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Former Funeral Director And Pastor Cherishes Each Waking Moment


Robert "Bob" Hutchison, a 62-year-old former pastor, funeral director and businessman, was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma of the pleura on June 28, 2000. He and his wife Joyce have made their home in Amarillo, Texas for the past 31 years.

Around October, 1998, Bob began experiencing pain in the mid upper back, towards the right side. He consulted with his personal physician, Dr. Benny Chavez. On Thanksgiving Day, Bob ate a big meal, and experienced severe pain. As he puts it, "I thought I was gonna die." He consulted with a surgeon, Dr. McKinney, who examined the gall bladder scan and diagnosed gall stones. Dr. McKinney performed surgery in December, 1998, the gall bladder was removed, and there were, in fact, gall stones.


About three months later, Bob's back pain returned. Dr. Chavez referred Bob to a pain management specialist, Dr. Paige, around March or April, 1999. Dr. Paige administered facet injections in his spine between the shoulder blades at the T-7 and T-8 vertebral junction, but this did not relieve the pain. Over the ensuing months, Dr. Paige prescribed pain medication to no avail. Sensing that Dr. Chavez and Dr. Paige had not found the answer, Bob consulted with another general practitioner, Dr. Sheryl Williams.


In the late spring of 2000, Dr. Williams took a chest film and found an effusion. He referred Bob to a pulmonologist, Dr. Bruce Baker, whom Bob saw in early April, and again in the middle of May. Dr. Baker performed a thoracentesis in his office. Bob also met with pain management specialist, Dr. Daneshfar. Bob brought an M.R.I. film with him for the initial consultation. Dr. Daneshfar immediately saw the pleural effusion in the area of T-7 and T-8. As Bob puts it, Dr. Daneshfar gave him some shots, and "knocked it down" for a while. Dr. Baker referred Bob to a thoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert Taylor. Dr. Taylor ordered a CT scan, which was done in early June at Baptist St. Anthony in Amarillo. Based upon the CT scan, Dr. Taylor performed a right-sided thoracotomy with biopsy on June 27. Dr. Taylor removed "a little white film", which was non-malignant, and "two little tumors", which tested positive for malignant mesothelioma. Bob was advised of the diagnosis on June 28. Dr. Taylor told him that he had the "slow moving type" of mesothelioma, and that he had one to three years to live.


Bob and Joyce were deeply shocked, but did not despair. Both have a long abiding, deep faith in God; they met and fell in love at Arizona Bible College. If you do not know about Bob Hutchison's faith, and all it has sustained him through, you might think his grim humor about his diagnosis is fatalistic. On the contrary, Bob has accepted that a tribulation has visited him, but he understands that what happens next is a matter of his free will, and his determination. After all, he has triumphed over adversity since he was a child.

Bob grew up fast in Venango County, Pennsylvania, the site of America's first oil wells. Both his father and his maternal grandfather, Clyde Irwin, owned oil rigs there. Bob began working in their oil fields when he was just fourteen years old. Bob's father also sold new and used automobiles from a lot in Clintonville, Pennsylvania. A couple of years after he started work in the oil fields, Bob began performing mechanical work on his father's cars.


Bob's home life was hard. His father beat his mother regularly, sometimes savagely. To this day, Bob's voice chokes with emotion when he recalls his father's violence. By the age of seventeen, Bob could not take it anymore. He left home and moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he had a friend from Clintonville, Wayne Womer. Back in Clintonville, Mr. Womer had been in the funeral business, and had employed Bob as a thirteen year-old to valet cars at services. (As you can imagine, this was a job a thirteen year-old boy was very happy to do). Mr. Womer gave Bob shelter and a job as a night attendant at the Paradise Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix.


Mr. Womer had recently found Christ, and Bob followed his mentor to Arizona Bible College, which he attended off and on from September, 1955 to May 29, 1959, when he obtained his certificate. Bob met Joyce there, and they were soon married.

Bob did what he had to do to provide. He worked in a Shell service station in Phoenix, Arizona from January to July 1957 where he installed brakes and tune-ups. He worked as an insulator/lagger's helper at the Morro Bay powerhouse of Pacific Gas & Electric in California, which recently gained notoriety through the film "Erin Brockovich" for poisoning the drinking water of hundreds of families. He also worked as a shop laborer in a sheet metal factory. He worked in his father-in-law's garage, doing brake jobs. He served as the pastor at Avenal Baptist Church in Avenal, California for more than a year. But the church was financially troubled, and he had to find something his wife and newborn child could depend upon. He entered the cemetery and funeral business, and prospered. The business brought Bob and his family to Amarillo in 1969. Bob continued this work until his retirement in 1997. He is proud that he performed this work with integrity, and scorns those who do not.


The Hutchisons have two sons, one daughter, and six grandchildren. One of the Hutchison's sons is an anesthesiologist, and has been helping his father research his treatment options. Bob has studied and rejected surgical treatment options. He does not want the months-long ordeal of having his body fileted and cut up like a fish, and then bombarded with harsh chemotherapy and radiation therapy. He has focused upon Eli Lilly's promising experimental multi-targeted antifolate, ALIMTA (R) (pemetrexed disodium), which is currently in Phase III, blind, randomized trials across the country.


Robert and Joyce Hutchison with their grandchildren

Bob recently spoke with Jim Dougherty, who has so far kept his mesothelioma in check with ALIMTA, which Jim has been taking since the Fall of 1999 as part of a Phase II trial of the drug at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. Like other mesotheliotics across the country, Bob would rather the trials were not "blind", that is, he would like to know that he is receiving the ALIMTA plus Cisplatin, rather than Cisplatin only. He is trying to receive ALIMTA on a compas-sionate basis.

Bob now cherishes his time with his grandchildren, which range in age from seven months to 21 years old. Bob spends the most time with his two grandsons who live in Amarillo, who are nine and twelve years old, respectively. One granddaughter is starting her junior year at Baylor. Another grandson will be going to Dallas Baptist University in the fall.

Before Bob fell ill, the Hutchisons loved to travel. They had bought a time share in Branson, Missouri just before Bob was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Joyce suffers from severe arthritis and is very much dependent on her husband. Bob now wonders whether he and Joyce will ever enjoy time together in Branson, and he worries about what will happen to his wife if he loses his fight with mesothelioma.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hutchisons as they face this tribulation.

*** POSTED AUGUST 11, 2000 ***

Bob Hutchison passed away on July 20, 2002