Patient in Affliction
November 8, 2002
The famous pediatric neurosurgeon talks about surviving prostate cancer.
TERRY MEEUWSEN (reporting): Dr. Ben Carson has a reputation that's almost larger than life. Millions of people have been inspired by his rags-to-riches story. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, he tackles the toughest cases. But recently Dr. Carson became a patient himself, and he learned firsthand what was like to experience a brush with death.
BEN CARSON: As I was driving home that night, I was saying, 'Is it possible that I'm going to die?'
TERRY MEEUWSEN (reporting): Dr. Ben Carson has always been king of the impossible. His miracle-working brain surgeries, including the 1987 separation of the Bender Siamese twins, have brought him worldwide acclaim, yet this brilliant neurosurgeon was once at the bottom of his fifth-grade class. His single mother prayed for God to give her wisdom to help him. Then she began to require both her sons to read two books a week and submit written book reports to her, even though she could not read herself. Before long, Ben was at the top of his class. He received a scholarship to Yale, and at the age of 33, he was named Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Today, at the age of 50, he is a role model to millions.
BEN CARSON: The technical skills, the knowledge--those are things that can be acquired, but I believe wisdom comes from God and it has to be sought and asked for.
TERRY MEEUWSEN (reporting): Dr. Ben Carson moved to this house outside Baltimore on 40 acres in the middle of a cornfield. It was supposed to be a respite from performing more than 400 brain surgeries a year. Little did he know how much he would need the serenity of this place.
BEN CARSON: I was diagnosed with a high grade of prostatic cancer. Mine was one of the most aggressive types. I thought at one point that I was going to die.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: How did you handle that?
BEN CARSON: I felt totally at peace with that thought because I knew that God knows what's best, and that He is in control, and that the amount of time that any of us spends on this earth really isn't that great--whether it's one year or a hundred--against the backdrop of eternity.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Did you have any fear of the process at all?
BEN CARSON: Well, I certainly was concerned in thinking about metastatic cancer and the pain associated with it, especially when it metastasizes to the spine--excruciating pain--and I did spend some time wondering how I would cope with that. So, yes, that was a frightening thought.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Your mom has had such an incredible impact on your life. How did you tell her about your cancer and how did she react to it?
BEN CARSON: I pretty much told everybody the same way, straightforward.
BEN CARSON'S MOTHER: [I told Ben,] Maybe God has a plan for this to happen. Are you ready for it? Do you love God and are you obeying him to the best of your ability? You don't have anything between you and God, do you? And he said, "no."
BEN CARSON: [My mother said,] 'The Lord has it under control. God is too wise to make a mistake, so whatever happens, it's OK.'
TERRY MEEUWSEN: You talk a lot about the big picture, seeing the big picture in things. How has faith impacted this particular ordeal in your life?
BEN CARSON: I think I understand why it happened. First of all, I was working at a breakneck rate. I was going to kill myself with a heart attack or some other thing. I think God needed to get my attention to say, 'You can't do everything.' Number two, it has become very clear to me that cancer is something we bring upon ourselves.
TERRY MEEWSEN: In what way?
BEN CARSON: What we eat, how we treat our bodies, what we do to strengthen or to weaken our immune systems. We need to pay a lot more attention to preventive medicine--not so much to radiating, poisoning and cutting.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Has going through what you've just gone through and sensing the truth of what you just talked about, has that changed the way that you live?
BEN CARSON: Oh absolutely. I have changed my diet significantly.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: In what ways?
BEN CARSON: Organic fruits and vegetables. Much less in the way of processed foods. Snack foods are pretty much out. I don't drink soda anymore.
TERRY MEEWSEN: You have performed as many as 400 surgeries a year, and you work in a very stressful area of medicine. Do you think the stress of what you've done and the amount that you've taken upon yourself might have contributed to your cancer?
BEN CARSON: I think stress did contribute, but, to me, operating on complex problems is not stressful because I ask God to give me wisdom and to be with me and He gets the credit. I'm just there as a tool. The thing that has perhaps been more stressful over the last decade is watching the patients and seeing all the hoops they're meant to jump through by the insurance company, and this, to me, is considerably more stressful than operating on a tumor.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: I read a quote from you that astounds me. You said, 'I'm glad I got cancer because it's made me stop and think, and it's made me know I need to spend more time with my family.'
BEN CARSON: Absolutely.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Do you think you might have missed that if you hadn't had the cancer experience?
BEN CARSON: I think I probably would have. I would have continued to be charging full speed ahead.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Here you are, an accomplished surgeon--world renowned--and then you have to go into surgery yourself. Was it difficult for you to go into surgery and allow someone else to have full reign over you while you were out?
BEN CARSON: It was. The thing that made it easier was my doctor Pat Walsh is a Christian--a strong Christian, a wonderful man I've known for many, many years and a man of great integrity. I actually wanted to delay my surgery until a time when maybe things weren't quite so busy, and Dr. Walsh convinced me that was not a wise idea. And as it turned out, when they resected it, it was within one millimeter of breaking through the capsule.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: So what is your prognosis today? What are they telling you?
BEN CARSON: Well, all of the cancer was contained within the gland that was removed. He was able to spare my neurovascular bundles to preserve all my body functions, and the lymph nodes were negative. My status is cured!
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Praise God!
BEN CARSON: Absolutely. Doesn't get any better than that.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: Today Dr. Carson is back at work--with an abbreviated schedule that allows him to spend more time with his wife, three sons, and, of course, his mom. He believes he'll live a much longer life now that he is eating well, exercising, and getting more rest. He's also determined to use his skill and scientific resources to find a cure for cancer.
BEN CARSON: Now I see it as a scourge on our society that doesn't have to be there. I want to join the fight to eradicate it.
TERRY MEEUWSEN: You have, in your own life, walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Has this changed your relationship with Jesus?
BEN CARSON: It's brought me closer--no question about it. I spend more time praying now, more time talking to Jesus, to God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me. I've always said before, 'I'm brought closer to God by success and by good things, so you can just spare me the bad things--it'll be just fine!' But I have to admit that it did bring me closer, interestingly enough, and I didn't think that it was possible.
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