The Truth... What is it?





Another Special Life in Christ

These testimony lives are not stories of "role models". Jesus is the role model!
These are lives wonderfully touched & changed by Jesus!

 

Tony Michael Watcher (1960-2005):

I don't know yet how Tony came to belief in Jesus. I am originally from Sumter, and my sister lives there (I hope that she will find out for me). Tony graduated from The Citadel in 1982 (I am a 1966 graduate).

Tony Watcher has had plenty of opportunity to become resentful and angry and give up. Instead, he's chosen to live a life of gratitude, partly as a way to fight the cancer that invaded his body and his life 20 months ago, but mostly, he says, because he is truly thankful for the changes wrought in him by the experience.

And although he doesn't care to dwell on the fact of his cancer, he consented to talk about its effect on him and his changed outlook.

With no cancer in his family history, Watcher's doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong when he began losing weight and feeling progressively worse. After several months and several attempts to make a diagnosis, his doctors found colon cancer.

"The stage of cancer I had was stage four, which means it had spread outside of my colon," he said, "and my percentage of living more than five years is 2-5 percent. And so, it wasn't inoperable, but because of not getting diagnosed earlier, it grew outside my colon and got into my lymph system."

Despite the prognosis, Watcher said, "I was doing real well. People praying — doctors were baffled by my case. They said, 'Cancer's not showing up in you where it's supposed to. We don't know what's going on'."

Watcher sounded almost nonchalant Wednesday afternoon as he added, "I did have a CAT scan last week and it showed a couple of spots on my lung. We didn't want to see that, but at the same time, I've had a pretty good run. They gave me about a year after I got off the operating room table, and it's been 20 months, and I'm not going away anytime soon."

Watcher's optimistic attitude persisted despite what he was hearing from his doctors. He said, 'It just doesn't matter. You've got two years, tops.'" Without a trace of doubt in his voice Watcher said, "My two years is up in March ... but I'm going to go beyond that." His strategy for doing that is to continue the method he's used in his fight of the past 20 months.

"My kids keep me active, and I think that's a big thing," he said. "Cancer's a disease that, when you have time alone, you tend to think about it. The worst time I've had is when my wife took the kids to Florida. I wanted to get some stress off her, sent her to visit her sister, and I had a panic attack. Nobody was around. I was lonely, and all I was thinking about was cancer, and that'll mess you up."

Watcher is such a busy person, he's rarely alone — and he has a large family, not just his five children and wife but his extended family as well. His parents and five siblings are very supportive, he said, and friends play a large part in his daily life.

"I've got a great chain of ladies whose sons I coach in baseball that pray for me," he explained. "When I go for my (CT) scans, I call them. They have been my biggest support. I have a lady, June Rickard, who's been my mentor. She had three cancers, has been on her deathbed twice, survived that — very, very faithful. She knows my schedule better than I do. She called me yesterday to remind me to get my prescription filled." He laughed.

Central to Watcher's philosophy are his sense of thankfulness for each day, his faith, and his appreciation for others, attitudes he admits he developed after his cancer was discovered.

It was before the diagnosis, he said, that his faith was tested by the loss of a dear, elderly friend in a hit-and-run accident.

"I questioned God over that," he said. "I couldn't teach Sunday School and resent God. That hurt me. It took me a year to get over that. I went out to her grave and talked to her. I said, 'I've got to get back and quit resenting God', and then the cancer came into play. I'd kind of drifted away, and that got my attention real quick. I was kind of leading a life where I was teaching Sunday School, but my heart wasn't in it, and I was just kind of going to church Sunday to Sunday and I wasn't participating. I just wasn't motivated. I was just kind of living day to day.

"You kind of take it for granted you're going to be alive that next day. After, you ... look at your days a little bit different. They're more special. My skies sometimes are bluer than other people's. My flowers are more colorful, because I notice a lot more about living than I did (when I was) just taking it for granted. Just being alive — I think that's the biggest thing. Instead of saying 'in a year I'll do this,' I go day by day. Then hopefully that day is a good day, and then there's another."

His experiences helping other people with their problems have improved his insight, Watcher believes.

"Some people, I think, go through life like they're going to be here for a long, long time, like nothing can happen, and they're wrong — accidents and diseases and all kinds of things can happen," he said.

"I think the other thing that's changed my life, after, is really looking at people for what they are. You know, I can look at people and try to be friendly and converse and understand the problems they're going through because I've been through a lot, especially with the cancer people I've been with across the country. I understand. It also made me realize that a lot of these problems we have in our lives are insignificant. They don't mean anything because they're not life and death."

Watcher spends a lot of his time with young people, and he said he feels called to help them whenever he can. To him, feeling grateful and expressing it requires action, not just words.

"I coach teenagers a lot," he said, "and I see teenagers that have relationship problems, that break up or make a bad grade or something, and I tell them, 'Look, that's a problem you can overcome. That's not a life-and-death issue.'

"I love baseball, and I love working with the kids." Even without having a winning season, Watcher finds success. "This past season we were 10 and 11," he noted. "We didn't have the best season, but I had a great team. The reason was a lot of them looked up to me like a big brother — and I want them to have someone they can talk to about grades and relationships, things other than baseball. I love getting inside kids' (heads) and helping to make them a better person. That's what I can give back.

"That's therapy for me — getting on a baseball field."

Watcher has thought a lot about the reasons for his seeming good health and attitude. A conference he attended recently brought it into perspective, he said.

"A lot of these cancer patients look tired and gray," he explained, "and I walk in kind of like joking around, clowning around, and everybody looks at me like 'Golly, you've got colon cancer'?

"The reason is, one, I have a big faith. I've turned this over to God, and he's going to decide when I go. The other thing is that I just have this feeling that I need to be an example for people, just say hey, let me beat this thing, let me win this battle, let me be a testimony to others that you can overcome this.

"You've got to surround yourself with friends and faith. I do. The faith I have with the church and my support groups and the prayer groups all over the country, it's unbelievable. Then family, with my wife, first, being supportive and helping. It's hard enough to go through life with five kids and a husband with cancer. It's tough, and she's done a tremendous job. And my mom and dad have just been real supportive, all of my brothers and sisters."

He also thinks a lot about his role in other people's lives.

"I think, as far as being an example, yeah, that's what I want to be, what I need to be, to tell young kids and older people, hey, there's problems, mine just happens to be cancer," Watcher said. "But other people have relationship, debt problems, addiction problems that they can overcome, but they can be just as bad as cancer. They can ruin families, they can ruin you personally.

"So, I'm fighting cancer. At least, I know what mine is."

As Thanksgiving approaches, Watcher considers the meaning of being thankful. The day for him is far from just a dinner with turkey and pumpkin pie. In fact, in talking about the holiday, he doesn't even mention food — or football.

"This will be my second Thanksgiving since the diagnosis [about 2003], my second Christmas," he said. "Thanksgiving is a special time because all my family does come in. My sisters, my brothers. My parents have, I think, 18 grandkids. That's really the only time during the year my whole family gets together. Thanksgiving is really special."

And on the day when heads of household all over the country are offering elaborate thanks, Watcher said, the Thanksgiving blessing will be different for him.

Typically "I bless first of all the fact that we can get family together, that everyone arrived safely. Normally I start with blessing the troops in Iraq. They're the ones that aren't home at Thanksgiving. I give thanks for my mom and dad because they have been wonderful parents. I don't bring the focus back on me. We don't want the kids to hear about cancer during Thanksgiving."

Watcher emphasized that, although he's more verbal in his thanks on the holiday, his gratitude is far from confined to that occasion.

"I try to make a conscious effort to express gratitude," he said. "It may not be every day, but I do it through a series of hugs, whether it's my kids or baseball players, or I eat lunch with my kids at school. I take candy in there to the other kids, and I just have a good time, sitting and eating lunch.

"I check up on people I've coached. If I see them in the mall the first thing I ask them is 'How are your grades?' and they know I care. I think for me to just go up and hug someone is a way to say 'Hey, you're doing great'. I try to encourage them."

His gratitude through actions extends to his children, also.

"We try to do a family thing every week. My favorite thing is getting away with the family, putting Sumter and everything behind us. I think it kind of shows them their dad's all right. My kids get scared, and they have a right to. They hear a lot of things at school. People say, 'Oh your dad, is he going to die?' and they hear a lot of rumors. And it kind of puts it out of mind, when I do things with them — 'Hey, Dad's all right.'"

Watcher also makes it a practice to talk with other people living with cancer.

"I talk to people individually about every day. Like today, I talked to two on the phone, and I email some. When you know someone else that has cancer, you kind of have a strange bond. I think the change comes in where when I speak, people are smiling a little bit more. There is hope. It's not all gloom and doom."

Watcher uses that humor a lot in his battle.

"You can't stop smiling," he believes. "I could have come home from the hospital and ... crawled in the bed back there, and I could have died in a year ... Or I could say no, I'm going to fight this thing and beat it and have humor about it.

Cancer's not funny, but you can't just let it shut your daily activities down and be so scared."

Several unusual experiences led Watcher to peace with his illness, he said. The first was an incident that occurred after a pleasant day out with his family.

"This is where I think God intervened," he explained. His wife and children had gone to bed early, and Watcher was alone in the den.

"Suddenly, it felt like somebody walked up to me and held a gun to my head. The hair shot up on my neck, a cold sweat, dark, clammy feeling. I was waiting to hear a click. And there was nobody there. I started pacing the kitchen and the den. I was just walking back and forth scared to death. And you've got to remember, I was in the Army. I used to jump out of planes, and I was never scared."

Watcher's pacing woke his wife, Liz, who, after hearing his story, told him to go read the Bible.

Finding the Bible marked where he knew he hadn't left his bookmark, Watcher began reading at John 4:46.

The passage tells the story of Jesus' healing a nobleman's deathly ill son from afar.

"Jesus says something like 'It's a shame I have to do miracles to make people believe,'" he said. "I read this story, and I'm like 'First of all, how did my bookmark get here?' Nobody'd touched my Bible. I got on my knees. I'm crying and praying. I was just fearful. After I prayed, I got up, and it was like this warm feeling from head to toe. It almost felt like how chemo goes into your body. Before I knew it, I felt like somebody was going to open my door, and the Holy Spirit just told whatever was in me to get out of here, and it just left! I was walking on air. I was like 'Man, I was in total comfort'."

Another incident happened after he'd read a chapter on surrender in The Purpose Driven Life, a book his church had been studying.

"Now surrender is a bad word to an Army man," he said. "It means quit, give up, but the book said until you surrender you can't win. Until you surrender your problems to God, you can't even begin to win."

That was another turning point for him, Watcher said.

"I'd never really said 'God, this is your problem. You deal with it. If you want to take me away, take me. If you want me to stay and be a witness and help, leave me here, but it's your call now. I felt a sense of peace."

Now, part of Watcher's conversations with other people with cancer includes the advice "... to surrender their problem to God. I did. I think that's why I stay around. He tells me when I'll go."

And he's made it his goal to "do what I can here. All I can do is be positive. I have faith that God has a purpose for me and that one of my purposes is to show this outwardly — to show people that I can beat this and I'm going to beat it. I just refuse to let it beat me. Forget it, I'm just not going to let it beat me."

Thinking about the course his life has taken since March 2003, Watcher said, "I think certain things in life that happen change you, and sometimes you've got to go through the valleys to get to the mountaintop. I'll get to the mountaintop. If I can just control those spots in my lungs. I think you have to go through trials in your life to make you stronger. It does make you stronger. You either deal with it or give up."

Talking with Watcher, you sense he won't give up and he'll do what he can to keep others from giving up, as well.

"Cancer's my trial right now," he said. "It's testing what I have. I'm thankful that I'll spend another Thanksgiving with my whole family and show people I'm still strong and going."

Above all, he wants people to see him for the strong and determined person he is, to treat him like any other healthy friend, for to all appearances, he is the picture of health.

"Don't pity me," he commands. "I don't need that. I don't want any of that garbage. I want to hear 'Hey, let's go play racquetball and keep you in shape'."

[by Ivy Moore, The Item, 19 November 2004, long-time daily newspaper, Sumter, S. C.] [Note: Tony died 14 October 2005] His twin sons, Philip and Jacob, graduated Sumter High School in 2014 and went on to play basaball at The Citadel.

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(posted 1 December 2004; last update 20 January 2017)

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