Elder Perry’s ‘wildfire’ cancer shocked family, but son recalls dear memories

Elder Perry’s ‘wildfire’ cancer shocked family, but son recalls dear memories

Elder L. Tom Perry
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve visits Micronesia Guam to create the first stake. Jan.10, 2011. (Image via deseretnews.com; Courtesy of Michael Dowdle)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The “wildfire” cancer that took Elder L. Tom Perry’s life on Saturday shocked his family, but he met the terminal diagnosis with customary acceptance of the Lord’s will, his son said Sunday.

Elder Perry, who was 92, died within 40 days of being diagnosed with rare anaplastic thyroid cancer. The invasive cancer ripped through his body with such speed it also stunned members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who revered Elder Perry as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Elder Perry tried to maintain his duties as a member of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until last week, said his son, Lee Perry, who was his biographer and is the dean of BYU’s Marriott School of Management.

“It was only on Tuesday that he realized it was too much and that he couldn’t do it any more, so he did the appropriate things,” Perry said. “Elder (Russell M.) Nelson was traveling, so he talked to Elder (Dallin H.) Oaks and Elder (M. Russell) Ballard and explained the situation. He had a last few instructions, but he said he had the sense his mission was done and that they should move forward without him.”

In a one-on-one, 15-minute interview Sunday morning with the Deseret News, Lee Perry provided new details about Elder Perry’s cancer, gave insight into the family’s feelings and shared personal memories of his father.

Elder L. Tom Perry - Son recalls fond memories
Lee Perry wipes tears as he talks Sunday, May 31, 2015, of the passing of his father, Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, during a sit-down talk in the Relief Society Auxiliary Building in Salt Lake City. (Image via Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

“It’s not tragic, but it was certainly sudden and sad,” he said.

“It was only on Tuesday that he realized it was too much and that he couldn’t do it any more, so he did the appropriate things,” Perry said. “Elder (Russell M.) Nelson was traveling, so he talked to Elder (Dallin H.) Oaks and Elder (M. Russell) Ballard and explained the situation. He had a last few instructions, but he said he had the sense his mission was done and that they should move forward without him.”

In a one-on-one, 15-minute interview Sunday morning with the Deseret News, Lee Perry provided new details about Elder Perry’s cancer, gave insight into the family’s feelings and shared personal memories of his father.

“It’s not tragic, but it was certainly sudden and sad,” he said.

Rare cancer

Elder Perry told his family on April 19 that doctors had identified a mass on his thyroid and that he was going to have a biopsy the next day.

“He wanted us to be aware that it was likely to be malignant,” Perry said. “I went home and researched things and found out the odds of it being terminal cancer were pretty small because the kind he had was quite rare. There were four kinds, and the other three were quite treatable. He happened to have the one that wasn’t, anaplastic thyroid cancer.

“I was in the hospital room when his pulmonologist let my father know he was a very sick man even though he might not feel that way.”

Another of Elder Perry’s doctors called the cancer a wildfire.

“It’s really hard to fathom how fast it was, but it was like a wildfire,” Perry said.

The family joined church members around the world in praying for a miracle.

“We certainly wanted one, either a medical one or a heavenly one, we wouldn’t have cared too much which. We found out about three weeks ago that we’d run out of medical options, so we waited for a heavenly miracle. We always know those come according to God’s will, and we accept that. My father certainly did.

“He was very reconciled to everything.”

Read more and view a photo gallery at Deseret News

1 COMMENT

  1. What a great example Elder Perry has been in my life. His Christlike service has touched the life others and I. May god continue to gourde him as passes this mortal journey. May God watch over Elder Perry’s family that they may be comforted.

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