Deadly cancer invades Missouri pastor’s body, but God reigns in his heart
By Bob Baysinger
December 2, 2003
IRONDALE – It was a typical Missouri summer day – hot and steamy – last August when Bruce and Connie Torrence drove from their home in Irondale to take their daughter’s family to Lambert Airport in St. Louis .
Everybody was excited.
The daughter, Pamela Weaver, along with her husband, John, and their five children were headed for language school in Brazil where they will be stationed as career missionaries with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
But there was also a touch of sadness.
As Bruce stood and watched his daughter turn and wave good-bye before heading around a corner at the airport, the Missouri Baptist pastor knew it could very well be the last time he saw his daughter on earth.
Bruce is battling cancer.
“There was one thought that hit my mind as I watched them walk around that bend," Torrence said. “I wondered if I’d ever see them again, but I couldn’t complain. They had to do what the Lord wanted them to do."
Torrence didn’t complain at the airport that day. And it’s not likely that you will hear him complain now even though his cancer has reached an advanced stage with tumors in his neck, chest, armpit area and abdomen.
The cancer was caused by contact more than 30 years ago in Vietnam with the chemical Agent Orange. The cancer has been developing slowly in his body and now while preaching some Sundays at First Baptist, Irondale, Torrence has to grip the pulpit tightly because he is physically weak.
Torrence, who grew up in the Herculaneum area, didn’t know he had health problems until he changed insurance companies several years ago. The change required a physical.
“The doctor noticed something and said he wanted to give me some antibodies. The doctor said I had something and it may be just an infection," Torrence said. “He said if there wasn’t a change, he was going to run some tests."
There was a change, but it was for the worse.
Some lumps Torrence had noticed started to grow.
“They took a biopsy and said the results would be back in 10 days," Torrence said. “When the results came back, the doctor informed me that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was referred to an oncologist who began asking me if I’d ever been around chemicals when I was in the military. I was just under 51 at the time, and the doctor calculated that it was about the right amount of time for chemicals to work in my body."
The U.S. military conducted an investigation and acknowledged that Torrence’s cancer was the result of his contact with chemicals in Vietnam.
The diagnosis was years ago.
Torrence is now taking his next round of chemotherapy treatments.
“Every time my doctor gets test results back, he scratches his head, looks at the results and shakes his head," Torrence said. “All he can say is, ‘you’re not a textbook case.’’
“I really don’t know what’s going on and my doctor doesn’t either because he doesn’t know what God knows," Torrence said recently during a message preached at First Southern Baptist Church, Potosi. “God knows if I’ve got five years, he knows if I’ve got two years.
“I have great respect for every doctor we have. When you go to a doctor and they give you instructions, you better do what they tell you because they know what they’re talking about. But I’m telling you that we have a God who can work above and beyond the doctors. We have to listen to Him and what He says to do."
It was about years ago when Torrence listened to God in a different way.
“I was brought up in the First Baptist Church of Herculaneum," Torrence said. “I made a profession of faith like a lot of kids do. As a teenager, I got too busy for church.
“Connie and I got married – she was a Catholic – in the Catholic Church. We attended on Christmas and Easter. One day, I told her I wanted go back and try my church again. She willingly went with me.
“One day I realized that I had never been saved. The Lord has dramatically changed my life from that time on. Connie got saved about a year before I did. The only difference was that Connie knew she wasn’t, and I thought I was."
Connie has helped her husband make many decisions during their battle with cancer. But there’s one decision she insisted her husband make alone.
As the tumors continued to return after each treatment, Torrence’s doctor announced that he wanted to try something different. His plan was to make a referral to a cancer specialist at the St. Louis University Medical Center.
The specialists recommended a package treatment that had worked well with large cell lymphoma.
“He kept telling me how well it worked with that type of cancer, but I told him I had small cell lymphoma, not large cell. He explained that the treatment involved heavy dosages of chemotherapy. But the downside was that it would wipe out everything else. The doctor said it would wipe my system out so completely that I would have to be in isolation for 17 days and be extremely careful the next 28 days.
“And all this just in hope of getting five more years of life. Connie and I felt like we had information overload. We couldn’t process everything we had received. We spent several very sleepless nights.
“I finally asked Connie what she thought. She said she was going to leave that decision up to me, so I told her that I wasn’t going to do it."
Torrence recently told a congregation that Paul and Silas were in a “helpless condition" when they were in prison.
“They weren’t in prison because they were doing wrong. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing. The ones who arrested them thought they had the upper hand, but they didn’t know what God knew," Torrence said. “God knew the answer to their problems, and he took care of it."
There have been times during Torrence’s battle with cancer that the tumors have grown more rapidly. One tumor in his chest almost choked off the aorta in his heart. On other occasions, Torrence has gone home after the Sunday morning sermon, gone to bad, rested all afternoon and returned to his church that night to preach again.
“I would never ask God why this is happening to me," Torrence said. “We don’t question God about the good stuff, so why should we question Him about the bad stuff.
Torrence said he is often reminded about how Paul and Silas sang and praised God when they were imprisoned.
“A lot of people are going through difficult times in life. There are hours of trial and tribulation, hours of opposition and times when people are lonely, discouraged and mourning," Torrence said. “I don’t know how people who do not have faith in God make it through their dark hours. I really don’t know how people who don’t have faith get by."
There have been some dark hours in recent years for Bruce Torrence.
And there have been time when he didn’t know if he could make it. But he hasn’t complained because …