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Cancer patient’s poetry opens door to Internet-based ministry

PINEVILLE, La. (BP)–Internet enthusiasts who search the World Wide Web for poetry pages might find “James’ Poetry” page interesting. What makes it stand apart from other poetry pages is that almost all the poems are about cancer.
The author of the poems is attorney James Pharis, who has been fighting cancer of the mouth since 1988.
“Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean the end. There is hope,” says Pharis, a member of Pineville Park Baptist Church, Pineville, La.
Cancer, however, is not the only health problem Pharis has faced in recent years. Since 1988, he also has suffered a mild stroke and had open heart surgery, as well as 23 cancer-related surgeries.
Through it all, Pharis has chosen to reach out to others in similar circumstances. One way he has found is through his poetry.
“After I was referred to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, I began communicating with other cancer patients. I would write them, giving them support and send them poems I had written,” he says.
Eventually an Internet site, Warmnet, was started by the cancer treatment center. Many of the patients said they would like to have access to Pharis’ poetry through Warmnet, and he was given a site on which he places many of his poems, as well as some inspirational essays he has written.
As a result, Pharis receives e-mails daily from around the United States and the world. As the center’s only contact person for head and neck cancer, he also talks to all the patients who call in wanting to speak to someone who has this type of cancer.
“This helps make it tolerable. I have been tremendously blessed by my contact with others,” Pharis said.
Another thing that helps make it tolerable for Pharis is his church. More than 20 years ago, the pastor emeritus of the church began a cancer support group. Pharis, now a group facilitator, has been an active member of the group since 1988.
“My church is very supportive and always has been. They also pray for patients I call their attention to. One of the things I am most grateful for is being involved in a praying church like Pineville Park Baptist Church,” Pharis says.
Pharis says his own cancer ministry grew out of his experiences with his church and the church-based cancer support group, noting, “I have learned that their worst fears are not necessarily their cancers.”
Poems and essays are not the only contribution Pharis has made to fellow cancer patients. He also has helped to create a book for new members of a local cancer support group, encouraging them to go to the regular meetings and to write their story.
“I think writing it down helps a person to define themselves and look at themselves in a positive way. Some of the newly diagnosed patients seem frozen with fear and accept the diagnosis as a death sentence. They’ve got to break through that in order to help themselves,” he says.
Pharis also stresses the importance of talking to family members as well and making them a part of the process. He says his wife, JoAnne, has given him great support as well as transmitting attitudes that enrich his life.
Pharis currently undergoes chemotherapy every other week to control the cancer. “This has confirmed my faith in the absolute goodness of God,” he says of his decade of struggle. “I wouldn’t be foolish enough to thank God for my cancer, but I am thankful to him for the good that has come to me because of it.”

Blackwell is an intern at the Baptist Message, Louisiana Baptists’ newsjournal.

    About the Author

  • Jennifer Blackwell