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Happy Valentine’s Day

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Elliott Winton came into my life unexpectedly around Valentine’s Day, 2000 when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. We usually have an appointment to see each other this time of year, and I just saw him again on Feb. 13.

He is in his early 80s, and I am 72. Back when we met, he was in his 50s in the prime of his career, and I was 49. Today, he works at Emory’s Winship Cancer Center on Mondays and Grady Hospital (the Saint Elsewhere of Atlanta) on Tuesdays. He is not accepting new patients.

I have written about our travels together before, but I think it is appropriate to relate them again, if for no other reason than to encourage others who have had surprises since the last time I related this journey. Dr. Winton tells me I am in a select group – only a few of his patients have stayed around so long, despite the great advances in cancer research in the last quarter century. Think how sad that must be for him.

This year’s reunion felt a bit different. It was as if one of us might not be around for our already appointed get-together next year, at 9 a.m. Feb. 12, 2024. Of course, we should all live each day as if it might be our last.

The winter of 2006-07 was our toughest together. The chemo was messing up my kidneys and Dr. Winton told me I was within hours of being put on dialysis.

“Mr. Thompson, you have got to drink more water and pee, pee, pee!” I remember him saying one night about 11 p.m. (I have no idea when he slept, he always seemed to be at the hospital).

But I followed his instructions. I thought I would drown. It probably also helped that three doctors, with a deer-in-the-headlights look, came to my room that night and told me they were my “renal” team and there to start my prep for dialysis by morning if nothing changed. Things changed. I am sure I never drank so much water in 12 hours before or since.

That was also the winter I decided I was not a statistic. In the middle of the night, I would be on my laptop, looking up data and information on Burkitt’s Lymphoma, the type I had that time. I had an epiphany when looking at the longevity charts. I realized that every dot on those curves represented people, and I decided I would be one of those people out on the end with longevity, not on the other end of that chart.

Laura was a trooper that winter, too. They would try to let me out of the hospital for a few days for each holiday, but I often would not be home more than a few hours before my temperature shot up, and I had to go back in. Despite my protests, Laura would not take no for an answer, and we would be headed back to Emory. From Thanksgiving to Easter, I spent every holiday in the hospital as well as a lot of time in between.

Then there was February of 2017. I knew I was sick again and made an appointment to see Dr. Winton and his sidekick, Jessica Neeley (I can’t say enough good things about her, either. I am convinced she has no life outside the Winship Cancer Center).

Laura and I show up, and Dr. Winton does not like what he sees. He wants to do a PET-Scan right now. He starts calling all the CT-Scanner locations in the Emory system. He finds me an opening within an hour at their downtown location (it usually takes a week or two to get an appointment at any of these – which speaks to the clout of Dr. Winton).

Laura and I go straight from Dr. Winton’s office to the scanner. When I get off the scanner, the technician said, “Dr. Winton called and wants you to wait here for a few minutes.”

Unusual. In a few minutes, Dr. Winton calls.

“Mr. Thompson, don’t go home, come back here, we have a bed for you on E6 (the famous cancer floor at Emory hospital) and we are going to admit you right now.”

“Yes, sir.” What else could I say?

That spring and summer, we prepped and I had an autologous stem cell transplant. It had its ups and downs, too, but Dr. Winton had to stand aside and turn me over the bone marrow transplant team. Yet, he and Jessica came to see me several times during that ordeal, even though they were not my official team at the time. They often came on Sunday afternoons when they got their own rounds done early.

Of course, readers of this column know me and know God is an important part of my life. I’ve been given, so far, an extra 23 years. I wake up every morning asking the Lord what he wants me to do with these days. I didn’t beat cancer. He did, and I need to follow His leading on what to do with all this extra time.

For those of you who read my previous columns on these experiences with a detached, "that is something that happens to others, but have now found it has happened to you" attitude, be encouraged. Your dot on the longevity curves may be at the same place mine has been. But I will be happy to talk to you, no matter where your dot on the curve winds up. See below for how to reach me.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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