Father battles cancer with strength, peace
Arlington: Sam Houston High teacher says, 'I'm here for a fight'
06:18 AM CDT on Thursday, May 25, 2006
By TOYA LYNN STEWART / The Dallas Morning News
ARLINGTON – At least three times a day Bill Reese recites the Scripture posted on the wall across from his hospital bed: "I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done."
The Sam Houston High School speech teacher said the verse, found in Psalms 118, gives him strength and peace as he fights the aggressive liver cancer that was diagnosed a month ago today.
"I have made my peace with God," said Mr. Reese, 39, laboring with each breath. "If I were to pass on tonight, it's OK. I know where I'm going.
"There would be some sadness for those I leave behind, but that's not my plan," he continued. "I'm here for a fight, so I expect this to last awhile. That's how I get up [each day]."
Friends and strangers alike have rallied around him. They've donated money, prepared meals, arranged child care and held fundraisers because they know his illness is taking an emotional and financial toll.
Mr. Reese, who has two black belts in martial arts and is active in local theater, is the sole supporter for his wife, Jane; 6-year-old son, Forest William; and 2-month-old daughter, Savannah Grace.
His earnings come from his Sam Houston and Dallas Baptist University teaching jobs. He's also a small-group pastor at Park Springs Bible Church. His wife home-schools the couple's son.
Mr. Reese, who has been with the Arlington school district for five years, has run out of sick time. His health insurance covers him through August. If he's well enough, he can return to work in the fall.
A benevolence fund has been established through his church, and people are doing everything they can to help, said church member Rebecca Johnson.
"We make sure nothing falls through the cracks," she said.
Ms. Johnson's father has invited Mr. Reese's parents to stay at his house for as long as needed. They live in South Carolina.
Family friend Jon Polk has been posting updates about Mr. Reese and the family's needs on a Web page he created. It even has directions on how to e-mail Mr. Reese at Arlington Memorial Hospital.
This isn't the first time Mr. Reese has had cancer. In 2003 he was found to have a form of eye cancer. He suspects that some part of it returned.
He began having abdominal pains in March. He had a gall bladder scan and blood work. Then came the cancer diagnosis.
"We believe God used the gall bladder issue to find the cancer so we could start fighting it," said Mrs. Reese, 38.
The Reeses met as students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. This year will mark their 12th anniversary.
At Sam Houston, news of Mr. Reese's health hit home for the students – including those who've never met him. Students have visited the hospital, sent cards, signed his yearbook and helped organize fundraisers.
One well-meaning student even researched liver cancer and sent details to the hospital in an envelope marked "urgent" so Mr. Reese could share it with his doctors, assistant principal LaJuan Grammer said.
"It's done my heart good as a mother to see the difference he has made in these young people's lives," said his mother, Milbra Reese, a retired hospital chaplain.
A fundraiser held last week at an Arlington Taco Cabana near campus raised more than $1,200.
Mr. Reese's students say they miss their teacher and the way he reached out to them. "He's real sweet, and he cares about his students," said Biana DeLeon, 17, a senior. "He reminds us to make good choices."
His wife calls it a gift.
"That is his talent," she said. "He taught at Tarrant County College and Dallas Baptist, and then he felt the Lord say, 'Why don't you try high school?'
"We all see it as a ministry. It lights him up to see the 'aha' in a student's mind," she said.
Mrs. Reese said her husband "knows he's the only Jesus or positive role model some of these kids will ever see."
The chairs in Mr. Reese's room are for his many visitors, particularly those who keep him company through the night, every night, as he tries to rest. The time between midnight and 6 a.m. is the most difficult, family and friends say.
The illness has also been difficult for 6-year-old Forest, though Mrs. Reese said he is wise beyond his years.
"He asked me why did God let his daddy get sick," she said. "I asked God for an answer and then told him that God uses things in life that bring us closer to him to show his love and power."
Mrs. Reese said her husband's courage makes her proud. She manages to remain calm at the hospital. At home, she cries.
Still, she and others are praying for a miracle. The latest tests show the tumor has stabilized. The next step is to reduce it. Mr. Reese started a new round of drugs and chemotherapy this week.
"He is going to come home and raise his children," said Mrs. Reese's mother, Louise Gouge. "He is the son-in-law, the husband I prayed for from the time Jane was a little girl."