Doug Pierce Upstages Cancer

Posted on April 2, 2013

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By David Ettinger

Hearing you have cancer at any age is alarming, but even more so when you’re 35 years old and the father of a 6 and 3 year old. But that is exactly where Doug Pierce found himself in the spring of 2009.

Caption: Doug with his two children: Abby, 6, and Elliott, 3.

“Even though I had time to prepare for the news, when the urologist told me I had [testicular] cancer, it was hard to hear,” said Doug, a recording artist and one of First Orlando’s worship leaders. “Then going home and having to deal with the ‘what if’ . . . that’s really when the spiritual side kicked in.”

The “spiritual side” Doug refers to can be either a positive or negative response to God during crisis times. So, which response did Doug choose? We’ll get to that a little later. First, here’s how the story unfolded.

It was back in the summer of 2008 when Doug noticed something wasn’t right. “I had a little bit of pain, but it would go away, then come back, then go away again,” Doug said. “But there was also a growth that was rather large.”

However, he saw no need for a doctor. “Even though the lump, which was later identified as a tumor, was getting bigger and bigger, it stopped hurting, so I just thought it would eventually go away,” he explained.

In fact, at the end of nine months, the tumor grew to eight centimeters, the size of a small rubber ball. But that wasn’t all. “Eventually I started having pain in my upper thigh and lower abdomen.”

And that’s what at last got Doug’s attention. “I finally figured that after nine months, this was not going away,” he said. “I knew I had to get the lump checked out.”

That led to a visit with a urologist, who aggressively evaluated the situation. “After looking [at the tumor] and doing an ultrasound, he told me that it had to be taken out.”

Not the news Doug wanted to hear. “I said, ‘Is there any other thing we can do?’ I mean, that’s major surgery. But the doctor explained that they couldn’t do a biopsy.”

That’s because of the very real possibility that the tumor was cancerous. In such cases, a biopsy has the potential to release cells, which would cause the cancer to spread. So, with no other recourse, surgery was scheduled for May 11, 2009. “At that point, besides my wife, Jill, I didn’t tell anybody because we didn’t know what the lump was,” Doug said. “There was no use panicking, so we decided to take it one step at a time, though the possibility that it was cancer was in the back of our minds. There was a lot of stress under the surface.”

When at last it came time for the surgery, doctors discovered an added complication. “When I was a year old, I had hernia surgery, which was in the same lower abdomen area where this surgery was going to take place,” Doug said. “Because of that, there was so much scar tissue that the surgeon had to make an incision about three times larger than what it normally would have been.”

Four days later, the results of the surgery were in. “The urologist told us it was cancer,” Doug said. “He said it didn’t appear to have spread too much, but he still wanted to do a PET scan to be sure.”

Though the doctor was optimistic, the confirmation of cancer was enough to jolt Doug. “Until then, even the possibility that it was not cancer was a relief,” he said. “But once the cancer was confirmed, it was hard to hear.”

Caption: Doug with his wife, Jill, daughter, Abby, and son, Elliott.

And this is where Doug’s aforementioned “spiritual side” took over. “When we talk about God’s will, I don’t know if certain things happen because it is what God wants, something the enemy wants or because we are part of a fallen world,” he said. “But one thing I’ve learned is that God’s gift to us isn’t necessarily taking the pain away or protecting us from pain, but that He holds us while we go through it.”

That realization was crucial in sustaining Doug. “The overwhelming presence I felt of Him being with me during that time of doubt and worry was amazing. Just as I can sense my wife next to me in bed, I could sense God right there next to me. I could sense His heart breaking because my heart was breaking. It was a faith-building experience.”

The same could be said for Jill. “She was the rock throughout this whole thing,” Doug said. “Her attitude was, We’ll do whatever it takes to get through this. She never let me see her sweat.”

That was a good thing, because the ordeal wasn’t over. Though the tumor was removed, the doctor determined that radiation would be the best treatment to destroy “leftover” cancer cells that survived the surgery. However, Doug wanted to speak with an oncologist first. “A friend set me up with the best one in Orlando, and we met.”

The oncologist’s opinion was quite different than that of the urologist. “Because of my age, he determined that radiation would be harmful in the future,” Doug said. “It could cause heart and lung problems.”

Therefore, he suggested chemotherapy, which Doug agreed to. “Radiation would have been a little easier, but chemo is much more difficult,” he said. “But when the best oncologist in town tells you to get chemo, you do it.”

The doctor scheduled two chemo sessions for Doug and, as he soon found out, the aftermath was every bit as bad as he heard it would be. “They tell you that the symptoms are nausea, fatigue and emotional ups and down,” Doug said. “And that’s pretty much what it was.”

But not at first. The initial treatment was on a Monday, but Doug was fine the rest of that day and the one following. But Wednesday was a different story. “I was knocked out and nauseous,” he said. “I was in bed for two days and couldn’t even raise my head. By Friday I felt better, but the two days before were pretty bad.”

Doug’s second treatment came three weeks later, and the side effects were worse. “This time around, I only had one good day, instead of two. And whereas the last time it knocked me out for two days, this time it knocked me out for six days. I felt horrible and could barely get up.”

Meanwhile, Doug’s two children, Abby, 6, and Elliott, 3, had no idea what was going on. “They kept coming into the room wanting to play with me, but I couldn’t,” Doug said. “That was pretty hard.”

But there was a silver lining of sorts. “We explained to Abby that daddy had an ‘ouchie’ and that he’s got to rest,” Doug said. “She took that as an opportunity to be a nurse and take care of me. She’d bring me water and do things for me. That was a neat thing.”

Caption: Doug and Jill at their wedding. Doug, now 35, was 22 when got he married.

And there were other neat things. Though the second chemo treatment was difficult, the oncologist determined that it had accomplished its purpose: eliminating the cancer. That done, no more treatment would be needed other than periodic visits between doctor and patient for the next three years.

Now that the ordeal is behind him, Doug knows the experience has strengthened him. “Before this happened, I lived a blessed life — no major storms,” he said. “I sympathized with people who talked about the difficult times in their lives. But there was a little fear of not being able to relate. What would I have to offer someone who is dealing with such a life-shattering ordeal?”

But that has changed. “Now, people going through the worst storms of their lives come to me and we can share our journeys,” Doug said. “Because I have a better understanding of what it means to really suffer I feel like I can help other people in a deeper way.”

For Doug, enduring his bout with cancer here at First Orlando has had special meaning. “Being part of this community of people who have sent me notes, called, e-mailed and texted telling me they were praying for me has shown me what the body of Christ is meant to be. The people here have given me strength, hope and joy. They have been the hands of God to me. It has been an awesome eye-opening experience.”