Message of hope

Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Author chronicles brother’s cancer, faith

By Karen Washburn


Doctors found two scriptural references written on the chest of John Christmas as they prepared to open him up.

Email newsletter signup

“Rom. 12:11” had been written in black marker on the left side, above his heart. “Phil. 4:13” had been written on the right side.

The former verse, from the book of Romans, reads, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” The latter, from the book of Philippians: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Dana Santoro

Dana Santoro

According to his sister, Dana Santoro, author of his biography “Wear It Proud,” the references penned on his chest were Christmas’ way of letting his doctors, some of whom he knew to be agnostic, know that his hope was not in them.

“Wear It Proud” is written in the first person, as though Christmas himself were speaking every word. Ironically, he had no idea his sister was even writing the book until someone handed him the manuscript while he was in Africa. And Santoro had no idea what his reaction would be until she met him at the airport 10 days later.

After his first bout cancer, Christmas felt well enough to accompany other members of Suffolk’s Southside Baptist Church on a mission trip to Africa. Santoro asked a friend to give Christmas the manuscript, and while he was away, she submitted it to Tate Publishing for review. By the time her brother returned, she had gotten the news that it had been accepted for publication.

“I hugged him and asked him had someone given him something on the trip”, Santoro recalled. “He said, ‘They sure did. Man, it was unbelievable.’”

Then she told him that it was set for publication, and he wept.

Santoro, a wife, mother, and longtime Suffolk resident, decided to write the book shortly after getting the news from Duke University Medical Center that her brother had stage 4 renal cancer.

“You pray that the diagnosis won’t be what you fear, even though all the signs point to that dreaded word: ‘cancer,’” she said of the experience. “You feel hopeless.”

Santoro said it was this feeling of hopelessness that led to her decision to put her brother’s struggle down on paper.

“God what can I possibly do? I can’t take it away,” Santoro remembers praying. “But then He reminded me that there was something I could do. I could tell others.”

Since his diagnosis, Christmas, a husband and father of three who also resides in Suffolk, has lost a kidney, part of his liver, and half of one lung to the disease. But, his sister said he continues to share his story as a message of hope.

“Wear It Proud” was released Tuesday, and according to Santoro, Barnes and Noble is currently sold out. The 80-page paperback can also be purchased at, as well as through Tate Publishing. Santoro said 10 percent of the year’s sales are to be given to a cancer patient just before Christmas each year of publication.