Three Strikes, Still Standing Tall

Karen and John Fulton

With cancer striking his life three times, lifelong Vicksburg resident, John Fulton, has a story of healing and faith because of people inviting him to church.

STRIKE ONE. Fulton was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer when he was 15. He went through surgery, radiation and a chemotherapy clinical trial at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to fight the disease. He won that battle.

“The treatments were difficult with years of hair loss, side effects and emotional ups and downs,” he says. “Today, bald is part of the school culture, but being a bald freshman in 1977 was not easy or cool.”

Not all his classmates knew why he wore a hat and were surprised when they pulled the hat off as a joke, Fulton says.

“I was invited to a prom by a brave girl considering my lack of hair and having cancer,” he says. “My parents bought a curly haired wig, just like mine used to be. Everybody at the prom had a good laugh about the wig, encouraged its removal and to just be yourself.”

During this first struggle with cancer, his family, friends and the community were very supportive. Upon returning from surgery at Mayo, he was pleased that his neighbors, the Scotts and the Moores, had hung a huge “Welcome Home” sign across the road and done a thorough cleaning of the home and yard.

Though the Fulton family was not active in the Vicksburg United Methodist Church, they prayed for him and sent him care packages while he was staying in Rochester for treatment for months at a time.

STRIKE TWO. Three years later, when he was a senior in high school, cancer returned in his lungs. He had been attending Vicksburg United Methodist Church after a girlfriend had invited him, but then he strayed far from God because of the cancer’s return.

Again Fulton received a new drug, developed at Michigan State University. In the fall, he attended MSU and was treated on campus. By the end of his freshman year, the cancer was in remission. He felt he had “beaten the system again, but had become the prodigal son in his relationship with God.”

Fulton’s family persisted with invites and prayers for him to return to church. He eventually came back thanks to their persistence and a United Methodist class, “Into the Word” led by Vera Walker and his mother, Nancy. This is where he accepted The Bible as the truth and a basis for his life.

In 1996, Fulton met his wife, Karen through a personal ad in the Kalamazoo Gazette and they married the same year.

“We shared a faith, though we weren’t living for the Lord,” he says. “We even mailed God a wedding invitation. Though the invitation returned, God showed up and made this a heavenly match.”

Karen is a registered nurse with years of experience in the ER and administration.

“Karen was perfect for me,” he says. “I didn’t know how much I would appreciate her medical knowledge and skill as my longest cancer battle was still ahead.”

STRIKE THREE. In 2002, spots were found in Fulton’s pancreas and liver. His physician sent him back to Mayo to meet with Dr. Joseph Rubin. The Fulton family was prepared for a deadly pancreatic cancer diagnosis, but there was good news.

Fulton had a much more treatable form of pancreatic cancer called Islet Cell.

Dr. Rubin proposed an aggressive treatment plan, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radio frequency ablation. The 10-hour surgery included the removal of his spleen, gallbladder, and parts of his liver and pancreas. Fulton has a wonderful team of local physicians who work in partnership with Mayo to coordinate his complicated health care. The current battle has lasted 12 years with some ups and downs.

“Though the doctors said there was not a cure, I had cheated the system again,” Fulton says.

ImageIn 2003, the Fultons were invited to attend church on Easter, an invitation that was to change their lives and help them find a church home.

“Building on earlier faith foundations, we went from sinking sand to solid ground with Jesus Christ,” he says. “When I was young, I thought I had beat the cancer because of my positive attitude and medicine. Now, as a Christian, I know God was with me all the time and that many people prayed me through the battles. I now sense God is with me, experience peace and know God spared me because He has a plan for my life.”

The Fultons have since entered the ministry, graduating from the EPIC School of Ministry in 2010. They are now part of planting a multi-site campus in Battle Creek for Valley Family Church (VFC).

“This has been a time of spiritual growth and stretching for us as a couple and individually,” he says. “VFC is where I finally got it and began a personal relationship with Jesus.”

Despite three bouts of cancer, Fulton says he is still standing and “swinging back at Satan with angels at my side. Nothing but God’s mercy can explain where I am now.”

In fact, he just returned from Mayor Clinic with an amazing report.

“This is dramatic,” says Dr. Rubin. “I will be showing this scan to all of my colleagues. The cancer is almost totally gone after a year on another new chemotherapy regimen.”

Fulton gives God the glory for this news.

“When life is difficult lean into your faith and stand on the Word,” Fulton says. “I share my testimony to encourage others and show how a relationship with Jesus will change their life. My heart desires to help people choose Heaven by accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior. We will spend eternity someplace. Eighty-five percent of people invited to church by a friend will eventually attend. Your invitation will make an eternal difference in their life. Invite someone this Easter.”

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