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For more information about Brandon White and his struggle with cancer, visit the Web site his family has created.
Playing basketball a few months ago, Brandon White ended up with a searing pain in his upper right leg.
Today, the pain's gone. But so is his leg.
White, 28, the youth pastor at Heartland Community Church, had the leg amputated July 1 after a cancerous tumor was discovered in his femur.
Less than a week after his surgery at Kansas University Hospital, he was in attendance for church service at Heartland, 619 Vt.
"It was a neat surprise," Pastor Paul Gray says of White's appearance at Sunday's service. "He had told me the day before that if he felt good he was going to try to come. I didn't have as much faith as he did."
White's strong faith has come to bathe his battle with cancer in a special light - as something that has made him better prepared to serve others in the name of the Lord, he says.
"I think all these experiences I'm having in life," White says, "both in the ministry and in my personal life with my health ... I think all those experiences are preparing me for what God has in store for me to do."
White's journey with cancer started on the baseball field in the summer of 1996. He was playing American Legion ball but was sidelined with what he thought might be a pulled muscle in his thigh. After toughing it out for too long, he finally called the doctor. Soon, he found himself prepping for surgery that would remove most of his quadriceps muscle.
"It was kind of a shocking experience at first," White says. "To go from, I just have a pulled muscle to I have cancer and it's this rare kind of cancer that's difficult to treat ... so you deal with a lot of issues, a lot of thoughts that most 16, almost 17-year-olds don't deal with."
He spent the bulk of his senior year at Lawrence High School in treatment, going through chemotherapy and radiation to make sure most of the cancer, a form of sarcoma, was gone. That year he still graduated - he says being stuck in treatment meant lots of good study time - and started dating a friend from church, Pastor Gray's daughter, Jody, who visited him constantly at Kansas University Hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
Soon, though in remission and a freshman at Emporia State University, White says he became frustrated with cancer, God and himself.
"I kind of had a shift of mindset where I was, at first, during that period of time after cancer, I was really self-focused and dissatisfied with who I was post-cancer, dissatisfied with where my life was going," White says. "And so, I was very focused on myself and very unhappy as a result of it."
Frustrated and upset, White followed Jody into work as a staff member that summer at Camp Barnabas, a camp in Purdy, Mo., for children with disabilities and life-threatening illnesses. In no time, White's attitude shifted back in a positive direction.
"Having kids in my cabin that were going through some of the same issues in life and questions in life that I was going through and them looking up to me ... really helped me to shift from being self-focused to there's more to life than me," White says. "God wants to use my life not just to please myself and satisfy my own wants and desires, but maybe make a difference in other people's lives."
A few years later, White went to seminary and started working with youths at Heartland. He married Jody, and they had a young son. White's life was going full speed ahead.
Then one day in late April, it came to a screeching halt.
"I was playing basketball with some friends and my leg was really bothering me," White says. "In the back of my mind, I knew."
It was a throbbing pain, deep and familiar - and in a part of his leg where there was no muscle left.
A trip to the doctor confirmed it - cancer had returned.
"I just remember driving home and it was just this real surreal thought because I had put that part of my life behind me," White says. "Like, when I would talk about it, it was almost like I was talking about somebody else. You know, like how old memories kind of get that way after a while. But now, it all came back in a real personal way - it was a real, real way. It was like ... doing this again."
Jody White says that after a decade of being together cancer-free, the return of the disease sent divergent emotions pinballing through her head.
"Fear for the unknown - a lot of ups and downs .. then back to fear," she says.
On July 1, White lost all of his right leg and his hip socket. Doctors wanted to remove everything that had been radiated after the first surgery - worried if they didn't, it would come back. The surgery has left him on a number of medications to reduce pain, using a walker and with medical bills that still hurt despite his insurance policy. However, Heartland has helped lessen the blow.
"Their house is probably the least handicap-accessible house in Lawrence with stairs all over the place," says Gray, White's co-worker and father-in-law. "Some of the guys from our church went over last Saturday and built some extra handrails on different stairways for him and created some more space so that he could get through some areas with a walker."
White says he is extremely grateful to the help he's received in adapting his home and in donations he's received from church members. He says the people at Heartland have made his experience as positive as possible and he has no plans to slow down at their youth minister, even though he won't be able to go on this year's mission trip.
"It's been great, there's been an outpouring of support and help and I think that's one of the cool things about being part of a church, not just going to church, but connecting with the people and really seeking to have a connection," White says. "As I like to say, if you just go to church to go to church, you're missing a big piece of it."