David Baskette has walked in their shoes. He has sat in the same chairs in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. He has stood on that same ledge between faith and fear. He has written down the same bucket lists, with the same guarded wish to make the days count instead of counting the days. He has worn those same hats to cover a head where hair used to be. He has felt the same fire under his skin, the heat index rising each time the chemotherapy warriors went into battle inside him.
“I have shared those same feelings,’’ he said. “I have had the same nurses sticking needles in me and taking care of me.’’
David wants to look every cancer patient in the eye, hold their hands and hug their necks. He wants to assure them there is hope. He is living proof. But there is an invisible wall of medical professionalism between them. He is an oncology regional account manager for GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company.
Six weeks ago, his company introduced a new drug called Votrient. It is being used to treat patients with advanced soft tissue sarcoma and advanced renal cell carcinoma. It is the first drug of its kind on the market in 30 years.
He was recently asked to speak about his own experiences with Ewing’s Sarcoma at a company conference. He looked around the room at hundreds of colleagues. Many had tears rolling down their cheeks as they heard his story.
“If you can survive cancer, it can be the greatest gift you can ever receive,’’ he said. “It (places an instant priority) on things important and those that are not. ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ goes from being a refrigerator magnet to being a mantra for life.’’ Colors are more vivid now, he said. Laughter is more sincere. He appreciates that extra scoop of ice cream and taking his son to a baseball game.
Time is a precious gift. “I hold my wife a little tighter. I am more patient with my children. I appreciate blue skies and the cherry blossoms,’’ he said.
David grew up in Bainbridge and graduated from Georgia Southern in 1992 with a degree in business. He got a job “selling chicken all over the world” at Crider Poultry near Statesboro. He met his wife, Courtney, on a blind date. She was working at the accounting firm McNair, McLemore, Middlebrooks & Co. in Macon. They were married in April 1996 and made Macon their home.
“I had the world by the tail,’’ he said. “I was married, with a great job and living in a great house. I was 6-foot-4, but I felt 10 feet tall.’’
Life took a downward turn on the opening day of dove season in August 2000. An avid hunter, David moved to his left to take a shot. He felt a tightness in his back.It was a knot. No pain. Just a knot.
He was not worried. Standing in a field with a gun in his hand, he felt “bulletproof.”
As a pharmaceutical representative, he called on physicians almost every day. He was told it was probably just a sebaceous cyst. He finally went to have it removed as outpatient surgery. He should have sensed something was wrong by the expression on the doctor’s face. A biopsy was sent to a renowned sarcoma pathologist at Emory.
A few weeks later, during the Cherry Blossom Festival, David was touring some downtown buildings with other members in his Leadership Macon class. They were at the Hay House when he received a call on his cell phone. It was his doctor. “I knew something was wrong,’’ said David. “If everything had been OK, his nurse would have been calling me. He said he needed to see me right away. I told him I was with a group at the Hay House and did not have my car. He said I needed to have my wife pick me up or he would come get me.’’
Thus began David’s cancer journey.
Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare and malignant tumor with cancer cells in the bone or soft tissue. It is generally found in teens and young adults. He was 31 years old. He had a one in three chance of living another five years.
David went through 17 rounds of chemotherapy during the next eight months. His body was filled with toxic drugs that had been around for decades — designed to kill most everything inside him without killing him. “I became sick and tired of being sick and tired,’’ he said.
He kept working. A few months later, he boarded a plane to Las Vegas to attend a medical conference. No sooner had his flight left Atlanta when the passengers were notified they would have to make an emergency landing in Memphis. The plane was one of a half-dozen commercial flights that were still “unaccounted for” on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
He knew it was serious when he looked out his window and saw fighter jets escorting them to the ground. He kept fighting, too. And fighting and fighting.
He refocused his priorities. He found an even greater strength in his faith. For the past 11 years, he has been a survivor.
His two children — 9-year-old Cooper and 4-year-old Libby — have been a blessing in his life. He is now a man on a mission, a man with a message.
“I have a unique perspective,’’ he said. “I know what it’s like to have that rug pulled out from under you and not know if your life will ever be normal again. You don’t know what it’s like to have cancer until you are faced with it. You will do whatever you can to live another day.’’
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.