Neil was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer Sept. 19, 2006. Since then, he said, he has had to go through both oral and intravenous chemotherapy, which makes him very tired. He has also endured several surgeries. "It (the cancer) will eventually win, but I hope not for a while," Neil said.
A year after he was diagnosed, Neil said his oncologist told him he didn't think he would still be around a year after diagnosis. "He said, 'The reason you're here has to be prayer, because long ago we did all we could do' (to treat the cancer)," Neil said. "I responded far better to chemotherapy than they ever expected, and I thank God for that, because I firmly believe that a doctor can treat but only God can heal."
Neil explained how he heard of hospice and how he became involved. "I had known of hospice before. My mother-in-law had hospice care before she died," Neil said. "But when I really got involved is when they came to our church and I listened to them. And, at first, I had told them that since I'm a cancer patient myself that I would work with cancer patients. Well, it got to be a little more than that."
Though it's only been about two years since Neil joined, he's been able to do many things for hospice and is able to see things eye-to-eye with the patients he volunteers for because of his own illness.
"We've kind of just directed him where our need was," Bonnie Hayes, Legacy Hospice volunteer coordinator, said.
"My wife and I are both volunteers," Neil said.
"His wife's a retired RN, and he took the (volunteer) course first and then he kind of talked her into it because then they could go together as a team," Hayes said.
Because Neil's current chemotherapy prevents him from becoming actively involved with hospice patients, he along with the help of hospice, has been able to find other ways to help. "I'm trying to make it up by speaking or in other ways that I can to help further the cause because (hospice) is a good effort," Neil said.
"He's going to be the speaker at Little Rock at Relay for Life (on April 24)," Hayes said. Hayes also said National Volunteer Week is April 19-25, and Neil is a good example of what a volunteer should be.
"Neil is one who will do anything that you ask him to regardless of what he feels like," Hayes said.
"I believe I speak for most people when they realize that they're going to die soon or not, most people just want to live their lives with dignity and self respect, and a patient, because they're near the end of life, that (feeling) doesn't change," Neil said. "The only difference in me knowing I've got cancer than either one of you sitting here, is that I know what I will probably die from and you don't. But, we're all facing death, and it's just a matter of time. So, a cancer patient, a heart patient or someone who's been in an accident who knows death is imminent has to face up to it (death) a little more."
But death, Neil said, is no more than opening a door and entering into another life. "It is no more than that, and you don't even have to go through it alone," Neil said.
"The 23rd Psalm says, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me.' It's with Christ that we walk through and it's with Christ that everyone faces death and he's with them in fact all of the time by the side of a patient who's about to die. If you're with a hospice patient, treat (him or her) with respect because your standing in the presence of God at that moment because he's with that person." Neil's faith in the Lord and his love of fellow man keeps him positive though his body is failing.
"One of my dear friends at church believes that God keeps us here as long as he needs us here, and I got to thinking about that and I wouldn't want to be here if God no longer needed me," Neil said. "I wouldn't want to be where God doesn't need me. I just want to be needed. One of the innate qualities of life is that we want to be needed. People say, 'I want to be loved,' and that's true, and, 'I want to love,' and that's true. But, people need it." Neil compared this need to the love between a mother and child.
"If God needs me here, then that's where I want to be," Neil said.
He said he has prepared himself for his own death. "Death is the ultimate journey," Neil said. "Everybody speculates on what heaven would be like and wouldn't it be neat to see?"
He said since he found out he had cancer, he's been preparing himself and preparing things so that his wife and loved ones can be taken care of when he's gone. "She (Neil's wife, Patricia) is as strong a Christian as I am," Neil said.
Neil told a story about William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. He said Booth wanted to send a message to all of the members around Christmas, but he didn't want it to be a lengthy message. "So, he narrowed his message down to one word, and that word was 'Others.' When you come right down to it that's what the Golden Rule says," Neil said.
Hayes said Neil is the epidemy of what anyone would want in a volunteer. She said Neil was working with patients on a pastoral level because his chemotherapy treatments limit what he is able to do with patients. However, now his chemotherapy is preventing him from doing that, as well.
Through his public speaking, Neil hopes that he can reach victims of cancer, heart disease and other terminal illnesses that bring the patients to reach for hospice care.
Neil is very active in his church, First Baptist Church of Salem, and helped out during the ice storms with cleaning brush and debris. He laughed and stated "Now, I need to get mine done."
His selfless nature is one that shines through. He said, "Real happiness is in serving others."