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Pastor Undaunted by Duodenal Cancer

Network - Fall 2011

By Lauren Schoenemann

A Baptist minister, Jonathan Cobb preaches the message of hope and renewal that a cancer diagnosis can bring.

When diagnosed with duodenal cancer in March 2006, Cobb knew the difficulty that lay ahead because his mother-in-law had learned two months earlier that she had the same condition. She died from the cancer eight months later.

“The hardest day of my life was walking into the house and telling my wife, ‘You’re not going to believe this,’” he recalls.

Cobb began to suspect his health was in jeopardy while researching his mother-in-law’s disease. He had attributed his weight loss, fatigue and depression to a busy workload and long commute to his former church in Delray Beach, Fla. As he continued to learn about the cancer, his intuition told him to look into updating his life insurance policy.

When his blood work revealed anemia and elevated liver enzymes, he was denied life insurance. So he consulted his primary physician for additional testing.

Three days later, he was officiating at a funeral when he received a call from his doctor urging him to seek immediate medical attention.

“I was reading the 23rd Psalm at a gravesite when I got the call from my doctor’s office to come quickly,” he says.

Diagnosis, treatment reveal new calling

A deep endoscopy revealed a tumor in Cobb’s duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. He went to MD Anderson and, in April 2006, underwent the Whipple procedure, which removed parts of his pancreas and stomach. It took him nearly a year to recover. He subsequently had six weeks of chemotherapy and 28 radiation treatments.

Cobb, who is writing an autobiography, spends much of his time delivering motivational speeches for the American Cancer Society and to church groups, schools and hospitals across the country.

“Cancer gave me a bigger platform to do the things that were already in me, and those things were greater than the cancer by far,” he says.

“The first three letters in ‘cancer’ are ‘can.’”


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center