JACKSON TWP. The past year has been one filled with personal miracles for Pastor Galen Oakes II of the Amherst Community Church. His doctors also believe what happened to Oakes is nothing short of a miracle.
Almost a year to the date of his trial cancer treatment, Oakes is cancer free and the grapefruit sized mass in his abdomen has become nothing more than a golf ball sized mass of dead tissue.
"My one year checkup was a thorough checkup with a blood panel, MRI, CAT scan and a PET scan and we couldn’t be happier with the results," Oakes said. "I’ve had to go back to Philadelphia every two or three months for checkups. I’ll continue to do the checkups for the next five years."
Oakes became the pastor at Amherst Community Church in November 2012. A year later, he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He did a round of chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic. It was effective but the cancer returned a year later.
He and his wife, Malinda, decided to go to the Cancer Treatment Center in Philadelphia, where the medical team there recommended a stem cell replacement as a treatment plan. His body didn’t respond well to the chemo, which meant he couldn’t qualify for the stem cell treatment.
His doctor, Pamela Crilley, told the Oakes she would look for a clinical trial that would suit him. The treatment she found is called CAR-T Cells. It involves removing the patients’ cells, modifying them and then infusing them back into the patient. The family traveled to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., to start on the treatment plan.
Oakes had some of the most severe side effects of any of the other 35 people who had tried the treatment. He was in the hospital for almost a month. He had high body temperatures, lost his ability to speak and process and was unable to respond in any way. He was unconscious for several days. He lost 50 pounds in one month.
"My doctors said I was in the worst condition of the group taking the treatment," Oakes said. "I had the worst side effects, but I ended up with the best results. My wife and I and the church community who prayed me through all of this are thrilled with the results. I no longer endure the pain I had for over two years and I can eat whatever I want."
The National Institute of Health asked Oakes if he would be interviewed for a documentary about the treatment. The documentary can be found at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-19/killing-cancer-from-the-inside-out.
Oakes said the Institute learned how to tweak the treatment from his experience and has since started to have better results. He said the treatment might be taken national.
"My doctors on the team consider my recovery miraculous," Oakes said. "After the treatment, I couldn’t speak, hear or see. I couldn’t move. My mobility improved each day and I was able to walk with a cane two weeks after I woke up."
An outpouring of support for Oakes and his family came from the church community through prayer. The healing power of prayer returned his voice.
A group of friends and family came to his house one evening after he returned home to hold a special group prayer session. They were praying for the healing of Oakes’ paralyzed vocal cord which was a side effect of a clinical trial cancer treatment. The group prayed that evening and the next morning, Oakes’ vocal cord was back to normal.
His doctor at the National Institute of Health later examined the vocal cord and said it was healthy. His medical team had originally said it could take nine months for the vocal cord to return to normal. The doctor told Oakes there is scientific proof of the power of prayer and how it helps people heal.
Delivering the Gospel as Elvis, Galen has become well known and loved as the pastor at Amherst Community Church. He’s also got a large following for his Elvis concerts. Galen was involved in putting together a musical show at his previous church a few years ago. The show had people imitating musical celebrities such as Sonny and Cher, John Denver and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.
He thought the show needed Elvis Presley and he said he would give it a try. His wife made his costumes and he did an Elvis Presley song in the show. Someone in the audience came up at the end and said it was the best impersonation he had ever seen.
A request came in for Galen to perform in another local show. He decided to do the performance but he wanted it to have meaning so he rewrote the words to "Are You Lonesome Tonight" to "Do You Know Him Tonight" and gave the song Christian lyrics. He once again had feedback from someone in the audience about how powerful the performance was which inspired him to rewrite a number of other Elvis song lyrics.
Oakes has performed in Elvis concerts for a variety of different events including other church programs, festivals, First Night in Akron and events at children’s hospitals. He performed for the first time since his treatment as Elvis on Valentine’s Day.
APPRECIATING EACH DAY
Oakes is appreciating each day and praises God for his miraculous healing and recovery. His battle with cancer has increased his faith in God and his faith in the power of prayer and for those who pray.
"The timing and the details of my cancer battle allowed me to be in the perfect place at the perfect time with the perfect treatment," Oakes said. "That kind of timing doesn’t happen by chance. I’m thankful my experience will be helpful to many, many others. I’m determined to be more conscious of what I eat and to do regular exercise. Most of the time I forget I even had cancer."