Liberty student, recently diagnosed with cancer, is about to graduate

Carlton Payne, a Liberty graduate student, felt like he had an upset stomach almost constantly. During the summer of 2022, he thought it was the food he was eating, so he would go on different diets. His pain would subside for a short time, but the same discomfort would return.

In August, he went to see a doctor about the discomfort he had been experiencing for several months. After blood work, his doctor thought that he must have colitis: an inflammation of the colon. Payne was prescribed antibiotics, but the pain still persisted.

Doctors then thought that he must be suffering from acid reflux since some of the symptoms were similar. Doctors prescribed medicine for him again, but nothing changed. After another failed attempt from doctors at diagnosing the cause of his pain, Payne’s coworkers referred him to a doctor in
Bedford, Virgina.

Payne’s new doctor performed an ultrasound on him, finding cancer and a blood clot. The doctor then sent him straight to a hospital in Bedford, where he was then transferred to a different hospital in Roanoke. There, he was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer and shortly after, began his first cycle of chemotherapy at this same hospital.

“Before (I was diagnosed), I was pretty much thinking everything but cancer,” Payne said. “And when I found out, one of the first things I thought was, ‘Well, did they catch it in time to treat it?’ Then at first, they didn’t know. They didn’t know what it was at first.”

Payne initially had no answers about his treatability and started to accept his condition. He knew that the situation was out of his own control. 

He began his treatments five days a week, receiving chemotherapy and then taking a two-week break. This cycle continued for four weeks. 

Carlton Payne

Doctors told Payne that he would need to take a break from his job as a seventh, eighth and ninth grade Bible, geography and history teacher at Timberlake Christian School. He also knew he would need to have someone drive him to all of his cancer treatments, so when Payne’s first round of chemo ended, he went back to his home state of South Carolina to finish his next three rounds of treatment and finish out his Master of History degree online.

“I really didn’t have many thoughts going in (to treatment),” Payne said. “How I felt during it, … I was extremely nauseous. During chemo, I wouldn’t eat lunch because I just wasn’t hungry. There at the end, they were giving me just about everything they had at the cancer center for nausea.”

Payne’s father passed away from Type 1 diabetes just before Payne started to feel sick, but his mother was there to support him during every step of his treatment. As time goes on, Payne says he feels more and more encouraged and confident that he can beat his cancer. He believes this confidence is a combination of the doctor’s positive reinforcement and the Holy Spirit.

While Payne was never able to formally say goodbye to his students, they have still sent him notes and letters throughout his recovery. A few of his professors from Liberty have also been checking on him as he goes through his treatments. One professor, Dr. David Snead from the history department at Liberty, checks on Payne every couple of weeks to see how he’s doing.

Payne says these messages from his classes and professors have been some of the most encouraging things during his battle with cancer. He finished his chemotherapy treatment in January of 2023, and is now waiting on two different surgeries to hopefully remove all the remaining cancer from his body.

One surgery is scheduled for June 21 to remove one of his kidneys and part of his liver, and the other is scheduled for June 5 to repair a collapsed vertebra. He hopes to join commencement in-person and to be back with the professors who have been praying for him all year. 

“I would say God has gotten me through it, and the power of prayer, too,” Payne said. “Because if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Payne is also excited to be finished with his master’s degree and to finally be back with his students soon.

“It has strengthened my faith too, … just knowing that God can bring me through tough times,” Payne said. “I look back on it and (my treatment) almost seems like a dream, (like) it’s in the far distant past. I feel good. I feel like I did before I got sick. I think about how if God got me through that, he can get me through anything.”

Lechner is the graduating social media and web manager for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter

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