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Pastor shares selections of sermons, cancer journey in new book

Diagnosed with lung cancer just over a year ago, the Rev. Kurt Jacobson is hoping to help others by sharing his journey in a new book.

Jacobson, the former longtime pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, published his second book “Living Hope: Powerful Messages of Faith,” earlier this year.

The 260-page book, available on, includes a selection of sermons Jacobson crafted over three decades, including “Dangerous Memories,” “God’s House Rules” and “Waiting on God,” along with the entries from the CaringBridge site he has used for more than a year to manage communication after his cancer diagnosis.

“If I can help someone else through this book, it’s all been worth it,” said the 60-year-old Jacobson who now lives in the Barron County town of Lakeland.

Unexpected diagnosis

Jacobson, a non-smoker, has lived a healthy life. Each year, his primary care physician “would smile at the conclusion of my annual physical and proclaim me very healthy,” he wrote in a speech he gave last fall. “I could expect to live a very long life, he would add.”

That is no longer the case. In late 2017, Jacobson developed a cough. When he couldn’t shake it, he got it checked and was diagnosed with sinusitis. He was prescribed an antibiotic, which had no impact.

Jacobson had a chest X-ray on Feb. 22, 2018, which suggested pneumonia. Another round of antibiotics followed. Showing no improvement, he had a second X-ray on March 7, 2018, which showed no improvements. His cough also hadn’t changed.

More testing followed, and Jacobson learned multiple masses in his right lung were non-small cell cancer. Additional tests revealed the cancer had spread to his brain, bones in his hips and everywhere in between.

Jacobson shared the news on CaringBridge, a website for patients and their families to document personal health journeys. He mixed biblical messages of hope, comfort and encouragement with regular updates, information on treatment and requests for prayers.

“On (a) March day, I was diagnosed with this lung cancer,” he wrote in an entry. “I wasn’t given a choice. But it was a day God had given me – and one in which there was reason to rejoice.”

Jacobson chose to receive his care at Mayo Clinic Health System, and he saw Dr. Eyad Al-Hattab, an oncologist at MCHS’s sites in Barron and Eau Claire, in Cumberland.

The pastor asked the doctor for honesty. Al-Hattab told him if his cancer had a genetic mutation, he’d be eligible for targeted therapy that would keep the cancer at bay.

“Only 5% of patients with metastatic (non-small cell lung cancer) test positive for this defect in this gene,” Jacobson wrote. “I’m happy to be in the minority and defective on the genetic front.”

The targeted therapy came in the form of a pill called Alectinib, a drug used to treat a certain type of lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

“I’m expecting a life lease extension (with quality throughout) and that rests on more than a pill,” Jacobson wrote as he awaited the drug’s arrival. “It rests on God, your prayers, the amazing researchers who develop targeted treatment and an oncologist who exudes a positive stance on what he believes will work well.”

And it did. Six weeks after Jacobson began taking Alectinib, there were no signs of a tumor on a chest X-ray.

“Gone. Shot out. Blown away are those uninvited cellular intruders which gave me a cough for months,” Jacobson wrote in a CaringBridge entry on May 19. “A miracle for now. A product of extraordinary science all wrapped up in a pill.”

Jacobson, who takes eight pills a day, is in remission, but he knows the cancer will one day return.

“The uninvited intruders aren’t gone,” he wrote in November. “This isn’t a cure. This cancer will come back with a different genomic mix, so that the Alectinib won’t work anymore. Then, there will be … some new drug to try in order to keep extending this miracle.

“What won’t change is the power of prayer and even better, the mercy which is God’s specialty. There’s nothing else needed, is there?”

Unexpected path

Planning to become a hospital administrator, Jacobson, a Rice Lake native, attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. As part of his training, he was assigned to a small Catholic hospital in St. Paul, where he was rotated through each department, and chaplaincy interested him.

He finished his degree and spent two years working at a bank in Rice Lake before enrolling at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

Jacobson was ordained on June 5, 1988, after he received and accepted a call as a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church. In 1999, he accepted his second call as lead pastor again at the Eau Claire church, where he would stay for close to 30 years.

“Throughout the three decades I wrote sermons, I always wanted the Word to inspire those who came to worship,” he wrote in the book’s preface. “I wanted people to encounter the Upper Story of God, meaning the big picture — the sweeping narrative of how God seeks to be in a relationship with us. I also wanted to provide insight into how God enters and intersects with our lives, the Lower Story.

“I knew every Sunday that there were people thirsting for soul-sustaining hope, grace and guidance,” wrote Jacobson, who served as an interim pastor for a time after retiring. “What I want ‘Living Hope’ to provide is another experience of the Upper Story and the personal story.”

In praise of the Y

Editor’s note: “Sawdust Stories” is a weekly column by local authors, who share their tales about people and places they love in the Chippewa Valley.

I didn’t grow up going to the Y. This may trace back to the fact that my Dad never exercised, unless it was driving to the gas station to buy a couple packs of Old Golds. I can remember him throwing me batting practice on one occasion, at the old Manz Elementary school baseball diamond, a cigarette clenched between his lips. When I redirected one of his pitches back at his face with a screaming line drive and he dropped to the ground, cigarette still smoldering — that was the end of us exercising together.

My mom was always busy shuttling me and my brother around to Little League, Boy Scouts, and church, and somehow, the Y wasn’t on our list of athletic destinations. But when my wife and I moved back to Eau Claire about five years ago, the Y became a godsend for us. The child care was fantastic, and both of our kids loved the swimming lessons. During the school year, I’m at the Y two to four nights a week. You would think all this time at the Y might translate to a shredded body rippling with muscles, but I suppose I spend most of my time shooting free throws while I listen to podcasts.

By any measure, the YMCA is an odd building. Two of the primary entrances off Graham Avenue are not quite vertical ascents, but there’s the feeling of storming a castle’s keep in an uphill fashion. Two flights of stairs just to find the lobby where one discovers, there is really no sense that the building is nestled against the Chippewa River — you can’t see the river at all from the lobby.

The Y might as well be located in the old Kmart building off Clairemont Avenue. What you get is a semi-obstructed view of the pool area, and largely-obstructed view of some basketball courts. The second floor lobby area feels like a rabbit warren of strange spaces and offices, and if you need to hustle your kids to a locker room, well, you’re immediately plunged down a steep staircase. Up to go down.

If you’ve ever escorted your children into the locker rooms, you know those spaces are cramped gauntlets of rusty lockers. Everyone straining not to brush body parts. The showers are narrow and guiding your child to the pool really demands a pair of Wellingtons or waders and possibly an umbrella. The pool area is sort of magical, but also tightly confined. No seating for swim tournaments. Barely enough room to circumnavigate the pool without falling in.

The thing about old labyrinthine buildings like our Y is that you can feel within the walls, all the accumulated years of love, happiness, and accomplishment. The building exudes a positivity; somehow, it seems to glow. In my day-to-day life as a writer, I don’t interact with other people much. But at the Y, I’m pressed into contact with Eau Claire at its most diverse: all ages, all incomes, all cultures, all abilities. One day, I’m riding a stationary bike next to a young man with Down syndrome. The next day, some old friends invite me into a pickup game of basketball where I’m stuck defending a young woman 20 years my junior who eludes me like a gazelle and, at the end of the game, when I’m perilously winded, congratulates me on my effort, as if I were her aged uncle… Kids and the elderly, men and women, all cultures represented…

Eau Claire is going through a renaissance. This is well documented. And some day (hopefully sooner rather than later), we’ll have a fancy, new Y building embracing the river with welcoming windows and shimmering vistas. I’m ecstatic about this. But I also wanted to praise the current Y building in all its faded glory. I believe buildings have souls, the collected memories of the humans that live, eat, learn and play within a set of walls. It is a good thing to reflect on buildings that have served their purpose, and there is no doubt that the Y’s building has done yeoman work. Within my own family, I know that my two children can swim because of the Y, and its instructors. I know that my children have had great summer activities to attend. And by the way — the Y does much of this for free or at discounted rates. It isn’t a matter of privilege. The Y accounts for everyone.

Let me repeat that last sentence — the Y accounts for everyone. As does that building on Graham Avenue.

Next Saturday: B.J. Hollars tells the story of a Wisconsin woman’s front row to history at the Nuremberg trials.