Editor’s note: This is the culmination of the Faith in the Summer series which highlighted some of the activities and outreach events that faith groups offered in the summer months.
EDMOND — Mike Wall spent two years battling disease.
Wall fought to extend his life’s journey with his wife and children.
He fought for more time to aid people around the world through Christian mission efforts with his Edmond church.
He fought for the opportunity to run with no limitations or worries.
Wall’s fight with skin cancer was to be the fight of his life.
This summer, Wall ran 50 miles through Nicaragua to raise awareness about melanoma.
As he ran along the Pan-American Highway, with the lush forests of the Central American country as a backdrop, the cancer survivor thought it only fitting that his victory run took place there.
For it was in Nicaragua that Wall, 51, learned that he had a fight on his hands.
Four years ago, while Wall was on a Henderson Hills Baptist Church medical mission trip to Nicaragua, a doctor helping with the effort saw a spot on Wall’s back and urged him to get it examined once he returned home.
Wall, a longtime ministry leader at the Southern Baptist church, 1200 E Interstate 35 Frontage Road, said Dr. William Smith’s timely advice was life-saving: Wall was diagnosed with melanoma, one of the most common and most deadly forms of cancer.
He said the news was shocking.
“You never think you’re going to hear your name and cancer in the same sentence.”
With his wife of 30 years, Vanda, and sons Josh and Caleb, plus his church family, giving him their prayers and support, Wall underwent treatment for the disease.
He said he had several surgeries to remove the cancer from his body and he considers himself extremely blessed because the disease was caught in the early stages.
Wall said before his diagnosis, he had been planning a miles-long trek in Nicaragua to raise awareness about education in that country.
He said he has grown to love the country over the years. He said he had visited places such as Chinadega and Somotillo for many years since he went there in 1998 with Henderson Hills missions teams in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch.
Wall said he continued to run near his church and his Edmond neighborhood after he completed his cancer treatment. Soon, he began thinking it would be a good idea and a healthy goal to return to Nicaragua for the run he had initially planned.
“I thought now that I’ve gotten past that (cancer), I’m a survivor. I decided to go back and finish,” he said.
It would be a way to celebrate his triumph over skin cancer and a way to spread information about its potentially fatal impact.
“God says through our suffering, we can be encouraging to others.”
Nicaraguans embraced effort
Wall said he trained for six months so that he could make the 50-mile run through Nicaragua. He said he is a tennis player and an avid runner, but he previously had never run more than 20 miles.
Upon his return to Nicaragua in June, Wall’s goal was to run from Chinandega to Somotillo. Dr. Smith and Stephanie Egert, a nurse, would be there to help him during his expected 10-hour journey.
He said he began the run at 2 a.m. when no one in the villages and cities was awake. Wall said the pre-dawn start was to beat the heat (it was 95 degrees and very humid.)
He said once the sun came up, the run, though exhausting, was scenic and exhilarating, taking him around a volcano and along forests filled with picturesque clusters of beautiful trees.
Wall said the most amazing part of the run was the way the Nicaraguans embraced the effort. Before the run, he, and several Henderson Hills youths who also made the mission trip, met numerous Nicaraguans who had battled cancer or who knew someone who had the disease. Wall said some of them had lost loved ones to cancer.
Many of them signed a “Students Fighting Against Cancer” flag that was created to go with him on his journey. He said the young people from Henderson Hills draped the flag over him at intervals to provide shade for him during certain parts of his run.
He said people seemed to listen as he shared his story with them and urged them to seek medical attention if they saw something abnormal on their skin.
Wall said he also talked about the importance of education, which was the issue he had originally wanted to raise on his run, but he felt the discussions about cancer were critical.
“Awareness can save people’s lives,” he said. “It boggles my mind when people have something and they’re too afraid to learn what they don’t know, so they don’t go to the doctor.”
The ministry leader said a local TV station interviewed him about the run and followed him on a portion of the run to film his trek.
Along the run, Nicaraguans who heard about his run came out of their homes and businesses to cheer him on and offer him water as he ran by.
“They were so encouraging as I was passing by. It was very touching — incredible,” he said. “By the time I ended, there were people running with me.”
Wall said a downpour of rain began as he completed his run.
He said the drops of water that pelted him felt wonderful and provided the perfect ending to the long, hot run.
“It just soaked me and I thought of showers of blessings.”
“The purpose for my run is first to bring glory to God. Second, to raise awareness for skin cancer and third for the amazing people that live in Nicaragua that I love so much. As I run I will pray for Nicaragua and thank God for His amazing goodness and mercy He gives to me each day,” Wall wrote on his Facebook page on the day of his run.
He said he wondered if he would have to shun sunlight after beating skin cancer.
“I had always enjoyed being in the sun and thought that part of my life would be over,” he said.
Instead, he said he has learned to take preventive measures such as learning how to use sunscreen effectively and getting checked every three months by his dermatologist.
“I’m just more cautious about what I do,” Wall said.
“It’s simple things you can do to save your life.”
See a related video at NewsOK.com.