Pastor Doug Kinney and his wife, Meg, in front of the Community Bible Church in Noyac. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.
By Mara Certic
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. But Pastor Doug Kinney never lost faith, even when both he and his wife were diagnosed with cancer within four months of each other.
Mr. Kinney, the pastor of the Community Bible Church in Noyac, his wife Meg and their six children have had a particularly tough winter, with cancer diagnoses, chemotherapy and operations dominating much of the past few months. This Easter Sunday, April 5, the Kinney family is feeling blessed by the Sag Harbor community and will more than ever celebrate the hope of eternal life.
“And we are so, so blessed,” Mrs. Kinney said, talking about the endless amount of support they have received from the Sag Harbor and church communities.
Since both parents were diagnosed, community members have reached out to help in some way: A group in the church set up a fund to help the Kinneys pay for medical bills that were not covered by insurance; a group of teachers have set up a collection for the family and friends have stepped in to take care of the Kinneys’ six children when they had to go to the city for treatment.
Their son Zebulun’s ninth grade class at Pierson High School got together this week to prepare meals for the family, and on Saturday, April 18, the Sag Harbor Fire Department and its Ladies Auxiliary are co-hosting a spaghetti and meatball dinner at the firehouse to raise money for the Kinneys.
“We’re so blessed by the community,” Mr. Kinney said.
For Pastor Kinney, cancer began with an intermittent toothache in one of his canines that started bothering him in June. Then it switched to the other one. And then it went away.
His dentist couldn’t find anything wrong, dismissed it as just one of those things and suggested that he take a Tylenol.
“Then all four of my teeth went numb,” Mr. Kinney said, and then that too went away. But a lingering feeling remained, a lingering feeling that something was not right.
In September, an oral surgeon diagnosed him with stage 4 lymphoma, which doctors at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center confirmed.
Mrs. Kinney travelled with her husband to Manhattan for treatment, where they’d stay for five days at a time, exploring the city between visits to Sloan Kettering.
“I was able to walk around with the bag of chemo,” Mr. Kinney said, adding that the side effects wouldn’t start to kick in until after the full five days of treatment, when he got back home to Noyac. Sixteen days after one series treatments, just as he would begin to feel normal again, it was back to the city for another round.
Three months into his chemotherapy, Mrs. Kinney went to the doctor for an overdue mammogram. While examining her neck, her doctor discovered a lump. Eleven needle biopsies later, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Mr. and Mrs. Kinney met in 1997 when he was a pastor’s assistant at the Community Bible Church, and she was a congregant. They would only see each other when Mrs. Kinney would come back home for “the big holidays.” It was around Easter in 1997 when they fell in love, and two years later they were married.
In an odd twist of fate, Mrs. Kinney’s grandparents, Bill and Harriet Steck, were the founders of the church where she now plays the part of the “silent person” behind the scenes. In addition to their work with the church and raising their six children together, they also own and operate a 24-hour Christian radio station.
When Mrs. Kinney was diagnosed they kept asking themselves why. Why both of them? Mr. Kinney asked this so much that he convinced himself that their water could have been contaminated with something carcinogenic until he had it tested. But still, he didn’t lose faith.
“This is a time for your faith to kick in,” Mr. Kinney said. “This is a test for us.”
“We really believe part of the Christian faith promises that Christ will be with you at every trial,” he said.
“Life is full of potholes,” his wife added. “You just have to know how to deal with them.”
On March 6, after four months of chemotherapy, Mr. Kinney got the good news that he was in total remission and was entirely lymphoma-free. He will still go in for screenings and tests for the next two years as a precaution.
Almost two weeks later, Mrs. Kinney had her thyroid removed, along with five lymph nodes. She will learn more about what they discovered during surgery at a doctor’s appointment this week. She said the doctors have been positive about her prognosis but may recommend radioiodine treatment.
“The kids have been really great,” Mrs. Kinney said. It was hard enough for them when their father was diagnosed, but when both parents had cancer, “it was really difficult,” she added.
While parents always want to shield their children from pain, the Kinneys knew from the beginning they had to tell their kids about their diseases.
“We knew we were going to tell our congregation because we believe in prayer,” Mr. Kinney said. “There was no way to hide it from them.”
“But kids are just so resilient,” Mrs. Kinney said, as her 5-year-old daughter Campbelle climbed onto her lap.
“This Easter, we celebrate the hope of eternal life, but our biggest concerns are for the ones we’d leave behind,” he said.
On Easter Sunday, Pastor Kinney plans to speak about the Apostle Thomas, the disciple who did not believe Jesus had been crucified and risen from the dead until he could see and feel his wounds.
“Jesus answers those doubts,” Pastor Kinney said. “It’s not like he said, ‘Thomas, you’re fired.’ He showed him. And I think that’s what God does.”