Beating the odds: Man outlives doctors' predictions

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By Calen McKinney

He was told he had only three or four days left to live. But nearly four years later, Jimmie Brockman says he's still alive because of his faith in God.

Brockman, now 62, had lost about 40 pounds in the spring of 2003. He was working eight- to 10-hour days in quality control at Parker-Kalon and was spending three or four hours each night on his farm raising Angus cattle.

He said sometimes he just didn't get hungry, so he skipped dinner. His weight loss wasn't something that caused him any concern.

One night, however, a friend told him he looked bad and should see a doctor. Brockman said he told his friend he wasn't going to see a doctor, and that he would be OK.

But one day the next week, when he was eating lunch, he got choked on his food and his throat started to swell. At one point, he said, he could barely see his tonsils.

He knew he was in trouble at that point, so he went to see an emergency room doctor.

Within 45 minutes, he said, he had been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma - what he was told is the worst kind of lymphoma cancer. Two days later, Brockman said he had his tonsils removed.

During the next few days, he said, his house was full of relatives, friends and even strangers who prayed and spoke with him.

The next week, he learned he also had leukemia and bone cancer.

The day before Brockman was set to go to the Brown Cancer Center in Louisville to discuss treatment options, one of his relatives came to Brockman's home and asked to pray with him.

Brockman said it was during that prayer that he knew things would be OK.

"God just told me he was going to take care of me," he said.

At the cancer center in Louisville, Brockman said, the doctors examined him and did several blood and other tests. He said they told him his cancer was a lot worse than they had originally thought.

Brockman said doctors had told him he would die within three or four days. He said they told him his throat would likely swell so much that he would choke to death.

After seeing the doctors, Brockman was immediately taken to the hospital's intensive care unit. The next morning, doctors examined him and said that most of his swelling was gone.

"They said, 'This is amazing.'"

Brockman said he told his doctors that God had told him he was going to take care of him.

"[I told the doctor], I have the faith that he is," he said. "The doctor told me, 'You keep the faith.'"

A few days later, Brockman began chemotherapy treatments.

Several months later, Brockman was sent to a hospital in St. Louis, Mo. to undergo a stem cell transplant to treat his leukemia. That transplant, he said, made him very sick.

"I was so sick that if God had took my life, it would have been OK," he said. "I thank the Lord, he wasn't ready to take my life."

For the next three years, Brockman underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and many tests.

In December 2006, Brockman began yet another round of chemotherapy treatments. But after a few months, doctors told him it had not helped. They tried another type of chemotherapy, Brockman said, but stopped after just two treatments. He said that type made him so sick he thought he would die.

In January, Brockman traveled to St. Louis to talk to doctors about undergoing another stem cell transplant. He said the doctors told him the chances of his body rejecting the transplant were very high.

"They said with or without a transplant, lymphoma is going to take my life," Brockman said.

He said doctors told him his best chance of living another year was to undergo more chemotherapy treatments or have a second stem cell transplant, despite the likelihood that his body will reject it.

Brockman said he wanted another opinion on his illness, so he traveled to a hospital in Tennessee.

"The odds there were no better," he said.

After weighing his options, Brockman decided he would not undergo another stem call transplant. Instead, he began another round of radiation treatments. As of last week, he has taken five of his 20 treatments.

Since 2003, he said, doctors have repeatedly told him that he may not have much longer to live.

"With God's blessing, after 4 1/2 years, I'm still here."

Brockman says he has always listened and understood that his doctors don't expect him to live much longer.

"I say, 'I hear what you're saying,'" he said. "But I know what God has told me, too. I still have the faith that God is going to take care of me."

Throughout the past several years, Brockman said, he has seen and spoken with many cancer patients. Over the years, he said, they have become his friends.

He says he tries to encourage them and give them strength to battle their cancer.

"I tell them, 'Anytime you feel no one can help you, and your life is out of your hands, I know a man that can.'

"No matter how bad it gets, God can reach down and touch them because he has me."

Throughout his four-year battle with cancer, Brockman has lost his hair three times. He says his illness sometimes makes him feel so bad that he can't leave his home.

"I have good and bad days," he said. "Today, I got up ... I feel pretty good."

He said if his current cycle of radiation treatments doesn't work, he will have to consider whether he wants to undergo another stem cell transplant.

That decision, however, won't be an easy one.

"If they're saying you're going to die, you'll try something else," he said.

Brockman said doctors told him there is a 93 percent chance his body will reject another stem cell transplant.

Even if a transplant is successful, he said, he knows he wouldn't be able to live that much longer, possibly three to five years.

The percentage of those who survive a second stem cell transplant and have a good quality life for the rest of their years, he said, is only 5 percent.

Though he knows the percentages don't look good, he said, he doesn't let those numbers get his spirit down.

"I have no doubt that when I draw my last breath, God will take me home," he said. "He has blessed me so much when I've known death was knocking on my door."

He said his family and friends have been extremely supportive during his battle with cancer, and he believes he's lucky to have them.

"I had no idea how many friends I had [until] I got sick," he said. "They're better friends than I ever thought about being. They come out of their way to make sure I'm OK."

Brockman said he's not sure how he got his cancer because it does not run in his family. His mother, however, had breast cancer, though she lived with it for more than 30 years.

"From the doctor's point of view, my time looks short," he said. "From my point of view, God will take care of me and I don't think time is that short.

"I live my life like I'm going to live 25 more years," he said. "That may or may not happen.

"If God takes me today, I've lived 62 years. I've seen the happy times and the best of times. I have no regrets."

Brockman said he would like to live until he is in his 80s to see his grandson grow up and start school.

He said he hopes those who have cancer can gain strength from his story.

"It's all in [God's] hands," he said. "I'm packed up and ready to go."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.