Andrea Howe, Editor, The Daily Clarion

The ring tone on my cell phone is a southern rock band (The Black Crowes) cover of guitar evangelist Rev. Charlie Jackson’s “God’s Got It.”

If you call me, I hear “...If you need it, God’s got it, God’s got ev-er-y-thang that you need...”

Makes me smile when I hear it.

Don’t I know it!

In the past several months — truly, all my life but I’ve taken special notice the past several months — I’ve gotten exactly what I needed when I needed it, whether I knew I needed it or not.

What I could write would take too much space. So let me just hit the highlights as I testify about how I got what I needed.

God let my right kidney kick me mercilessly in the back, around the Ides of March. Figuring I was fixing to give birth to a kidney stone, I tried to head off an emergency room visit by making a clinic appointment.

By the time I got the appointment, I was pain-free and not too keen on the idea of going for a CT scan.

So God tangled up my front feet and let me just fall out my front door on a Saturday morning.

My husband and most of my good friends would argue that I’m plenty clumsy enough to trip out my front door all on my own with no help at all from God.

But I would argue  — because I love banter — that in 51 years, as clumsy as I can be, I’ve never fallen out of my house.

Really. On the way down, I bonked my head on the iron railing, twisted an ankle and my right side — the side highly offended by my kidney’s prior bad behavior  — took a beating on the concrete. I looked around to see who saw me, then crawled back in the house.

That disturbance motivated me to get the appointment moved up. I’m known for moving doctor appointments back and eventually canceling because I’m too busy if I’m not running a fever or throwing up. But the fall convinced me I had a kidney stone rattling around, and needed something to help me pass it.

It didn’t go that way. On March 22, the urologist told me she didn’t think I had a kidney stone, but she didn’t like the looks of the inside of my right kidney. Ever the “give me the worst case scenario” patient, I asked that question.

She told me, worst case, that it could be cancer and she might have to remove the kidney and a ureter tube.

“But we’re a long way from that,” she said, as we scheduled outpatient exploratory surgery.

On April 17, I “went under” for the third time in my life.

“She said it’s cancer and she couldn’t get it, so she’ll need to take your kidney and your fallopian tube,” my husband told me when I came alive again.

If I have to have worst-case news, I want it to come from that man. Besides being tough, he’s the smartest person I know, hands-down. And I’ve met a lot of people, folks. Yet he grabs the wrong word with enough frequency to keep me laughing at the things he says. I’ve been around him long enough that I knew what he meant even if it wasn’t what he said.

I think I saw him take his glasses off and wipe his eye, but I’m not sure. My eyes might have blurred for a moment, but mainly I just got mad.

Mainly mad at myself, since this type of cancer is most highly connected to smoking. I smoked for 30 years. I picked up a Marlboro Red and inhaled in 1980, to avoid looking “uncool” when others were smoking pot.

There were a lot of attempts to stop smoking over the years, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. I’ll never ever preach to anyone about stopping smoking being all about willpower. It took an act of God to help me quit. My prior efforts alone, or with prescriptions and other programs, were repeatedly unsuccessful.

I don’t think it was two or three days after that diagnosis, as I was bracing for the idea of getting my kidney cut out, that retired Princeton police officer Dave Rhinefort stopped in, out of the blue, at The Daily Clarion office.

Funny how God puts people in your path like that. Dave had a kidney removed and has a clean bill of health. He encouraged me to get a second opinion, as he did, and we talked a little.

Later that evening, I connected with George Wilson, a longtime friend in the news business in Southern Illinois, who had a kidney removed a few years ago, in St. Louis. George helped put things in perspective, had some practical advice on what I might expect work-wise, and as important as anything, has been among many many many prayer warriors with me over the past several months.

My mother’s petitions alone would be all the prayer warrioring anybody would need, but SO many more people were praying for me. I felt it, and I was overcome more than once.

By the time I had an appointment at Indiana University’s Simon Cancer Center for a second opinion consult, I was sure I had a healing. I just didn’t know what it would look like.

The appointment was a God thing, too. A couple of former reporters, Gary Blackburn and Princeton native Karen Davis, checked around and gave me some very good names. Gary kept printing out biographies and sending me internet links for info on kidney cancer.

My first urologist said she didn’t know any of the IU docs on the list I showed her, so I just made an appointment on my own.

Heading into that appointment, I was braced for a kidney to come out, but Dr. Chandru Sundaram gave me a couple more options that might mean I could keep my kidney, or at least delay losing it.

I let that information settle in my head for a few days, then scheduled an outpatient surgery “look-see” at the inside of my kidney for June 8.

My sister and nephew made the night-time trip to Indy with me so we could be there bright and early, with me fasting, for the procedure.

We prayed, we laughed, I got fidgety and danced and sang praise songs, dressed in two hospital gowns and slipper socks, with blankets draped around my neck as I waited to go to the surgery room.

We had the time for all of that. Surgeries were running later, so my 10 a.m. date on the table wound up more like noon.

The last thing I remember before “going under” was the anesthesiologist saying “It’s gonna be all right.”

I think it was the anesthesiologist. I know I heard it. But the main thing is, it was all right.

I woke up, my sister and nephew came in, elated to tell me that the doc removed the cancer mass from the inner wall of my kidney.

They got it all without one single incision!

I wasted no time doing the tricks required to be discharged from the hospital, and we were on the road back to Princeton that evening.

Earlier this week I returned for an all’s-clear checkup and to get a stent removed. I watched the doc’s robotic voyage through my internal organs on a computer screen. I’ll go back in early October for another outpatient surgery look-see.

The biopsy sample showed the cancer that nearly cost me a kidney in April was pretty wimpy, low grade and non-invasive. There’s a 50 percent chance it could pop back up again.

But there’s a 50 percent chance it won’t.

What I’ve needed, God’s gotten for me. That’s not to say that I’ve asked for it or even liked it.

Eleven days after that June 8 surgery, I came home for lunch to find 9-year-old Max the Mastiff/Rottie mix, my most devoted dog in the world, laboring to breathe, down on my living room rug.

With some lifting issues after that surgery, I was in no shape to hoist a 150 pound invalid dog. I couldn’t convince the receptionist at Max’s clinic to get someone to my house, so I just dropped down to Max’s side and rubbed his huge head and started praying, asking God to not let my dog hurt on his way out of this world.

Within a few minutes, co-worker Suzy Hulfachor called to tell me about something at work, and I started blubbering about being late coming back for lunch because my dog was dying.

Within just a few minutes, Lori Martin, Maggie Armstrong and Nancy Wilder were in my living room. Listening to his labored breathing, nobody thought hauling Max out of the house was a good idea.

My friends stayed with me as long as they could, taking some of the sting out of the ordeal. After about 90 minutes of labored panting on the floor, Max summoned enough strength to pull himself up and walk outside to do his business.

I walked with him. He never made it up the steps to the back door. Nancy and I tried to give him comfort, and witnessed his last breath.

We agreed it was a good death. He never cried in pain, and he wasn’t alone. He was just the best dog, among the best of God’s creatures.

My husband came home, shed rare tears, and had a proper grave dug within 90 minutes in a special place of honor in our back yard.

My friend and colleague Rich Azar, who agreed to temporarily come to work at The Daily Clarion to have my back while I dealt with the cancer news (another one of those God giving me what I need things), is a dog lover himself.

After he arrived at work, he wound up riding over to the house with me to help my husband give Max dignified transport from the back porch to his backyard resting place.

And, because God knows this house needs a good dog, events fell into place so that I could drive 30 minutes north of my doctor’s appointment Monday to collect Abraham The Puppy Howe and bring him home Monday evening.

He’s no Maximus The Dog Howe, but he’s just what we need.


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