Don Lichi is thankful to be alive.
Last year, the prominent psychologist and vice president of Akron’s Emerge Counseling Services (formerly Emerge Ministries), could not walk and needed a wheelchair because his multiple myeloma had attacked a section of his lumbar, putting pressure on his sciatic nerve root.
This year, after more than 20 treatments and more than 100 days past a stem cell transplant, Lichi is up and running with hopes to build enough strength to complete a half marathon this fall.
“I’m not out of the woods totally. My energy pool is limited,” said Lichi, 60. “But when I look at where I was last year, I can say this truly is a resurrection of the body. God has truly blessed me.”
Lichi was preparing in November 2011 for his 12th marathon when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Throughout his medical crisis, Lichi has held strong to his Christian faith — even last summer when the cancer was growing despite an aggressive treatment regimen.
“Don has had total, total trust in God’s faithfulness. The whole time, he has held on to Romans 8:28: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose,’ ” said the Rev. John Wilson, a friend and running buddy of Lichi. “His experience really illustrates the story of Easter — God is able to take the most discouraging and painful situation and bring renewal and resurrection. Don’s disease is not curable, but his response to it has been total surrender to God.”
Lichi is the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy. He said he has weathered the storm in his life by combating the negatives with the positives: support from family, friends, the faith community and even strangers.
“Going through this battle with cancer has given me a greater appreciation for community. I have received thousands of cards. People have cooked meals for us, donated money to help us, given me more rides when I’ve needed them, did yard work and prayed for us,” Lichi said. “I am also grateful to the medical community, especially University Hospital. God has taught me the importance of community. We need each other more than ever.”
Wife is grateful
Lichi’s wife of more than 40 years, Marcie, is equally grateful to the community and God for meeting their needs. On a personal level, she has learned more patience since her husband’s diagnosis.
“I have learned to take one day at a time. I used to get so stressed thinking about what was next. Now, my focus is just getting through today, knowing the Lord will get us through it,” she said. “Don has walked this road with courage and grace. I haven’t once seen any anger with God. We have both been touched by the body of Christ. People from all over the Akron area have joyfully and cheerfully met our needs.”
Marcie Lichi said she believes her husband’s decision to share with others how God has carried him through his illness has made him bolder in his faith.
“He has always done what he can to help others know God, but I think he has more credibility now because he has gone through a difficult life tragedy,” she said. “This whole ordeal has made him stronger in his faith and has shown that God can make all things work together for good.”
Much like Marcie Lichi, John Palmer, president and CEO of Emerge — a full-service evangelical Christian mental health outpatient center on Mull Avenue — said he has watched Lichi deal with the adversity in his life by holding fast to his faith in God. Palmer said he has been blessed by Lichi’s strength.
“Dr. Don Lichi is a man who has walked through this entire process of the sickness, treatments and surgery with great courage, tenacity and joy. He has been willing to trust God, even if he doesn’t receive miraculous healing,” Palmer said. “He has been an example of that saying, ‘Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.’ Don has demonstrated that you don’t have to be miserable, even when you’re in pain.”
Palmer attributes Lichi’s ability to stay positive to his deep faith in God, his commitment to stay in relationships with people who keep him strong, including his church family at Stow Alliance Church, and the support of his wife and family.
Lichi is completing about three-quarters of the counseling workload he was doing before his diagnosis. He continues to participate on the leadership team at Emerge. His speaking engagements are limited.
He hopes to return in June to teaching as an adjunct professor at Ashland Theological Seminary and in the fall for Trinity International University, based in Illinois, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, based in Missouri. If he is able, he will also go to Africa in late fall to teach pastors.
Although he is a long way from running the 25 to 35 miles per week that he ran before his cancer diagnosis, Lichi said he will continue “plodding” along to build on the mile and a half he now is running.
“I’m feeling stronger every day. My goal is still to do that 12th marathon. But as I go through each day, I am glad to be back doing what God has called me to do: counseling. Last year, I couldn’t go downstairs to greet my clients. Now, I have the joy of doing that,” Lichi said. “I value life more than I ever valued it before and I am more appreciative of family and friends. I am thankful to God for this deep sense of community. I would encourage anyone who is going through a crisis to wrap themselves with the love of others.”
Lichi’s pastor, the Rev. John Kitchen, said that Lichi has offered a living metaphor for the suffering and resurrection of Christ by allowing the hope of Easter to shine through the difficulty of his health crisis.
“Don firmly and completely trusts God for his life, the end of his life and eternal life. He is devoted to being a testimony to who Christ is and what Christ can do,” Kitchen said. “Confronted with end of life issues, Don has said, ‘Live or die, I have a life that outlives this life because Jesus Christ rose from the grave.’ ”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org