Tim H - Diagnosed in 1988 with a GBM IV
Last updated: 6/24/2008
Why Chaplain Tim Wears a Pony Tail
It's common around the hospital to hear the question: "Why does Chaplain Tim have a pony tail? He seems otherwise to be a conservative, mild-mannered guy . . . yet he has this hair hanging down his neck!" Doubtless this question is entertained by many too bashful to ask. Yet, it is a very good question and we are happy to answer in a way that will satisfy your curiosity and leave you encouraged about the great God we serve.
During the 1988 holiday season, shortly after the birth of their fifth child, Chaplain Tim was having headaches. At first neither the headaches or other tell-tale signs were thought to be anything other than indications of stress. But the headaches would not go away and within a short time became excruciating. A brain scan revealed a very large invasive Tumor in his brain. Emergency surgery removed a little of the tumor primarily for a biopsy, but most of the tumor was left. Tim was on his feet quickly, but the biopsy proved the tumor to be a fourth degree malignancy or a Glioblastoma Multiformae--the deadliest of brain cancers. The first year Survival Rate is less than one percent and beyond that immeasurable. The doctor breaking the news said, "I wish there were a cure, but there isn't."
Well, the congregation of Fellowship Bible Church wouldn't accept this Prognosis; so, they devoted themselves to pray for Tim's healing and for grace so that Tim and his family would be victorious regardless of the outcome. Word went out to the far corners of the earth. Calls and notes flooded in from individuals, families, churches, and Christian schools; all of them committing to pray for Tim. A large map of the United States was posted in the foyer and was covered with thousands of tiny pins each representing a church or individual praying for Tim. Churches of like heart and churches of not so like heart urged their congregations to pray and even to give to Tim's medical and family needs.
Meanwhile medical friends helped Tim identify on a human level the physician and the institution that could best take over Tim's case. Shortly Tim was before a world renown neuro-oncologist at Houston's prestigious MD Anderson Medical Center. Hopefully he would have the word of encouragement from the latest medical advances which might improve the prognosis. But this was not to be the case. On the contrary, he doubted that Tim would survive the first six week round of radiation and there was no hope available beyond that! This was the low point for everyone. God was allowing none of the usual solutions to interfere with a work He wanted to do in His own time and way! So God's people continued to pray.
Then God provided a neuro surgeon that thought another Craniotomy under the right circumstances might be able to remove the greatest part of Tim's tumor if not the whole thing, but he would need to move quickly. Within a few days Tim was operated on for nine hours with the result being a remarkable removal of all malignancy . . . at least as far as surgery is able. But as the surgeon readily acknowledged, surgery alone is not a cure for such a tumor. For if even a few renegade cells escaped the procedure, as certainly had to be the case, the tumor would reoccur quickly and with a vengeance! So the next step would be to radiate the tumor site with all the radiation one man could handle in hopes of getting those renegade cells. To do this 7400 rads of radiation were applied to either side of Tim's head concentrated in a pattern that assured maximum impact on the tumor site. Whatever effect all this radiation had on any remaining Cancer can't be known, but it certainly did a number on Tim's hair follicles!
What remained was partial, permanent balding in a bizarre pattern that turns heads when exposed. Even shaving Tim's head leaves the radiated skin looking shiny and tender while the unradiated portions are eager to spoil the Yul Brenner look with dark irregular patches--altogether a disturbing sight. In time, Tim discovered that his remaining hair could be grown long and combed over the balded sides and top and would stay there if gathered back and tied. Now you know why Chaplain Tim wears a pony tail! Would you like to know the rest of the story? Read on . . .
Radiation was followed by Chemotherapy also with the intent of inhibiting any recurrent tumor but without the expectation that it would provide a lasting cure. Experience with Tim's kind of cancer kept any from expecting a cure based on the treatments administered to this point. But one treatment was available that held some promise, at least in theory: radiation implants. The idea was to carefully position radioactive isotopes in exact center of the suspect portion of the brain and leave them there for an exactly determined amount of time, thereby delivering an intense dose of radiation to a much more limited area. The theory is that any renegade cells would lie in this immediate area and be killed by the radiation. Of course, a significant bulk of good brain tissue would be affected and die, but the risk in Tim's case was worth taking. A week in a hospital in San Francisco was all it took for 5 radioactive gold isotopes to deliver another 6800 rads to the depth of Tim's brain. The ultimate result of this and the surgeries is a large permanent hole or cavity in Tim's brain that has been cut or burnt out.
Several more surgeries were then required to cope with continued radiation damage and an infection or two under the skull. Since that time Tim has submitted to regular scans to watch for recurrence. Once scan revealed a suspicious change that resulted in another surgery simply for a biopsy of the troublesome growth. It turned out to be non-cancerous. Almost 12 years have passed since the initial diagnosis and gloomy prognosis. During that whole time Tim was so sustained by the Lord and all those who love him that he has been rarely out of the pulpit! Slight neurological deficits remain, but considering everything they are insignificant.
Meanwhile the impact on the lives of others through the expanded hearing of his trial and the Deep work the Lord has done in his heart has made the whole ordeal worth it all to Tim, his family, and his church. So please understand why our Chaplain wears a pony tail. And when next you see it, praise our powerful and loving God who answers prayer and can yet deliver from hopeless situations!
Update: 10/14/2003: Takes a lickin but keeps on tickin! I deal with fatigue, short term memory loss and left side weakness but thrive anyway! My walk with God is the compensating factor. He makes it all worthwhile! I teach the Book of Job and a Christian theology of suffering at the College of Biblical studies(here in Houston. My temporary, light suffering with GBM gives my lessons punch!
Live and love in light of eternity
Physically, I am now in a wheelchair 90 percent of the time and my mental planning capacities are diminished. I continue on dilantin for Seizure prevention and provigil to battle fatigue. I have no health insurance and want to qualify for medical/financial assistance to see if some sort of therapy will restore some of the things I have lost. I and my caregiving wife need training in dealing with and preventing falls. We are selling our home and looking forward to a one-story, simpler home to remodel for my physical needs.