30.) Have You Found Your Peace?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB)

 I could hardly believe my eyes, or ears for that matter. It was the evening of the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” and we were right in the midst of the opening ceremony—the survivor’s lap. As I walked around the far end of the track, surrounded by hundreds of cancer survivors walking side-by-side together, I looked up and there, just beyond the other end of the field, was the most beautiful rainbow. So beautiful and amazing was this rainbow that the relay facilitators called for the whole group of survivors to quickly make their way back to the other end of the field for a big group picture of us all standing together beneath the rainbow. Then, the announcer called out: “Waianuenue (Rainbow) is in the house!” I almost “lost it” completely! I stumbled forward through the tears, my head spinning, making my way toward the rainbow, thinking of my little, deceased Nui boy (Rainbow) and the trials, tribulations, courage, and hope he symbolized. That those events would unfold in such sequence at just such a moment gave me the most profound assurance of God’s abiding presence.

Rainbow Relay

As discussed earlier in these memoirs, if confronted seriously enough with a potentially life-threatening situation, one cannot help but be confronted with his or her own mortality. It happens to soldiers on the battlefield, to firefighters and emergency personnel, to people on the front lines of the medical industry, to people who have faced severe accident, harm, and injury; and, to one degree or another, to those who have survived a serious illness.

We hear a lot about PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) today, especially with regard to men and women returning from the battlefield in war zones around the globe. I can’t help but believe that a significant component of that phenomenon is our human consciousness—heart, soul—trying to come to terms with the reality of our mortality. I mean, it’s one thing to know that every living thing, and everyone, eventually dies. But it is quite another to stand face-to-face with the brevity of life and be made to live with the fact that our own lives, and the lives of those we cherish, hang by a thread and can be snuffed out in less than a heartbeat.

We want more control than that. We want to think that our destiny lies in our own hands. We want to believe that we’ve got some kind of a lease on life, that time is on our side, that death can’t, or at least won’t, touch us or the ones we love and that we won’t have to face it anytime in the foreseeable future. And so we push death way back into the dark recesses of our brain; out of sight, out of mind. And there it remains, hidden, but lurking; until the day the bullets start flying or the doctor walks into the office and says, “Yes, it’s cancer!”

As I’ve tried to persevere on this faith-walk through the stormy clouds of cancer, only one person has dared ask of me, whether or not I felt as though I had “found my peace” with regard to facing death. I wanted to say, “Well, of course, after all, I’m a ‘preacher’ aren’t I?” But in reality, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.

The question, you see, wasn’t, “are you prepared to die if you ever have to?” or, “have you gotten your affairs in order in case you die?” or even, “are you good with God and ready to meet Him whenever you die?” The question was, “have you found your peace?” The person asking me that question wasn’t at all concerned with my “preparedness” for death or for life after death. She was inquiring into the present state of my heart. She understood, in the measure of wisdom that God had granted her, that it’s one thing to accept the fact that we’re all going to die, some sooner than others, and quite another to be able to live with peace and joy in our hearts in the face of that fact. Although it had been asked in the context of the subject of death, it really wasn’t a “death” question at all; it was a “life” question. And, for me, it was nothing short of a “faith” challenge.

I’m convinced that most of today’s Christian community is in need of a serious spiritual paradigm shift. I say this because it appears to me, from the way we talk, the way we pray, the things we’re most concerned about, and the things we’re most likely to celebrate, that we’re far too wrapped up in this material world. Take a step back and listen, sometime, to the way we pray and communicate with one another; the things that seriously disturb us and the things we get really excited about. Tell me we’re not mostly about fleshly concerns and material needs! We talk about and pray almost continually for people’s physical healing and material welfare, but how much energy and concern is directed toward people’s spiritual needs?

I’m remembering, again, the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” and how he asked the Lord three times that it be removed, but God refused, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NASB). Paul needed to suffer in the flesh to fulfill the will of God for him. So why do we seem to feel as if the most important thing to ask from God is physical healing and material blessing? Not that there is anything wrong with that, per se, it’s just not the most important thing; at least, not to me anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I do ask God, almost daily, for physical well-being. I want to be healthy and have the strength and energy to do all the things I feel like I want and need to do to take care of my family and to accomplish the work God has set before me. But, ultimately, I know that physical healing is of little consequence. What matters most is whether or not I’m willing to be used by God to accomplish His purpose and to allow my lot in life—rich, poor, healthy, or ill—to glorify my Lord. So, perhaps, the most important things we need to be praying about, both for ourselves and for those we’re called to love and serve, is for surrender—true discipleship—and for the grace and wisdom to truly yield our hearts and lives to the will of God.

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I walked out into the sea last evening at sunset. The ocean had taken on a metallic golden-grayish hue, impossible to describe to all but those who’ve witnessed it. A big red sun hung in the western sky, its mirrored image rippling across the water and terminating at my feet like a puddle of liquid gold. I breathed deeply of the soft, salty, sea breezes and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shoreline some distance behind me. Cool water embraced my legs up to my knees as my toes snuggled into the warm sand beneath. It was all so magical, so perfect. And then the old song jumped into my head: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through!”

One might think that such a thought would pretty much spoil the occasion. But that was not my experience. Rather, a flurry of scripture rushed through my brain and I found myself in a state of intense meditation. I thought of the Apostles Paul and his “desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:23, NASB). I thought of the Apostle John’s admonition: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15, NASB). I thought of Jesus’ teaching, “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26, NASB). I even thought of Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross, “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NASB). And I thought to myself, this is not paradise, THAT’S paradise!

I think most people have a longing for a place called “home.” We seek connection. We relish community. We want a place where we belong, where we can know and be known intimately; and be accepted for who we are—the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. We look for it in our churches; we look for it in our family circles; we look for it when we come together to celebrate our holidays or when we try to meaningfully connect with some age-old social tradition—often to no avail.

I believe that religion and culture have more to do with humanity’s desire for these connections than they do anything else. Both religion and culture seek to provide people with a sense of belonging, an identity, a pathway to connectivity, to community, to hearth and home. But when dispossessed of one’s culture, or when family seems scattered to the wind, or when faith flounders, our hearts reel with emptiness. We may fool ourselves for a while—trying to fill the void with materialistic gratification and endless diversions—but, eventually, we will be made to face our mortality. And when we do, may God grant us the presence of mind to ask, “Where is my peace?”

I love King Solomon’s statement, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV). As I stood there, knee deep in a golden sunset ocean, pure beauty unleashed all about me, I felt a deep emptiness and longing for something more; something that I knew couldn’t be found this side of death’s dark portal. And, with eternity tugging at my heart, another passage, one that I dearly love, came to mind:

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15, NASB)

People, in general, do fear death; no one wants to die! But our Lord Jesus has stepped into this world, cloaked Himself with flesh and blood, and, through His own sacrificial death and resurrection, taken away the fear of death for all those who love Him. He rendered death nothing more than our ticket “home.”

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It’s been ten months, now, since my diagnosis. They’re still doing regular blood work on me every other month, trying to regulate my thyroid hormone. There is another lump steadily growing in the right side of my throat near the thyroid bed. I’m tempted to despair at the dreadful thought, “here we go again!” But it’s probably nothing; still, it could be something—a lymph node do you suppose? That seems to be how it is when you’ve been through cancer or a similar kind of illness. A close thyca friend, Karen, who lives in Florida writes:

I know what you mean about water under the bridge, but I fear there are waters out there we have yet to tread. I think that it will always be in my mind: will it return or is it gone? Every new bump or lump I get scares me, fearing that the cancer has spread; but trusting God it’s dormant and that it will stay that way. I have a place on the inside of my lip—they are calling it a fibroma—and I will have it taken off next week; of course, they have to biopsy it as precaution. I never worried about any of these kinds of things before diagnosis of thyroid cancer. But even with all of this I still trust God to see me thru whatever happens.

As for this lump in my throat, I will have another battery of tests, along with an ultrasound later this month; and a WBS (whole body scan) if necessary in order to see if there is any metastatic recurrence going on in that location; or anywhere else in my body.

It’s a little disconcerting for me to have two other dear friends who are both continuing to battle reoccurring metastatic thyroid cancer. Lolly, who lives here in the islands, and Julie, who lives on the U.S. Mainland, both started out with the same diagnosis as I, went through precisely the same treatment, and were handed the same “all clear for now” verdict by their endocrinologists, just as I was. Today, even as I sit here writing this journal, Lolly is undergoing a radical neck dissection to remove multiple metastatic lymph nodes. Julie has recently been diagnosed with two metastatic thyroid tumors in her lungs; which must soon be surgically removed. What has happened with these two precious friends serves as a stern reminder for me not to take anything for granted; and that, when it comes to cancer, it’s never really over unless, and until, God says it’s over.

It’s no fun living without a thyroid. It’s one of those invisible amputations that nobody pays much attention to, except the one who is having to deal with it each day; and, as I’m discovering, there are a myriad of subtle symptoms—and some not so subtle—that one has to deal with each day. Energy levels, as well as emotions, can fluctuate wildly.

For now, I’m just trying to live each day as it comes and be “in the moment.” I find myself living with a deep sense of gratitude. If there is any good thing that has come out of my skirmish with cancer, and I do believe 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), it is that cancer has revealed my “peace.” It has helped me come to terms with my own mortality.

What I mean is, I know that, should this be the day of my departure, the world will go on spinning without me; and I’m quite alright with that. I know that God holds the hearts and lives of my dearest loved ones in His holy and compassionate hands; and that they’ll be okay without me. He has a plan for each of them; and it’s His plan that matters, not mine.

But here’s the ultimate rainbow: I also know that separation from loved ones in this world heralds a reunion with loved ones in the world beyond who’ve gone on before me; and, furthermore, I know that the separation of death is only temporary. Soon, all who have surrendered their hearts and lives to Jesus, and who have put their faith in Him and His atoning sacrifice, will be together again in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB). We will be home!

This world is not my home I’m just a passing through

My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue

The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door

And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

(Burton & Graham, 2011)

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Please feel free to comment below; or to write to me at: redeeminglove777@gmail.com

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!

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

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)