Cancer didn’t enter Chris Connell’s life in such a personal way until 2002. He’d always been healthy and active. Today, he’s thankful to have his good health back. Another plus is that he’s able to be as active as ever.
The 52-year-old preacher lives with his family in the Pleasant Valley community and pastors Fairview Heights Northside Baptist Church in Anniston.
He was 38 when he was diagnosed with GIST (Gastrointestinal Stormal Tumor). The father of twin girls found himself facing a radical surgery with only a 50/50 chance of survival. After a successful surgery, he was placed on a new target therapy drug that fights cancer cells but doesn’t touch healthy cells.
“I would soon find out how good God had been to me,” said Connell.
“The cancer drug had just come on the market in February before I realized my cancer had developed in April. The Food and Drug Administration had cleared the drug in a recent time span of one year, and it could now be an approved drug by my insurance company. The medication was very expensive.”
Connell had been sent to the only doctor in Birmingham who knew anything about this type of cancer because it had just been named in 1998.
“God’s timing and provision was perfect, and I am one of the longest surviving patients with this type of cancer and on the same medication with great success,” said Connell.
He had a reoccurrence two years later, in 2004, and had to go through another surgery.
“I had two liver metastases that developed in my liver, and the medication was able to dissolve them after six years,” said Connell.
“Today I am tumor free and go to Miami to see my cancer doctor twice a year. I’m not sorry that I have had to take this journey of cancer.
It’s truly taught me how to live by faith. I’ve seen the sufficiency of God’s grace in my time of need.”
Connell was saved at the age of 15 and called to preach at the age of 21. He was ordained as a minister and deacon at Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Fruithurst 29 years ago. He’s pastored churches in Tennessee and Georgia as well as Alabama.
Connell was born in Breman, Ga. He grew up in Fruithurst and graduated from Cleburne County High School and Jacksonville State University where he received a degree in psychology.
He and his wife, the former Karen Padgett, will celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary. Their daughters, Hannah and Heather, 16, are in the 11th grade at Pleasant Valley High School.
The Connells met at a singing competition in Dahlonega Ga. Karen was the only person he spoke to that day in line. She beat him in competition. She placed second and he placed fourth. They exchanged phone numbers but didn’t meet again until several months later at the National Quartet in Nashville. Karen eventually joined the group Connell was singing with. After two years they became engaged.
“The first thing she moved into our house was that trophy that she had won at the singing competition,” said Connell. “She placed it in the hallway so I would have to see it every day and be reminded that I lost. She was quick to tell me that I may have lost the competition but she was my consolation prize.”
Today, the four Connells sing southern gospel music as a quartet.
Connell is president of the East Central Gospel Music Association.
Connell retired from the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega in November 2011 where he had served as the residential director and school and administrator. He was over the school’s 24 hour a day program. One of his jobs was to oversee 60 students and a staff of 50 in their daily routine.
Connell said it was quiet a job, but it was a wonderful job.
“All the kids there have multiple disabilities, and I was the overseer of their daily routine,” he said. “I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a daily challenge, but it was a wonderful place. I enjoyed my years there immensely.