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Blessed by cancer

Five cancer battles have given Amidon opportunities to reflect, value life

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Posted: Monday, April 14, 2014 1:15 am

Jim Amidon has been diagnosed with cancer five times, but instead of seeing the disease as a curse, he sees it as a blessing.

“You learn so much about yourself and the community in which you live,” said Amidon, who is Wabash College’s Chief of Staff. “People in the Wabash and Crawfordsville community wrap themselves around you. You feel a level of love and support you often do not recognize in everyday life.”

Amidon was 34 years old when he learned he had bladder cancer in early 2000. The cancer surprised him because he does not smoke, hardly drinks and was young. However, it gave him an opportunity to slow down and reflect, something he was not accustom to.

“It forced me to stop and take stock, to look around me and realize all the gifts that were in front of us,” Amidon said. “The blessing was that we got to see our roots right here.”

That mindset has helped him during his past four cancer battles. The celebration of his first successful cancer battle was short lived, as the cancer returned nine months later. It came back again five years after his second successful battle, and again two years after his third battle.

He was cancer-free for three years following his fourth stint with bladder cancer before a voice recording alarmed him. He was broadcasting a Wabash-Hanover football game last fall and noticed his voice was unusually tired. His voice was hoarse on the voice recording, which caused him to seek medical attention.

After having surgery in early November 2013, he was informed he had vocal cord cancer. The diagnosis frightened him particularly because his voice is a major part of his identity. He feared he would not be able to speak.

“So much of who I am is my ability to give a speech and articulate,” he said. “I was wondering what my life would be like if I couldn’t speak, not if I was going to die.”

Amidon underwent seven weeks of daily radiation treatments at the Marie Canine Center in Crawfordsville starting in December 2013. His Wabash education was significant in his first treatment, as he mentally chanted “Wabash Always Fights,” throughout the procedure.

“That motto means a lot to me,” Amidon said. “I have lived my life with that attitude.”

Despite his cancer treatments, Amidon continued working at the College, refusing to miss a day.

“It helped him maintain that sense of normality and was good for his mental health,” Amidon’s wife Chris said. “His key was to keep his routines and traditions.”

Amidon also went on an immersion trip to Cuba the week before his treatment started. Cuba’s warm weather comforted his vocal cords, and the trip gave him an opportunity to open up to students and close friends.

“I’ve known Jim battled cancer in the past, but it wasn’t really until our Cuba trip that I’d heard him talk very much about it,” Associate Professor of Spanish Dan Rogers said. “Hearing him talk about it helped me understand better why Jim puts so much time and effort into everything he does. Jim understands better than most people just how precious time is.”

The Amidons did their best to live a normal life while Jim battled vocal cord cancer. Jim cooked Christmas dinner even though he lost his taste.

The care and support of the Crawfordsville and Wabash communities again gave Amidon a moment to reflect. Students from the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, which Amidon is a part of, shoveled his driveway. Community members also cooked food for the family and supported Amidon through personal messages.

“There are so many kind people who are doing invisible acts of graciousness,” Amidon said. “I don’t think I can thank everyone enough.”

The Amidon family has grown together with each cancer diagnosis. Chris has never let Jim see a medical bill and has taken care of insurance calls. Their 14-year-old daughter, Sammie, has also demonstrated her strength by withholding her emotions and approaching her father’s cancer in a matter-of-fact manner.

“She dealt with it in a very mature way so as to not make us worry,” Amidon said. “I am sure it affected her a lot, but she never wanted it to be a burden to us.”

Now three months cancer-free, Amidon feels comfortable giving a speech in a public. He gave a chapel talk Thursday about his 30 years at Wabash.

“My voice feels good, and I am feeling physically strong,” Amidon said. “Being able to give a chapel talk was a big relief. To speak in full voice to a large crowd without a break is comforting.”

With Montgomery County’s Relay for Life event taking place April 25, Amidon is ready to put his vocal cord cancer battle behind him. He has volunteered for the event every year since 2000.

“Relay for Life is important because it draws our collective focus to how many people in our lives are affected by cancer,” Amidon said. “It celebrates the survivors and caregivers and honors those who have passed away. It is a nice snapshot of the great community cancer patients have behind them.”

After five cancer battles, Amidon does not want cancer to define him. He wants his deeds to speak for his character.

“I know life doesn’t last forever and sometimes you do not get second chances,” he said. “I have seen too many lives cut short that my philosophy has been to encourage people to make the most of their opportunities. We all need to live life to the fullest.”

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