Baylor Grad Carries Olympic Torch After Winning Battle With Cancer

Dec. 14, 2001

by Haley L. Wright

A few months ago, 1996 Baylor University graduate and cancer survivor Patrick Thompson received a piece of mail out-of-the-blue from a national soft drink company. At first, he thought it was only an advertisement. But on closer inspection, Thompson found that he had been selected as an Olympic torchbearer through the anonymous work of his friends and family.

As sponsor of the Olympic torch run leading up to the Winter Olympics in February in Salt Lake City, the company sent out a mailing to consumers asking them to nominate anyone they felt worthy of the honor. Thompson's friends and family knew that he was such a person, and because of their efforts, Thompson carried the torch at 6:20 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, from Main Street to Pearl Street along the Central Expressway in downtown Dallas. Forty-three other individuals participated with Thompson, each carrying the torch approximately 200 meters.

"The streets were lined with kids holding American flags, and families all together cheering awaiting the torchbearers that were to come through in the next hour," Thompson said. "My heart started to pick up in beats and I couldn't help but smile."

As the hour of his run drew closer, Thompson boarded the bus that would take him to his designated running spot. As the lights of downtown Dallas shimmered brightly in the twilight, Thompson said he and about 14 other runners "laughed and shared more stories and just basically pumped each other up for the 200 meters we were all about to either run, jog, walk and or ride a wheel chair."

As the bus pulled up to each drop off spot, a torchbearer would stand up and everyone on the bus would cheer for them.

Thompson said he felt "overwhelmed" as his time arrived.

"They called my name, and as I walked off the bus I saw so many friends and family that had supported me through my life and many new faces that were there to cheer on America. They were all there waving flags, signs and cheering so proudly," he said.

Thompson was handed his torch and was led to the center of the street to await the Olympic flame.

"As the man in a wheel chair approached me with his lit torch, I walked over to him and leaned our torches together. As soon as I saw the flame on my torch I began to jog down Central Expressway," he said. "That moment was one of the proudest moments in my life because by the grace of God I was alive to carry it. Carrying that torch to me was like a celebration of life. Having had cancer wasn't the reason I carried the torch but rather the fight and willingness to never give up and focusing on His will and the joy He provides through any situation. I will cherish that moment in time forever."

Thompson's story is inspiring not only to those who've battled a similar foe, but to every individual who believes in the power of prayer.

When Thompson was 10 years old, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Pheochromacytoma. Doctors told his parents that even if he survived the surgery to remove a tumor on the aorta in his heart, Thompson would have a life expectancy of only two years.

He did survive the surgery and continued to be cancer-free until high school, when a pain in his jaw revealed a tumor in his jaw bone. Doctors first advised the removal of the entire jaw bone, but the Thompson family believed the Lord was leading them to more natural treatments. These treatments, along with the power of their prayers, stopped the growth of the tumor and even allowed Thompson to continue playing sports.

After being recruited to Midwestern to play football, Thompson transferred to Baylor his sophomore year and joined the Kappa Omega Tau fraternity. He served as the organization's float chair, helping the fraternity win three float championships during Baylor's Homecoming Parade. He describes his college experience as "normal," admitting the friendships he developed were the most important aspect of his time at Baylor.

During his senior year, Thompson broke his leg on the intramural field and recalled the doctor's warning that a broken bone would cause his jaw tumor to grow, which it did at a rapid pace. After graduating in May 1996, Thompson began working for a marketing firm in Dallas, but by November it was apparent that treatment for the tumor must be found. In response, the Thompson family, once again, gathered in prayer to find a solution. The next day Patrick received a call from a family friend who had heard of a new treatment at Baylor Medical Center.

This treatment involved taking a non-weight bearing bone from his leg to replace his jaw bone. Doctors took a special interest in his case and agreed to perform the surgery as soon as he was ready, waving the usual three-month waiting period.

But only days before the surgery, doctors found that the tumor had spread from the bone into the muscle. Unsure of what else to do, they planned to proceed with the surgery as scheduled.

The night before the surgery, Thompson received a call from a fellow KOT member informing him that the fraternity had begun a 24-hour prayer vigil for him and would continue to pray through the night and during his 15-hour surgery the next day. Thompson believes that their prayers are the reason for the surprise the doctors found during surgery.

The tumor had moved back from the muscle into only the bone, and the surgery was termed a complete success.

When Thompson's doctor spoke with his friends and family at the hospital, they recall tears in the doctor's eyes as he told them of the amazing presence felt in the operating room.

"I stopped listening to the percentages that doctors would give me because I realized that God is the ultimate healer," Thompson said.

Today, Thompson has only a few areas of cancer, which continue to grow smaller with every spot radiation treatment. He believes that cancer has taught him to look at life's trials in a different light, saying that he has come to the point where he thanks the Lord for his own battle with cancer. He also believes that prayer, his faith, and family and friends have carried him through the struggles he has faced.

Despite what he's been through, Thompson says the heroic stories of other torchbearers have touched his heart.

"I began to meet and hear stories of other nominated torchbearers and the strength that they had to overcome great odds," he said. "I love being around people with that type of spirit. It helps you realize that amazing miracles are more common than we all think and that God is in complete control of our lives."

As the day of his run drew closer and closer, Thompson said he began to realize what it meant to be part of something as inspiring as the Olympics.

"As all Americans pulled together after the attacks of Sept. 11, I began to take on another pride in carrying the torch. To see everyone pull together and come back even stronger through great odds was exciting. It is the same mind set of anyone who goes through a difficult situation in their lives and chooses to press on."

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