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A Tribute to a Meso Patient Champion: Pastor Thurl Charles Van Kirk

Pastor Thurl Van KirkAlthough the odds were always stacked against him, Pastor Thurl Charles Van Kirk defied the survival statistics for mesothelioma. He fought a courageous battle for four and a half years before passing away on May 25, 2012. In 2008, he was diagnosed with biphasic mesothelioma, an aggressive form of mesothelioma which is typically considered to be inoperable. Under the direction of UCLA surgical oncologist Dr. Robert Cameron, Pastor Van Kirk underwent an experimental chemotherapy regimen. Although the side effects were grueling at times, the chemotherapy proved to be effective in eradicating the inoperable constituents of the tumors. Pastor Van Kirk was then able to undergo a lung-sparing pleurectomy /decortication surgery with Dr. Robert Cameron in September 2008.

Through the years, Pastor Van Kirk enjoyed a remarkable period of no tumor recurrence. But like many cancer patients, his experiences were not without their share of uncertainties and concerns. He beat the odds statistically and attributed his success to the innovative treatment approaches of Dr. Cameron and the UCLA Comprehensive Mesothelioma Program.

According to Pastor Van Kirk, "There are all kinds of miracles. Mine happened to be the kind that comes from great science, lucky timing, and the best mesothelioma doctors on the West Coast."

Pastor Chuck in Shelby GTMuch loved by his community and parishioners, Pastor Van Kirk served as senior pastor of the Rim of the World Community Church from 1985 until he retired in 2010. He and his wife Diane raised their three daughters in the mountain community of Running Springs. Pastor Van Kirk was interred with military honors at the Riverside National Cemetery. The service was unsurprisingly well-attended by Pastor Van Kirk’s family, friends and community, a testament to a man who lived his life and led his congregation by example and the positive influence he had on others. The words shared by those in attendance conveyed the profound love and respect for Pastor Van Kirk and the chasm he leaves behind in their hearts.

I was blessed to have had the privilege of representing Pastor Van Kirk and getting to know what an extraordinary person he was. I will always remember his infectious laugh and thoughtful and generous nature. He proved to be a tremendous source of information and inspiration for countless newly-diagnosed patients who were struggling to cope with their illness.

A couple years ago, Pastor Van Kirk shared the following with me:

Yes, attitude is everything. At times my hardest struggle is just to get up in the morning. Deep, throbbing pain in my side demands attention. So I pop some pain meds and lay back down pondering what heaven will be like when we receive new bodies that never break down, get sick, wrestle with illness or suffer!

Pastor Chuck, while I share with so many others in the sadness of your loss, it brings a smile to my face to know that you will be enjoying an eternity of skiing, hiking, woodworking and hot-rodding in your Shelby convertible in your new body!

Categories: Client Stories

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