Sam Wilson’s story
By Clint Kern
Sam Wilson is one of the most compelling, gripping and eloquent orators that we have in this world. Long before this, Sam was a clutch performer while in the limelight of various other arenas.
Sam was a quarterback, a wrestler and a baseball player growing up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Wilson compiled an unblemished junior and senior season on the wrestling mats. Sam tallied a 44-0 record in his illustrious senior campaign on the grappling canvas.
Sam was inducted into the MHSAA Hall of Fame because of his 487-50 record that he compiled as the head wrestling coach at Gladwin High School, from 1979-2004. Sam was the coach of the undefeated GHS junior varsity football team in 1995. Then he was the defensive coordinator and eventually head coach of the Flying G varsity football squad.
Wilson has been the pastor of Gladwin’s Grace Baptist Church since 1978. He’s facilitated over 100 funerals and weddings. None of these accomplishments have taken as much mental determination and resolve as what his struggle battling colon cancer did.
Some of Sam’s favorite Bible verses gave him power to persevere with peace. John ~ 10:28 = I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand. Romans ~ 8:28 = And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. II Timothy ~ 2:3 = Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Jack Pine Tribune: What was your initial diagnosis?
Sam Wilson: The initial diagnosis was colorectal cancer. I was a T2: Mo: Mo, means that I was stage 2 so far as the size of my tumor. It was about the size of an egg. I asked Dr. Zania if it was treatable and he said yes. I learned there is a difference between treatable and curable. I was referred to Dr. Zania, because after having a routine prostate check and that doctor felt something he did not like.
JPT: What was your reaction to the initial discovery, and how did you cope with that.
SW: My initial reaction was God knows and controls all things and if it was my time to die, I was thankful and I was ready. I was not shocked. For some reason I was kind of calm. My major concern was how to tell my wife and kids. Dr, Zania who is also a Christian asked me what I thought, since I had tried to be a good example and was Christian and had spent a lot of my life helping and coaching kids. My reply was, “God is good”. I told the doctor that I am no different than others and cancer does not care who you are. It does not mean you have done something bad.
JPT: Who or what was your primary inspiration to help push you through the battle with cancer?
SW: My main inspiration was my wife, children and The Grace Baptist Church. The church was so good and kind to me spiritually and financially. My wife worked and still works for Gladwin Eye Care. They also helped with finances of special meds and gas money to travel back and forth to Midland every day for radiation and Chemo.The community of Gladwin inspired me as other churches had prayer for me. Add to this the fact that I love life and all it has to offer. But I assure you I was ready and am ready to die if it is God’s will.
JPT: What activities or hobbies did you do to get through the long days of treatment and hospital stays?
SW: I was so blessed. I never lost any hair, (though I have since, lol) I never got nauseous. I played golf until the day before surgery. I never missed a church service except one Sunday after surgery. Thankfully, I was able to live a fairly normal life. I seldom thought about the fact that my body had been invaded by this terrible disease.
JPT: What sort of help or inspiration did you get from friends and family? Who stood out the most for you during that time?
SW: First, God was not just by my side but living in my heart. He gave me comfort and peace. My wife Julie was a tremendous help and inspiration. She did things that no woman should have to do. She did them and was kind in the effort. I have so many friends in Gladwin that were there to encourage me. The church and kids also inspired me.
JPT: How did you react to the extra attention you received during your fight?
SW: I didn’t like all the attention. I think most cancer patients will tell you the same thing. Treat us like normal people. Talk to us about other things. Sports, the weather but got tired of being asked about cancer. But you do appreciate their kindness and concern. ,
JPT: What kind of advice would you give someone who is fighting the disease you had?
SW: I would advise them first to be sure they are saved and right with God. To be sure they had trusted in Christ’s blood for salvation. This makes everything better. Second. Stay positive. I think attitude has a lot to do with fighting cancer. As Jim Valvano said, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Thirdly, trust your doctors and follow their advise. Fourth, learn to smile and just appreciate the efforts of others. I had a lot of advise on curing cancer. I still have a bottle of stuff someone gave me to drink. They will also have advice on how to not get cancer.
JPT: What was your reaction when you won the battle with your disease?
SW: I am not sure you ever beat cancer. The effects of it last your whole life. When you get sick you are reminded and concerned about cancer coming back some place else. For example colon cancer if it spreads will usually spread to liver or lungs. I was very happy when Dr. Zania told me he got the cancer. I was very happy when my bag was reversed. I was very, very happy when my oncologist Dr. Hertubise told me he did not have to see me again. That was five years of twice a year check ups before being cleared. I did not beat cancer, God used gifted men and medicine to beat cancer for me. I am happy, very happy to say I am close to 13 years cancer free.
JPT: Do you think being a former wrestler, football and baseball player helped you persevere, why?
SW: Not sure if it helped or not but I know sports helped teach me to compete and never quit. That carries over into every aspect of life. I loved coaching at that time and did not want to give it up. Cancer also helps us understand how insignificant sports are in the scheme of life. They just do not matter much when it comes to the health of a loved one.
JPT: Did any former wrestlers or football players encourage or assist you in any way?
SW: Yes many of my present and former athletes showed me kindness and concern at that time. One Sunday afternoon I was in my hospital room feeling really bad. In walks Adam Manninen and Brandon Furgeson. They were captains of the wrestling team. They all knew I liked to drink caffeine free diet coke. They brought in cans of pop from every wrestler with a kind note from each taped on the can. That made me feel better and I will never forget it. Then there was a young man while on a football bus trip came and set down beside me and told me how sorry he was I had been sick. He told me I had a positive influence in his life. This was a young man that I did not expect it from and his kind words made me feel really good. It is always good to be appreciated.