July 2013 :: I’m Not Afraid To Die

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Morgan suggested that I capture her father with his Bible since he is a man of such strong faith. I handed it to him and ask him to turn to his favorite verse or passage. That passage turned out to be Psalm 28.

Name: Tom Billings, Jr.

Age: 53

Medical Crisis That Prayer Has Been Requested For:

Stage Four Lung & Liver Cancer Diagnosis

What’s Your Family Like:

We are a very close family.

What are your passions in life?

My family and spiritual life.

What are your fears?

I have none.

…and your dreams?

To be cured.

What’s your favorite food and musician or band?

Grilled pork chops are my favorite and I enjoy listening to Kari Jobe and Adele

Do you have any regrets in life?

None.

What is the best advice you have for those that read about and pray for you here?

Live everyday like it’s your last day.

My Experience With The Billings:

“I’m not afraid to die,” Mr. Billings told me as we were eating dinner in his living room this past Wednesday night. “I can’t wait to get to Heaven to see my Mom and Dad,” he added just after he told me he was considering not even going through chemo and radiation treatments for the stage-four lung and liver cancer he had just been diagnosed with a few days prior that. He told me this right in front of his 25-year-old daughter, Michelle.

My heart ached for her, her little sister Morgan, and their mom and Mr. Billing’s wife of thirty years, Terri. Tom’s quality of life had been in such a bad state for so long that Michelle told me the cancer diagnosis was actually somewhat of a blessing due to the pain that his daughters had seen him in since they were little girls. Michelle told me they really had never seen their father not in a state of pain. Tom first hurt his back in a motorcycle accident in the late 80’s; then in 1994, while he was a builder and real estate developer, he fell and severely damaged the nerves in his foot and ankle. This nerve damage actually spread and began giving him a constant burning and stinging pain in both his legs and feet. He continued to work with this pain for five years after that, until it finally got so bad that he had to go on disability.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder infection. Then in 2008, he had to have surgery on his hip due to congenital issues that were causing him severe pain. The results of his back injury from the motorcycle accident in the late eighties began to catch up with him. He had numerous herniated discs and also discovered he had been born with spinal stenosis.

These problems came to a head in 2010, when he woke up one morning and his right foot no longer functioned. His doctors told him that compression on a nerve in the spinal area caused the issue, so he underwent back surgery to correct it. He began to regain the control and use of that foot after about six months, but unfortunately complications from this surgery lead to severe chronic pain and also prevented him from ever being able to stand up straight again. He endured three more spinal surgeries to reverse these unexpected results, all of which were unsuccessful. Lucky for Tom, his physical therapist and a founder of Advanced Rehabilitation, Sam Echols, is one of the best therapists in the country and helped ease the pain and improve Tom’s quality of life as much as possible throughout the whole ordeal.

Every step of the way, Tom’s wife Terri stuck by his side. “There’s very few women like her left,” Tom says. As a respiratory therapist, she has provided for him and their girls when what he received from disability would have just not been enough. And the excellent health insurance she has through her job at Redmond Regional Medical Center has been an essential element in his medical care. Props to Terri for setting such a good example to her girls of sticking by their fathers side in sickness and in health.

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This is Mr. Billings sitting in his father’s old rocking chair in his backyard in Rome, Georgia. With him is his wife, Terry, and his daughters Morgan (standing) and Michelle (sitting).

As I left that night, Morgan walked me out to my truck, thanked me, and hugged me, crying, knowing that her dad only had a few more months left at best. They had not had a family photo done since she and Michelle were little girls, and that is something her dad wanted done before he began to look sick from the cancer. I have given up so much for this career in photography I have. It has been so frustrating, on so many levels, on so many occasions. But I tell you: I drove away from there that night with tears in my eyes, thanking God for putting me on this earth and giving me the ability to do these photos for them. Never have I felt so strongly about being right where He wanted me to be in life, doing exactly what He wanted me to do.

Please, I beg you, share this post with others, and to send your prayers, good karma, happy thoughts — whatever you want to call it — out to Mr. Billings and his family. My God listens to all of those things, and all of you.