard from and about Mike a few times through the years.  I knew he was director of  X-ray in various hospitals.   Last March, I visited with the Rev. Dennis Tate when we were both walking at the Byng School track.  In the course of the conversation, he told me Mike had been diagnosed with lung cancer.   I called his mother, Edna Brewer, and we cried together.

We had lost our youngest son to lung cancer in 1992, and I felt I understood to some extent what she was going through.  She gave me Mike’s address, and I wrote him.  “More people are surviving lung cancer,” I told him.   I listed him on the “Prayer Concerns” at church.  Once, one of Mike’s relatives told me he was doing much better, and I rejoiced.  I learned later, though, that Mike was only pretending to be better because his mother worried so much about him.

Mark’s sister-in-law, Liz Brewer, told me Mike suffered excruciating pain for the 11 months of his illness, but he made an effort to be as cheerful and positive as possible.  “I admired his strength of character.”

He and Bunny were living at Guymon, but during his illness they moved to Mustang to be closer to their children.  They had grandchildren and, like most folks, Mike and Bunny doted on them. At graveside services at Allen, one of Mike’s daughters, Windy Rinehart, read a tribute entitled  “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  She reminisced about his teaching her to tie and bait a hook, “even though your fish were getting away, you knew there’d be another day.”  She thanked him for teaching her to drive a truck with a stick shift, and for his patience in teaching her how to act “even though I didn’t have much tact.”  She thanked him for being able to smile as he walked her down the aisle.  She  treasured  her Daddy as Papaw and for loving and welcoming each of the grandchildren.  Most of all, she thanked him for his love which was endless and  eternal. 

Remembering the kindness and generosity of spirit that Mike demonstrated as a boy in highschool, I can well imagine how much he is loved and missed by all who knew him as an adult.   I hope one day we can say to someone who is diagnosed with lung cancer, “Most people survive this disease.  It’s a nuisance, but not a catastrophe.”

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Men of New Bethel Church had their annual Chili Cook Off on Sunday night, January 22.   The weather was a little cooler, but everyone was in a good mood because of badly needed rain that morning, and the general consensus was that the chili was unusually good and it was hard to determine winners. 

However, after much sampling, the panel chose the following winners:  third place went to the pastor, Joe Dixon, who barely made it home from a business meeting in Kissimmine, Fla.; second  place was awarded to Will Bailey.   Second and third place winners received a magic cooking spoon.

First place was awarded to Scotty Eidson, who had also won in 2004,  Lowry Allen,  last year’s winner, reluctantly returned the traveling trophy a chili-stained shirt and tie.   Eidson also received an apron which declared him “New Bethel’s Chili Chef.”

Apparently the judges prefer their chili on the wild side.  Will’s entry was made from venison, and Scotty’s was buffalo meat.  Brother Joe said his was black and white home-raised beef.     We heard that someone had turkey chili, but did not notice any “white” chili made from chicken this year.

Several had grown their own jalapino peppers that gave their chili a Four Alarm flavor.  It was all delicious in a fiery sort of way.

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Last week I mentioned that anyone interested in a  Byng 40th class reunion should call Frances Phillips.  Unfortunately, I got her telephone number wrong.  Her correct home phone is 332-6295.  She may be reached at Byng School at 310-6768.  Sorry, Frances.

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