Ever since I was a small child watching shoot-'em-up cowboy movies on television, Texas has been a mystical sort of place for me. When I thought of Texas I thought of John Wayne defending the Alamo and long-horn cattle and sagebrush and Judge Roy Bean, who declared himself the Law West of the Pecos.
Not many small boys in Porterdale got to travel west of the Yellow River, much less the Mississippi or the Pearl or the Rio Grande. Texas may as well have been on the moon and I never thought I would get any closer to Texas than I would get to Jupiter or Mars.
The reality of my life has greatly exceeded my expectations and I have been to Texas on a number of occasions. I have been very blessed, understand.
My first stop in Texas was Houston. I went there as a 16 year-old Boy Scout on my way to Philmont Scout Ranch. I had grown up believing that Macon, Ga., was the hottest place in the universe. I quickly learned that an afternoon in Macon is like living inside a refrigerator compared to an afternoon in Houston.
We went to San Antonio on that same trip and I finally got to see the Alamo first hand. Like everybody else who has seen the Alamo for the first time, I was shocked by what is left of it is, and that it is in the middle of the city, surrounded by businesses and hotels -- none of which, by the way, are allowed to cast a shadow on that venerated old building.
We even traveled down to Del Rio and up across 200 miles of sage brush and ghosts towns left behind when the West Texas oil boom played out. When the "Last Picture Show" premiered in 1971, I had been there and seen that.
I have returned to Texas dozens of times since that first visit, 44 years ago, and have come to appreciate its vastness, its diversity and its attitude. "Don't mess with Texas" is not just a slogan. They mean it down there. I like that in a people.
I have eaten at the Big Texan Steak House in Amarillo and rafted through Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. I have eaten some of the best beef brisket there is in Austin, some of the best fajitas I have ever tasted in Ft. Worth and some of the best chicken fried steak in the world in Pecos, home of everybody's first rodeo.
I have visited the LBJ museum in Austin and the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas and Mission Control in Houston, and I have even had afternoon tea in J.R. Ewing's bedroom, outside Dallas. I have done Texas, understand. I have even visited Bryan-College Station and been shown more hospitality by a wonderful group of Texans who call themselves Aggies than any human should expect to be shown anywhere this side of heaven.
But of all the treasures Texas has to offer, none will ever surpass, in my heart, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
I have tried to keep y'all updated, every now and then, with my progress in my battle with prostate cancer. I have tried not to let it dominate my life or my writings. As you might recall, my cancer was detected by a PSA test during a routine physical. If you are a man, make sure you have yours done. You might also recall that my cancer is a particularly aggressive and insidious strain that had escaped my prostate capsule even before I had it removed, and that the 40 daily radiation treatments I incurred didn't even slow my cancer down.
I was diagnosed last February with Stage 4 metastatic prostate disease and the prognosis wasn't good. I could have gone anywhere in the world to seek treatment. I chose to go to M.D. Anderson and it was the best decision I have made since asking my lovely wife, Lisa, to marry me.
I was a bit intimidated by the size of the place at first, and the fact that it is so far from home. But after several visits I am right at home now and can find my way around the facility as easily as I can find my way around Porterdale or the UGA campus. The people there are caring and professional and efficient and I am happy to announce that when I went there this week for my most recent treatments and battery of tests, I learned that the cancer in my bones has not spread since March and that my PSA is non-detectable. My pain and fatigue and bone decay is treatable.
So God bless Texas, and God bless M.D. Anderson, and God bless all of you who are praying me through this ordeal. And please -- make sure you, or the men in your life, are aware that prostate cancer is a killer. Get that PSA checked. September is prostate cancer awareness month for a reason, you know.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.