RANTOUL — A tumor on his left toe turned into a 14-year odyssey that changed Bob Fulling's life, not to mention the lives of many others.
The Rantoul man said he has been blessed by cancer.
Told several times that he should write a book about his experiences, Fulling has done so. The book, Fulling said, tells how God can take something bad and turn it into something good.
The story starts in 1998. Fulling had neglected having a doctor look at a large tumor on his left toe for nearly two years.
When he did, the doctor diagnosed that it was melanoma.
"After the oncologist looked at the toe and found out that this cancer had been there for nearly two years, his prognosis was not particularly good," Fulling said. "In his opinion, if I had had this cancer for a two-year period of time, the likelihood of this cancer coming back was very high, and if it did come back, it would most likely be terminal."
He recommended that Fulling and his wife, Karen, who have been married for 45 years, get their affairs in order.
The statement was a life-changer.
But God had a different plan for them, Fulling said, and a "different journey."
"That journey would take me into parts of the world that were certainly not on my radar in 1998," he said.
Instead, the cancer went into remission, and Fulling was able to make five mission trips to China.
"Blessed By Cancer" tells about one young man that Fulling met in Inner Mongolia in 2002. He gave him the Bible to read.
Fulling returned two years later to see how the boy was doing and found that the boy had hidden the Bible. When he asked him about it, the boy retrieved it from a cabinet.
That led to the boy's father, a rural doctor, reading the Bible, resulting in a change in his life.
"He now had a new medicine to tell his patients about," Fulling said of the Scriptures.
"Throughout the book, I refer to Jeremiah 29:11, which is the scriptural focal point of the entire book," Fulling said.
The passage reads, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Fulling tells several such stories of providence in the book.
On the same trip, Fulling's mission team was carrying into the country a large number of New Testaments and complete Bibles that they intended to distribute as they traveled.
"As we were departing from one of the major cities of China to fly to Beijing, we actually got caught with 34 suitcases that were loaded with the illegal materials," Fulling said. "I really thought that we were going to be arrested. But God stepped in and provided an amazing pathway of events that allowed us to continue our journey."
They flew out of that airport with all of the Bibles still in the suitcases and continued on their trip.
On that same trip, local police in Inner Mongolia arrived and confiscated their passports, which would have prohibited them from traveling, when they were intending to distribute Bibles at a school.
"As we were confronted with this challenge to our trip, God stepped in again to remind us that He was still in charge," Fulling said.
A violent storm hit the area, followed by a rainbow.
Five minutes later the local police returned and gave back their passports.
The mission team was able to distribute several Bibles at the school.
Fulling's pastor, the Rev. Ken Crawford of First Baptist Church, Rantoul, said he has known Fulling for about 13 years.
"He's very solid in his practice of faith," Crawford said. "He's a real leader in the community."
Crawford said even after knowing him so long, he learned a lot about Fulling by reading the book, about "how deep his convictions are and how unselfish he is with his life."
Fulling calls the book "truly (a) story of how God took a prognosis of deadly cancer and turned it into a blessing for me and my family. The truth is that the journey is not over yet."
Fulling said he is waiting to see what is around the next bend, the next step of the way in the journey.
He said things were difficult for him and his wife after he was first diagnosed with cancer.
"Both Karen and I were in the typical self-pity party of 'Why me? Why us?'" Fulling said, noting that they didn't tell their family the potential seriousness of the cancer.
"But interesting enough, God was working on this side ... as well," Fulling said. "As the seriousness of the cancer seemed to fade away, God opened new chapters and opened new doors."
Given more time
As a result, he said, he and his wife have been given more time with their four sons and families, including 11 grandchildren. Their sons are spread throughout the country, from Seattle to the Philadelphia and Boston areas.
Fulling said he was told on a number of occasions that he needed to write a book about his experiences.
As Fulling began to write down the events of the last 14 years, "It was amazing to me how God seemed to generate most of the memories that were really important as I wrote the book," Fulling said.
The book is self-published and is available only through First Baptist Church of Rantoul. Crawford said a copy has also been given to Rantoul Public Library. Fulling said he receives no financial gain from sales of the book.
The title, "Blessed By Cancer," is sure to make anyone do a double take.
"It seems to be an oxymoron title," Fulling said. "Cancer can never be a blessing. That would be the opinion of most people. But as God's plan began to unfold, that truly was the resulting effect of my cancer."
Fulling did not want to downplay the seriousness of the disease.
"Certainly all cancers do not end in this fashion," he said, "but I felt this was his story and his title. For me, personally, this cancer was a blessing. He took me out of the business arena (Fulling and his wife owned Rogers Supply Co. in Champaign for 24 years) and placed me in an arena where I became totally dependent upon him, and true to form. He built bridges that I never thought were possible," he said.
Fulling said he knows that the cancer can return at any time.
"Over the 14 years, I came to realize that his choice of timing is the important thing."