I lost over 40 pounds. I lost my energy and endurance. I lost my hair. I lost a good deal of memory of a month of hospitalization.
What I lost physically, I more than gained spiritually. I gained a deeper awareness of God's blessing in my life.
My two-month odyssey began with a fever that started on a Sunday afternoon in Chennai, India, where I was writing a news story about the Baptist World Alliance's tsunami relief work.
Unable to shake the fever, I finally made an appointment two weeks later at Vanderbilt Medical Center. I had left the clinic less than an hour when a resident called me on my cell phone asking that I return immediately to the hospital. He said my white cell count was low. I asked what was a normal count. He told me. I was stunned when he told me my count.
Three days later, I was told that I had acute leukemia. Six weeks later, I'm in remission with treatment continuing for the next year and recovery taking a number of weeks.
I would never have chosen this experience. I would never want to go through another month-long, body-bashing round of leukemia treatment in the hospital. I don't like being sick.
However, I have immeasurable gratitude for what this experience disclosed. I discovered that I have a beloved community that exceeded anything I imagined.
Baptists—friends and strangers, individuals and churches—promised to pray for me. They added me to their prayer lists, mailed me "prayer grams," emailed me notes of encouragement and sent gifts. They called my home, my cell phone, the hospital. They showed a level of personal and organizational appreciation that I did not know existed.
The Nashville interfaith community prayed for me. The chaplain of United Methodist Publishing House called weekly. Episcopal, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Jewish and other clergy kept in touch.
Immanuel Baptist Church, my church, supported my family with numerous acts of kindness and continues to do so. Children drew pictures. Adults cleaned house and delivered meals.
My extended Nigerian missionary family emailed, wrote and called, especially offering support to my mother.
My Nashville "running group," a religiously and socially diverse community of runners, stayed in close contact. They gave me good energy during my first, very tough week home. Their kindness has left me unable to express adequate thanks to them.
God has blessed me with a beloved community for which I have a bone-deep gratitude. I can't thank my family, my community, the hospital's medical staff and the BCE's board and staff enough for what they have done.
With my gratitude comes a renewed sense of obligation to rejoin the fight for the good community that treasures all God's children.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.