31.) The One Year Review

This morning, I woke up with Willie Nelson’s voice streaming through my mind, only he was singing:

musical notes“On the LID again, just can’t wait to get on the LID again; the life I love is complaining to my friends, and I can’t wait to get on the LID again!”

Okay, a lil goofy, I know.  But, hey, might as well have a lil fun with it! Do you remember me telling you about the “LID”—the most RADICAL DIET ever invented by man?  LID stands for “Low Iodine Diet” — and it’s a killer, what I’m talkin bout!!!  What makes it so radical is the fact that virtually everything we eat has iodine in it and, therefore, in order to starve your body of iodine, one must eat practically NOTHING—well, nothing that tastes good to humans, anyway.  People have to go on the LID before being administered radioactive iodine-131 for internal radiation therapy in their fight against certain kinds of cancers, such as thyroid cancer.  I had to endure the LID last year, when I went through the therapy, but I wasn’t expecting to have to go back on the LID again just for the WBS—whole body scan—my second, so far.

I don’t know what I was expecting, really.  Perhaps I thought the annual scans would be more like a regular MRI, or other internal scans, where they say, “Here, drink this and lay down!”—and then they immediately send you down the tube.  It just hadn’t registered that a follow-up WBS with I-131 would be pretty much the same as when I went through the initial radiation therapy and following scans a year ago.

It’s all a bit disconcerting because, in the back of my mind, I’ve already told myself, “Okay, been there, done that!  That’s all behind me now; I’ve beaten this cancer; moving on to greener pastures!”  I had pretty much pushed last year’s horror show—all the tests, the surgeries, the creepy diet, the radiation, the isolation—to the back of my mind.  Now, I’ve come up on the one year mark and, like a reoccurring nightmare, it all jumps back up to slap me in the face, like:  “What?  Oh, you thought you were through with all this, boy? Well, here’s a little REMINDER!!!  Muaahahahahaha…”

And it’s not that I didn’t know that these labs, tests, and scans were coming.  I knew they would have to check to see what has worked and what didn’t, and to what extent the initial radiation therapy did its job.  They need to continually monitor me, as they do most cancer patients, to make sure there is no reoccurrence or distant metastasis going on.  It’s like, “once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient!”  I just didn’t realize that it would all be so extensive and exhausting.  I was thinking, “Okay, I’ll get a couple of thyrogen injections, they’ll give me a lil ole tracer dose of I-131, after which I’ll do the ‘tube thing’ and be done with it — a three day affair, at most!”

Well, much to my surprise, not to mention my chagrin, the testing commenced this past week with an extensive ultrasound, followed by 10 days on the LID, three days of every kind of lab work imaginable, two days of thyrogen injections, three flights to Honolulu, and four days of radioactive isolation—yup, I gotta get all “glowy” again.  It’s turning out to be a three-week ordeal and a face-slapping reminder that life never unfolds quite the way I tend to imagine that it will!

But I think there is really only one way to successfully deal with cancer, or with any potentially life-threatening situation, and that is to approach it in just the way that our Lord Jesus said we should always be living our lives.  Remember, He said:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:25-34, NASB)

Wow!  Jesus, how is it that You just keep getting all over my heart???  And so, I made up my mind early in this struggle, that I will do my best to surrender, to give it all up to Him, to put the whole matter in His hands, and just seek to live in the moment, be in the present, and take it one day at a time.  I decided from the get-go—well, after about three days of anger, fear, and worry, anyway—that, no matter how all this played out, I wasn’t going to play the victim and lollygag around while life passed me by.  Kinda like old Gus (Robert Duvall) said to Woodrow (Tommy Lee Jones) in McMurtry’s (1989) Lonesome Dove:  “It ain’t dying I’m talkin bout, it’s livin!”  Jesus wants us to LIVE!  He said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NASB).

So, I choose not to worry about the next round of injections until I see the nurse coming at me with a needle.  I choose not to worry about the next series of tests or scans, and what they may reveal, unless and until I sit down with my endocrinologist and she gives me something to worry about.  I choose not to worry about how much longer I have to be on this creepy diet which consists pretty much of just drinking water and eating air—and even the water I drink and the air I’m allowed to breath is strictly controlled.  I’m just going to enjoy eating my raw oats today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  After all, how many hungry children around the world wished that they had a handful of raw oats to eat today?  And, who knows, I might even lose a pound or two—or “FIFTY”—before this round of testing is all over!

Anyway, I guess the point is we can always point to someone else who has it a lot worse than we do. My dad also happens to be fighting cancer now—diagnosed just a couple of months ago—and has a surgery coming up this next week; he’ll be going under the knife at the same time I’m getting “nuked!”  We can also always point to someone else who, we think, has it a lot better or worse than we do, but comparing our lot in life with that of others is a futile.  We really don’t know what’s going on with people on the inside.  Best that we just play the hand we’ve been dealt:

musical notes“You’ve got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away, know when to run; You never count your money while you’re sittin at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin, when the dealin’s done!”  (Schlitz, 1978)

 And WE’RE ALL still “sittin at the table.” Dude! I am so into all this old country music today—must be the diet, you know, all this horse feed I’m eating!  Thank you, Lord, I’ve so much for which to be grateful.

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There are no words, really, to describe my gratitude to the people in my life—family and friends, old and new—who have encouraged me, strengthened me, prayed for me, and just helped brighten my day here and there over this past year or so, as I have been having to deal with cancer.  I feel like there have been times when, seemingly out of nowhere, another angel pops up to remind me of God’s love and providence.  I could list the names of all of you who are near and dear to my heart, but it would take all evening and my cloudy mind would surely leave someone out who is vital to my survival; so I won’t risk it!

I really don’t like sharing, too much, about my own struggles and hardships.  I was brought up to “cowboy up” and to not draw too much attention to my own injuries because, ultimately, it’s not about how badly you’re hurt, but about how quickly you can get up and get back in the saddle.  Still, I’ve come to deeply appreciate those compassionate people in my life who, without a lot of fanfare, have found simple, yet meaningful, ways to help me do just that—to get back in the saddle and to get on with pursuing the mission.

You know, even Jesus, as the cross drew nearer, needed a little consoling, a little strengthening, a little shoring up in order to see His mission through to its completion.  I was reading, earlier today, about that event in Jesus’ life that we refer to as the “transfiguration.”  Do you remember that?  The Bible says:

He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:28-31)

I’ve noted through the years that, when people remember or refer to this event in Jesus’ life, they always tend to focus on that fuzzy line between this material dimension and the spiritual realm beyond—and, I’ve got to admit, that’s pretty cool.  I mean, the fact that Jesus could step across that boundary, or that Moses and Elijah could step across that boundary, and meet together in that border zone between here and there and have conversation, well, that’s pretty remarkable.  It says a lot, to me, about life in the hereafter and how that, at least for Jesus, moving between dimensions was really no big deal.

But what people often seem to fail to recognize in this passage is the purpose for this little inter-dimensional pow-wow; and that’s what I like to zoom-in on.  Why did Jesus have this experience?  What was the purpose for it?  Had it been prearranged ahead of time?  Did He know beforehand that it was coming, that He had a date with Moses and Elijah?  Is that why He climbed to the top of Mount Hermon—9,232 feet—and took three faithful witnesses along with Him?  Was the experience more for Jesus, or for the apostles who were with Him, or for us who would one day read about it?  And what really WAS this little conference all about?  I’m so glad the Bible text tells us—we don’t have to guess—they “were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  I love that!  I love that because it speaks to me of the need that we all have for a little encouragement along the way—even Jesus!  God didn’t leave His only begotten Son to face the trials and tribulations of this life, or the doubts, fears, and misgivings of facing a fast approaching cross that was drawing nearer every day, all by Himself.  Even Jesus, as He faced His destiny, didn’t have to go it alone!

A little later, at the very end of His ministry, with the cross now looming huge before Him, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane; and do you remember who visited with Him?  It was another trans-dimensional experience.  The Bible says:

And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. When He arrived at the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”  And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. (Luke 22:39-43, NASB)

When it came right down to it, Jesus did, indeed, have to bear the cross alone; and taste the bitter hell that we all deserve as He cried out to the Heavenly Father, “’Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:46, NASB).  No angel could help bear that agony.  Even Moses and Elijah could but watch from a distance, as did all of Jesus’ earthly disciples.  But Jesus had been well prepared for the mission.  His elite training—if you will—had been of the highest caliber.  He had been groomed by love and shorn up by immortal faith.  He understood completely the price that had to be paid and the consequences if it was not.  And it was for this reason that, “for the joy set before Him” He “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, NASB).

Sometimes, when we think we’re having to “go it alone,” really, we’re not.  Yes, there are moments that only we, all by ourselves, must endure.  Tomorrow, I will fly back to Honolulu and they will stick an IV in my arm, flood my heart with a radioactive tracer, put me on a treadmill and make me jog till I drop—they say, “no worry, we won’t let you die!” — yikes!  They’re doing this because it appears that all this cancer treatment has, perhaps, messed with my heart a little bit and they need to find out what’s going on.  I’m not looking forward to it, and none of you can get up there and ride that treadmill with me, I have to do it by myself, just like I did the surgeries, and the internal radiation therapy, and all the other junk that goes with fighting a major illness.

But, while I have to do it by myself, I know I’m never really alone.  I’ve been shorn up.  I’ve been encouraged.  I’ve been prayed for.  My peeps and, more importantly, my Lord have strengthened my weaknesses.  Their prayers and His love enfolds me.  And, I know, that regardless of the outcome, God’s got this!

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On a happier note, the conference with my endocrinologist this past Friday was exceptionally positive—best conference I’ve ever had with her to date.  Oh, have I ever mentioned that I have the most beautiful endocrinologist in the whole, wide world?  I didn’t know they even made doctors as beautiful as her—almost makes these inter-island flights to Honolulu worth the time and trouble.  Anyway, she just got a whole lot prettier in my eyes when she came right out and told me, with the biggest, brightest smile, that as far as she is concerned:  “You’re cured, for now!”

Wait!  Did she just use the word, “cured”?  I had to pause and catch my breath.  Of course, I kinda wish she had left off the “for now” part; but, hey, I’ll take it!  She said there is, currently, no sign or indication of the cancer anywhere in my body and that she doesn’t want to see me again for an entire year.  While I did feel the tiniest twinge of heartbreak that a creature so lovely had just told me that she didn’t “want” to see me again—did she have to put it in those exact words?—still, pretty as she is, that’s TOTALLY GOOD with me!

In closing this little chapter of my life, I want to go back to something Jeff Tomczek (2012) mentioned after battling leukemia for a year and hearing his doctors pronounce him cured. He said:

When you get to the other side you won’t believe it. They will tell you the disease is gone. Everyone you know will rejoice and return back to their lives. You’ll constantly wonder if it is coming back. Slowly this feeling will fade, but cancer will always be a part of you. It will define how you see the world moving forward.

I, too, am having a hard time actually believing my endocrinologist. Something deep inside tells me not to trust that word, “cured!” I’m afraid of letting down my guard, as if keeping up my guard could make any difference at all in what might happen in the future. But I know I’m being called to “walk by faith” (I Corinthians 5:7). And, ultimately, to walk by faith means heeding Jesus’ instruction in the Sermon on the Mount concerning how God provides for His children in this world. He said:  “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:32-34, NASB).

How do I find the words to thank all of you enough for praying to this end—that I might be healed.  I know God has heard and has answered your prayers on my behalf. I love HIM for it; and I love you.

Cowboy Goodbye 2

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