Local News

Popular Teacher Shares His Battle To Beat Cancer

Posted February 27, 2002

— Cancer is something that touches just about everyone. Still, few people know what it is like until it happens to them or someone they love.

One local family is sharing their story and their battle with cancer.

At age 49, Michael Lancaster was diagnosed with cancer. Lancaster and his family invited WRAL to follow them on their journey.

Lancaster is the popular band director at Southern Nash High School. His wife, Pam, is an elementary school teacher. Together, they are teaching a lot about family, faith, and the will to live.

Lancaster's escape and passion is teaching teenagers the value of music. He loses himself in his music class because, in a matter of hours, his life moves from radiance to radiation.

"You're the only person in the room and you know it," he said. "I don't think about cancer, cancer, cancer all the time."

Still, cancer has taken over his life.

A lump on his throat got Lancaster's attention. Doctors found a tumor on his tonsils. The tonsils and tumor were removed, but then he got the news that the cancer had already spread to his lymph nodes.

"I just kind of shut down," Lancaster said. "I just started looking at the walls because I just didn't want to hear that. I'm too young. I'm much too young. I'm much too young."

"I started crying. He wasn't crying, I was crying," Pam said.

Lancaster has been scared, but not angry.

"I'm just glad it's not my children, not her," Lancaster said, referring to his wife.

The family's life has become a whirlwind of emotions and doctor's visits. Lancaster opted for daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments in Wilson.

Lancaster said that he did not want surgery because it would ruin his ability to play the trumpet.

There are side effects with radiation, but it is a risk Lancaster said he is willing to take.

"If I'm not here, the trumpet's not going to matter," he said.

With a battle plan in place, the couple had to decide how to tell their children, especially their two youngest, Wil and Leah. Together, they shared the news.

Then, they broke the news to the band.

"He stepped out and they asked me all the questions that they wanted to know," Pam said. "Questions they wouldn't pose to him, like 'Is he going to die?'"

Lancaster started treatment two weeks ago. He said that the 15 minutes when he is alone in the radiation suite are the toughest.

"I'm thinking 'Kill it Jesus. Kill it. Just get it. Get it, get it. Take it away,'" he said.

The chemotherapy also takes its toll, leaving Lancaster fighting the effects. "I'm feeling dry and kind of slow," he said.

Those effects have not killed his appetite, his humor or the desire to play his horn.

"I get it out every morning just to prove a point," he said.

Lancaster turns 50 in May. He is also determined that his ordeal will be over by then. Until that time, the cancer patient will continue to turn to his family, his faith, and his music for strength.

If his treatment is successful, there is a 2 percent chance that the cancer will return. If it is not successful, surgery is the next step. Even those odds are great: a 98 percent chance it will work out.

The Lancasters are realists and said they know someone makes up that two percent, and that someone could be Mike.

WRAL will continue to bring you reports of Lancaster's journey.


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