21.) Feels Like Roulette

I’m learning not to ask cancer patients, or anyone walking in the shadow of their own mortality, how they’re feeling—unless I am fully prepared for the answer, because there is a high likelihood that they just might tell me; or, sensing my insincerity, they’ll just lie. It’s funny, sometimes, how that, when people ask me how I’m feeling, and I start to tell them, their face begins to glaze over and their eyes take on that “deer in the headlights” stare.  Or, they begin to get fidgety and start looking around like, “Oh no, he’s actually telling me, somebody get me outta this.”

Meanwhile, I’m thinking:  “Haha… I’ve got you now!  Soooo, should I keep on talking for the pure pleasure of punishing you for having the audacity to ask? Or, do I show you some mercy and quickly set the brakes, and just say, ‘but, you know what, all-in-all, I’m feeling great!’ and just leave it at that?”

Being the compassionate person that I am—well, most of the time, with most people—I typically just lie from the start and tell them, “I’m feeling just fine!” Which is all they really want to hear, anyway.

But sometimes I’m tempted to be just plain mean to those who are totally clueless and, when they ask how I’m feeling, I want to get all grumpy and say to them, “Well, have you been to my website lately and read my blog? Because, if you cared enough to have done that, then you would know about the hospital stays, the crazy hormone imbalances, and the upcoming radiation treatment. And then, at least, you could ask me a more specific and intelligent question!”  But then I hear sweet Taylor Swift’s (2011) voice echoing in my mind, singing: “Why you gotta be so mean?”— doouughh!!!

Something that is really hard to deal with, at this point, and that is hard to talk about, is the uncertainty regarding my future plans and goals. Looking back over my writing, I note that I’ve made some rather bold statements about not letting cancer define me or be the controlling factor in my life. Those statements were obviously posted on days when I felt a whole lot better than I do right now – ha! Again, I can already relate to Jeff Tomczek’s (2012) insight when he says, “…cancer will always be a part of you. It will define how you see the world moving forward. You’re going to feel like the future is a funny thing to think about because the present is going to suddenly seem incredibly important.”

The fact of the matter is, like it or not, this cancer has been a huge disruption to my life; and has changed everything. Just before discovering that I had cancer, I was running 5 days a week (5 miles/day @ 9.00 minutes/mile). Today, I’ll be lucky if I can walk 2 miles. I lost over 60 lbs. during 2012, all the way down to 197.  Now, it’s only mid-January and, despite adopting a vegan diet and eating less, I’ve gained over 20 lbs., back up to 220 – yuck! While I still seem to look sort of okay, and people don’t seem to notice the weight—or at least, if they do, they don’t say anything—it sends a shiver through me every time I step on the scales. I feel so out of control of this whole situation.

Just a “side note” about going vegan. I’ve discovered that “vegan” doesn’t necessarily translate into “healthy.” In fact, many people who are vegan are incurring much higher rates of cancer and other chronic diseases because they’ve simply substituted one bad eating habit for another. For example, many give up eating every kind of meat and dairy, but then flood their bodies with all kinds of soy products—which has got to be one of the most poisonous substances we can consume—as well as processed carbs, sugars, glutens, etc… They would do better to eat a little free-range chicken, or grass-fed beef from time-to-time, rather than that poisonous tofu junk!

On another note, I was becoming so confident in my new lifestyle of controlled weight loss, physical discipline, and amateur athleticism that I was already in the process of initiating plans to inaugurate a new health and fitness club called “Missio Dei”—Mission of God—and had begun encouraging people to join me in training, running, biking, and racing in behalf of impoverished children around the world. All of that seems to have evaporated before my very eyes!

During the coming year, my plan was to travel back to the U.S. Mainland to visit family, friends, and churches in an effort to raise additional, and severely needed, mission support funds for our work and ministry here in the islands. I was planning to launch a new, comprehensive missions outreach project that would greatly enhance our evangelism outreach efforts here in Hawai‘i and throughout the Pacific; including the resurrection and continuation of our local Christian home-schooling network. It broke my heart to have to tell my son this past week, after a difficult consultation with my endocrinologist, that the homeschooling portion of the project would likely not be happening. My granddaughter, whom I love more than life itself, was supposed to have been my first new client!

So, for better or for worse, this cancer is changing my life and causing me to reevaluate everything—all my plans, all my goals, all my dreams and aspirations—short-term and long. But one thing I’ve been warned about is making important life decisions while still in the midst of the fire. It is better, I’m told, not to overreact, but to just focus on my health and doing what I need to do to get better; and give the fires time to die down. Then, when I’m in a “better place” and positioned to face the future, I can make critical decisions about the goals and dreams I want to pursue. However, that is so hard for me to do. I’m one of those emotional, passionate, type “A” personalities who find it tough not to overreact, but to simply wait, to put it all in God’s hands, and to let things unfold naturally. I’m too much the doer! And, I feel like, if I can’t get the job done, then I just need to get out of the way and let someone else come in who can.

As a cancer patient, I just need people to know, if they care to know, that these life changes that are happening all around me are not phantoms, they are very real—at least to my mind. Okay, maybe some of them are phantoms; but please treat my phantoms respectfully – ha! And please don’t talk to me about your Aunty Margaret who had some kind of something wrong with her thyroid, but that was years ago and now she’s taking her tiny pills and doing just fine. And don’t say a word to me about thyroid cancer being one of those “good cancers.” There is no “good cancer”—even if, as with papillary thyroid, the casualty rate is only around 11% for people over 45.  It’s still a roulette with 10 chambers and 1 live round… YOU wanna play?

Furthermore, every cancer is different, every person is different, and every treatment is different in its effects, consequences, and outcomes. Everyone who faces a potentially deadly disease, or who is dealing with any kind of serious, chronic illness, is going to endure a plethora of life-changing experiences—physical, psychological, spiritual. And, there will be death—if not physical, certainly the death of dreams, goals, ambitions, and lifestyle; and maybe even a few relationships. None of us are in a position to second guess or presume to know what someone else is going through, or to make light of that; or to tell them how they should feel about it, or how they should handle their unique situation. Nor do we know God’s plan for that person or the endgame He may have in mind.

The best encouragement I can find regarding my own circumstances, comes from the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Christians living in Rome who were enduring immense persecutions and suffering. He said, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, NASB). Note that the passage does not say “all things are good,” or that “only good things will happen,” to those who love God. In fact, in another Bible passage, wise King Solomon said:

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them. (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, NASB)

God’s promise is not that bad things will not happen to good people. Bad things happen to everyone. But the promise is that He “causes all things to work together for good” to those who love Him.

We can rest assured that, even when things seem to be spiraling out of control and our dreams are dying all around us, God is still in control. No matter how bad it seems to get, He will work it all together for our good.  That promise, by the way, is not for everybody. That promise, the Bible says, is one that God has made to those who love Him.

______________________________

So, do you really want to know how I feel—how a lot of people feel, I guess—when battling cancer, or some other potentially life-threatening situation; especially when you’re really not sure just what you’re up against, and the future seems so uncertain?  Well, here’s a song by Rihanna which, I think, pretty well describes where I am at the moment; and where a lot of cancer patients often find themselves:

______________________________

Please feel free to comment below; or write to me: mybiblestudy777@gmail.com

18.) Hospital Antics

Wow! – the second surgery pretty much kicked the stuffing out of me! I was in no way prepared for it to the degree I thought I was. I guess I was taking too much for granted. I figured it would just go pretty much the same as the first one; after all, wasn’t the whole thing simply the completion of the first surgery? They had taken out half of my thyroid, now they just had to go back in and finish the job—same song, second verse—right? I was feeling pretty confident and had it in my mind that this was only another “out-patient” procedure, like the first. I even had everything timed this time, right down to the minute: check-in at 7:30AM, a couple of hours prep-time and then surgery at 9:30AM, back in recovery by 11:00AM, and then released two hours later. I figured Ne’ and I would be back in our hotel room by 3:00PM at the latest. Then, after a simple post-op consultation the next day, we would be on an afternoon flight back to Kona. Whole episode, less than 36 hours—start to finish. Well, that’s what I figured, anyway.

Five days—four nights—later, after finally being released from the hospital, I crawled out of a wheelchair and into the airport shuttle feeling like I had been put through a meat grinder and wondering to myself, “What was I thinking?” I mean, I should have known better than to be so presumptuous. Surely I have learned by now that every time I get up on my high-horse and get to thinking to myself, “I’ve got this,” I get knocked off again. While it’s okay, I guess, to look confidently toward the future and to try to put a positive spin on things, how dare I get so cocky about it and make such bold assumptions all the time. When will I ever learn?

I first knew I was in a little trouble when the doctor came to me in the recovery room and said something about how well the surgery had gone, with the exception—“Wait! What? There’s an exception?”—that they had to use a much larger trachea tube, the largest they had, for the intubation (please, save the preacher jokes till I’m feeling a little better). He also said that the anesthesiology team had problems inserting the tube due to residual swelling from the first surgery. He said that only their clinically administered pain control measures would spare me the kind of suffering inevitably heading my way. The other unsettling news was that my calcium level was exceedingly low due to trauma to the parathyroid glands during surgery; and he could not release me until it leveled out. He then described possible symptoms of low calcium levels for which they would be monitoring me, including: facial tingling, tightening, and lack of control; severe muscle cramps and seizures; even interference with my cardio rhythm; and, well, death. Okaaayyyy—so, yeah, I’m staying!

The first night in the hospital was frightening. Not only was I suffering with the “sore throat from hell,” which the 4mg of morphine every two hours didn’t seem to faze, but my semi-private roommate, Uncle Miguel, kept me spooked all night. He was 83 years old and recovering from gall bladder surgery. He was an old, proud, fiercely independent “paniolo” (Hawaiian cowboy). And, of course, they would put “me” with Uncle Miguel, right? I mean, who better to bunk with the old salty than another old salty?

I didn’t realize it at first, but soon discovered that Uncle’s one goal was to break out of that joint that very night. Furthermore, he was determined to fight anybody that stood between him and his goal. And, as my luck would have it, my bed was right between his and the door. His wife, Aunty Margarita, was of no help at all. While she was the only one who could control him, keeping him on a pretty short leash while she was awake, still, she slept deeply and soundly; and, I might add, she snored like a Harley Davidson—I kid you not, even the nurses were amazed! So, Uncle would lay there, biding his time, waiting until the Harley was really revving, then he’d attempt an escape.

His first attempt came about 11:00PM. I’m lying there, trying to doze off and on between the Aunty’s rumblings, when I see the divider curtain swing back and there stands Uncle ready to fight. Now, I don’t care who you are, or how weak and feeble he is, the first sight of a crazy, old, angry and determined—not to mention, virtually naked—paniolo swaying back and forth in his flimsy hospital gown in the middle of the night, eyes as wide as silver dollars, is enough to send a shiver down anybody’s spine. It might as well have been an angry pit bull coming after me. What could I do?

There was only one thing to do—scream! I pushed the button on the call gadget and screamed into the microphone, “Uncle’s up, Uncle’s up, he’s wandering around the room!” To which I received a response that sounded vaguely like laughter. Well, they didn’t laugh long because Uncle, being sufficiently discombobulated by my screams no doubt, began to lose his balance and bounce this way and that off the various items around the room, much like a pinball. Finally, he hit the wall, bounced off, spun around and fell backwards over an aluminum tray stand, scattering debris of all kinds in all directions. It sounded like a train wreck.

Finally, people arrived—rushing in the door like it was a code blue “stat” or something. I’m sitting up in bed, in searing pain, all hooked up to the IV lines and quite under the influence, crying out, “Where were you, I called for help, nobody came? Where were you?” But I also found myself profusely apologizing for not being a quick thinker and hopping out of bed to try to catch uncle before he fell.

The nurses quietly reassured me that I did the right thing, that it was not my responsibility to catch uncle, that doing so might have been worse, and that, since he landed on his butt, nothing was hurt except maybe the floor. Aunty gradually awoke from her slumber, asking the nurses what had happened.

Uncle tried to escape four or five more times that night; however, they now had him hooked to some kind of monitor that sounded an alarm each time his feet hit the floor. Needless to say, between the pain, the alarms, the Harley next door, the regular hospital hubbub—the room was right across the hall from the nurses’ station—and visions of a skinny, pit bull, attack ghost threatening me in the night, I didn’t get much rest. In fact, I went more than 36 hours without sleep—not a situation conducive to healing. The next morning I was profusely thanked by the nursing team for helping “save” Uncle the night before. I modestly, and a bit shamefully, accepted their praise. Later that day, as a reward for my heroism I presume—or maybe to silence any potential formal complaint (not that I was planning one, but how would they know)—I was moved to my own, private room—yesssssssss!!!

But, while life in my private room was peaceful enough, somehow, it seemed a bit boring; despite the vampires who kept coming to draw my blood every four hours around the clock for four solid days.  Actually, I found myself rather missing the entertainment value of bunking with Uncle.  I think I’m going to have to add him to my collection of “rainbows.”

The day after surgery, things began to progress from bad to worse. Because my calcium level was going down, rather than improving, and because of the blistering pain in my throat, all the meds were increased. The oral calcium dosage was doubled and they began giving me calcium glutamate intravenously. In addition to the morphine every two hours, I was also given an oral dose of liquid acetaminophen and codeine elixir every four hours.

The combined effect of these meds produced the predictable outcome of assailing me with the absolute worst case of constipation one could ever fathom. I mean, I’m serious when I tell you that I now think I’ve come as close as any man ever wants to come to experiencing what it must be like to give birth. I had never imagined myself begging for a suppository; and then sooooo regretting it when the thing finally went to work. I’m telling you, I nearly passed out!

After that second night, I made the commitment to quickly wean myself off of the pain meds. The way I figured it, at least I’d only have grueling pain at one end, rather than both. A couple of nurses warned me about putting off the pain medication, rather than taking it at regularly scheduled intervals, but they couldn’t “make” me take it. I was kind of proud of myself for being so rebellious and tough. I even dared to envision myself as a younger version of Uncle Miguel; that is, until the pain in my neck and throat really got to raging and I began to realize how much good those meds really had been doing all along. I soon found myself again the beggar. It did nothing for my ego when the nurse finally showed up with the morphine; and with a haughty, little Filipina “I told you so” look in her eye.

I do want to pause and say a word to, and about, my sweet wife. While they wouldn’t allow her to stay with me in the hospital that first night, she was determined to stay every night thereafter, even though I tried to send her back home to the Big Island. But she was having none of that; choosing, instead, to sleep night-after-night on three old, hard chairs that she lined up under the window beside my bed. This was against hospital policy, of course—she wasn’t supposed to stay overnight—but the nurses soon figured out that this cute little gal was virtually as tough as any old paniolo; and that no one would be sending her anywhere. So they decided that they might just as well go ahead and bring her a blanket and pillow.

As far too many of us already know, battling cancer is quite an ordeal—filled with all too subtle “ups” and way too obvious, and often crushing, “downs.” It’s easy, I think, to focus on the hardships, the pain, the fear, the setbacks, and the disappointments. But even in the middle of all that, there can still be found a deep and profound joy; a particular joy that, perhaps, cannot be experienced in any other context. Throughout this whole ordeal, while in the hospital and after returning home to recover, there have been those people—near and far—who have checked in on me, encouraged me, prayed for me, and who have gone out of their way to minister to me in a variety of ways. I know I’m not always the easiest person to get along with, even under the best of circumstances. And so, for that reason, I’m all the more grateful, beyond words, to be the recipient of such undeserved and unconditional love—yet another rainbow!

cowboy sillouette

17.) Pomp and Circumstance

I don’t particularly relish accolades—well, at least, not overt ones—and much prefer remaining in the background most of the time; working behind the scenes, doing what I can to help others, particularly my students, to shine. That’s neither bragging nor pretending to be humble, that’s sincerely me. But, today, daggonit, I’m gonna brag, at least, a little bit—I’m no “Texan,” so my bragging can only go so far, I suppose.

But, you see, I should be on an airplane to Texas right now because this coming weekend is the semiannual graduation ceremony at Abilene Christian University. I have been steadily working toward this academic goal for more than 30 years.  Now, finally, after 26 months of rigorous, grueling, academic pursuit, I have successfully completed the ACU College of Education and Human Services Graduate School program for the Master of Education degree—and have earned my M.Ed. in Leadership of Learning.

Many esteem this ACU graduate program as one of the finest in the nation. From my perspective, it is certainly expensive enough. Because our government graciously cancels the balance due on anyone’s student loan debt should they die—which is the “only” reason they cancel it—I’ll probably be paying for this till the day of my death. But, at least, my kids won’t inherit the debt – ha!

I have, somehow, by the Lord’s grace, managed to keep a 4.0 GPA throughout the program—98.84 average for all 39 hours of graduate course work—and will graduate with highest honors. During my coursework, I was inducted into the Texas Psi Chapter of the Alpha Chi National Honor Society.   Just this past week I received an email saying:

Your name has been passed along from the graduate faculty as someone who we should spotlight because of your upcoming graduation and academic accomplishments during the course of the program. With your permission, we would like to shoot a few photos while you are on campus this Friday. Please let me know if you would be willing to have a few spotlight photos taken this Friday between 4 and 6 p.m.

I share these things with you only because these few, brief paragraphs are pretty much all the celebration—“pomp and circumstance”—that I’m going to get. You see, rather than flying to Abilene, Texas to meet up with dear friends that I’ve made over the past couple of years, and walking across the stage to receive my degree, and being properly “hooded” by my professors in the presence of many astute witnesses, and then being whisked away to be honored at two receptions to which I’ve been invited, I’ll be hopping another plane to Honolulu to undergo more surgery—round two in this fight against cancer. That’s just real exciting, now isn’t it?

Am I whining? Me, the guy who invented the bumper sticker, “STOP GLOBAL WHINING,” or at least wish that he had, whining??? No, I tell you!!!! Well… okay, maybe, a little! So, how can one brag and whine all at the same time? I’m rolling my eyes at myself here.

Oh well, I’m a big boy, now. I don’t suppose I need a graduation ceremony, or the applause of family and friends, to acknowledge my achievements any more. I’ll leave all that “pomp and circumstance” to those teenyboppers who need it. What I’ve got to somehow manage to deal with is all this nitty-gritty stuff we call “real life.” Ah, “life”—yes, that great contradiction: so full of failure, so full of victory, so full of heartache, so full of joy!

The Apostle Paul encourages us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NASB). For those of us dealing with cancer, and other potentially life-threatening circumstances, that’s often a simultaneous sort of thing; rejoicing and weeping—the little rainbows in the midst of the storm.

This experience reminds me that cancer sometimes takes its toll in many more ways than the casual observer might imagine—in ways both seen and unseen. It’s a huge “DISRUPTOR,” and tends to interfere with virtually everything in one’s life.  It’s a spoiled brat of a child constantly demanding more time and attention than should ever be due.  It’s a deal breaker, a plan shaker, a spoiler of so many dreams.  I’m just so frustrated by all of this!

Well, anyway, I just want to say thank you for giving me these few moments of your time and letting me “celebrate” with you this occasion in my life; which, in the face of this dark storm, is just another little rainbow in which to rejoice!

Hey, I know, why don’t I just throw my own little graduation party?  Here’s just the music for the occasion:

You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down
And you can’t keep draggin’ that dead weight around.
If there ain’t all that much to lug around,
Better run like hell when you hit the ground.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

You can’t stop these kids from dancin’.
Why would you want to?
Especially when yor already gettin’ yours.
‘Cause if your mind don’t move and your knees don’t bend,
well don’t go blamin’ the kids again.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
Let it go, this too shall pass.

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

Hey!

Let it go, this too shall pass.
(You know you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes.
(You can’t keep lettin’ it get you down. No, you can’t keep lettin’ it get you down.)

When the morning comes!

15.) Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

Okay, so I thought I was pretty much done with all of this already. After all, I’ve had the surgery to remove the tumor, I’ve had a few weeks of to recover; so, end of story, right? But battling cancer is seldom that easy.

I’m not feeling particularly “tough” right now. I rebounded from the first surgery, last week, pretty well. But the thought of having to do it all over again next week kind of knocks the wind out of me—like I’ve been “sucker punched” or something. It also makes me kind of mad. I mean, I already look like somebody cut my throat—four-inch scar across the bottom of my neck—now I’m supposed to let them do it all over again? That’s enough to saddle anybody with a few “anger issues.” But, at this point, I don’t see that I have any options; so I guess I’ve just gotta toughen up and climb back in the ring for “round two.”

I don’t think it helps anybody who is facing cancer, or any other potentially life-threatening situation, to just roll over and play the victim. I know that feeling sorry for myself, and throwing a huge pity-party, is a pretty quick way to diminish my overall health; and lose friends – ha! If it’s true, and I think it is, that “the best defense is a strong offense,” then the best strategy I can take is to stand up and fight this thing.

However, just exactly how to go about fighting it is a bit of a conundrum because this kind of battle—combination physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—presents a wide assortment of challenges on many different fronts. One thing I need, for sure, is to keep a strong, positive spirit and a fighter’s attitude. I love the Bible passage wherein the Apostle Paul tells the Christians of the first century—who, by the way, were suffering terrible, life-threatening persecutions—“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13, NASB). Paul knew that whining and feeling sorry for themselves wasn’t going to get them too far down the road toward heaven’s glory; nor would that kind of attitude do much to promote the Christian faith.

There are times when God needs warriors—people who have surveyed the battlefield with all its risks and hazards and step up to the challenge with faith and gusto. So a big part of the fight, for me I know, will be constant attitude checks; along with occasional swift kicks in the butt—hey, don’t be so quick to get in line!

Another important element in waging a successful campaign is cultivating an effective intelligence network. Every battlefield commander knows you don’t just throw your troops at the enemy without some kind of plan based on strategic information. At the very least, one should know something of his enemy’s profile—tendencies, strengths, potential, vulnerabilities. While medical tests and doctors’ advice may take precedence, I can’t rely solely on what they choose to tell me. I need to do my own research—good, quality research. I need to read up and get familiar with the enemy that confronts me so that I can, at least, ask halfway intelligent questions of my medical team, so that I can help improve the effectiveness of whatever medical treatment I receive, and so that I can maintain the highest quality of lifestyle and health possible; thereby beating back any advances my enemy threatens.

One of the best sources of information, I’m finding, comes from people who have walked this trail ahead of me. Of course, not everything they have to share relates directly to my scenario; every person is different, every disease is different, every situation is different. I tend to shy away from people who come on too strong and try to tell me that I should do this, or I should do that. But I love people sharing their experiences, even if they’re significantly different than mine, and telling me how this worked for them, or how that worked for them.

Actually saddling up to the ole bronc and doing what I know I need to do is, yet, another aspect of the fight; and it’s tougher than one might think. I know that having all the good information in the world at my fingertips is of no benefit if I don’t use it. I know I need to stay active, even when I don’t particularly feel like it. I need to maintain a good work ethic and exercise regimen. But, sometimes, implementing important lifestyle changes that I know I need to make seems overwhelming. For example, going “organic.” Worse, going “vegetarian.” And, worse still, going “vegan” – OMGoodness!!! I don’t want to do it—nope, nope, nope! I just want to keep on reveling in my toxic, chemical laden, hormone-stuffed, highly acidic, artificial, sugar-filled, overly-processed way of existing. After all, do I really expect my wife to have to actually learn to cook, I mean, like, “real” food—like grandma used to make—after 35 years of marriage? Come on! You know how much time real cooking takes? And worse, what if I have to take some responsibility for preparing some of my own dietary needs, or actually learn to cook for myself – yikes! Must that “warrior mentality” extend all the way into the kitchen?

But, all kidding aside, perhaps the most important thing for me, and every child of God, to remember when we’re in the throes of the storm, is that these tribulations—be they cancer, or whatever other potentially life-threatening challenges we may face—are not, actually, the true enemy. They are only weapons in our real enemy’s arsenal. I’m thinking of Job:

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12, NASB)

If you know the whole story, then you know what Job was in for—unimaginable heartache, loss, grief, and pain. And this was only the first meeting between Satan and God regarding Job. Satan would soon be back to ask for even more latitude. After losing all his wealth and possessions, and even seeing all his children die—yes, other people died because of this raging spiritual battle over Job—God finally agreed to let Satan “touch” Job himself with a terribly painful, debilitating disease.

The death, destruction, and disease that Job endured did not come from the hand of God, but from Satan. However, God did permit it and, later in the Biblical text, even took responsibility for it. Furthermore, it was never explained to Job, in this life anyway, why he had to endure all the trials and tribulations that he was put through. But, while he may not have realized the scope of the incredible physical-spiritual battle raging all around him, Job did understand what was truly at stake—his own spiritual integrity, his personal walk with the Lord, and his testimony to the world. His, so-called “friends” offered their own lame explanations for what was happening to him and even accused him of sinning against God. His own wife begged him saying, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9, NASB). But Job, faithful warrior that he was, simply answered, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (v. 10) and the Bible says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v. 10).

Our true enemy, Satan, that old adversary, didn’t care in the least how long Job—or for that matter, any of us—was ordained to live upon the earth. He doesn’t care about lifespans, or quality of life, or what measures he may or may not be allowed to bring against us during our time of stay on the earth. He’s just in it for the end-game. All he cares about is getting us to give up on our faith. He wants us to blame God, to curse God, to give up hope and faith in God, to forsake our relationship with God; rather than to be a positive influence for righteousness and an example of what a faith-filled life of hope and love looks like. He wants us to simply “curse God and die!” That’s the true enemy. That’s where the real battle is raging.

I’m just so glad for God’s divine promise that, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13, NASB).

boxing glovesSo, yeah, let’s fight this thing! But let’s not get sidetracked and end up fighting Satan’s “straw-man.” What we’re fighting, ultimately, isn’t cancer, or any other potentially life-threatening situation. There’s an eternal “end-game” to keep in view. As warriors of the cross, we’re all in this fight together and we need to be there for one another, in so far as possible, because it’s the same fight we’re all fighting every day. We’re fighting to live quality lives of integrity and truth. We’re fighting to help one another live strong, be bold, and, like Job, never, ever throw in the towel; regardless of the challenges assailing us. We’re fighting to maintain and manifest the “faith, hope, and love” (I Corinthians 13:13, NASB) that Christ lived and died to give us. And, we’re fighting to dispel fear and hopelessness by helping others experience “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension” (Philippians 4:7, NASB) through their own life-giving relationship with Him. The Apostle Peter exhorts:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 5:6-11, NASB)

14.) Wait, wait, wait… What?

My surgeon called and left a message early this morning—less than 48 hours after the surgery. He said he was onboard an airplane at Honolulu International, taxying toward the runway, and getting ready to take off for a ten day trip to California; and that, while he should be putting his cell phone away, he just couldn’t leave town without trying to get in touch with me one more time. Apparently he had made several attempts to reach me and finally just left a voice mail. Fearing the worst—I mean, what kind of doctor, especially a surgeon, does that kind of thing?—I quickly called him back hoping to contact him before he had to turn off his cellphone. The news: he had received the post-op pathology report late last night and it didn’t look as good as we had hoped.

The comprehensive biopsy indicated a differentiated papillary thyroid cancer that is probably at either a stage II or III—but “staging” was yet to be determined. What this meant was that more surgery would be needed and, in fact, had already been scheduled for only two weeks away. The second surgery will be to remove the rest of my thyroid—the isthmus and right hemisphere—as well as nearby tissue in the neck and the lymph nodes.

The surgeon said that about four weeks following, I would have to undergo a treatment called radioactive iodine ablation; which is meant to track down, reveal, and annihilate any remaining thyroid tissue or miscreant cancer cells, regardless of where they may have spread. He took the time to reassure me that the prognosis for this type of cancer is generally very good. Papillary thyroid cancer typically responds well to treatment.

My wife cried at this latest news. Step-by-step, I just have to keep moving forward, trying to live one day at a time, trying to just be “in the moment.” I may have cancer, but I don’t have to let cancer define me. It may demand a lot of my time, my energy, and my resources, but I refuse to let it dominate my life. I have a purpose in living—to glorify God with my life and to help others be ready to go home and be with Him forever in that “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). I have beautiful plans for ministry, for loving and serving others in His name; and, by His grace, I intend to continue pursuing them. I’m leaning hard now on one of my daughter’s favorite passages of scripture:

For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NASB)

My hope and prayer is that this next surgery, and the following protocol, will do the trick; that it will get this all behind me, and enable me to move on with life—forever changed, of course, but cancer free—Lord willing!

13.) Is This What It’s Like to Die?

I’m afraid that “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated!” (Twain, 1897). I feel like I have to clarify that fact because, earlier this evening, I was on a certain social media outlet and saw a posting in which my sister, Judy, was being consoled upon the death of her brother – yikes! Talk about disconcerting; that was kind of weird to read right after going through surgery. It made me want to pinch myself, you know, just to make sure that I’m still really here.

Actually, I’m up late on the evening following surgery, sipping some nice green tea sweetened with the nectar of blue agave—no, not the good stuff, the heath food stuff—and waiting for it to get late enough to take a little more pain medication so I can, hopefully, get some sleep. I’m also reflecting on the events of the past couple of days, which almost seem like weeks already.

The surgery went very well, I’m told. As I understand it, there were two surgeons present so that they could both evaluate the situation and provide instant “second opinion” analysis as to how far they should go with the initial surgery. Both determined that it appeared as if the tumor was contained; and that only removal of the nodule, along with the left hemisphere of the thyroid, was necessary—a really encouraging sign. However, both the nodule and the thyroid have been sent off to the lab for a comprehensive biopsy to determine, officially, whether or not more surgery or any follow-up protocol may be necessary. I should get the results by the end of the week. So, I guess a little more waiting—something a cancer patient gets really good at—is in order.

I want to, again, take a moment to brag on the marvels of modern medicine—only God provides miracles, but modern medicine is chocked full of marvels—and, in particular, my personal, local health care system. I hear people complaining about their insurance providers, their doctors, and the level of treatment they receive all the time and maybe I’m just ignorant and don’t know what I should expect, but my team at Kaiser Permanente has been absolutely marvelous. From my hometown doctor here in Kona, who has been on top of this whole thing from the get-go, to the surgical team in Honolulu, who call regularly to check on me, keep me informed, and monitor my progress—they’ve all been just top-notch.

I especially enjoyed the rather “blue-collar” working man’s, nitty-gritty, down to business kind of environment that I encountered at Moanalua Medical Center in Honolulu. The fact that they were remodeling half the building, so I was always walking through construction zones, just added to that whole effect. The sound of clanking tools, nail guns, drills, and skill saws, and the sight of passing workers in hardhats, right alongside medical personnel in their scrubs, sort of calmed my nerves; I liked it! It made me feel sort of like an old 1957 jalopy just going in for little more body work – ha!

But the main thing I’m pondering this evening—and I hope you don’t imagine me in some kind of a morbid stupor for sharing this—is how incredibly close to the whole death experience it must be to undergo anesthesia. I mean, think about it: one moment you’re lying on the bed, feeling kind of woozy, the next moment you’re out like a light, and the next you’re waking up already—like no time at all has gone by. Is this what it’s like to die? There was nothing particularly painful about the experience itself, nothing particularly frightening; even though we are all well aware of the fact that, sometimes, people don’t wake up. But, like getting on an airplane, we don’t worry about that, much; we just expect it to get us where we need to be—to go to sleep and then wake up all fixed. And we do, usually.

How far different can the death experience be, I mean, really? Think about it: one moment you’re lying there, feeling kind of woozy, the next moment you’re out like a light, and the next you’re waking up already—only in a whole new realm! For the child of God, there is absolutely nothing to fear. We just expect to wake up right where we need to be—in the arms of Jesus. And we do, by His grace. And, I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to fall into the arms of my Lord and then turn to see the menagerie of wonderful people who are waiting to greet me in that new realm.