Cancer Saved His Life

Below is the eulogy that I delivered at my father’s funeral last October.  I have been back and forth as to weather or not to share this with the general public.  It’s a very personal story to me because it’s basically my father’s testimony written through my eyes.  His life was full of pain and heartache, but in the end, he got it all right.

Tonight, I met a young man who needs to hear my dad’s story.  He is living the very same life I was 25 years ago.  God reminded me that while our testimonies are very personal, they are not meant to be private. God often uses testimonies to bring others to the foot of the cross.

I truly hope this will help someone out there.  It’s a story of redemption and the truth that I will see my dad again one day.


My father with his 5 grandchildren.

Cancer Saved His Life

You may be asking yourself, “Did he read that title right?”  I assure you that I did.  As I sit here writing this I’m able to glance over and see my father sleeping peacefully in what I’m sure are his last days.  I’m sure cancer is going to take his life, but there’s one other thing that I’m also sure of.  It absolutely saved his life.  

Billy Graham once made this statement a few years prior to his death, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it.  I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Friends, the same is true for my father. Yesterday’s obituary said that Danny Bruce Hollis died, but that’s not true.  He is also more alive now that he’s ever been because he is also in the presence of God.

Jerome (my brother) and I grew up in a very disruptive home.  The man lying here today is not the man we grew up with.  The Bruce Hollis before 2011 was a raging alcoholic.  I remember spending my teenage years driving from bar to bar looking for my dad in the middle of the night only to turn violent and cause a scene once I found him.  I was angry with my father and I only became more and more bitter each time he didn’t keep his word to stop drinking.

Each promise only lead to another disappointment, and each year only widened the chasm that had formed between he and I.  By 2010 our relationship was nonexistent as I had not seen nor heard from him in a several years.

In 2011 a friend of mine asked me to go to lunch with him to discuss a fundraiser that he was working on. Greg Ellis was a recovering addict who was looking to give something back to The Carter Hope Center, which is the organization that helped him get clean and get his life back in order. Over lunch, Greg began to tell about this crazy idea he had about running 100 miles on a treadmill while others would pay to come run along side him all through the night.  He had reached out to me to see if we could get the support of local Run for God members.  I agreed to help and just as we were leaving Greg made the statement, “You should just join me for the run.”

Now I love running, but a hundred miles on a treadmill was not my idea of fun nor did I think I could even do it.  It’s funny how your words often come back to bite you.  I no more got home and walked into my office and three words were staring me in the face.  You see I’m famous for making the statement “YES YOU CAN” to anyone who says they can’t complete the Run for God course.  I believe it so much that it’s printed on the back of our books, and for whatever reason, one of our books was laying upside down that night on my desk. Needless to say, I called Greg the next morning to tell to let him know I’d be joining him.

Over the coming months I ran more than I had ever run.  100-mile weeks became common.  I got a chance to meet Chuck and Kara Smith who founded the Carter Hope Center, and got to know many of the people who worked there.  The Carter Hope Center has a proven track record of success.  Chuck who is a recovering addict himself has done a great job with the vision that God has given him which is why they usually have a waiting list of people who want to get in.

Many times God is working and we don’t even know it until we have a chance to look back.  The fundraiser went great, my run ended at mile 50 due to an injury, but we raised a lot of money for The Carter Hope Center that night.  What I didn’t know was that God had already put a plan into motion.  Within weeks of that fundraiser and getting to know Chuck and Kara, I found myself calling in a favor.

I’ll never forget driving down Highway 41 through Rocky Face when my phone rang.  It was an unknown number, which I don’t normally answer, but for some reason this time I did.  The voice was one that I had not heard in years.  It was a voice that I had blotted out of my life because I didn’t want my kids to see his destructive lifestyle.  It was the voice of my Dad.  His message was simple.  I need help. I’d heard these words before, but this time it was different.  Many people have told us through the years that often times addicts and alcoholics have to hit rock bottom before they make a change.

Dad began to share that he had been admitted to a local detox facility after being found almost dead in a hotel room.  They were about to release him and he had nowhere to go.  My father who was once a wealthy builder and developer who had it all was now washed up and homeless.  I’ll never forget walking into that clinic and seeing my dad after several years of not seeing him.  I almost didn’t recognize him.  His once lean toned body was now skin and bones, a testament to what addiction can do to ANYONE.  He was ashamed of what he had become, and all I knew to do was hug him.

Before arriving to pick him up I was on the phone calling in that favor.  I called Chuck and asked, “I know you have a waiting list, but can you take my dad?”  I thank God that he told me to bring him on over.  Within minutes of picking my dad up we were at The Carter Hope Center getting him settled in to his new home.  It was a modest twin bed in a room with four other men who found themselves in the same situations.

The weeks that followed were nothing short of amazing.  Dad began to flourish.  He became active in the program and it was obvious that this time his promise was for good.

I remember Dad calling Jerome and I one day saying that he was having some bad abdominal paid and that he needed to go to the hospital.  Within just hours of him arriving to the hospital, he was being prepped for emergency surgery.  Dad had a major bowel obstruction that was most certainly cancer.  I’ll never forget him laying on the hospital bed as they were about to wheel him into surgery.  The look on his face will forever be seared into my mind.  He was terrified, and God clearly revealed to me why. I asked the nurses and doctors to simply stop and leave the room.

For the first time in my life I asked my father if he knew where he was headed should he not survive that surgery.  He said no, and on that day in September of 2012 I had the honor of leading my father into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

That day our father forever changed.  He made it through that surgery.  Yes he had one of the deadliest cancers you can have, but he also had a brand new life. Our dad became the father he had never been.  Our dad became the Paw Paw his grandkids had never known.  Our dad became wealthier than he’d ever been because he’d learned to love the people in his life rather than the possessions of it.  After leaving the Carter Hope Center he lived in a simple one-bedroom apartment with a fridge that was no longer stocked with beer but rather Yahoo’s.  Some of the highlights of his weeks were riding around to jobsites making sure that Jerome and I were doing our jobs right and having the candy jar stocked for when I’d bring my boys by before church on Wednesday’s.  He even let Brett pull a utility trailer across state lines on I75 on his 16thBirthday.  His reasoning?  He’s gotta learn sometime.  He became a man that we can all learn something from today.

The most important thing that our Dad became was a shining example that God is real and that God was real in his life.  You see just last week my dad was facing another surgery that the doctors said he may not walk out of.  Dad knew this, but he also knew a lot more than he did six years ago.  You see, this time when I asked him if he knew where he’d spend eternity should he not walk out of that surgery, his answer was instant and firm.  He assured me that he would spend eternity in heaven and that he wasn’t afraid of dying. He was at peace!

It took a crisis to bring our dad to the foot of the cross.  It took a crisis to make my dad understand that there’s more to this life than a bottle, a drug, an addiction, or a habit.  There’s more to this life than what we have, what we build, or what we buy.  The most cherished things in life are free.  Our family, our kids, our relationships, our friends, our testimony, and our legacy.

In the end, the man lying here before you today got it right.  He loved his family, he loved the Lord, and he loved all of you who are here today. And for that reason, he left this earth a very wealthy man.

So what about you?  If you died today, will you spend eternity with my dad?  Will you spend eternity with Jesus Christ?  Where is your treasure?  Is it in things that don’t matter, things that can be stolen or forgotten?  Or is your treasure in the simple things of life? Faith, Family, and Friends?

These are tough questions, but the answers have eternal consequences.  If there is any doubt about your answers to these questions, please see me after the service.  I’d love to talk with you.

Yes I’m sad because my kids and I will never raid my dads candy jar again, but I do know where he is, and I know that I’ll be with him again someday.  The only question is, “Will you be joining us?”

On behalf of our family, we love you all, thank you for being here!


1 thought on “Cancer Saved His Life

  1. Mitchell I love your way of writing. It’s like having a live conversation with you. I’m sorry about the passing of your father. What a gift that you were able to lead him to Jesus before he passed. Yes you will see your father again and what a reunion that will be!

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