Well-wishers buoy spirit of ailing Bishop

Days after having his gall bladder removed at St. Mary’s Hospital, Tillie Bishop will head to Denver this week for the removal of cancerous bone tissue in his left leg, which is weak and broken from the cancer.

It’s the next step in what has been a long and painful battle with a disease that he hopes to defeat.

Bishop, the 77-year-old University of Colorado regent and former legislator for 28 years and Mesa County commissioner, sat on the edge of his bed Saturday in his Grand Junction home for more than an hour, saying he owed much to the people who sent cards and visited with wishes for the best and offers of prayers since he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his leg in May.

Those cards, letters and other expressions of hope and goodwill have been an inspiration and, Bishop said, a bit of a nudge to the conscience.

“I don’t want to let them down,” he said.

Now bald as the result of chemotherapy, Bishop talked Saturday with longtime friend Herb Bacon, then he and Bacon exchanged a knuckle bump.

“I gotta get a gold earring” to complete his new look, Bishop joked as Bacon left.

Bishop’s journey into cancer, chemotherapy and uncertainty began at a meeting of the regents in the spring, when he began feeling pain in his leg. He turned down an offer to go to the hospital there, deciding there was good medical care in Grand Junction, Bishop said.

His wife, Pat, drove home in a snowstorm, and days after he got home his cancer was diagnosed in Grand Junction.

Then, last month, while undergoing chemotherapy, Bishop fell into chills, and soon after, another ailment was diagnosed. A gallstone slightly smaller than a golf ball was lurking in his abdomen and poisoning his bloodstream. Surgeons had to restore his blood count and platelet level before they could attack the gall bladder. Once that was accomplished with transfusions, surgeons removed his gall bladder by laparoscopy.

Bishop is preparing for a drive over the Rocky Mountains later this week to Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver, with Pat again behind the wheel.

“Pat has been a stalwart,” Bishop said. “She’s been a great inspiration and a pillar of strength.”

Since he was diagnosed, Bishop’s weight fell from 182 pounds to 155 and now is back up to 162. His abdomen, though, is still too flabby for his taste, said Bishop, who attended college on a wrestling scholarship and also competed as a collegiate gymnast.

He tilts occasionally to his left as a result of continuing vertigo, but he keeps up a regimen of curls, upper-body stretches and breathing exercises.

“I know how important it is to keep up some strength,” he said.

Once he gets through the necessary tests at Presbyterian-St.Luke’s, surgeons will operate on his left leg. The plan now is to remove his cancer-ravaged tibia and replace it with a titanium rod. He also will get a new knee.

“We hope to remove some or all of the cancer in my leg,” Bishop said. “It will at least take away the pain.”

Since he was diagnosed, Bishop has attended regent meetings and stayed on top of his committee work using telephone conference hookups.

“It’s been a challenge,” he said, ticking off some of the projects he is monitoring. “We’re looking at whether there is grade inflation at the state’s flagship institution, and if so, how to get rid of that.”

He also is staying on top of how online education is working at the University of Colorado, he said.

“We have to make sure our standards are not lowered to accommodate a different way of delivering education,” he said.

Exactly what lies ahead for him is unclear.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” Bishop said. “Now we have to wait for the rest of the story.

“We’re thinking positive.”


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