27.) I Think I’m a Survivor

I guess, as I’ve heard many an old cowboy say, “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.” I am more than a little relieved to be able to say that, after a five-month ordeal involving two surgeries and a RAI (internal radioactive iodine therapy), requiring two hospital stays—eight days of hospitalization—three weeks of hypothyroidism, and a seemingly endless plethora of blood tests and lab work, my endocrinologist has finally given me the “all clear” with regard to this cancer that I have been battling.

What this means is that, despite some apparent uptake of radioactive iodine in my liver, after looking at both the body scans and the ultrasounds, my medical team sees no reason, at this point, to change the original diagnosis or accompanying prognosis.  The cancer is still listed as a T2N0M0—stage two, well-differentiated papillary carcinoma with no apparent spread to the lymph nodes and no distant metastasis to other parts of the body.

In other words, my medical team thinks that they were able to remove both tumors—a 3.5 cm. in the left hemisphere of the thyroid, and a .5 cm. in the right hemisphere—while they were still “contained” and before there was any spread beyond the thyroid gland.  However, the endocrinologist was also careful not to use the word “cured” and even went to some length to emphasize to me that, while life goes on as near to normal as possible, it is quite impossible to promise anybody that they are cured of cancer.

According to Weill Cornell Medical College at New-York Presbyterian Hospital, Department of Surgery:

Papillary thyroid cancer will recur or persist in about 25% of patients [some sources say 30%], and 80% of these recurrences will be in the neck. Recurrence occurs most commonly in the first 2 years after thyrodectomy. In papillary thyroid cancer, however, recurrence can occur up to 45 years after surgery… (Weill, 2013).

For this reason, I must return to my endocrinologist every year for a physical exam, blood-work, ultrasound, and possibly a WBS (whole body scan) using a tracer dose of radioactive iodine.

I guess I was feeling a little giddy with all this good news, so on my way home from the consultation, the Lord used a “chance” meeting—if there really is any such thing—with another thyroid cancer patient to sober me up a little and put this whole situation in context.  By His grace, I was privileged to meet, and share some time with, a woman named Kathleen, from the island of Maui.  We shared a cab from the downtown Honolulu clinic out to the airport, and then munched a few snacks and talked together while we waited for our respective flights.

Seven years ago, Kathleen was given the very same diagnosis as I—stage two papillary thyroid cancer.  She underwent the same treatment, as well—total thyroidectomy followed by RAI—and was given the “all clear.”  However, later tests and scans, at the three year mark, indicated possible local spread of the cancer to the lymph nodes; so Kathleen then underwent a radical neck dissection involving the removal of several lymph nodes, followed by another RAI. Now, at the seven year mark, tests reveal that the cancer has metastasized to her lungs and she is facing even more surgery to remove it, and the possibility of yet another RAI.

This story is often repeated among my friends on the ThyCa/Inspire online support community.  In fact, even as I write this, one of my close friends—Lolly, who lives on Maui—is on the U.S. Mainland preparing for a second surgery, scheduled for tomorrow. Last year, she went through the same procedures I’ve been through. Earlier this year, she endured a second RAI. Now, she must undergo radical neck dissection to remove recently discovered metastatic lymph nodes.

So, I’m glad that I met up with Kathleen; even if doing so cast a rather serious tone over what, otherwise, might have been an artificially jubilant day.  I think I needed to hear her story, firsthand, to help drive home to me the endocrinologist’s cautionary warnings.

Still, I know I have a lot to be thankful for; a lot to smile about. The surgeries are healing up okay, although my neck is still a little stiff and painful.  The effects of the radiation are still evident: swollen glands, numb and tasteless tongue—my coffee still tastes like burnt rubber—sores in my mouth and nose—several bloody noses each day—and my hair, while not falling out altogether, has become coarse, thin, and clumpy looking.

During my last hospital stay at Moanalua Medical Center on Oahu, I was struck by a number of patients on my floor who were also battling cancer and who had lost all of their hair. There was this one woman, in particular, who kept visiting all the other patients—a little social butterfly constantly moving from room to room.  She was just a beautiful, bright, rainbow of light to everyone else on the floor. But she, too, had lost all of her hair and wore a bright red bandana. I remember her warm smile and pleasant disposition; and how, though fighting cancer herself, she brought joy to everyone she touched.

While in radioactive isolation, I gave a lot of thought to this gal—I didn’t even get her name—and to some of the beautiful children I had seen, and my thoughts prompted me to perform a little ritual of sorts.  After spending some time in prayer and meditation, I shaved my head and determined not to ever grow my hair back out again. I’m making this commitment for several reasons: first, to honor all my compatriots who, like me, have walked this dark and scary road of having to personally battle with cancer—especially the children; second, to commemorate and remind myself, from this point on and throughout my life, of my own walk of faith through the stormy clouds of cancer—the emotions, the nuances, the struggles, and the victories; and third, because what little hair I have remaining to me seems to have become rather thin, brittle, and patchy—so I would rather look like an old NBA player than an old alien. Actually, I probably now look like an old, alien, NBA player. Anyway, as fate would have it, the bald look has become the new en vogue—putting me, once again, on the very cutting edge of contemporary fashion – ha!  What can I say?

I’m still trying to get back to some degree of hormonal equilibrium as my endocrinologist continues to try to regulate the hormone replacement therapy. I fatigue way too easily, my eyes are puffy and watery, and my body feels stiff, swollen, and bloated.  And, one of the worst symptoms, I’m way too emotional about everything—I rant, rave, and fuss about stupid little things that aren’t all that important; like having to replace a broken down washing machine or having to spend money on new tires.

When my dad, who just turned 80, actually called me—he’s never called me, I always call him—just to check on me, tell me that he’s praying for me—wait, what? dad is “praying” for me???—and to tell me that he loves me, I cried.  Well, after all, it was the first time in my whole life that I can ever remember my dad telling me that he loved me.  Still, my emotions are bordering on the ridiculous.  I can’t even seem to share a passage of scripture during our Sunday morning praise, or pray over someone in need, without having to seriously choke back the tears.  Even if someone I love simply makes a contribution to my “Relay For Life” cancer fundraising team, you guessed it, I cry—sheeesh!

On the other hand, I also laugh and laugh at things that really aren’t all that funny, like when my son-in-law had to be “rescued” by bay watch last week while out trying to learn how to surf.  He got caught in a current and was being whisked off to Tahiti and had to be retrieved by a life guard.  Why do I find that so hilarious?

One of the most physically and emotionally difficult aspects of this whole thing has been the terrible setback I’ve encountered with regard to my running, health, and overall weight-loss regimen.  Maintaining a rigorous training program is never easy to begin with and there are always new obstacles that rise up to “blindside” you—pulled muscles, sore joints, aches and pains of every kind, not to mention the human factors and various events and activities that are always competing with training time.  But, “cancer”???  That’s a pretty big “bump in the road!”

After embarking upon my new training program last year, I had lost more than 60 pounds—all the way down to 197 lbs.—and had gradually improved my running times to 45 minutes flat—nine minutes per mile—over a five consecutive mile run; nothing particularly impressive, but not too bad for an “ole dawg” like me.  But then, yesterday, when I finally dared to climb back up on the scales, I nearly collapsed in a heap when I saw that I had gained all the way back up to 240 lbs.—just a month or so ago I was at 220 lbs. OMGoodness… I’ve gained back over 20, and now over 40, pounds—seriously???”  That’s a lot of ground to have to make up; especially without a thyroid to properly and effectively govern my metabolism. My secret fear is that I won’t be able to get control of my metabolism and I’m just going to keep gaining and gaining until I become one great, big, gigantic couch blob.

Trembling at such a thought, I found myself almost braking into tears again—I’m just not myself these days. But I managed to maintain some measure of manliness and, instead, I just got mad and went for a run—which only turned out to be an insult added to injury.  While I had intended to “run” 3.5 miles minimum in about 35 minutes—surely I could manage a short, little ten minute per mile jaunt—I was only able to “jog” a total of 2.8 miles in about 60 minutes; actually I only “jogged” three-tenths of a mile, the rest was more akin to a “waddle.” Even more embarrassing was when a mom, pushing her toddler in a stroller, came racing by me like I was standing still.

Sooooooooo, life goes on—with all its thrills and spills!  And the reality is that, for all of us, there will be life-altering changes along the way.  We should never forget the Biblical admonition expressed by the “son of David,” King Solomon, who says:

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)

This passage of scripture reminds me that I must eventually learn to live with a certain measure of vulnerability.  I am not as invincible as I, perhaps, once thought I was.  Having no thyroid, my survival now depends on a tiny little purple pill that I must take on an empty stomach, one hour before breakfast, at the same time every day.  And, without our complicated, modern medical processing and distribution systems making that medication accessible to me on a regular and continuing basis, I will slowly die the horrible death of hypothyroidism—creepy thought!  Of course, if push ever comes to shove, I suppose I can always take the “vampiric” route and derive my thyroid hormone replacement “naturally” by becoming one Hawaiian wild pig hunter.  I’ll leave the rest of that morbid thought to your imagination!  >>>a hem<<<

To balance Solomon’s practical admonition, I want to share with you another beautiful passage of scripture that has been repeatedly shared with me by a number of friends and loved ones in recent weeks.  It’s a message of hope that can be found in Psalm 91, wherein Moses, the alleged author of this Psalm, says:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.  (Psalm 91:1-4, NASB)

This is a time in my life for deep gratitude.  A time for thankfulness.  A time for seriously contemplating and appreciating the power of prayer and the importance of relationship with God, and with people who love me.  It is also a time for celebrating at least a partial victory—praise God, I’m presently in the clear; the wolf prowling at the door has backed off, at least temporarily.

However, I’m still more than a little “edgy.”  I would never be so cocky as to say, or even think, that I have, to any great degree, kicked cancer’s ass. Rather, I feel as though I have, for the moment and by the Lord’s grace, dodged a bullet.  I’ve been granted a reprieve.  But there is an ever-present foreboding, residing somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, that keeps reminding me that this cancer could, one day, very well rise up again to thoroughly kick my lil butt.

As a result, I have a new-found respect for every person who wears the designation, “Cancer Survivor,” and for the ever continuing psychological and physiological issues with which they must contend.  While life goes on, it will never be quite the same for any who have borne the diagnoses of cancer.

I guess I am one such “survivor” now, too.  But I find in that designation nothing much to gloat about.  It is not a source of pride for me.  If anything, it only produces a deep, abiding humility within me; along with a greater reverence for life, for health, for meaningful relationships, and for every good day I am granted on this earth.

Many cancer survivors have had it a lot worse than I.  I have a new-found respect and admiration, and a great deal more empathy, for each of them—and especially every person I know, some very dear to me, who, though they fought courageously, eventually lost their earthly struggle against cancer. Being a “survivor” makes me want to treasure their memory and celebrate their courage all the more.

And, finally, being a “cancer survivor” makes me want to express my deep appreciation to all of you who are our caregivers, our supporters, our lovers, our prayer partners, our advocates—those of you who not only “put up” with us, but who enable us to confront this enemy and go the distance, regardless of the outcome, with the emotional and physical sustenance you are willing to provide.  Some of you caregivers are survivors yourselves.  Some of you have suffered great loss at the death of loved ones.  All of you are our rainbows!

24.) Sitting Here in Limbo

Well, the news was not what I had hoped it would be.   As I walked into the hospital yesterday and headed up to nuclear medicine, I was quietly rejoicing that my battle with cancer, at least this immediate round of warfare, would be completely over with, done, resolved, finished, or as we say here in Hawai’i, “pau.”  I’m so ready to close the book on this chapter of my life and move on.  I’m ready to just sort of melt once more into the background of my family and friend’s thoughts and prayers and for them to be able to pretty much forget about me and my needs for a while.  I was looking forward to the WBS (whole body scan), expecting clean scans that would, by the end of the day, provide a sense of relief that this cancer had been conquered.  Instead, I find myself right back where virtually all cancer patients often find themselves—just sort of hanging in limbo, waiting for more information, hoping for definitive answers.

The whole RAI (radioactive iodine therapy) and WBS has been an amazing experience; like something right out of a science fiction novel.  By the Lord’s grace, I didn’t get as sick as I had feared.  Far from the dungeon that I anticipated, the accommodations at Moanalua Hospital were wonderful; especially the giant, wall-sized, plate glass window overlooking Moanalua Valley that dominated my room.

Of course, everything was covered in plastic or paper, even the floor.  I was responsible for cleaning up after every meal, rinsing everything, and sorting all my own rubbish into separate hazardous wastes bags.  I was also responsible for taking all my own vitals every four hours and calling them in to the nurses’ station—blood pressure, pulse, oxygen level, temperature—and, if I forgot or was sleeping, they didn’t send in a robot spider to punish me; rather, they would simply buzz me on the intercom to remind me. My diet was extremely restricted and I basically ate the same three meals each day for three days with only slight variations.

The hardest part was just the isolation.  Not seeing or talking to anyone, except the nurses by intercom, for three whole days.  But that was okay, too, in that it provided some great “retreat” time to just be with the Lord.  I spent a lot of time looking out over the valley and talking with God.  Plus, I was allowed to open the windows and let the strong island trade winds blow through, which was nice for sleeping.  I also did a lot of reading.

The RAI itself was a simple procedure.  There was no hazmat team, as I had imagined, only a lovely young woman who arrived with a thick, solid lead cylinder—about 4 inches high and 6 inches thick, with a half-inch hole drilled down the middle.  It looked like a large, plump, metal doughnut.  The cylinder, along with a full glass of water, was sitting on a rolling metal cart.  She pushed the cart into my room, gave me instructions, and then stepped back out into the center of the hallway to observe.  I pulled a black plastic tab which caused a glass vial to protrude up out of the hole in the middle of the cylinder.

I took the vial, opened it, and poured a little capsule into a clear, plastic cup. The capsule looked like a small, clear Tylenol capsule. It had two red rings around the middle and was filled with a white powder.  I simply poured the capsule from the cup directly into my mouth and washed it down with the glass of water; then dropped the vial back into the cylinder.  The woman approached with a measuring rod, about six feet in length, placing one end of it against my chest while holding up a Geiger counter type device at her end.

“Yup, you’re hot,” she said.

“Why, thank you,” I replied, “I haven’t been told that in quite a while.”

She smiled, “Don’t forget to take your calcium and constipation meds.”  She then quickly retrieved the table, closed the door, and, like the wind, was gone!

While the hospital stay was only three days, the isolation continued after I returned to Kona.  We rented a little condo downtown where I stayed alone for the next five days.  Rene’ came over for a little while each evening, being sure to always keep at least six feet away from me, and prepared my supper.  It was good to be with somebody each day, even if it was just for a few minutes. But it was definitely “look, don’t touch!”

Then, yesterday, I had to fly back to Honolulu for the whole body scan. That, too, was in interesting experience. I was placed in a comfortable, cocoon-shaped, half-cylinder like bed, wrapped up tight with Velcro strapping—like a straight jacket—covered with a thin blanket, and told to try not to squirm.

The bed, mounted to a track, then moved, ever so slowly, through a long, body-length tube.  The “camera” itself, was less than an eighth-inch from my nose while I was down in the tube; which was a little disconcerting.  I couldn’t stand it for long; I had to close my eyes and just try to go somewhere else in my mind. But, as my head emerged from the tube, I was able to open them and watch the rest of the scan on a screen directly above me. The whole thing took a little over an hour.

The nuclear techies allowed me to view the scans both during and after the tests.  The scans looked like star fields—like looking at a distant galaxy—with all these tiny pinpoints of light scattered throughout the dark silhouette of my body.  What was most amazing, though, was the region of the thyroid bed in my throat.  It was a brilliant glow with, what appeared to be, sort of foggy, shimmering rays streaming forth, terminating in tiny lines of light, straight as arrows, in all directions—like a star-burst.  I asked if that was just some kind of glare, like you might see in your windshield when headlights are coming at you on the highway at night.  They said, no, that what we were seeing were the actual beams of beta-particle radiation streaming forth as detected by the camera.

I couldn’t help but reach for my throat and swallow hard.  It made me mindful of the Holy Spirit who dwells within every child of God (I Corinthians 3:16) and, though we cannot detect His presence with the naked eye, or any mechanical device, His power and presence is very much there.

And then, we noticed what we all didn’t want to see.  A brightly lit cluster of stars emerged on the left side of my chest.  There had been some kind of substantial uptake of the I-131 in that region.  Was it in the lungs?  Was it a lymph node?  The nuclear technicians, of course, couldn’t tell me anything; but their moods turned somber.  I was told that only the radiologist, in consultation with my endocrinologist, would be able to interpret the readings accurately and determine what was going on.

My endocrinologist called only one day after the WBS to tell me that she had already received the report and that they were concerned enough about this cluster of stars that she was ordering up an ultrasound for me right away.  She said they thought that the cancer may have spread to my liver.

While it is unusual that thyroid cancer would metastasize to the liver—usually it goes to the lungs or bones—it is not impossible.  She has already scheduled the ultrasound for the coming week and said that she would have the results, along with the full report from radiology and a possible prognosis, by our next consultation; which is still about two weeks away.

She said that, if the ultrasound reveals a nodule in the liver, they’ll have to go in and get it right away.  However, she was quick to reassure me that it is probably nothing, just an area where some radioactivity may have pooled before being strained and eliminated from the body; it could even be a spot on the skin due to sweating or some other bodily fluid.  I remember shedding a few radioactive tears that morning on the way to the hospital, and wiping them on my shirt in that general area, because an old friend had called to check on me.

Furthermore, even if it is metastasis—wherein the cancer cells have spread—it may not be a growing nodule and the radioactivity may very well do its job of tracking down and ablating the cancer cells once and for all.  But, for now, something is definitely showing up on the scans and I would very much like to know why.

This is yet another example of how my Kaiser Permanente team has responded to this whole ordeal.  I’ve never had to wait for approval for anything.  The medical staff quickly jumps on every little concern that arises, orders up tests, makes my appointments for me, and keeps the ball rolling.  I guess it is in their corporate interests, as well as their patient’s best interest, for them to try to nip every problem in the bud as quickly as possible and keep each client as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Anyway, so I guess I will now be getting an ultrasound of my liver.  So goes the many twists and turns of battling cancer.  I will know more about these readings and, hopefully, finally receive an official staging of the cancer, along with a prognosis, when I visit with my endocrinologist in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m sitting here in the eye of the storm—not knowing, for sure, what to expect next; something every cancer patient just has to get used to, I guess.

But, hey, you can’t let cancer dictate your life for you.  Starting today, I’m back on my hormone replacement therapy and, already, feeling much better.  The head nurse in the endocrinology department in Honolulu, Annie, called to check on me today.  I told her that I can feel myself emerging from that sad and sorry state of hypothyroidism and getting stronger hour-by-hour.  I also apologized for anything I may have said to her while in “hypo-stupor.”  She just laughed and said, “It’s okay, I’m used to it!”  She’s an amazing person—like a “life-line” for me.

Just finally getting off the LID (low iodine diet) is a huge relief.  I can finally eat whatever I want and, I’ve got to tell you, I’ll never look at a simple hotdog the same ever again; not that I plan to eat a lot of hotdogs—ha!  But, not being allowed to eat one really made me relish (no pun intended) the thought of eating one. It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul said:

I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind. (Romans 7:7-9, NASB)

I’m so glad that we don’t have to worry ourselves sick with guilt, fear, and anxiety in our struggle to live lives of decency that bring honor and glory to God; and that make Him smile.  Why not?  Because, here again, the Biblical principle of freedom in Christ comes into play. Paul, in that same letter to the Christians at Rome, goes on to say:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man[hotdogs are not good for me], but I see a different law in the members of my body [I know I shouldn’t have a hotdog, therefore I want one], waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members[stolen water is sweeter, so I’m going to eat this hotdog]. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25, NASB)

This goes hand-in-hand, I believe, with what the Apostle John said:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin [hey, don’t eat that hotdog, it’s not good for you].  And if anyone sins [if you do what you know you shouldn’t and eat that hotdog], we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world [WHAT?  You ATE the hotdog?  God is NOT smiling!!!  >>> siiiigh <<< Good thing you’re covered by the blood of Christ]. (I John 2:1-2, NASB)

Does all that sound a little too “liberal” for you; like maybe we’re just excusing sin, or something?  humph…

But here’s what’s really interesting:  that being the case, now that off the LID—free from the law—I really don’t find hotdogs all that attractive anymore.  My desires seem to have changed.  There are plenty of others good things to eat that are far more enjoyable and much better for me. Funny how freedom from sin and its consequences, and the freedom to serve Christ out of love rather than being strictly regulated by law, greatly diminishes the desire to sin.

Of course, we must be careful with this concept.  God’s grace is not a license to sin.  The scriptures condemn those “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4, NASB).  We must still, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14, NASB).  But that sanctification does not rest upon some single moment of weakness [OMGoodness, I’ve broken down and eaten that hotdog]; but, rather, it’s a matter of the heart—a walk of life!

How on earth did I get so carried away with hotdogs?  Anyway, while I’m sitting here in limbo with regard to the cancer, I’ve no intention of simply letting life slip by me.  Yes, anything could happen.  But, anything could happen to any one of us on any given day.  Nobody is  assured of tomorrow.  I was reminded of this yesterday when, following the ordeal with the scans, I was sitting in the hospital waiting for a prescription to be filled and I noticed a plaque up on the wall which read, “Yesterday is HISTORY, Tomorrow is a MYSTERY, Today is a GIFT.”

When you think about it, today is all we really have.  No wonder the scripture says, “This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24, NASB).  This is where “faith” comes into play.  The Apostle Paul also exhorts us, saying, “Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.  Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9, NASB).

I’ve got things to do, people to love, opportunities to reach and teach, a life to live, and a God to serve.  I refuse to allow what “might happen” to get in the way of all of that!

23.) I’m Radioactive, Radioactive!

It’s a strange world in which we’re living today.  When once humanity seemed bound by the common, everyday processes we see going on all around us, now it seems we are limited only by our imagination.  Traditional healing with herbs, and plants, and available local remedies has given way to a plethora of complicated chemical compositions and high-tech solutions to what ails us.  We’ve even mastered, or have begun to the master, we think, the atom and to manipulate the gene.  I think of young Miranda when, upon the thought of, perchance, leaving her desert island home and returning to civilization, cried, Oh, brave new world that has such people in’t (Shakespeare, Tempest, 5.1.181-184).  I also can’t help but think about the Tower of Babel, “and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6, NASB)—Yikes!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered to myself “how far is too far?”  How far are we willing to go in the name of, and in behalf of, humanity’s health and healing—if it really is “healing?”  Are we actually heading for something like Huxley’s (1932) Brave New World, or will things begin to deteriorate into something more akin to Well’s (1896) Island of Doctor Moreau? Maybe both?

It seems as if, ever since man discovered the atom, he’s been imagining how to manipulate it—you know our propensity for trying to “control” absolutely everything—and all the cool stuff and he can do with it.  The first idea that popped into his head, of course, was how to make it go “boom” or, rather, “BOOM!”—shall we say, “BOOOOOOOOOM!!!”   But, as blowing stuff up with atoms gradually began to predict the potential for a rather bleak future for humanity, he soon began to wonder what else he could do with it.

“Darn, we have to stop destroying things with this stuff!  Soooooo what else can we do with it?”  “Anybody? Anybody?”

“Hummmmmmm… well, we could, I guess, see if, perhaps, we can use it for some good?”  “Perhaps it would be useful for some kind of healing?”

“Dooouuuggghhhhh!  Anybody else?”

But, eventually, nuclear medicine was born.  The good news—technically, we still get to destroy things; just on a much tinier scale.

So, early tomorrow morning, I’ll jump yet another plane bound for Honolulu, this time with only a “one-way ticket” – yikes! I’m being sent up to, what I’ve affectionately come to call, “The Big House”—Moanalua Medical Center—Kaiser Permanente’s central hospital facility for the State of Hawai’i; the same place I recently did a five-day stint.

A prison, I, I mean, hospital bus will pick me up at the airport for transport to the facility.  Once there, they’ll take me to a little white room called MOA NUC MED INJ ROOM 3 where I will be forced to drink a lethal dose of poison—well, not lethal to me, prayerfully, but to a lot of things inside me.

The radioactive isotope—iodine-131—is supposed to track down and obliterate any remaining thyroid cells or miscreant cancer cells within my body.  I’m imagining tiny, microscopic, atomic explosions going on all throughout my system as, cell-by-cell, the radioactive iodine is carelessly absorbed by the renegade troublemakers and then “BAMMM—got you!”  It’s kind of the medical community’s idea of a high-tech video game—“Grand Theft Auto”—at the cellular level.

I’m not sure just what all other kinds of unsuspecting cells will also end up being obliterated but, supposedly, we only use 3% of our brain cells to navigate through life anyway so, perhaps, I’ll be alright in that department.

After they strip me of all my clothing and belongings, and make me drink the deadly poison, I imagine men in HazMat suits escorting me, by way of a hidden passage with lead laden walls, down to the Big House dungeon, where they have really super-thick concrete walls; and, there, they will lock me away in solitary confinement—an old, dusty supply closet that the janitor cleaned out a few years back, I presume—for a period of three to five days.

They will do this for at least two reasons.  The main reason is because, ever since they took away my T3 hormone replacement and forced me into this goofy state of hypothyroidism, I’ve been getting grouchier every day and, I suppose, people are getting pretty fed up with me.  Furthermore, after ingesting the nuclear explosives, I’m REALLY not going to feel very well, and nobody wants to have to deal with that.  So, upon my wife’s request, no doubt,  “best to just lock him away and forget about him for a while!”

Oh, and the other reason is because, at the dosage they’re giving me, I’ll be considered a radioactive contaminate for several days; and people just seem to have this “thing” about being around others who are constantly bombarding them with waves of beta particles.  I know, hunh? Still so much prejudice in the world; go figure!

While in lock-up, not even the nurses will be allowed in my room.  I’ll have to take my own vitals every four hours and clean up my own vomit; as well as any other messes that I make.  I think the janitor will come by once or twice a day, if he happens to remember, with some kind of mashed up low-iodine organic compound baked into a kind of bread, along with a little water, and shove it through a slot in the lead-lined door.  If I want anything more than that, I suppose I can always scout for cockroaches, as they can apparently survive anything, even radioactivity.

I’ve been told that “everything” that goes into that room will become radioactive waste and will have to be bagged for HazMat and permanently disposed of. However the room will be nicely furnished in the new and stylish “Stark” motif. Everything, even the floor, will be lined with disposable plastic; the sheets, pillow cases, and bedding, as well as my hospital gowns, will all be made of disposable paper. Well, we can’t get more “contemporary” than that, now can we?!?

I have already been ordered to shower and scrub at least four times a day while in lockdown; and there will, no doubt, be some kind of hidden, Owellian (1949) camera to make sure that I follow those orders sufficiently. And, if I don’t properly follow all instructions to a “t”, I fear there will be some kind of a dystopian, Bradbury (1953), spider-looking, robot thing sent in to do the job for me. I’m pretty sure that a CIA Predator Drone probably circles high above the “Big House” should I, at any point, renege on any of this and try to make a break for it—for all I know, they’ve already got one watching me now!

After several days, if the nursing staff hasn’t forgotten where they stored me, I will be scanned with a magic wand for discernible levels of any remnant danger that I may pose to the general public.  If I pass the radioactivity test and, it has been emphasized, “if” I’ve cleaned up my act and display a fairly reasonable attitude toward others, they say they “might” let me out.

Only then will Kaiser Permanente secure a returning one-way ticket, put me back on the prison bus to the airport, and have me transported back home; probably inside a leaden case in the underbelly of a cargo transport.  That is, if my family is quite ready to have me back and gives their consent.  I’m under no illusions, though—I remember the little poem by Kessinger (1959):

“Indispensable Man”

Sometime when you’re feeling important;

Sometime when your ego’s in bloom

Sometime when you take it for granted

You’re the best qualified in the room,

Sometime when you feel that your going

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions

And see how they humble your soul;

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to the wrist,

Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining

Is a measure of how you will be missed.

You can splash all you wish when you enter,

You may stir up the water galore,

But stop and you’ll find that in no time

It looks quite the same as before.

The moral of this quaint example

Is do just the best that you can,

Be proud of yourself but remember,

There’s no indispensable man.

I don’t know why I’m so “freaked” about all of this.  It’s a very simple procedure, really.  Just drink the poison, get really sick, and then get a whole lot better.  Most people survive it just fine.  But, for some reason, I’m more nervous about this than I was either one of the two thyroid surgeries—both of which came at me pretty quickly.

It’s probably just the hypothyroidism, yeah?  Or, maybe I’m just in the same boat as Wyatt Earp when he said to Doc Holiday in the Cosmatos (1993) film, Tombstone, as he nervously contemplated his final showdown with the outlaw killer, Johnny Ringo, “It all happened so fast with Curly Bill… I didn’t really have time to think about it.  But I’ve had plenty of time to think about this.”

They’re not even going to put me under, or anything like that.  Still, I don’t know, something about it just feels creepy!  It’s kind of like taking the “red pill” in the Wachowski (1999) movie, The Matrix, remember these classic lines:

Morpheus: Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.

The truth, and nothing more? Eh, eh, eh—yeah, but what Neo doesn’t seem to remember is that “truth,” like virtually everything else in life, ALWAYS comes with a whole lot more than one initially contemplates. Later in the movie, after Neo’s entire existence has been absolutely, completely, and utterly altered beyond all imagination, we find another classic line:

Cypher: You know, I know what you’re thinking, because right now I’m thinking the same thing… Actually, I’ve been thinking about it ever since I got here… (he raises his glass and drinks) Why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill !?!?!

Am I going to regret all this?  Probably!  But, I mean, I’m already fighting cancer, right?  It’s not like this is some kind of rosy picture to begin with.  And this is just another weapon in my arsenal—it just happens to be a weapon of mass destruction at the cellular scale; and a nuclear weapon at that.

One thing every cancer patient learns early on is that, despite all the rhetoric about “taking charge” of our your own healing, for the most part, you just do what your told; you just try to keep moving along from day-to-day, trying to take it all in, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find the little rainbows wherever you can; but also realizing that it’s all pretty much out of your hands.  And that often leaves one feeling uncomfortably vulnerable.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!

__O.O__

I’m trying to remain completely rational about all this.  You all know how much I despise hyperbole and would never participate in such literary indulgence.  But I can’t seem to shake this feeling that, in today’s world, we’re messing with some really dangerous stuff that, perhaps, we were never intended to mess with. Or, I don’t know, maybe we were.  But one thing I do know for sure is that God knows and, either way, He’s got this!

Best video of this song:

22.) Going Froggy

In preparation for internal radiation therapy next week, my doctors have taken me completely off the T3—thyroid hormone replacement—and are plunging me into a state of complete thyroid hormone withdrawal and hypothyroidism.  This, I’m told, is designed to send my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels, produced by the pituitary gland, through the roof and help facilitate the uptake of the 131-I (radioactive iodine) that I am to receive.

I am now one full week into the withdrawal period, which I have to endure for more than three weeks due to the WBS (whole body scan) which follows one week after the RAI (radioactive iodine) ablation.  Symptoms of hypothyroidism are setting in, including: strange sensations of anxiety—over what, I’m not sure—mixed with thirst—but I’m not thirsty—mixed with hunger—but I’m not hungry.

I’m also experiencing a general weakness, fatigue, and lethargy—I want to do stuff, but can’t seem to find the energy or willpower; although I did get all my yard work and landscaping done this weekend.  I also, somehow, managed to negotiate DMV—hours of waiting in line and filling out paperwork—in order to get my driver’s license renewed. However, I’m letting my wife do all the driving because I fear my reflexes are somewhat delayed and my reaction times are slower. The experts warn that “all patients who are hypothyroid should avoid making important decisions and driving or operating heavy machinery for one to two weeks before and after the scan or treatment” (Thyca, 2012a).

I notice, too, that my skin is drying out and becoming crinkly, my hair is becoming brittle, I’m experiencing muscle aches and joint pain, and my internal thermostat seems to be aligning more with my wife’s.  Around our house, we’ve always engaged in that age-old battle of the sexes over the thermostat:  she’s always complaining about being cold, while I’m typically too hot.  But lately, I’m feeling cold a lot, too—yes, even here in tropical Hawai’i—especially at nights.

Mostly, I’m just feeling somewhat “froggy”—my head is being overrun with what Ne’ and I refer to as “brain frogs”—producing bouts of dizziness, lightheadedness, or detachment from reality; like I have been mildly sedated or something.  This is often accompanied by a mild headache and a woozy nausea; like you get on a spinny carnival ride—just writing about it makes me want to go lay down.

These frogs, when they really get to hopping and playing, often cause me to forget what I was just thinking about, or to get all emotional over some incident, or thought, or memory; and then wonder to myself what it was that I was just getting all worked up about.  They cause me to forget people’s names, or how to pronounce highfalutin words, or how to spell even the most common words like, “fog”… I, I mean, “frog!”

I know, I know, some of you reading this are probably thinking to yourself, “huh — sounds like regular ole Salty to me, in fact, he may have actually improved!”

In addition to all that hormonal stuff, and the creepy brain frogs, I’m now into the second week of what has got to be one of the strictest diets in the world—affectionately known to those of us in the ThyCa community as, “The LID” (low iodine diet).  To borrow a phrase from the character, Peter Pan, in Steven Spielberg’s motion picture Hook (1991), “Gandhi ate more than this!” What is the LID?

  • Absolutely no iodized salt or sea salt or any foods or products that may contain iodized salt or sea salt.
  • No seafood or sea products, or products containing sea products (including: carrageenan, agar-agar, algin, alginate, nori) because all products from the ocean tend to be high in iodine.
  • No dairy products (milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, butter, ice cream, powdered dairy creamers, whey, casein, other dairy products) or products that may contain dairy products.
  • No egg yolks or whole eggs or foods or food products that may contain whole eggs.
  • No soybeans or soy products (soy sauce, soy milk, tofu) or food products containing soy products.
  • No corn products or food products containing corn products.
  • No beans, including: red kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, or cowpeas – black-eyed peas… (can have black beans and white beans).
  • No Swiss chard, broccoli, spinach, turnips & turnip greens, radish, eggplant, rhubarb, potato (with skins), cranberries, strawberries, prunes, bananas (can have 1 occasionally).
  • No chocolate (for its milk or salt content), molasses, or any other sweets, candies, or products that may contain dairy or salt.
  • No iodine-containing medications (check with doctor), vitamins, and food supplements. Also products containing iodate or iodide. Check the label and ingredients and discontinue completely if iodine is included. Most vitamins with minerals contain iodine.
  • No products that may contain Red Dye #3 (erythrosine — contains iodine).  Avoid all red, orange, or brown processed food, food products, or pills and capsules.
  • No restaurant food and fast food.
  • No commercial baked goods or bakery products.
  • No manufactured or processed foods.

     (Thyca, 2012b – adapted)

So what, then, CAN I eat?  Pretty much everything else; which amounts to pretty much, “NOTHING!”  Not really, it just seems like it whenever we go shopping.  Actually, I somehow manage to eat pretty good, all-in-all.  In fact, tonight, I will eat better than most of the children of the world… hummm!

The “official” list says that I can have:

  • Fresh meats, up to 5 ounces per day (beef, chicken, turkey—if not broth injected).
  • Whole grains and cereals, up to 4 servings per day (grains, cereals, pasta, and breads without iodine-containing ingredients). Homemade baked goods and cereals are best on this diet.
  • Basmati rice—like grains, rices vary in the amount of iodine depending on the region where grown, so rice should be eaten only in limited amounts.
  • Fresh fruits and fruit squeezed juices—homemade.
  • Fresh vegetables, preferably raw and fresh-cooked or frozen without salt.
  • Unsalted nuts and unsalted nut butters.
  • Honey, maple syrup—some jellies.
  • Black pepper, most fresh or dried herbs.
  • Vegetable oils without additives.
  • Clear sodas, non-instant coffee and tea, beer, red wine, distilled water—some sparkling waters.
  • And all the imaginary “Never Food” I care to eat.

     (ThyCa, 2012b – adapted)

Sooooo, I’ve got my new Nutribullet, along with my new Cuisine Art hand-held stick blender/chopper, standing at readiness.  My cupboards are chalked full of fresh whole, organic nuts, and whole grains, along with simple seasonings; my fridge is full of fresh veggies; and my counters runneth over with all kinds of fresh fruit.

I’m finding myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen these days.  In fact, I think the place is beginning to take on the look, feel, and smell of a Master Chef kitchen—or, at least, a real kitchen anyway;  you know, like the one grandma used to have.  I’m making my own Salty’s Sass-Ass V-8 cocktail, my own Salty’s Kick-Ass Salsa, and even learning to milk my own oats—because all alternative milks seem to contain salt—all with somewhat moderate success.

By the way, ever try to milk oats?  YOU try it!  You’ll find out it’s not as easy as it sounds.  First, you’ve got to herd them up, then get them to stand still long enough, and always, always beware of swishing tails. Ah, but I digress…

My poor little wife—my principal care giver—is having to learn how to cook, or completely relearn how to cook in some old-timey ways; not the easiest of tasks for a modern, professional, working woman—and I of course, I’m “helping” her learn, but…

We’re learning to make a lot of things dairy free and salt free using lots and lots of oats and oat flour—because we’re trying to remain gluten free—i.e., oat tortillas, oat pancakes, oat bread, oat biscuits, various and sorted oat snackers.  All in an effort to help keep me alive and relatively happy through all of this.

It leaves me feeling both appreciative and apologetic.  Appreciative for all the extra trouble she, and others, have gone to on my behalf; and apologetic for my abnormal, hormonal behavior and all the goofy antics she’s, and others, are having to put up with.

But, at least, in some ways, I can now relate to a woman, I think, in a few ways that most men can’t; if you catch my drift. Furthermore, and most importantly, I can reassure and comfort her by saying, “Honey, now relax, this too shall pass; after all, all of this is only due to those terrible, vile things my mean ole doctors are doing to me. It’s not like it’s going to last forever, you know… not gender related or something that will keep reoccurring on a ‘periodic’ basis.”

She scowls!

I flee…

Now where did those frogs go… has anybody seen my frogs???

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

19.) The “Good Cancer” Bus

I was recently told—by a medical technician no less—that, “Well, at least you’ve got the good cancer!”   Hummmmm…  I wasn’t sure whether to breath a little sigh of thankfulness for that, or to clobber her!  I mean, good cancer? Really???

You know, all this “waiting” has got to be one of the hardest parts! It has now been three months since I first discovered the lump in my throat and that initial doctor visit; and, since that day, my life has been pretty much turned on end. While I’m blessed to have a medical provider that jumps on things pretty quickly and keeps the ball rolling—I’ve never had to sit and wait for insurance approval—still, it sure seems like a lot has had to happen just to get to this juncture. I’ve been through a couple of ultrasounds, a five sample needle biopsy, more consultations—phone & clinic—than I can count, more lab tests and blood work than I can possibly keep track of, two surgeries—one requiring a five day hospital stay—and eight flights to and from the island of Oahu. And I just now, finally, have some preliminary inkling of the extent and staging of the cancer—maybe.

However, even now, both the ENT surgeon and my endocrinologist have warned that they can only offer a “preliminary” prognosis at this point because nothing will be known for sure—if it ever is—until after the WBS (whole body scan), which will occur one week following the internal radiation treatment, or RAI—radioactive iodine ablation—which is still more than a month away. And even then, more will be known only after months of testing and a second WBS, yet to be scheduled six months after the first one.

But, according to my doctors, the cancer is “currently” designated as T2N0M0 Stage II differentiated papillary carcinoma of the left thyroid. “T2″ means that the initial tumor was larger than 2 cm but not larger than 4 cm across—it was 3.5 cm—and that it did not appear to have grown outside the thyroid. “N0″ means that there appears to be no spread to the lymph nodes. “M0″ means that it doesn’t look—for now—like the cancer metastasized to any other organs of the body. In consultation with my endocrinologist following the second surgery, I was informed that the pathology report revealed a second tumor had been found in the right hemisphere of the thyroid—about .5 cm—but that did not change the current staging.

I guess age 45 is the “cut-off” date used to help determine general prognosis for those dealing with thyroid cancer. I’m 10 years beyond that cut-off—yikes!—meaning that, even though the cancer does not appear to have spread, I am automatically assigned a higher level of staging based upon my age. According to Columbia University Medical Center, using information “extrapolated from a number of sources including the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, among others,” for my age, stage, and type of cancer there is a 7% chance of recurrence, a 7% chance of distant recurrence, and an 89% survival rate at the 10 year mark (Columbia, 2011, para. 7). Other sources state:

While the prognosis for most people with thyroid cancer is very good, the rate of recurrence or persistence can be up to 30%, and recurrences can occur even decades after the initial treatment. Therefore, it is important that you have regular follow-up examinations to detect whether the cancer has recurred. Health monitoring should continue throughout your lifetime. (ThyCa, 2011)

What does all this mean? I don’t know for sure. I guess it means that, initially, for every 100 people over the age of 45 who are diagnosed with this particular cancer, 89 of us will still be here in 10 years, while 11 of us will have died from this disease. I’m not sure just how I should take that. Do I just relax, smile, and say, “Oh, well, that’s only 11 people out of every one hundred, or 110 out of every one thousand, or 1,100 out of every ten thousand of us; so, why be overly concerned?”

It’s kind of like being walked out into a huge parking lot and being shown a whole row of deadly buses destined to crash sooner or later. There’s the melanoma cancer bus, the breast cancer bus, the pancreatic cancer bus, the liver cancer bus, the leukemia bus, the lymphoma bus, etc., etc., on and on, and let’s not forget that damned ole Ewings sarcoma bus, chalked full of kiddos—very deadly. Oh, but then there is that bus way down near the end, one of the “good cancer” buses—the thyca (thyroid cancer) bus.

crashed school bus

Yes sir, if you’ve got to ride a bus, this is one of the buses you wanna ride! Sure, it will crash sooner or later and, yes, you’re going to get hurt, beat up, broken up, cut up, and poisoned. You’ll probably spend a few days or, perhaps, even weeks in the hospital by the time it’s all said and done. And, yes, your life will certainly be seriously disrupted, to say the least. But, hey, the good news—only a little more than 10% of you are gonna die from your injuries. Oh, and you should probably know that, once you’re on the bus, you’re always on the bus and, for every 100 of you that survive the initial crash, up to 30 of you may have to go through yet another crash somewhere on down the road…  “Hmmmmmm…. and that’s the ‘good cancer,’ hunh?”

Like most cancer patients, I’m often suspicious that I’m not being told the whole story. I feel like I’ve been put on a “need to know” status and my doctors are not going to tell me anything more than I really need to know at any given time; which, in my case, is probably a good thing because I can barely process what little I do know as it is carefully threaded out to me. Probably better to leave room for my imagination to run a little wild than to fuel my nightmares with the actual facts—ha!

Still, I find it amusing how that my doctors and technicians continually use “qualifiers” when discussing any results or prognosis with me; how they are always careful to “encourage” without “promising” anything.

When I went to my local doctor for the first time, she told me, “It’s ‘probably’ nothing serious, ‘but’…”

Then, before the first surgery, the ENT said, “It is ‘unlikely’ you will need a second surgery, ‘but’…”

Later, just before the second surgery, he said, “You ‘should’ come through this just fine and be on your way home tomorrow, ‘but’…”

Five days later, as they prepared to wheel me out of the hospital, he said, “I ‘doubt’ you’ll ever have to come back and see me, ‘but’…”

Now my endocrinologist is saying, “Everything ‘looks’ good at this point and I ‘think’ you’re going to do just fine, ‘but’ there is still that “minimal” chance that you may have to deal with more treatment beyond the initial radiation therapy.”

So, remembering my research, I asked her, “About a 30% chance of recurrence?”

She smiled, “Well, yes, about that!”

I just laughed and told her, “Well, with the way my luck has been running with all these percentages you guys keep throwing around, please make sure to keep me outta Vegas!”

For some reason, that didn’t seem to amuse her as much as it did me. Which, again, made me wonder, “What is she ‘not’ telling me?”

But, for now, I just keep waiting and trying to be a “patient patient,” enduring each new procedure and this crazy hormonal roller coaster they’ve got me on, while awaiting further analysis and trying to salvage the ragged pieces of my life following the bus crash. I also try to do what little I can to help other crash victims—some far more banged up than I—while playing the percentages and hoping the dice finally roll favorably in my direction.

Of course, I know that, for the child of God, life is a whole lot more than just a grand and glorious “crapshoot.” The Bible says: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, NASB).

Oh, and by the way, people, there is no “good cancer.”