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Wednesday, April 23, 2008 02:33 pm

The death of Superman

Bill Anderson’s journey through cancer had a healing effect on everyone around him

Untitled Document Letitia Dewith-Anderson once scared me silly. She rang my phone, which she didn’t do very often, and when I answered I could tell that this call was of some gravity. “I’ve got bad news,” she said solemnly. My heart dropped. A few years earlier, her husband, Bill Anderson, had learned that he had neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer that rarely strikes adults. When it does, it’s virtually always fatal. In fact, Bill and Letitia didn’t know of another adult who had survived the disease as long as he had. Bill was a miracle. Superman. “My mother’s in the hospital,” Letitia said. “They’re trying to figure out what’s going on, but she may have had a stroke . . . .”
Wait a minute — her mother? I mean, I love, respect, and adore Mrs. Juanita Barton, and I was sorry to hear that she was in the hospital — but she has grandchildren. She has lived a full life. Bill, on the other hand, had just turned 40. I told Letitia that if she planned to call other people, she might want to rephrase her speech. “Oh, you thought something had happened to Bill?” She guffawed like I’d made the funniest joke ever. “Bill’s fine. We don’t even consider Bill sick,” she said. We chuckled about that phone call again Sunday night as we sat at her kitchen table, sharing a box of tissues and reminiscing about Bill while Letitia’s mother, among other assembled friends and relatives, dozed in the den. They met in the late 1980s while working for House Speaker Mike Madigan. Letitia says she never really noticed Bill, except that he “looked like a geek,” until one day, sitting at her desk, she heard the voice of God speaking directly to her and saying, “You are going to marry this man.” She looked up, and there stood Bill. The next day, they attended a meeting in Chicago and wound up going to a Halloween party, smoking cigars, and walking in the rain. Bill gallantly and jokingly laid his coat on the ground for her to walk on. They’ve been together ever since.
Even when Letitia was attending law school in Chicago, she drove home to Bill every night. “We couldn’t sleep without each other,” she says. They were a well-matched and complementary pair: Letitia took charge of the intensity department and Bill presided over all things mellow. They grew together — their family, their careers, their faith.
“We woke up and had breakfast together, we went to work together, we hung out at the Capitol together, we ate lunch together, we hung out with our friends, we came home and went back to bed together,” Letitia says. When I met them, Letitia had taken a high-profile job with Mayor Tim Davlin’s administration. Just 10 tumultuous months later, she resigned [see “Leaving Oz,” Jan. 15, 2004] and went back to working as a lobbyist, like Bill. Within two months, the City Hall circus faded into a fleck of a memory when something happened that put worldly cares into perspective. On March 29, 2004, Bill was involved in a car wreck. Though he initially felt fine, he began experiencing back pain. Tests revealed a stage IV neuroblastoma the size of a grapefruit pressing against his spine. Letitia’s natural reaction was to move any mountain to find a cure — only, with neuroblastoma, it wasn’t possible. “We did the research and we realized they can’t do anything,” she says. “It was very clear: This is not something that man can do.”
Bill underwent surgery and extreme chemotherapy so powerful that its aroma stung Letitia’s eyes. She administered her own treatment: massive doses of love and constant infusions of passionate prayer. To the amazement of everyone else, Bill got well. He returned to work, resumed his daily jogging, kept going to their daughter’s basketball games. Letitia asked me to come “interview” Bill on video so that they would have something to memorialize their journey through cancer. Clearly they had moved past it.
Over the next couple of years I would ask about Bill whenever I touched base with Letitia about other stuff (mostly how to dredlock my son’s hair). Sometimes she would mention that Bill was undergoing more chemo or radiation or receiving platelet transfusions, but she always said he was doing fine. And indeed, every time I saw him, as recently as October, he was the same sweet, wonderful guy — happy, healthy, kind, and serene.
Their preferred treatment — prayer — had also continued, to the point that Bill experienced an intimate awareness of the Creator. Last year, when he bought a new car, he got PFT PWR 1 on his license plates, not because his BMW M3 was so fast but because he had connected with the perfect power.
“Bill always had strong faith,” Letitia says, “but believing and knowing is something completely different. This journey taught Bill that our lives are not about ourselves but about God, the universal mind, that perfect power.”
Three weeks ago, the doctors said that the chemo and radiation had induced acute leukemia. “I say this hesitantly, because I know they told me, but Bill and I don’t believe in paying attention to the doctors. They mean well,” Letitia says, “but they give people no hope.”
He died Friday night, in their bed, in her arms. Letitia, though, knows in her heart that he was healed.
“What’s most important is the spirit, not the body. The healing wasn’t just Bill; each and every one of us has been healed,” she says. “The outcome may not have been everything we thought it would be, but it may have been even greater. Bill touched so many lives, he’s never going to die.” 

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com
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