- Associated Press - Thursday, November 26, 2015

RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. (AP) - Kerry Gilbert sits in his easy chair at his home in Franklin County and pets his dog, Honey, who is snoozing comfortably by his side.

Gilbert wears his trademark smile and exudes his typical jovial demeanor, but those who know him well know it’s more of an effort these days to wear a smile and make jokes, all things considered.

Gilbert, a well-known local musician who has been in the music business for 30 years, is the picture of positivity and thankfulness - something many people are embracing given the time of year. But once again, those who know him well know it’s not without effort.

Gilbert is fighting his second battle with non-Hodgkin’s pancreatic lymphoma, a cancer he was first diagnosed with in August 2013 that went into remission in January 2014 and reoccurred in August.

When he went in for routine scans to make sure he was still in remission, Gilbert said he wasn’t really prepared for the abnormal reading that came back.

“They weren’t real sure what they were seeing at first, but they confirmed the cancer had reoccurred,” Gilbert said. “That was a tough day for me. I was very upset. I wasn’t mad or angry, but I was upset knowing I would have to fight this again. But my friend and band mate, Hugh Banks, wrote a song called ‘Tie Another Knot and Hang On’ and I knew that’s what I needed to do.”

Gilbert said after his first diagnosis more than two years ago, he made a decision he was going to be more thankful for the little things in life and more intentional about focusing on what truly matters - his faith, his family and his friends.

“I have a lot to be thankful for,” Gilbert said. “I am thankful for Christian parents who instilled in me Christian values and the faith that I cling to every day. I’m thankful for the health I do have. Every morning when I wake up, I open my eyes and thank the Lord for another day to live before I even get out of bed. There are a lot of people who don’t have the privilege. And I’m thankful for my family and my friends. I think about people who go through something like this without the support of family or friends, and it breaks my heart.

“I’m trying my best to remain positive, but there’s no way I could do that apart from the Lord and apart from the people He has placed in my life to lift me up during the difficult days.”

Those difficult days come often. Gilbert sits in a chair because standing for too long makes his neuropathy flair, which causes severe pain. Every so often, he shifts positions or moves around because sitting for too long causes him to hurt as well.

“It’s just something I’ve had to learn to deal with,” Gilbert said. “It’s a side effect of the chemo treatments. In order to fight the disease, you have to deal with the side effects. But I’m still here and I’m still fighting, so I’m not going to complain. Even when I’m having to use a cane to get around sometimes, I just think about how blessed I am to still be here and just try to focus on that.”

Music and performing have been a big part of his life, but because of the neuropathy and the chemo treatments, Gilbert, who once had a demanding schedule, has been reduced to only performing twice a month.

Having to cut back on what he loves to do would also be a reason for bitterness and resentment, but Gilbert said he’s just thankful for the good days that he does get to play.

“I’m a people person, so there’s no way I could just give up and reduce myself to sitting in the house all day every day,” Gilbert said. “I get out as much as I can, but I also have to respect my limits. I’m so glad when I’m able to do a show and draw from the positivity of the people around me. That kind of stuff keeps me going, keeps me fighting.”

Fellow musician and friend Marty Raybon, with the popular group Shenandoah, said Gilbert has been an inspiration to countless people, including himself.

“Kerry exudes such a positivity and such a grace in the midst of his trials,” Raybon said. “People walk away from him saying, ‘That guy has cancer?’ It’s hard to believe he’s going through something like that because of his outlook and the way he handles things from day to day. He inspires me to face trials in the same way. You always wonder how you would handle something like that if it ever happens to you, and I just hope I would handle it like Kerry has and is.

“His actions speak volumes to his faith in the Lord and he has been such a great witness. There are people who don’t read the Bible, but they read people who do. There’s no telling who Kerry has inspired just by the way he lives. We could all learn a lot from him.”

Thanks to social media and smartphones, Gilbert said he’s had the chance to spread his message of hope to more people than he ever imagined.

“I had so many people come to see me when I was in the hospital last time, and I have hundreds of people sending me encouraging posts or messages on Facebook or in a text message,” Gilbert said. “I had no idea so many people cared about me or just how wide my circle of influence had become. When I realized how many people were seeing my posts and following my journey, I knew I needed to make it count.

“I had gone through life only being concerned about myself for a long time, but when something like this happens, you find out what truly matters, and what matters most is telling people about the Lord and all He has done for me and investing in the people around you. In Isaiah it says to trust in the Lord because in Him is everlasting strength, so I’m trusting in Him and His will for me. I’m not afraid of dying. When it’s my time to go, I know where I’ll be going. Until then, I’ll just tie another knot and hang on until the Lord calls me home.”

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Information from: TimesDaily, https://www.timesdaily.com/

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