T'S HARD TO TALK LIKE THIS, Chris Conner says.
Yet there are no pauses or stumbles in his voice when he speaks about his faith and conviction -- his belief in God.
"I was always the guy who rolled his eyes like, 'Whatever, weirdo'," when others spoke of their faith, Conner said.
"But whatever it is, it's real when you feel it."
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Conner, a local musician who was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in January, has experienced myriad emotions since -- not the least of which was glee.
Tests last month showed that the cancer, which had spread and spotted his liver, had disappeared. Conner credits prayer.
"When I was in the hospital and everyone was certain I was going to die, I was terrified," he said. "After I had prayed with some folks and got saved, the first thing I asked God for was strength.
"I just didn't want to drag my family down with self-pity."
Conner's fears immediately were soothed. "It came over me like a wave," he said. "Honestly, it felt better than when they told me the cancer was gone. It was overwhelming peace."
THE GOOD NEWS
Conner's cancer-free announcement spread through local bars, e-mail in-boxes and MySpace.com pages. Friends who had rallied around him by coordinating benefit events for the Christopher Conner Foundation were relieved. The foundation has held concerts, barbeques, even a golf tournament to raise money for his mounting medical expenses, which, according to a foundation spokeswoman, have reached half a million dollars.
All-In Entertainment's Charles Wilkie, a co-owner of Headliners, said he was "blown away" by Conner's recovery.
"But I'm not surprised because I know Chris is a very strong guy," said Wilkie, whose club hosted a March 10 benefit concert.
Danielle Howle had faith Conner would get well.
"Every now and then I get a good feeling and it comes true," said Howle, who is filming a documentary about Conner. "I knew this was going to happen. I was glad to hear it for real."
Bentz Kirby, a local songwriter who said he has raised more than $1,000 for the foundation, is a member of Windsor United Methodist Church, which held a prayer service for Conner.
"We'd like to think that (the recovery) is an answer to a lot of prayers for him," Kirby said.
Conner, 37, had three surgeries in February and has undergone chemotherapy.
Despite the recent good news, it's almost certain the cancer will come back, a specialist with South Carolina Oncology Associates said.
"Cancer is very smart," said Rosemary Lambert-Falls, an oncologist who works with the doctors treating Conner. "It will mutate itself, so it will work around the drugs."
But Lambert-Falls said Conner's case makes doctors "throw statistics out the window" because of his dramatic response to treatment.
"He's going to live much longer than the typical lung cancer patient," she said. "This young gentleman can see us retire."
PRAYERS STILL NEEDED
A smoker for 16 years, Conner had quit two years before becoming ill.
His Stage IV lung cancer is the most advanced form because the cancer spreads from the lungs to distant parts of the body such as the liver, brain or bone. Recent scans continued to show bone lesions, but the doctors are not overly concerned, according to Conner.
Wilkie, like several of Conner's friends, remain guardedly optimistic.
"Bottom line: Where it was and where it is now is absolutely amazing," Wilkie said. Lambert-Falls called the cancer's remission miraculous.
"It's very infrequent, but it does happen," she said. "That's why we encourage patients to stick with treatment."
Conner certainly believes it was something more powerful than the chemo, which itself nearly killed him.
"The cancer that I had, you just rarely ever get well," he said. "It's a miracle."
Conner always thought he was a good Christian, but since being saved, he has "been on a little good ride."
He's spending energized time with his wife, Kelly -- whom he married in the hospital in January -- and their 1- year-old son, Ace. He might be off chemo for at least two months. And he has even gone back to work preparing foreclosed houses for resale. In addition, the frontman for The South and former member of the popular local band Sourwood Honey is adding a "praise band" to his resume.
"I think it will be a hit," Conner said of the new band's gospel and bluegrass sound. "I would like to travel around and have people say, 'Oh, it's that guy we were praying for and now he's in our church.'"
Vicki Whitehead, director of the Musicians & Songwriters Guild of South Carolina, a new support organization for songwriters, has heard snippets of Conner's praise music.
"It's better than the stuff he's written in the past," she said. "It's not like it's totally new, but you know immediately that it's different.
"You know that Chris is a deeper person, a changed person through this experience. It adds another dimension to his music."
Whitehead, who helped produce "Never Said It Was Easy Vol. 1," a CD of Conner's songs covered by local bands, said his recovery is a gift and he should use his tools to spread the Word.
"God surely has a purpose for Chris due to his amazing talent and the number of people across all walks of life that his music touches," Whitehead said.
"His work is just not done."
As he regains strength, it's hard to keep Conner from being his old self. July 29, he went to J Edwards' birthday party at Corner Pocket, a bar off Piney Grove Road.
The party patrons stopped smoking inside before he arrived, but the hour-long visit reminded Conner of his limitations.
"It just crushed (my lungs) being somewhere people were smoking," he said.
Still, Conner isn't preachy. In fact, he admits to having an occasional nicotine craving.
"Certain people I get around makes me want to have a cigarette," he said. "Sometimes I think a Marlboro Red would be good right now."
Not a chance, though, that Conner will light up another smoke. He's got too much living to do. Too much loving. And too much praising.
Conner is straight up about what he believes -- and what he believes in -- because "basically, I'll never take another minute for granted."
Is that what the peace of God instills?
“I don't know how I dealt without that peace," he said.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.
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