About DTS

Tom Pussel

Tom PusselTom Pussel sat in a hospital room receiving a blood transfusion when the doctor came in and said, “Tom, you have cancer—it looks like lymphoma.” When the doctor left, Tom and Ross (his then girlfriend, now wife) were left to sort out the news.

A couple months earlier they had gone to a blood drive together, and Tom was unable to give blood because he tested anemic. On the advice of some friends he went to a doctor who discovered that he had a very low blood count. That doctor referred him to a hematologist (blood specialist) who immediately scheduled a blood transfusion and a bone marrow aspiration. (An aspiration samples the core of the bone marrow.)

“I vividly recall the doctor pulling out a plug of just solid sludge—there was no visible bone marrow, just cancer—the doctor didn’t say anything right away, but I could tell by the expression on his face, and by the way the nurse was looking at me, that something was very wrong.”

So instead of going to the movies, or going out on a date the next Friday, he and Ross went to the hospital for his first blood transfusion.

“I remember watching someone else’s blood as it hung on the IV pole, circled down the tubing and went into my system. I couldn’t help but to think of Christ and his blood trickling down the cross. And that was the beginning of my adventure.”

Tom prayed through every step of his battle with cancer that began in March of 2000 and lasted six months. His girlfriend Ross, his parents Franz and Helen Pussel, and Bob and Carol Jackson (close family of Ross who took him in during the ordeal) were there through all of it. They all went through the tough decisions of choosing a doctor and a treatment facility.

“God surrounds us with people who help us to discern his direction … if Ross was going to be my future bride and share life with me, then she needed to be a part of the decision-making process ...”

In the middle of his treatments Tom proposed to Ross, and she said yes. Then as his fiancée, Ross stuck by him as he finished out his treatments and his stem cell transplant. Four months after it was all over, they got married.

“My hair grew back for the wedding.”

But God’s hand was working in his life prior to the cancer.

Tom was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. His family was Lutheran, and he fondly remembers growing up and being confirmed at his home church, St. Thomas LCMS. He remembers trusting Christ as a child, but through high school and college his focus wasn’t always on the Lord. “I had bigger things to worry about, like baseball, finding a date, and where the next party was.”

Tom was the social chairman of his fraternity and played two years of baseball while he studied at Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college in Ohio. He graduated with a double major in Spanish and business management and went on for graduate work at Xavier University in Cincinnati where he pursued an MBA, as well as a master’s degree in health services administration.

Throughout his education he found significance in his chosen career path, but as he got older, God started pulling on his heart with an increased intensity. In graduate school God put Tom in solitude, pushing him to get to know Him better. It was in that solitude that questions about God and the true meaning of life began to press in on him.

After graduate school, he was offered an administrative fellowship in Houston, Texas, with a large nonprofit Catholic healthcare system. This was his chance to test out his chosen career field.

“The fellowship was God’s taxi cab to get me to Texas. It was a pivotal point in my life because I had no connections in Texas—absolutely no family, friends—so I cried out to God.”

The Lord answered his prayers, surrounding him with Christian friends from Houston’s First Baptist Church. During this time Tom got plugged into several Bible studies and also met Ross. Their relationship accelerated quickly, which came as a surprise to them both. But God in His foreknowledge was preparing them for what was to come.

As he grew spiritually, Tom’s priorities changed from a career in caring for the physical health of others to the spiritual state of others. Slowly, thoughts of attending seminary started creeping in, but he kept those on the back burner.

“I’d have these random thoughts about eternity and the spiritual state of others during countless business meetings and I’d think I was going crazy.”

As his fellowship came to a close, Tom and Ross knew they wanted to get married, even though he hadn’t proposed yet.

“My parents came down to visit in the middle of that spring, and I dropped the bombshell on them that the beautiful woman they just met and had a chance to spend some time with was probably going to be their future daughter-in-law.”

Two weeks later he was diagnosed with cancer. It had taken over an estimated 70–80 percent of his bone marrow. Technically stage IV, the doctors were not optimistic and considered him a poor prognosis.

“The only chance they were giving me was through a stem cell transplant from my sister or from a donor match in the national donor pool.”

It turned out that his sister wasn’t a match and to make matters worse, there were no matches in the donor pool. However, after only three treatments of intense chemotherapy, his cancer incredibly disappeared, which opened up the possibility of using his own stem cells for the transplant, which is called an autologous transplant.

“This option was inconceivable given my recent condition, but with God nothing is impossible.”

He finished out the six courses of treatments with an autologous stem cell transplant, a procedure that put him in the hospital for 21 days.

During his therapy Tom had plenty of time to reflect.

“I thought, alright, if God is going to give me my life back, then what would I do with it? And I could not think of anything more fulfilling and exciting than to communicate God’s grace, presence, power, and truth. Without God, this life is meaningless.”

So he applied and was accepted to Dallas Seminary, and the newly married couple moved from Houston to Dallas, taking many lessons learned with them.

“All my chips are on the table. Waiting for tomorrow or for the next doctor’s report to do what God has called us to do today, is unacceptable. In life we are not promised tomorrow.”

Tom said the experience has forever changed his perspective.

“When it is night and you’re in a hospital bed, with no immune system, chained to an IV pole; when all the visitors go, and it’s dark, and your mind is blurred from the chemicals, and it’s just you and the ‘beep, beep, beep’ of the machine, what can you hold on to? You can’t hold on to your education, career, 401-K, or memories. Who you can hold onto is Jesus Christ, only to find out that it is Him holding onto you the entire time.”

Tom sees his journey as a blessing. His indelible scars remind him of whose he is.

“When I see my scars in the morning as I look in the mirror, or when I battle with the post treatment fatigue, I am reminded that I am a marked man, here for God’s kingdom.”