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  1. Cancer Does Not Stop Local Jehovah's Witness Couple 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. “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. 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 https://www.flatlandkc.org/beyond-belief/swaying-music/
  2. Even in the best relationships, things can get “rusty.” You might be bored, may start to take each other for granted, may be fighting (or not communicating at all). But this doesn't have to mean you're going to live unhappily ever after. Once you recognize that things have gotten stale, you can put in the “work” (it’s fun, I promise!) to revive the love that brought you together in the first place. Here are 10 fun ideas for refreshing your romantic relationship. 1. Deposit good feelings in each other's emotional banks, every day. You know those things you say or do that make you feel good, like complimenting a stranger on their haircut or buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line? You’re doing good for someone else, but it makes you feel good too. Practice those little kindnesses on your partner every day! Surprise them with their favorite latte or compliment their appearance before they leave for work. They feel good and you feel good—it’s a win-win. 2. Refamiliarize yourselves with your shared vision for your relationship and future. Date nights are important—most of us know that—but what if you planned one specifically to share (or revisit) your individual visions for your relationship and your shared vision together? Share how you envision your relationship growing, evolving, expanding—and how you hope to continue to grow together. 3. Schedule some space. Just as important as scheduling time to spend together is scheduling time to spend apart. Not only will this allow you to reflect and imagine and enjoy your own company; it’ll also give you the opportunity to miss your partner and remember what you love so much about being with them (that you might otherwise take for granted). 4. Write love letters. Don’t you just love getting snail mail? Your partner likely does too. Get old-fashioned and start writing love letters to your partner. You can write a note on the bathroom mirror every day, or write one once a week that you actually pop in the mail (even if you live together). 5. Create a partner-focused gratitude practice. Most of us are aware of the value of gratitude. It makes us happier, more energetic, and more forgiving, among many other things. So what if you created a practice solely around the gratitude you feel for your partner? What do you appreciate, admire, love, and cherish about them? Just thinking about this every day will be valuable, but feel free to share at least one thing with them, too. 6. Plan a recommitment ceremony or party. This can be as big or as small as you’d like for it to be. The point is that you both focus on the commitment you made to each other—whether it was days, months, or years before now—and recommit to each other, knowing what you know now about yourself, about your partner, and about your relationship to one another. Share your thoughts on this with each other, and celebrate this recommitment in whatever way feels right to the both of you! 7. Have more sex. Sure, you’ve probably heard this tip a time or two—but that’s because it’s important. And just because you’re hearing it doesn’t mean you’re doing it. There’s no “right” or “wrong” amount of sex for each individual couple, but there’s no avoiding the fact that having it—any of it—will reenergize your relationship. So just do it. Tonight. You (and your partner) will thank me later. 8. Listen actively. Ask questions of your partner that spark true, deep discussion. Your question can be as simple as “How was your day?” but set the intention that you will only listen—don’t jump in with comments, questions, or advice. Shut down all distractions—including those that you often provide—and plan to truly listen to what they have to say. 9. Plan a "team" activity. Make weekly plans to do something together—just the two of you. Date nights are great, but it doesn’t need to be extravagant. It might be as simple as cooking tonight’s meal together. Whatever you choose to do, tackle it as a team—leaning on and supporting one another through it, much as you need to do in your relationship. 10. Ask your partner what they want. I could give you 10 more tips for refreshing your relationship, but there will always be one person who knows even better than I do what will be most effective—and that's the person you're with. Ask your partner what they want. What do they want to do? Experience? Feel? And ask yourself those same questions too! Then go do those things—today! The “rut” is a natural part of any relationship’s evolution, but it doesn't have to stay there. Get creative and try out a few (or all) of the tips above to start seeing your partner, and your relationship, in a whole new way! It’ll be like falling in love all over again. By: Dr. Danielle Dowling/MBG

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