If you're from Gautier, or even Jackson County, chances are pretty good you've heard of James Henry LeBatard. He has been extremely active in the community over the years, and was recently named Jackson County's outstanding citizen of the year.
The community leader has overcome a lot of adversity over the last decade. For the past ten years, James has been battling cancer.
As it is with so many cancer patients, it has been an emotional roller coaster, with highs and lows. And while his battle is now winding down, James is determined to live every day to its fullest.
"I've learned a great deal about rejoicing in the moment and enjoying the time that I have," LeBatard said.
And enjoying the time he has left is exactly what the 59-year-oldis doing. The retired high school English teacher's battle with cancer started in 2004 with a sore throat that wouldn't go away. Six months later, he received his cancer diagnosis.
"My right tonsil was twice the size it should've been. He took a biopsy and it was squamous cell carcinoma; a type of skin cancer."
Doctors told him the cancer was very responsive to radiation, but warned him that the radiation might lead to another cancer down the road.
"Dr Lyons told me radiation could cause cancer as easily as it could cure it."
It was a long battle, but after several months of radiation treatments, the cancer in James's throat was gone.
"We had 95 or 96 radiation treatments to kill the cancer."
For the next eight years, he delved back into the community work he loves. He continued as Deacon at Church of the Redeemer in Biloxi, along with his charitable work with the homeless and shut-ins. He continued his work with the Civitan Club, and Gulf Coast Opera; two organizations he once presided over as President.
"I've been active in the community my entire life."
Unfortunately, after eight years of remission, James had a new battle to fight; one that would prove even more difficult. It started with a toothache.
"It proved to be a bone cancer, induced by radiation; osteogenic sarcoma."
James had surgery at University Medical Center in Jackson in February of last year.
"They removed my jaw from just below the hinge to the chin."
Initially, doctors were pleased.
"When I woke up, they were all smiles. They said, 'It was a textbook operation and we think we got all the cancer.'"
But seven months later, he received more bad news. The cancer was back.
"They did scans and it was present in my jaw and also in my chin."
This time surgery wasn't an option. The only option was chemotherapy.
"And I foolishly asked if there were a time frame, and he said without chemo I might live six months, and with chemo I might live a year, which was very devastating news."
Despite the devastating news and dire prognosis, James opted for the chemo.
"I owed it to myself to try. The doctor said there was a 10 percent chance it would help."
He had his first round of chemo last November, but by January he learned that the cancer was not slowing down. His doctor shared the dreaded news; news that James hoped and prayed he would never have to face.
"He said, 'James, the time has come.' It was a watershed moment. I felt a mixture of sadness and a sense of relief. But no matter what comes, I'll be alright."
Now that his treatment options had run out, James had to make a decision about his future, and he chose hospice care. He is still determined to make the best of the time he has left.