John Hardin, of Jackson, reflects on his evolving relationship to God and the power of prayer throughout his fight with cancer. Morgan Timms / The Jackson Sun
(Photo: Morgan Timms / The Jackson Sun)
Jackson resident John Hardin acknowledges the power of prayer in his life since his birth on Jan. 29, 1949 and has watched it happen in two key events in his life as an adult.
The most recent one came last year after a dire cancer diagnosis, but prayer aided by cutting-edge treatment in Georgia has given him another lease on life.
“I was born premature, and premie births in the 1940s were still almost a death sentence because there was nothing they could do back then,” Hardin said. “But my parents raised me in church and they were involved, and the church in Arkansas they were a part of then got together and prayed and had vigils and all this stuff on my behalf.
“After being told I probably wouldn’t make it out of the hospital, by God’s grace I did.”
Even with a weak start being undersized because of his premature birth, Hardin had a normal childhood, weighing 265 pounds in middle school.
He was given a shaky prognosis in 2001 after being involved in a wreck in Crockett County on Hwy. 412. After not making it back to Sunday night service at West Jackson Baptist Church after visiting his parents in Blytheville, Ark., many fellow church members were praying on his behalf.
“I remember we had a full waiting room at the hospital that night,” said Hardin’s wife, Sandy. “Six or seven pastors from the church, our entire Sunday school group and people we didn’t know that well were there praying for us.”
Hardin overcame broken ribs, a collapsed lung, broken collar bone, a severe concussion, a traumatic brain injury, a shoulder injury that removed part of the ability to use his left shoulder and vertebral injuries to fully recover.
It’s because of those two experiences that John Hardin said he didn’t take a cancer diagnosis hard last spring.
After suffering abdomen pain and losing 36 pounds in six weeks, John Hardin went to the doctor to check for something wrong. CAT scans revealed a couple gray areas on his colon.
“I’d had a colonoscopy in the previous November, and everything checked out OK, but they wanted to do another,” John Hardin said.
Local surgeon Dr. Cameron Mahalati investigated the spots in surgery. While John Hardin was in recovery, Mahalati visited Sandy in John’s room just after surgery.
“He had tears in his eyes as he told me,” Sandy Hardin said. “But then he said he was going to go back to his office to look around to see who the best doctor in the country was for this kind of cancer and get us referred there.”
The cancer was Stage 4 signet cell carcinoma, which is a type that forms inside the tissue of an organ and grows until it pops out of the lining of the tissue looking like a ring, which is the reason for the name. But when it does pop out, it releases spores into the body similar to a dandelion’s petals blowing off in the wind.
“And where the spores land, it starts up another area for cancer to begin growing,” John Hardin said.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America has five facilities throughout the country. The one John Hardin needed was in Newnan, Ga., which is a suburb of Atlanta.
“They know what they’re doing there not just treating the cancer, but treating the person,” Sandy Hardin said.
Their first visit after the initial diagnosis on May 1 was June 6. They had nine meetings throughout the day that all began on time. Not only did they meet with doctors, but there were psychiatrists, ministers, nutritionists and representatives of other disciplines available.
“They wanted to make sure we were OK not just physically but emotionally, spiritually, mentally,” John Hardin said. “And everyone there has apparently never had a bad day.
“There was never a cross word between workers from the top doctors to the janitors and everyone in between. We came in pretty glum, but they changed that quickly.”
Dr. Alexandria Phan specializes in rare abdomen cancers. She gave John and Sandy Hardin hope almost immediately.
“She told me that ‘terminal’ just means statistics aren’t good, but every case is different,” John Hardin said. “They had a plan and it had good results so far in other patients, and she planned to have good results with me too.”
Beginning with that visit, Phan prescribed three-day visits to the facility every two weeks for chemo treatments. So the Hardins made the trip to Newnan every two weeks and stayed in a nearby hotel that was set up specifically for patients with suites in every room and catered to the needs of patients and their families their entire time in town.
The chemo worked well quickly. So quickly that the medical team didn’t even have to do all the procedures Phan planned to do.
The procedure they didn’t have to do was a HIPEC procedure in which two ports would’ve been inserted into either side of John Hardin’s abdomen and a high concentration of liquid chemotherapy would’ve been poured into his abdomen cavity while he was strapped to a movable bed, and that bed with him strapped to it would’ve been lifted and turned in all different directions to get the liquid into all open spaces to saturate the area and potentially kill all cancer.
“Essentially they would tumble me,” John Hardin said. “And I don’t tumble well, so I’m glad it didn’t get to that point.”
What they did do was a cytoreduction in October, which is a procedure in which the surgeon physically takes each organ in the cavity out and looks it over with his or her eyes to check for any cancer growths.
“A laparoscopic procedure would’ve been like putting a camera through the peephole of a door to check a room out,” Sandy Hardin said. “This gave the doctor a chance to see what everything actually looked like.”
The procedure revealed an estimated 1,000 small spots of cancer throughout all the organs.
“But all these cancer cells and growths they could see were all dead cells,” John Hardin said. “None of them were growing.”
Phan prescribed a few more rounds of chemotherapy to be thorough, but these would be a month apart, reducing the Hardins’ trips to Georgia. In January, John Hardin was declared radiologically cancer free.
“What that means is they can’t find any cancer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have it,” John Hardin said. “So to be sure about that, we’ll have to go back every two months to check for any more growth.”
Prayer and a mission
John Hardin said his faith in God never wavered during the ordeal.
“I’ve been through enough already to know God is the one who would ultimately decide when my time to leave this earth is, and whenever that is, I’ll be OK. I just would be concerned about leaving my family here,” John Hardin said.
That helped his perception, and he helped others at the facility as he took that opportunity to talk about Jesus Christ with them. He also shared a book that has helped keep him and Sandy calm called “Jesus Calling,” a 365-day devotional by Sarah Young written from Jesus’ perspective to the reader with a list of accompanying Bible verses on which the message is based.
The Hardins said they gave out multiple copies of the book to other people, and the people would immediately read the message indicated for that date, and it would apply to them.
“The same thing happens for me,” Sandy Hardin said. “As we sit here waiting to go back in March for a checkup, and I’ve been fearful of a negative report when we get there. But this week I read a devotional, and one of the verses with it was Psalm 112:7.”
That verse says, “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”
That trust has increased through this ordeal, as has John Hardin’s realization of the importance of every person to God.
“He created all of us with a specific DNA, and we’re all unique and He loves each of us very deeply,” John Hardin said. “And through all of this, the verse in James that says the prayer of a righteous man is very effective definitely applies.
“I’m not righteous, but I’ve apparently had plenty of righteous people praying for me from different churches we’ve been a part of in different states we’ve lived in and both churches here in Jackson we’ve been a part of – West Jackson and now Englewood. Because of all that, I know God is in control of all this.”
Reach Brandon Shields at email@example.com or at 731-425-9751. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at editorbrandon.