Scott Erdman has lived with cancer longer than his son, Ryan, has been alive. And that’s saying something since Ryan is 28 years old. Erdman, who was in Hollister recently to give a sermon at First Presbyterian Church, has survived six cancerous brain tumors and 15 surgeries spanning a 35-year period living with the disease.
It’s probably an understatement—yes, an understatement—to say the 58–year-old Erdman is a living miracle.
“I’ve been (subjected to) maybe two tons of radiation,” said Erdman, who is friends with Michael Hogg, the head pastor at First Presbyterian. Erdman, who was an associate pastor for 29 years at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood before retiring in 2013, met Hogg 30 years ago. “Thirty-five years ago, God showed up in my hospital room and basically took the disease and walked out of the room with it. From that night on until today, I have not worried for what the future holds for me.”
Erdman, a Sherman Oaks resident, is believed to be one of the world’s longest living survivors of metastatic brain cancer, which results from cancer that starts elsewhere in the body. Erdman was 24 when a tumor was found at the base of his armpit. It was an inflamed lymph node, which was promptly removed. However, this was just a harbinger of Erdman’s recurring bouts with cancer.
From 1991 to 2010, Erdman had no less than a dozen surgeries to deal with multiple tumors that developed and eventually returned to different spots in his brain and other parts of his body. The 6-foot-10 Erdman still walks tall despite having one kidney, no spleen, a partial pancreas and no lymph nodes.
Erdman said he never questioned God or had doubts about his faith even during the hardest years of his ordeal.
“I would not be here if God were not real or alive,” Erdman said. “He has been such an amazing participant in my journey. I lean back on God when things get really tough. (Apostle) Paul said in the New Testament to live is Christ, to die is gain. There comes a time when you think you can do stuff on your own or you can’t, and I know there’s no way I could have gone through this cancer if I didn’t have something bigger than what I had on my own. Christ has been everything for me.”
Keith Black, a doctor and chair of the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Erdman’s physician since 1991, said Erdman’s attitude is one of the reasons why he’s still alive today.
“It’s not lost on us that he is a pastor,” Black said in a April 4, 2015 Los Angeles Daily News article. “One of the things that I’ve seen in many thousands of patients I’ve treated with brain cancer is their attitude is very important in terms of their survival. Whether the fact the pastor had a strong belief that God would provide a solution for him and that boosted his immune system or whether it’s divine intervention, we don’t know. But what we do know is, he’s up and well. It makes us believe every day that we can make some difference.”
Erdman credits God and cutting-edge technology—Black is an internationally renowned neurosurgeon who at the time went against conventional wisdom in handling Erdman’s surgery—for being alive today.
Although the consequences of the surgeries and numerous radiation procedures have taken a toll on Erdman—he finds it difficult at times to recall certain words and has sustained some short-term memory decline—Erdman expressed an underlying joy in suffering through the countless chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Hogg said it was a blessing to have Erdman give a sermon and conduct workshops in Hollister. “I asked myself, ‘How could we be a place that could spiritually care for people with cancer?’” Hogg said. “Scott was able to preach and relate to the people of our community. I’ve been here only four years, and cancer affects every community in the world. There are a lot of folks here who have been battling illnesses for a long time, and we thought Scott could reach people because he’s someone who has been there. The response from the community has been great, and hopefully he’ll come back and do it again.”
Erdman said he doesn’t know where God will lead him next—he’ll simply follow God and trust in him to lead the way. Erdman has a website, scotterdman.com, so people can reach out to him. Erdman said the trials he’s gone through have been tougher on his loved ones.
Erdman’s mom, Jeannette, is still going strong at 83 years old. Erdman still has a weekly dinner with his ex-wife, Pamela.
“She is and continues to be the greatest woman I’ve ever known,” he said. “She was with me in the hardest of times and has done things far beyond I ever expected her to do. She finally had that moment as it happens with many terminal couples (facing cancer) where she burned out and couldn’t handle it. It’s even hard to say that because I don’t know if she would agree with that (assertion). All kinds of things came at her from all different kinds of directions, and she couldn’t do it anymore. I understand that.”
Erdman has been told countless times he only had months or years to live, only to turn back death. Faith is what kept him going. For most of his life, God has been Erdman’s psychologist, someone he could go to and cast his burdens aside. When Erdman’s cancer returned multiple times, he absorbed the blows, turned his grief into strength and relied on God more than ever.
“I am grateful that God was with me every step of the way,” Erdman said. “Whatever God wants to do with me, I’m fine. He can take me whenever he sees fit. As long as I’m here, though, I want to be used for his purposes and glory.”
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