Asked what he likes to do for fun, Paul Litten’s response was short and direct.
“Work,” he said with pride. “I like to stay busy.”
For nearly 20 years, Paul has driven the same bus route bringing Hancock County students safely to school from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. He’s been at it long enough at this point that he’s driven the children of some of his earliest students.
Since last January, Paul’s been working hard in another way, too: fighting pancreatic cancer with the help of the team at Hancock Health’s Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center. It’s a tough diagnosis—but Paul’s nothing if not determined to make cancer a small part of his life.
A Great Life in Hancock County
Before becoming a school bus driver, Paul spent 32 years working on engines for semi-tractor trailers and farm equipment with International Harvester Company. He went to work for International Harvester when a career as a pastor wasn’t putting enough food on the table for his wife and five kids.
Family and faith have always been the cornerstones of Paul’s life. “Without family, what do you have, honestly?” he asked. He’s proud of his children. “We raised them up right. We kept them in church. We taught them values, we taught them respect, and they still have it. All we have to do is holler, and they’re there. It makes us feel like we did something a little bit right.”
Paul said marrying his wife Linda 56 years ago was the smartest decision he ever made. “My wife deserves the Medal of Honor,” he said with respect to the job she did raising their kids. He credits Linda with giving him the strength to recover from a fall last January that led to his cancer diagnosis.
A Sudden Fall
Paul was on his way to church one evening, when he went to take a step and his leg gave out on him. “I took a bad fall,” he said. “They brought me into the emergency room. They sent me in for a CT scan, and that’s when they found the cancer.”
For the next few months, Paul struggled to recover from the fall. “I could hardly walk,” he said. “I had to get on a walker. It was hard to even get out of bed. I worked, and worked, and worked, and I had a lot of good people helping me. The physical therapy people and nurses came out to the house to work with me. And especially Linda. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Paul said his team at Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center didn’t sugarcoat his diagnosis. “When I got to the nurses’ station, they said ‘Paul, you’re going to have to fight this thing.’ I didn’t understand what they meant at the time, but after a while I began to understand,” he said. “I made up my mind that if this gets me, it’s going to know it’s in for a fight.”
When he was initially diagnosed, one of Paul’s sons encouraged him to seek treatment in Indianapolis. But Paul didn’t want to make that drive. So Linda started doing research and was impressed with everything she learned about Hancock Health.
Paul never looked back. “Number one, they treat you like a human being here,” he said. “If I don’t understand something, they’ll sit down and explain it to me, and they won’t be in a hurry.”
Paul said it means a lot to receive this level of care so close to home. “I don’t know what to say, except they’re like family,” he said of the team at Sue Ann Wortman Cancer Center. “Because of the way they treated me and the care I’ve got, they’re all good. They’re all super.”
Even with the support of his family and the tremendous care at Hancock Health, Paul admits he has his share of difficult days. “Sometimes, and I don’t know why, I’ll just be at home or sitting in a chair and I’ll just start bawling,” he said. “I don’t know why, but it’s just part of it. My wife can usually see it coming. I can’t explain that to you. I would just say that every cancer patient has their days when it’s good and bad.”
The Road Goes On
After the diagnosis, Paul wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep working. He credits his healthcare team with keeping him on the road. “I can’t do everything that I used to,” he said, “but thanks to the amazing people here, I still do what I can.”
But Paul won’t let cancer keep him from doing what he loves: He stays focused on his community and the amazing kids on his bus each day.
“The county’s been good to us,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with the people you’re around. The kids are good. The parents down here, they’re just wonderful to me.”