Bicycle crash leads to cancer diagnosis that saved life of Texas discipleship pastor

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GRANBURY, Texas (BP) — January 27, 2018, was a cool and windy day in North Texas, but one that asked for a bike ride.

Ever since a torn meniscus ended his running regimen, Tan Flippin had spent considerable time on a bicycle to stay in shape. That day the then-57-year-old was riding along a stretch beside a subdivision – a stretch that had recently undergone some street repair.

“I guess they had a little bit of asphalt left over and put it on the shoulder,” he said. “I’d gone through that area before with no issues.”

Flippin’s front tire found the asphalt and he – yes – flipped over the handlebars with his shoes coming unclipped from the pedals.

“I’d had a lot of wrecks and just got up and brushed myself off,” he said. “But this time there was a terrible pain in my right hip and I couldn’t stand.”

His wife, Janet, drove him to the hospital where it was confirmed he had four fractures in his hip. Due to the nature of the accident, doctors wanted a CT scan to check for a concussion.

Flippin waved them off at first, but doctors (and wives) win those debates.

They brought back somber news. A mass appeared at the front of Flippin’s skull, pressing against his brain. Probably a brain bleed, considering the accident. They would check again.

Their return brought a different find. Flippin had a baseball-sized tumor. He would later learn it was malignant.

Since February 2014, Flippin has been leading those at Lakeside Baptist Church in Granbury, Texas into a deeper walk with Christ as discipleship pastor. He is convinced God allowed his bicycle wreck for the tumor to be discovered and give him the path of growing closer to Christ through the experiences to follow.

“If I had looked forward one second earlier, I would have seen the clump of asphalt and avoided it,” he said. “God allowed the accident for my brain tumor to be found.”

The morning after his wreck, Flippin was flown to a Fort Worth hospital where a plate was inserted to hold his hip together. The next 103 days were spent mostly using a walker to get around; a wheelchair proved more useful and faster on Sundays.

Two months after the accident he returned to the same hospital, this time to undergo a craniotomy to remove the tumor.

There is nothing simple about surgery related to the brain, as the neurologist made clear to the couple.

“He kept reminding Janet and me that you never know what things are going to be like when you come out of the surgery,” said Flippin. “He kept using the word ‘wonky’ and said I may be ‘off’ for a bit. We didn’t know what to expect.”

Even before the surgery, Flippin was what many people would call “a character.” Given that, determining post-surgery wonky-ness was hard to ascertain.

“I woke up feeling totally normal,” he said. “They gave me cognitive tests and everything came back fine. I was very fortunate.”

His road wasn’t over, and it remained bumpy. A few days later he found out the tumor was, indeed, malignant. That brought 25 rounds of radiation on the front of his head, taking out the hair in that area. Within a year, follow-up PET scans showed the beginnings of another tumor, this time on his breast bone. Within another year after that, cancer growth started in other areas, particularly his ribs.

Flippin had learned by this point that he had a rare blood disorder predisposing him to tumors growing on his bones. Soon, tests revealed another one growing on his skull.

Radiation was no longer an option, so in October 2021 Flippin underwent bone marrow and stem cell transplants. He has been cancer-free since.

His experience and response week after week has impacted those at Lakeside Baptist.

“People want me to tell this story and that my faith has inspired them and been an encouragement. I hear that about every week,” he said.

Last year’s operation left him in a condition where Flippin couldn’t visit either of his kids or grandchildren for Thanksgiving. This Sunday after church, he and Janet will get on the road for the 8 ½ hour ride to Jonesboro Arkansas to make up for it.

And he’s not off his bike. In fact, he was back on it six months after the accident that he says saved his life.

“God brought me through this situation in an accident I truly believe He caused,” said Flippin. “I joke with people and say I wish it hadn’t taken a broken hip to find the brain tumor.”

Then again, he pointed out, it took a serious accident like his for doctors to insist on checking for a concussion, which found the tumor. Thankfulness doesn’t typically mesh with being thrown over handlebars and eating up a patch of Texas asphalt. But it is something for which Flippin is thankful, nonetheless.

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