The Most Interesting Month of My Life - Part II

08.18.09 | Cecil Van Houten | Comments[23]

The columnist Robert Novak died yesterday of brain cancer at the age of 78.  Last night I was watching the rebroadcast of an interview Brian Lamb did with him on C-SPAN a couple of years ago and only then realized that the cancer that killed him was not the first cancer he'd faced.  In fact, he battled and survived cancer four other times in his life.

In the last five weeks I've had daily opportunities to think about the changes a major health event will make in your life, whether it's cancer, heart failure, a serious accident.  Hearing Novak describe how he faced each battle and how his faith sustained him through it all gave me a deeper appreciation for what other people go through - and a reassurance that God is still working to refine and renew my own life as well.

Last week I explained the events of the first part of that Thursday, July 16th - but there was more to the story.  After I was stabilized following the arrhythmia they took me into surgery and did the catheterization to view the arteries around the heart and open any blockage.  They found one artery completely blocked - I was told later it could have been blocked for up to a year - and a second artery 80% blocked.  They put a stent in that artery so it began to function normally.  The third main artery was fine.  I was back in my room with Connie and our minister by 7 p.m.  Needless to say, I was wiped out.  But God had one more blessing in store that night - Dan, the EMT who brought me to Arnot-Ogden, came back to the ICU to check on me before he went home.  He didn't have to do that - in fact, as I mentioned, it was his last day on the job.  But instead of just going home, he took time to come up and see how I was doing.  He and our minister annointed me with oil and laid hands on me and prayed for me.  It was the best way to end what was the most unbelievable day of my life.  I knew, no matter what else, that I was in God's hands.

One other evidence of God's perfect timing.  My son Justin had been planning on being in the Binghamton area that Saturday for a family reunion on his mom's side.  Justin is a grad student and assistant football coach at Grandview University.  The original plans called for him to spend a few days with us following the reunion before heading back to Des Moines.  Thursday night I knew he'd be on the road, probably somewhere in Indiana or Ohio, so, since I was stable for the moment, I decided not to call him until Friday.  I was concerned with dropping that kind of news when he was halfway across the country. 

The next day and night I was on oxygen, IVs and more monitors than the guys on the space shuttle.  I didn't sleep much.  But Friday night I called Justin and explained what had happened.  He was just arriving in Binghamton; he was obviously very concerned but I reassured him everything would be fine until the next day and that he should go to the reunion. 

Saturday, after consulting with the senior cardiologists and electrophysiologists, it was recommended that I be transferred to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.  They would be able to do much more comprehensive tests and evaluation - so, Saturday afternoon I took another bumpy ambulance ride from Elmira to Rochester.  I was admitted to Strong's cardiac ICU.  Not 15 minutes later a nurse came in and said I had a visitor.  I had no idea who it could have been - Connie was picking up Justin and they were at least an hour behind the ambulance, and no one else knew I was there.  I said, sure, let them in and a moment later Ed Thomas, FLN's afternoon news anchor, came in with a big smile and a bigger hug.  Ed and I have worked together afternoons on the air since he and Natalie joined us last fall and at that moment, seeing his friendly, familiar face was the best medicine ever.  How did he know I was there?  Connie had sent an email to our radio admin., Mary, before she left Elmira saying I was being transferred.  That email went out to the staff so they could continue to pray for us.  Natalie happened to be on her computer, read the email and texted Ed, telling him what was going on.  Ed was in Rochester for a Messianic fellowship meeting but he determined he was going to drive over to Strong and not leave until he found me and could pray with me.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship together.  Not long after he left, Connie and Justin arrived - I'm sure he didn't know what to expect - I was sitting up in a chair, connected with wires and sensors and IVs - must have looked pretty scary - but we embraced and held each other for a long time. 

Over the next two days I was able to breath on my own; able to sit up and walk a bit; and one by one the IVs and monitors came off.  Monday I was transferred out of ICU to a regular cardiac ward.  Justin and Connie were there most of each day and night, along with family members, people from FLN, some pastors who serve as hospital chaplains who'd heard what was going on on the radio.  There were also a number of nurses and hospital staff who were listeners and came by to share their concern and support.  One RN said, "I never thought I'd meet you like this."  I said, "Well, we try to get out and meet our listeners where they are." 

Tuesday, Justin left to return to the midwest.  And after conversations with the doctors and specialists, it was decided that it would be best if any further surgery was put on hold for 60-90 days while the medicines I'm taking help my heart to heal and recover.  At that time they may implant an ICD (an internal defibrillator) but in the meantime I was fitted with what's called a LifeVest - basically a lightweight series of sensors I wear under my shirt that monitor my heart.  Should I suffer another arrhythmia the portable unit that I wear around my neck or attached to my belt will zap me and bring my heart back into a regular rhythm.  If I went to a Star Trek convention, I'd fit right in because it looks like Spock's tricorder - but it's a safety net and one I'm o.k. with.  And just to clarify - I don't go to Star Trek conventions.

I've been home nearly four weeks now.  Again, the offers of help, food, cards, calls, emails have been overwhelming.  Just to sense the degree of love and support from our family and friends - and even many people I don't personally know but who listen to FLN - has been unbelievable.  I'm working from home and trying to get back as soon as the doctors say it's o.k.  I started cardiac rehab last week - I call it my 'work release' program - and that's going well. 

I don't know what the future holds.  But then, none of us do.  As I said in the first blog, we go through our lives and wonder where the time has gone - weeks become months become years.  And even when we think we're being aware and tuned in to the things that matter, an event like this makes us - or at least makes me - realize that there's so much more to life than I've understood.  More depth.  More compassion.  More meaning.  More joy.

A week ago Sunday I was scheduled to play at our church.  I hadn't touched a keyboard in over a month.  When it came time for communion I sat at the concert grand piano and started with just single notes the melody of Henry Smith's great worship chorus, "Give Thanks".  Two notes became three as I built the chords through the verse:  "Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the holy One, give thanks because he's given Jesus Christ, his Son..."; I repeated the verse a little more confidently letting it build into the bridge, "and now let the weak say, I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us", then repeated the bridge again at full volume, playing with a sense of God's holy presence - declaring the truth of those lyrics and expressing it through the beauty of the music.  All the emotion of the past few weeks came out in my playing - if you're a musician, you know what I mean.  People were singing through their tears; I was crying while I played because in those moments that was my testimony - it was my life - and what could I do but give him an offering of praise and thanksgiving for all he'd done - for me.  

Thank you for reading this.  A number of wonderful folks have posted comments on the first blog from last week.  If you'd like to share a thought of how the Lord has worked in your life, I know people would be encouraged by that.  I'm more grateful than you'll ever know for your prayers and expressions of support.  Whatever the future holds, I pray that God will be glorified through it and that we'll all be strengthened in our walk with him.  God bless.


Your Comments(please keep them on topic and polite)

on 08.19.09 Danielle Henery commented

I am looking forward to you coming back.

on 08.19.09 Dan commented

It is great to hear the rest of the story. God Bless My Brother

on 08.19.09 Trudi commented

Thanks for sharing the whole story, Cecil. I miss you - no piano at staff meeting, just wasn't the same! Glad to hear you're continuing to improve - trusting that God will amaze those doctors!

on 08.19.09 Sandy commented

Keep on keeping on.....God has more blessings in store for you! :)

on 08.19.09 Dick Snavely commented

Thanks for sharing your story. I was deeply moved and touched. Our prayers have been and presently are being answered. We love you and look forward to your return soon.

on 08.19.09 Judy commented

What a story you have to share. Glad you are doing ok. Listen to the doctors (and to Connie), they know what's best. Know you continue to be in our prayers.

on 08.19.09 Sara commented

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


on 08.20.09 Sandy B commented

I read your blog through my own tears. Thank you for being so honest and real. And I thank God that He brought you to Family Life.

Sandy B

on 08.20.09 Mari;yn Hooper commented

I have read both your blogs through my tears. Our God is so great. I miss you so much not being on afternoon Fln. You and your family have been and are in my prayers. God bless you.

In His name

on 08.20.09 Judy (SunJudy05) commented

Hey Cecil,

Thank you again for sharing... man, what a month for you~~

I sincerely hope (in the Lord) that you will rest at home for as long as possible before returning to work! Take your time......

I too, like the person above that wrote, are glad you came to Family Life~~


on 08.21.09 Josie commented

I have been truly blessed by your blog and your testimony. I have been and will continue to pray for you...and your family. I am also looking forward to hearing you on the radio once again. Until then...God Bless!!!

In His Awesome and Mighty Grip,

on 08.21.09 Diane commented

I had an ICD implanted 4 years ago because my heart was weak and the doctor was concerned about a sudden heart attack. It has not gone off and I give God all the praise for that. It is tested every four months to make sure everything is ok. They did my surgery with a local anesthetic. Thank you for keeping us updated and may God heal and strengthen you and your family.+

on 08.21.09 Dave commented

We appreciate you and your music and your ministry. It is great to hear you are gaining. It is a realization that life is precious and it does go by quickly. Each moment must be savored and given to the Lord to bless. Thanks for sharing.

on 08.21.09 Mary commented

Thanks for sharing---God will use your testimony in more ways than you know---Thanks for glorifying Him! Our continued prayers....

on 08.25.09 Deb Zurenda Ackley commented

A beautiful song, praising and admitting OUR Love of Christ~

Enjoy ~

on 08.28.09 Judy (SunJudy05) commented

Awesome news about Monday at 2:00~~~ Yaay~~

on 08.28.09 paul celuch commented


I missed you on air in the afternoons; but praise God you are O.K.!!
I am certain the Lord has GREAT PLANS for you--------I will be praying for your complete return to good health.

on 08.31.09 Jean Hetherington commented

Great story Cecil. The Lord has used your words to inspire us all. I enjoyed meeting you and look forward to working with you. Your strength and confidence are a comfort. We just need to get you on a cycling regimen now to show that heart who's boss! :)

on 08.31.09 L. Jackson commented

I heard you as came back on the air this afternoon. After reading your blog entries I'm praising God for the mighty way He has been working in your life. Welcome back!!! Thank you for sharing your testimony. It's an encouragement for those of us who are also going through some challenging trials.

on 09.01.09 Sherri Osborne commented

Wow! Cecil, I had apparently missed it on the radio when you were going through this. I just caught it a couple of days ago. I am so glad that you are back with us. I'm thankful for God's grace and mercy and for your wonderful spirit and the gift He has given you in your music. Praying for you and Connie. Blessings to you!

on 09.01.09 Dave Edwards commented

Hey Cecil,
It was good to hear your voice on the air yeaterday.
I am so glad that through it all you knew that God was working.
Sometime as we go through tough times we can forget that.
I have been keeping tabs on you through your brother in law. I work with him at MWI.

God Bless you sir.

on 09.03.09 Wendy Baker commented


I had the radio on the day that this journey began for you and have been praying for you and Connie (we work together) since. It was great to hear you back on the air last week. Thank you for sharing your story throught this blog. It has truly lifted me up. THe Lords is faithful indeed!

Wendy Baker

on 09.16.09 Martha Sykes commented

Just had the opportunity to read your blogs from your heart spell..God has certainly laid His hand on you and has blessed so many through your story and all of our tears..hope you are feeling better each day and keep up the great work you are doing by serving HIM!! God is good..all the time!