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Cancer Does Not Stop Local Jehovah's Witness Couple

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Leslie and Jim Donigan attend the Jehovah's Witnesses conference today at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri. (Mike Sherry | Flatland)

At happy moments, Jim and Leslie Donigan often find themselves dancing to “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” the Andy Williams hit that has been their song since they first met at a pizza joint in Mission, Kansas, decades ago.

One of those dance-worthy occasions took place late last year, at the end of a long medical journey. The memory remains strong, even though they have hit a recent bump in the road.

As Jehovah’s Witnesses, they plan to attend the Midwest convention that runs today through Sunday at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence, Missouri. Organizers believe few attendees embody this year’s theme, “Don’t Give Up,” more than the Donigans, who are both 71 years old and live in Kansas City. About 5,000 people are expected to attend, said Craig Cochran, the convention’s media services coordinator.

The ability to be part of a global experience of faith is important to the Donigans, as they once again face medical uncertainty. “It’s like a spiritual family reunion,” Jim said.

A website for the religion says there are more than 8.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in 240 countries. According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 1 percent of American adults are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

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“Don’t Give Up” is the them of this year’s Jehovah’s Witness conference. (Mike Sherry | Flatland)

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in God, who is called Jehovah.  As Christians, they believe in heaven and salvation, but they do not believe in hell or eternal suffering.

Witnesses, as followers are called, believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. However, they recognize some parts are symbolic and do not believe all parts of the Bible are to be understood literally.

Jehovah’s Witnesses also do not believe in blood transfusions, based upon their reading of passages in both the Old and New testaments. They cite Genesis 9:4, for example, where God says, “Only flesh with its soul — its blood — you must not eat.”

No ‘Cowards in the Foxhole’

On Oct. 1, 2004, Leslie fainted. That was abnormal for her, a runner who lives a healthy lifestyle.

Doctors could not pinpoint a cause, and later that month they understood why: They found a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, a rare cancer that leaves no blood marker. The tumor was growing on a section of the small intestine and was also threatening her pancreas.

The belief about blood transfusions was an obvious complication when it came to surgery.

So, the Donigans worked through a Jehovah’s Witnesses group in Brooklyn to find Dr. Marvin Romsdahl, a surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who performed a modified version of a common surgery to remove pancreatic tumors. The modified version did not require a transfusion.

The night before the surgery, the anesthesiologist backed out because of the risks of doing surgery without blood transfusions. “That’s good,” Jim told Romsdahl. “We don’t need any cowards in the foxhole.”

The surgery lasted 13.5 hours, but it was successful.

Yet further treatment included a prescription for the chemotherapy pill Gleevec. The cost of the therapy, which Leslie said at the time cost $2,500 per month, brought them to the breaking point, even after using Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s always been more than we could swallow,” Jim said, “and progressively over time, it took everything.”

More bad news hit in 2008, when Jim lost his banking job during the recession. They had to sell the house they had built nearly four decades before, the same house where they had raised their three children.

But in one sliver of good news, a neighbor approached them during their garage sale and told them he would buy another house for sale on the block and then rent it to them.

Things began to look up, as Jim found another job, Leslie qualified for a hardship program that allowed her to take Gleevec for free, and then got off the medication altogether when her cancer went into remission.

The cancer returned, however, and Leslie must remain on Gleevec for the rest of her life. Now, Gleevec costs $13,000 per month, she said.

Another Test

In April 2016, the family was tested again, when Jim started having shortness of breath.

Their first thought was a heart problem, but the first diagnosis was multiple myeloma, a form of incurable blood cancer. A second opinion was different, but not any better: a form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which causes tumors to grow in the lymphatic system.

A PET scan revealed 100 tumors, and Jim started his own costly round of chemotherapy.

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The Donigans vist with their son, Joel, and his wife, Carrie, at the conference. (Mike Sherry | Flatland)

 

His lymphatic system failed during treatment, causing fluid buildup around his stomach and lungs. Jim suffered malnutrition when draining the fluid removed electrolytes and proteins.

By October, doctors gave him two months to live. Leslie got it in writing.

Yet as he sat in the hospital, saying his goodbyes, Jim had a thought: “Why couldn’t we take those fluids from my stomach and put them back into my heart, where they need to be?”

The question sparked an idea for one of Jim’s doctors, who inserted a shunt normally used to treat cirrhosis. Within two weeks, the fluid buildup was gone.

On Dec. 27, when he was home filing paperwork, Jim came across the letter telling him he only had two months to live. He did the math, and then they had an “I ain’t dead yet party.”

At the party, Jim sipped his first glass of wine in a year, and the couple danced once again to their favorite song. The luster remained up until this week, when an infection flared up around the shunt, and the fear of cancer returned.

This most recent medical challenge has shown Jim and Leslie how important their faith is in preparing them for the troubles that can lie ahead. The convention, and especially its theme, is coming at just the right time to help guide them through this newest trial, Leslie said.

“No one is shielded from the human experience,” Leslie said. “But personally, we find it better to be prepared to keep these types of relapses in their proper perspective.”

— Catherine Wheeler is a multimedia intern for Flatland. She is a graduate student studying journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Catherine has a bachelor’s degree in English-Writing from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. She currently lives in Kansas City. You can reach her at cwheeler@kcpt.org

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Polls conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post revealed 36 percent of U.S. respondents in 2017 term themselves as Protestant faith members. A sharp drop from 2003's 50 percent. The statistics include a drop of eight points in evangelical white Protestant numbers. The number of Christians all in all has mirrored the predicament of Protestants. From the 83 percent of 2003 to 72 percent in 2017, the declining numbers are in stark contrast to the section of the U.S. population responding with “no religion” which have almost doubled to 21 percent. Self-identification of Catholics at 22 percent remain constant during this time. The number of adults who identify with other strands of Christianity like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses went up marginally, from 11 percent to 14 percent. Trends are more pronounced among the American youth; only 19 percent of all adults under 30 years of age in 2003 claimed to have no religion. In 2017, that percent went up to 35 percent. These figures can be compared with the 22 percent who term themselves to be affiliated with any kind of Protestantism. These figures are significant as they denote a perceptible shift in power.

      Read more at World Religion News: "Sharp Drop in White Evangelicals in U.S." https://www.worldreligionnews.com/?p=51977

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Along with Bible teachings and online lessons on how to lead a good life and find peace and happiness, the Jehovah Witnesses website at JW.org also offers serious insight and words of caution to parents about sexual child abuse.
      And, that makes the recent Philadelphia Inquirer story alleging that Jehovah's Witness elders have repeatedly covered up sexual abuse of members' children, shunned members and victims who raised complaints of child abuse and have impeded police investigations into abuse allegations even more shocking.
      Among the victims of the Witnesses' shunning and stonewalling tactics interviewed by Inquirer reporter David Gambacorta were:
      The parents of a 4-year-old New Cumberland girl who was molested at the Jehovah Witness Kingdom Hall in Red Lion A Spring Grove woman who was molested when she was a teen by a Witness who was a family friend A York woman who was molested in her teens by a couple she knew through the Jehovah's Witnesses. Three defendants identified in the Inquirer investigative piece were prosecuted and sentenced in York County. A fourth is awaiting prosecution.

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Ashya King, Charlie Gard y Alfie Evans. Tres casos distintos de niños con enfermedades que tienen un fuerte nexo común: las incoherencias del sistema sanitario y judicial británico. Los dos últimos no podrán dar testimonio de los avances de la medicina, sin embargo el primero -gracias a un hospital en República Checa- sí.
      Desde el año 2014 hasta hoy, la sociedad europea es testigo de cómo la autoridad británica trata de imponerse a las decisiones de los padres que tienen hijos enfermos. El último ejemplo ha sido Alfie Evans, ingresado en un hospital de Liverpool por una enfermedad degenerativa. Ni la intervención del Papa Francisco, ni todas las ofertas del gobierno italiano pudieron frenar la decisión de los jueces de retirarle el soporte vital que lo mantenía con vida.
      Ingresado en el Hospital General de Southampton
      ¿Quizás por la inseguridad de que se llevaran otro chasco y de que quedaran en ridículo delante de todo el mundo? Quizás. Esta última polémica hace remontarnos a cuatro años atrás, cuando un pequeño, hijo de un matrimonio perteneciente a los Testigos de Jehová, se encontraba ingresado en el Hospital General de Southampton librando una batalla contra el cáncer.
      El principio de la historia comienza con la sugerencia de los padres, Brett y Naghemen King, de suministrar a su hijo un tratamiento que consistía en una terapia de protones. Ellos consideraban que sería menos dañino que la radioterapia convencional que ofrecía por aquel momento el Servicio Nacional de Salud de Reino Unido (NHS). Primeramente le habían eliminado con éxito y mediante cirugía el meduloblastoma.
      Arrestados en España durante 24 horas
      Tras las desavenencias entre los progenitores y el equipo médico del centro, decidieron que la mejor opción era sacar al menor de allí y buscar otra alternativa fuera del país, por lo que el 28 de agosto de 2014 se embarcaron en un ferry dirección Francia. El trayecto los llevó hasta Vélez -Málaga- donde por una Euroorden fueron arrestados durante 24 horas. Recibieron el apoyo de multitud de personas y tras una dura lucha judicial se les retiró la solicitud de extradición.
      El asunto fue llevado hasta el Tribunal Supremo, que el 5 de septiembre dictaminó que Ashya podía recibir el tratamiento en Praga. A pesar de las negativas previsiones del hospital británico -los médicos auguraron que los efectos secundarios de la terapia de protones serían los mismos que los de una radioterapia convencional- los King tiraron para adelante.
      Totalmente curado
      En marzo de 2015, pasada ya la estancia en el Proton Therapy Center de Praga, un escáner cerebral verificó la buena nueva que todos estaban esperando: el pequeño estaba libre de cáncer. Tres años más tarde, el menor –de ocho años ya- ha vuelto a ser examinado y la luz blanca brilla de nuevo: está plenamente curado. Una noticia que llena de felicidad a los padres y que pone en jaque a aquellos que quieren tomar decisiones por encima de nadie.
      El diario EL MUNDO publicaba el pasado 5 de mayo un breve reportaje en el que informaba que estos padres habían declarado no guardan rencor ni al hospital ni a los jueces británicos. Probablemente los Evans o los Gard, no puedan decir lo mismo.

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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      Anyone who regularly takes the el or subway has seen them.
      They stand quietly smiling with carts of religious publications, out on the sidewalk when it's nice out, and in the "unpaid" area of the station near the Ventra machines or turnstiles when the weather is inclement. The women are dressed modestly but sharply, and the men look natty as well, often wearing sport jackets and fedoras.
      They are volunteers from the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination that claims 8.4 million members in 240 countries.
      Though I'm not interested in converting, I sometimes stop and say hello and pick up a copy of The Watchtower or Awake! out of courtesy, since I find their cheerful vibe oddly comforting. They're certainly more agreeable than the Old Navy Street Preacher, who hangs out at Randolph and State railing against fornicators and cigarette smokers.
      But not everyone appreciates the Jehovah's Witnesses' presence at transit stations. Kevin Havener, an Edgewater resident who often commutes via the Red Line, contacted me to share a message he sent to the transit authority, to which he says he never got a response. He claimed that the Witnesses' practice of offering literature inside el stations violated a guideline in the agency's Rules of Conduct warning against the distribution of written materials on CTA property.
      "I find this inexplicable permission deeply, personally offensive," Havener's message read. "Would the CTA allow other religious proselytizing [by groups] such as [Orthodox Jews], or Buddhists, or Hare Krishnas? OF COURSE NOT."
      Havener eventually revealed to me that he has a horse in this race. About a decade ago he and other members of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, an activist group, wanted to hand out leaflets inside the Fullerton el stop in Lincoln Park. When they asked the CTA customer assistant for permission, they were told they needed to be out on the public sidewalk far away enough not to block any station doors. "That made perfect sense, and that's what we did," he said.
      Read more: 
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    • Guest Nicole
      By Guest Nicole
      (CNN)After a difficult, monthlong journey from Central America to the US-Mexico border, dozens of asylum-seeking migrants are vowing to remain outside an immigration processing center until "every last one" is admitted into the country, an organizer with the caravan said late Sunday.
      Earlier, the migrants marched from Friendship Park in Tijuana, Mexico to the San Ysidro port of entry. They stood on the Mexican side; on the other side lay San Diego, California. It was the final leg for some in the caravan of hundreds of migrants, which had reached Tijuana on Tuesday.
      Alex Mensing, an organizer with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which assembled the caravan, said 50 migrants were admitted to the immigration processing center. He said the migrants' decision to not return to a nearby shelter overnight was made in solidarity with the asylum seekers who are inside the facility.
      But the migrants' fate is uncertain. Before the group arrived, US Customs and Border Patrol officials said the port had already reached full capacity, and migrants trying to get into the United States may need to wait in Mexico as officials process those already in the facility.
      https://edition.cnn.com/2018/04/29/americas/migrant-caravan-us-border-crossing/index.html
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