Bill Corle loves being the answer guy.
That was true in his 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force, when his job was to understand the technical workings of F-16 fighter jets and serve as a resource person for the maintenance crews.
It was also the case in later years when he served as a discipleship pastor, leading adult education programs and offering guidance to hundreds of church members. That role evolved into leadership of a specific counseling ministry for parents dealing with the loss of an infant and struggling to find those much needed answers. It was a rewarding but emotionally exhausting assignment.
Bill also found himself immersed among other people needing help and guidance during mission trips to Guatemala and Honduras and even while volunteering for the rebuilding effort in Greensburg, Kansas, following that community’s devastating tornado in 2007.
Closer to home in Independence, Bill again entered yet another leader role as the director of the local Kansas Works office helping individuals find job placement.
“I loved being the one that someone could come and ask a question to,” Bill said. “I love research, history. I was the ‘Radar O’Reilly’ of information.”
With all this experience and knowledge, there is yet one enormous question that eludes Bill. Why did he have to get cancer?
And it’s an “odd ball” cancer at that, he explains, known as Burkitt Lymphoma, which more frequently is diagnosed in young people and only accounts for 1 to 2 percent of all adult lymphoma cases in the world.
Now 53, Bill was first diagnosed in March 2013 at the University of Kansas Medical Center. From the beginning, he was encouraged to move forward, focus on the treatment and waste no time on the futility of asking “why me?”
“The day I was diagnosed, the doctor told me three very important things that have sustained me through this process,” Bill recalled. “Number one, he said, ‘Don’t try to figure out where you got it, because you never will.’”
“Number two, he said, ‘Trust your doctors and nurses.’
“And number three, ‘The medicine is your friend.’”
Bill took the doc’s advice to dispense with self-pity and plunge ahead into aggressive treatment. And for a year and a half, he and the disease have been “slugging back and forth.” Burkitt is a cancer, Bill explains, that responds well to treatment, but grows back every 45 to 50 days. Treatment regimens have ranged from bouts of radiation to weeks and months of chemotherapy and now back to radiation, often with only a few days of recovery and actually feeling “well” interspersed with weeks of fatigue, nausea and generally feeling lousy.
The nasty side effects of treatment certainly have caused Bill to doubt that statement about the medicine being his friend, but as he has received care at the Mercy Cancer Center in Independence, he has grown to understand that there is no sounder piece of advice than number two – trust your doctors and nurses.
“The folks here (in the cancer center) end up treating all the side effects that chemo causes,” Bill explained. “I’ve been with them every week since all this started.”
“They make it tolerable. In fact, they make it a lot of fun – which seems odd to say about cancer treatment.
“It’s much more than just nurses and patients. They sometimes have tear-filled eyes when they are taking care of you.”
Bill praised the care of nurses Valerie Davis, Alison Carroll, Jennifer Denney, Michele Foreman and receptionist Rachel Rakes, as well as that of oncologist Dr. Phu Truong.
“I don’t have a dud on my team,” he said. “This would be much tougher without them.”
Other key players on Bill’s team are his wife, Anne, and 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, an absolute daddy’s girl who’s always at her father’s side.
“We’re thicker than thieves,” Bill said of his relationship with Sarah, his cooking, game-playing and movie-watching buddy.
“She has had to witness some stuff I wish she didn’t…me getting sick and being in a chair all the time without enough energy to get up. She gets frustrated at the cancer, weary from all of this just like the rest of us, but she is right there. I’m really, really proud of her.”
The illness, Bill says, has actually brought the family closer together, and their faith in the ultimate “answer guy” keeps them going.
“As lousy as the situation sounds, we are spiritually stronger than we have ever been. God has really blessed us, this family. He’s brought us through stuff we never thought we’d go through.”
Bill recently began a new series of radiation treatments, which, while they bring their own side effects, are much more tolerable than the chemotherapy. He is thankful for the reprieve, especially at holiday time.
“We take our holidays as we can get them, and right now Christmas looks very promising.
“My biggest hope is that the radiation will knock down a lot of stuff. It would be a dream come true if I never had to take another drop of chemo.
“But while I would cherish having no more chemo, if they tell me that’s what I need to keep fighting, I’ll do it again in a heartbeat.”
And the Mercy Cancer Center nurses are standing by if and when Bill needs them next. He trusts them to have the answers to the side effects and the encouragement he needs to push on.
“I could not have survived without the nurses here.”