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Hitting a curve ball was never much of a problem for Tommy Barnes. He took his sweet swing to the University of Louisville, played for one of the most prolific offensive teams in college baseball, then worked his craft in the minor leagues and as a high school baseball coach.
But life has thrown a harder pitch than Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson could ever deliver.
Thomas C. Barnes IV and those closest to him know this is not a game.
And they all know, “Cancer sucks.”
It is how Tom Barnes feels about his latest foe.
So the wristband he and his friends wear has the reminder: Cancer sucks. Praying for TCB, IV.
Barnes’ friends will be putting on a golf scramble at Wild Turkey Trace golf course on Saturday, Aug. 22 and again the following Saturday at The Brook in Versailles.
They know that without a miracle, Barnes is fighting a battle that could mean his days are numbered. Undaunted, they push ahead with the faith that a miracle will somehow materialize.
They’ve known since last June, when Barnes, a Baptist minister who was living in the Honeysuckle Estates subdivision in Anderson County, learned he had a very aggressive form of the dreaded disease growing in his colon.
“I had preached the funeral for my uncle, Frank Kendall, on Saturday. On Monday, I found out I had cancer,” Barnes says. “The first thing I had was shock. Then denial.”
This was not how things were supposed to work. Barnes had two small children and had just started a mission church that was meeting in the Frankfort Holiday Inn.
“Cancer?” his wife Lindsay asked. “He was only 38, and how would a 38-year-old get cancer?”
This was more than a wicked curve ball in life.
“Nothing can prepare you for the doctor coming and telling you that your husband has cancer,” says Lindsay. “Nothing can prepare you for calling someone’s mother to tell her it is cancer.”
Lindsay had signed both Tommy and herself up for a weight loss program. “Normally, I don’t do things like that,” he recalls with a hint of a smile. “Something inside me told me to do it. When they did the blood work, it came back that I was anemic.”
Still, nothing suggested how the Barnes family would be changed in the next few weeks.
“The doctor at Central Kentucky Research told him to get a good internist and do some investigating,” Lindsay says. “More than likely, it was a bleeding ulcer but he’d need to figure out what was causing his blood numbers to be so low.
“After numerous CT scans and x-rays and blood work, we found out that it truly was cancer and we couldn’t waste time getting it out.”
But through it all, Barnes remembered his bat from those Louisville Cardinal teams of 1991 and 1992 that led the nation in home runs and runs scored. Scribbled on some athletic tape attached to his bat were the words, “Philippians 4:13.”
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
It was more than a saying for Barnes. Little did he know that in the prime of his life he would be looking back to that time nearly every day.
“My prayer was, ‘Lord, if you help me play baseball at this level, I will do everything I can to bring glory to you,’ ” Barnes says.
Barnes, who has taken graduate courses at Southern Baptist and Asbury seminaries, served as youth minister at Lawrenceburg’s First Baptist Church and spent time as pastor of Tyrone Baptist Church before deciding that his calling was in a new church in Frankfort.
While at First Baptist, Barnes began coaching hitters at Anderson County High School, where his cousin, L.W. Barnes took over in 1999. Tom had already agreed to help his friend, Deron McDonald, coach at Franklin County, but remembers his cousin leaving him with no option. Tommy breaks into his easy smile as he remembers L.W. Barnes’ speech.
“L.W. just told me, ‘I got the job (at Anderson) and you are coming with me.’ ” he says.
Tom served as an assistant baseball coach from 1999 through 2001 and again in 2003-04. He was part of two Eighth Region championship teams but says his relationships with people were more important.
Tommy and his wife also coached the Anderson volleyball team for a year, advancing to the regional tournament for the first time in school history.
“I am grateful that Mr. (Sonny) Fentress was not scared of a youth minister being a coach,” Tom says. “He told me it was OK to build relationships.”
Those relationships have come back ten-fold.
“He’s been my mentor,” says former Anderson baseball player Jordan Alves, one of many Bearcats that wore a blue “Cancer Sucks” wristband during the 2009 season.
Alves’ teammate at Anderson, and now at Campbellsville University, Luke Hawkins, agreed. “I have known Tom for a while. He’s someone to look up to. He’s always positive.”
Even in the face of a disease that doctors say will take his life in 12 to 18 months without an operation. Barnes has had his ascending colon removed and has had more than 15 chemotherapy treatments, which he takes every other week. Tom is scheduled for another exploratory surgery on Monday at the University of Cincinnati hospital.
“Right now, the cancer is around the liver,” Lindsay says. “If it gets in the liver or lungs, it is a death sentence.”
To those who knew him as a baseball coach, Tom is noticeably thinner. He’s lost his hair and he’s explained to his children, Carter, 6, and Brady, 4, that he is very sick. “They understand that and they know that I don’t have any hair because of my medicine,” he says, “but they don’t understand the gravity of the situation.”
Tom refuses to let cancer take his spirit.
“He doesn’t talk about it,” Alves continues. “When we are around, all he wants to do is talk about baseball.”
Tom Barnes was there when Alves, Hawkins and the rest of the Bearcats defeated Shelby County for their second consecutive regional crown on May 27, but was not around the next week when they were playing Louisville Trinity in the semi-state series. Instead, Tom and Lindsay were in Houston at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for treatment.
Such trips are part of the reason for benefit programs like Saturday’s golf scramble at Wild Turkey Trace. Even though Tom is on Lindsay’s health insurance through her job at Capital Day School in Frankfort, the bills continue to mount with deductibles and travel expenses.
“In the midst of looking for surgeons and going back and forth to Houston twice, we’ve been at the end of the insurance cycle,” Lindsay said. “Our insurance company has seen over $250,000 worth of chemotherapy claims in one year – each treatment is $14,000 – and we’ve really had to skimp in order to make minimum payments as well as our insurance premiums.
“In total, between travel and money we’ve spent medically this last year, we’ve probably been through $20,000.
“The last time we went to Houston, we got a cheap flight down there, but we did not know how long we were going to stay. When we left, it cost $600 for each ticket home.
In order to pay bills, the family sold their house in Honeysuckle six months ago and moved to Frankfort. But even then, Barnes sees a blessing.
“We had a great friend that offered us a super cheap house to rent while we paid down some of the bills,” Lindsay continues, “and we’ve really worked to continue all his treatments regardless of the cost. Financially, it’s been a huge hardship, but we’ve really worked through it in order to keep him alive.”
And there has been help, both financial and spiritual. Some friends opened a Facebook page – Praying for Tom Barnes IV – that had 860 members as of Monday. “We get cards from people and Sunday School classes I don’t even know,” Tommy says with a smile.
“We are truly thankful for all our friends that are planning the fundraiser,” Lindsay says. “We are so appreciative that they love and support us and want the best for us. It’s truly humbling.
“Every day, I pray, ‘Lord, today I want to find a way to glorify you,’ ” he says. “I pray God will heal me, but this gives me a platform to praise him. If he doesn’t heal me and I die, I want to spend my last year trying to glorify him.
“I can’t see beyond today, but what I do know is that if God uses me to reach one person, then it’s worth it.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.