Looking For A Rainbow

A Faith-Walk with Salty Through the Stormy Clouds of Cancer

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: STORM CLOUDS GATHER

1. No, This is Impossible

2. Seeking Some Perspective

3. Why I’m Writing to You

4. Coming to Terms with Mortality

5. My Birthday, Come and Gone

CHAPTER 2: BRACING FOR THE STORM

6. Givers and Takers

7. Why Me, Lord?

8. His Plan—Bigger than Me

9. Living in the Moment

10. God’s Forever Family

11. A Philosophy to Live or Die By

CHAPTER 3: THE THROES OF THE STORM

12. Eve Before Surgery

13. Is This What It’s Like to Die?

14. Wait, wait, wait… What?

15. Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

16. A Trip to the FARMacy

CHAPTER 4: THE STORM INTENSIFIES

17. Pomp and Circumstance

18. Hospital Antics

19. The “Good Cancer” Bus?

20. Preparations for RAI

21. Feels Like Roulette

CHAPTER 5: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

22. Going Froggy

23. I’m Radioactive, Radioactive

24. Sitting Here in Limbo

25. Team HOPE

26. Sharing the Love

CHAPTER 6: CALMER WATERS

27. I Think I’m a Survivor

28. The Comeback Trail

29. How Did You Know I’m Alone?

30. Have You Found Your Peace?

EPILOGUE:

31. The One Year Review

References

Copyright © 2018 Salty Sails – All Rights Reserved

All Rights Reserved

 

31.) The One Year Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboy Goodbye 2

29.) How Did You Know I’m Alone?

I want to speak, now, to yet one other “bump in the road” that people seem to want to avoid discussing—and it IS somewhat hard to talk about—and that is, the deeply emotional aspects of facing adversity and recovery. It has been my experience that there is a certain profound sense of “isolation” that sets in when facing difficult personal struggles or going through times of adversity.  I don’t know just what it is, really, but when facing any situation that forces us to confront our own mortality, the experience is often accompanied by an abject sense of loneliness.  In discussing his own experience with cancer, Jeff Tomczek (2012) put it this way:

Be grateful for every message. Be appreciative of each gift and each visit. There will be moments where all of this attention will make you feel lonelier than you have ever felt in your life. In a hospital room full of people with messages stuffing your inbox, voicemail and mailbox you will find yourself feeling completely alone. This is when you will realize that you could afford to have a stronger relationship with yourself. That only you walk this earth with 100% investment in you.

This is not only true of the hospital room, but even the ole “comeback trail” can sometimes feel pretty lonesome. As the intensity of the dramatic moment distills into the mundane struggle for normalcy, and people begin to realize that you’re probably NOT going to die—at least not anytime soon—they lose interest. That incredible support network that once surrounded you begins to fade and dissipate.

Well, we all know that “life goes on,” and that is how it should be. Personally, I don’t want people trifling over me. I’m ready to be taken off of a few “prayer lists”—I hate prayer lists anyway; nobody wants to be a line item on somebody else’s “list.” Don’t get me wrong, however, I do love the notion of spontaneous, heartfelt prayer. But, while I am more than ready to fade from some people’s short-term memories, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to lose EVERYone—yikes!

I’m reminded, again, of Jeff Tomczek’s wisdom as he shared some of his personal insights into his own cancer recovery. He said:

You’ll understand who truly loves you because they will still be there. You’ll want to meet new people that connect to the newly evolved version of your old self. You’ll want to let go of those that don’t ‘get’ who you are now. You’ll feel a little guilty doing it. Then, you’ll move on. You don’t have time to waste. The greatest gift you’ve been given is that you now understand that and you’re going to make the most of every second. (Tomczek, 2012)

Well, it’s okay with me if some of the buzzards who’ve been sitting around on the wires, wondering whether or not I’m going to die, take flight and head off in search of the next poor victim that they can hone in on for their dramatic amusement. However, there are a few sweethearts with whom I feel like I’ve drawn much closer through all of this; and I really don’t want to lose contact with them. But I know that even some of them will need to fly away because life is demanding, there are other people who need our attention, and we all have only so much room in our lives for those first, second, and third level relationships. In fact, I myself have been seriously contemplating cutting my Facebook “friends” list down from over 200 to only about 50, or maybe 20, or perhaps just 10—huuahhh!

I know that I’m not quite myself these days.  I’m not really over all the effects from the surgeries, the internal radiation therapy, and the additional minor—albeit often painful—medical procedures. I’m still on some pretty tough antibiotics, an occasional pain med, and my thyroid hormone replacement levels still need to be moderated.  In fact, my endocrinologist is upping my daily dose of levothyroxine (T4)—thyroid hormone replacement—to 200 mcg; which is, typically, as high as they will go.  Hopefully, that will be enough to get me out of this residual hypothyroid stupor I’ve been contending with for months on end now.

Well, these are some of my excuses, anyway, for the continued heightened state of general “discombobulation” and “emotionalism” that tends to plague me these days.   But, I have to admit, some of this “emotionalism” may have less to do with all these chemical imbalances, or even dealing with cancer, and more to do with just gettin old—sort of a “mid-life crisis,” perhaps?  Let’s face it, life does get a bit “freaky” after you turn 50 and it begins to dawn on you that the average life expectancy in the U.S. for people your age is only about 70 years—67 for men, 74 for women (Information, 2011)—and that means you have, in all likelihood, lived at least two-thirds of your life, already.

It’s funny how, when you think back to how fast life seems to have flown by, and how little of it remains, your priorities begin to shift and a number of new and unfamiliar emotions begin to come into play.  To be more specific, you begin to ask yourself questions like, “What are the most important things, really, in life?” and “What does God want me to do with whatever little time is remaining to me?”  These are questions which, to be fair, many of us have asked often throughout life.  But, when you get much past 50, these kinds of questions seem to take on a new urgency.  Here are a few related items I’ve been contemplating lately:

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 THINGS don’t really matter much!

Now, I know that I am somewhat of an “odd bird” to begin with.  Material wealth and financial security have never ranked particularly high among my personal values in life.  Sometimes I am tempted to regret that fact and sort of wish that I had given more attention to making money; and that I had been a better provider for my wife and family.  But when one feels compelled to buy in, completely, to the work Christ has set before us—to the extent that he or she is willing to forego possessing or enjoying very many of this world’s amenities—life, for better or for worse, becomes all about “the mission.”  And, I suppose that, to wish I had been a better provider is, in a way, denigrating the providential care of God; as though He, in some way, has not been a good enough provider or taken care of us the way I expected Him to.

I remember, when our children were still very young, my wife and I were visiting with some friends of ours, another young family, who had just purchased some land and had moved a pre-manufactured home onto the property.  They walked us around the premises showing us their new garden, their lawn, their chickens and other animals; and we rejoiced with them and were, genuinely, happy for them.

But, after dinner, while we were relaxing, talking together, and rejoicing over the acquisition of their little slice of the proverbial “American dream,” one of them asked the question of us, “So, tell us, what is YOUR dream?”

I shot a quick glance in the direction of my wife, our eyes meeting in telepathic connection, and we simultaneously smiled at one another.  Then, turning back to our friends, she answered for both of us, saying:  “We’re living it!”

Our friends, quite aware of our meager subsistence and minimalist lifestyle, stared at us with blank expressions and queried, “What do you mean?”

She went on to explain to them how that, for us, living, loving, serving, reaching, preaching, and teaching WAS our dream.  It’s all we’ve ever really wanted, and, aside from our health and well-being, all we’ve really ever asked for—and, well, we’re living it! I fell in love with my wife all over again that evening.

That being said, still, there have been times when—and forgive me, Lord, if I disparage Your providential care for us in any way—I wish that we could enjoy the lifestyle and financial security that some of our family and friends seem to have achieved.  We still live in a house that is not our own; and I get sort of tired of looking at our hodge-podge, hand-me-down furnishings—leftovers from garage sales, unclaimed stuff left in storage units, and worn out items that some hotel or resort was trying to get rid of.  What is our fashion theme?  We call it, “Contemporary Missionary!”  Some of you may recognize it as the “Rag-Tag Gypsy Wanderer” motif!

But I know that, compared with 97% or more of the world’s population, we still manage to live like royalty—we are not paupers by any stretch of the imagination.  And, really, I have nothing to complain about except, perhaps, that I have not been a better steward of the material resources that God has blessed us with over the years.

While we’ve done better than most, still, I wish I had completely refrained from that whole credit/debt trap.  That is not a good way to fund mission trips, or local ministry, or moving and relocation expenses, or education, or to pay for other goods and services.  It’s walking by sight, rather than by faith.

I also wish I had given more to others in need, or to worthy causes along the way; and that I had spent less on material things to which I felt entitled.  But, most of all, I just wish that I would have done a better job of simply being there for people.

My commitment going forward is not only to try to get out of debt as soon as possible, but to do a better job of investing our material resources, to the greatest extent possible, in eternal treasure and kingdom expansion.  Yes, I’m still all about “the mission!”  And, somehow, the idea of “making it” in this old world—whatever definition we individually assign to that idea—seems to pale in comparison with just “living it”—to the glory of God.

Jesus, after confronting the rich young ruler, who just could not let go of his material possessions in order to follow Him, said:

 “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”  The disciples were amazed at His words.  But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!   It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?”  Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.”   Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake,   but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.” (Mark 10:23-31, NASB).

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 TIME is a precious and fleeting commodity!

In his bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages, Gary D. Chapman (2010) outlines five mediums by which we all communicate and interpret our love one for another.  These include:  words of affirmation; physical touch; acts of service; giving and receiving gifts; and spending quality time together.  While we all “speak” each of these languages to one degree or another, individual hearts typically resonate at a higher level with one or two of them.  But regardless of what one’s first love language may be, I believe all are important to establishing and maintaining beautiful relationships; and we each need to be aware of how all five may play out in the various relationships we hold dear.

If there is one thing that has been drilled into my mind through my confrontation with cancer, it is the importance of treasuring the time we are afforded one with another.  And, yet, it seems to me as if this may be the very “love language” that is most often neglected.  For some reason, when it comes to loving and being loved, simply spending time together seems to take a back seat to verbal expression, intimate touch, acts of service, and gift giving.  Why is that?

Perhaps our high-powered, hectic, busy lifestyle has much to do with it.  The demands of today’s professional world—what it takes in terms of effort and energy just to keep a business financially solvent or a family afloat—are incredible.  Add to that all the organized activities to which we attach ourselves and our children in an effort have what society deems a “well-balanced” lifestyle, and it seems we have little time left for sharing some of life’s simple pleasures with one another, things like:  walking and talking together, sitting on the front porch and sharing our day, playing a simple game, throwing a football, listening to and sharing some music, or even praying and praising our Lord together.

When I look back on my life, I wish I could say that I have no regrets; but I do.  In fact, people who say “I have no regrets” are, I think, being incredibly arrogant.  Of course we have regrets; things we wish we would have done differently.  But one of the areas of my life that I regret the most is not spending enough quality time with the people I love.  Seems like there was always some immediate, pressing concern that was driving me:  academic pursuits, ministerial pursuits, deadlines, appointments, various commitments, or just financial considerations to take into account.

My mother battled with cancer over the last two years of her life.  While we often talked on the phone, I never seemed to make it “home” to see her during all that time—until near the very end.  Even then, I had commitments to speak at various places while on that trip and spent most of my time gallivanting around the great Southwest meeting with elders and mission committees, trying to hang on to the mission support that helped sustain us on this field of labor, rather than being at my mother’s side.

I remember my mom calling me in the middle of that trip, she in a hospital in New Mexico, me at a speaking engagement in Dallas, asking—no, begging—that I return and see her one more time before flying back to Hawaii.  I did, but it was only a short visit in the hospital at Las Cruces. The doctors had assured us that she was getting stronger and would be driving again by summer; so I took my leave, promising myself and her that I would return that summer to spend more time with her.

But summer, for her, never came.  Only two weeks after my return to Hawaii, my sister called to tell me that our mother had died. Looking back, I would give anything for a few more days or weeks, filled with long, boring, difficult hours just sitting in a hospital room at her bedside talking, sharing, reminiscing, rubbing her back (she loved that), and just giving her my time.

My little nephew, Gatlin, battled cancer over the last four years of his life.  I talked with my sister on the phone often, but, again, I never seemed to make it “home” to see her and the family during all that time.  Near the end of Gatlin’s life—he was only 14—we were blessed that he and my sister were able to come spend a couple of weeks with us here in Hawai‘i.  I don’t remember all the particular things we did, but that doesn’t matter so much as just the memory of his being here, his smile, his unique personal interactions—quite the tease—and the time that we shared together.

A couple of months later, my sister called to tell me that the time of Gatlin’s departure from this life was nearing and that he really wanted me to come see him while he had a few good days left.  However, due to local responsibilities here at home, I felt that I couldn’t just pick up and go.  So, I waited.  I waited until it was almost too late.  Even then, when I finally made it back to see him, he was on his final leg and died only 3 days after my arrival.

Looking back, while I was glad that I was there when the Lord called him home, I find myself wondering just what was so incredibly important that I couldn’t have hopped a plane and gone back to spend that last two or three weeks with him.  It wouldn’t have mattered what he was capable of doing, or what we would have done in the time we had together; only that I was there—but I wasn’t.

My little student, Jessica, battled Fanconi’s anemia the last couple of years of her life.  This little gal seemed to capture my heart in no time flat; and not just mine—people who knew her just couldn’t help but love her immensely.  Jessica had to have a bone marrow transplant in Honolulu and we had developed plans for me to travel over to visit and help Jessica with her school work while she was in the hospital.  We planned to continue with her home schooling needs when she returned to Kona.  But Jessica never returned to Kona and I never made it over to Honolulu to see her.

You see, while funds were available, they were limited; and we didn’t want to spend the money on travel until Jessica regained enough strength to actually be able to engage with me at some appreciable academic level.  But that never happened.  After 97 days in the hospital, the Lord took Jessica home just a few days after her 12th birthday.

Looking back, I’m wondering what the big deal was about making “appropriate use” of those designated funds.  I should have followed my intuition at the time and just hopped as many planes as I could to be there with her as often as I could; if only to give her a hug and a kiss, to pray with her and her family, and to let them know how much I love them.  No amount of money, raised or saved, can compensate for the time I missed out on being with Jessica in those last few months of her little life.

Are you starting to get my point?  I’m sitting here wiping tears and hoping that, perhaps, you are already well ahead of me and can relate stories of people in your own life to whom you wish you would have, somehow, managed to give a little more of your time.  And all the important agendas, busy schedules, deadlines and appointments, financial considerations, and other extenuating circumstances just seem to have paled, most now long-forgotten, in comparison to the time we had, or would like to have had, with those precious loved ones.

In considering our walk of life with the Lord, and the opportunities He gives us to love and share our lives with others, perhaps we would do well to heed the Apostle Paul’s admonition when he said to the church at Ephesus,  “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time [the KJV says, “redeeming the time”] because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NASB).

______________________________

 RELATIONSHIPS are what matter most!

And this is what has me a little “teary-eyed” today: while material things and so-called “financial security” continues to sink ever lower on my priority index, my emotions are steeped in thoughts of friendship and fond memories of precious moments spent with people I love.

You see, this past week, a couple of long-time friends who live on the U.S. Mainland—Craig and Danelle—dropped in to spend a couple of days with me.  They were in the islands to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary and to spend some time with their daughter on the island of Kauai.  But on their return trip home, they deliberately diverted their travel schedule—at the cost of a few hundred extra bucks—to hop on over here to our island and to see me.  These are, by the way, the first people I talked to on the day I found out that I had cancer—they knew my diagnosis, even before my wife did.  They have encouraged me often throughout this entire ordeal with a calm, steady, reassuring faith; and, now, they’ve even taken the extra time and expense to drop by and aggravate me for a few days.   Do you have any idea what that means to someone living in exile on a rock out in the remotest parts of the sea?

While the time we were able to spend together was sweet indeed, you should know that they didn’t come to cradle and coddle me—cudgel, perhaps, but not coddle (look it up).  Rather, as evidence of their true friendship, the very first thing they did on the morning after their arrival was to kick my butt into high gear by forcing me into a 5 mile cross-country run with some serious up-hill; which, while helping me with my pacing and breathing, as I try to adjust to my new running regimen, nearly killed me in the process. I wanted to quit so many times on that run, but they wouldn’t let me and kept challenging me to “push the envelope” just a little further.  I wanted to throw up, then collapse; or collapse then throw up—the only reason I didn’t is because I couldn’t decide the order.

Then, when I finally found some shade and a patch of grass beside the sea on which to collapse, they wouldn’t allow me to rest for long.  Before I could even recover, they had me out in the sea fighting turbulent ocean waters in the midst of a big swell with strong currents that threatened to sweep all of us off to Tahiti.  In fact, Craig got caught up in that current and was helplessly swept away, like a rag-doll, between a couple of giant lava pillars protruding from the ocean floor; causing Danelle and I to have to search for him in vain for more than 5 minutes.

I shot a quick prayer to God and, just when I was giving in to the possibility of his early demise, he reemerged some distance away from us.  A flood of relief swept over me in knowing that I had not, by God’s grace, as of yet, lost anyone I love on “my watch.”  However, due to the physiological impact of the whole episode, I was simply too physically and emotionally spent to make it back into shore at the spot where we had entered.  Rather, I gave in to the forceful current and just let it take me at will, Danelle following suit, until it washed both of us up on a rocky formation jutting out into the sea not far away.

Then, on the way home, these two dear friends manipulated me into stopping by Sports Authority to purchase a firm styrofoam roller—a device invented at Gitmo, no doubt.  They then induced me to practice several tortuous exercises using this instrument of malevolence; which not only inculcated excruciating affliction, but left me nauseous for hours afterwards.

However, because it was my granddaughter’s birthday and we had a party to attend, like the brave trooper I portend to be, I was able to “cowboy up” and not let on to anybody how totally whipped I really was by day’s end.  And this was just the FIRST day of their visit!  Ahhhh… “What ARE friends for?!?”  

Now, of course, I make no claim to infallibility in my documentation of the foregoing events.  As in all my storytelling, I can only assert that these are, indeed, the facts as I remember them.  And you, already knowing my distaste for hyperbole, are, I’m sure, convinced of the accuracy and reliability thereof.

Then, this past week, another long-time and more, shall we say, “benign” (at least from a distance) friend—David—called to cheer me up and talk about various matters related to ministry.  He said that he wants to print out and use my interactive, online Bible lessons in his Sunday morning Bible class.  Of course I gave my permission—”Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8, NASB).

As with Craig and Danelle, David and I have spent quite a bit of time “down in the trenches” laboring together in behalf of the cause of Christ on one mission campaign or another.  Now he reminds me once again that, time zones and distances notwithstanding, and even though I sometimes feel like John the revelator—exiled to the island of Patmos—we still need one another; and nothing binds our hearts together like active participation in mutual ministry.

On yet another note, I have an ever growing and evolving relationship with someone who has always just kind of “been there,” out on the peripheral margins of my life, but with whom I never really connected until recently.  My little cousin—Constance—who is several years younger than I, lives in the Middle East, out on a small peninsula surrounded by the Persian Gulf, in the nation of Qatar.

We’ve never talked to one another very much, or even seen one another more than just a few times in our lives.  But working through this cancer, as well as other adversities in our lives—she recently lost both her father, my Uncle Coleman and, just last week her mother, my Aunt Shirley—seems to have thrown us back together in quite an unexpected fashion.  It has been such a joy to learn about her family, her life, and all her adventures abroad.

Brief notes from her seem to appear out of the blue via one form of communication or another; dropping in, as it were, from the wings of the wind right when I most need them.  Yesterday another one of her messages drifted in, saying:  “The miles or oceans do not create a distance that can keep me from feeling you close!”

Wiping eyes, again, and looking out my window at the thousands upon thousands of miles of ocean waters surrounding me in all directions, I quietly give thanks to my God that, in this modern world of cyber connectivity, we don’t have to remain isolated from the people we love.  And, while I would hop the very next plane to go see her if I could, the inter-web will have to suffice for now.

These are but three, among many, relationships I’ve grown to cherish even more through this battle with cancer. However, I’ve also noted that some people, apparently, seem to have trouble relating to others, even “friends,” who are in distress; and, for various reasons, seem to need to take a step back and withdraw their friendship and support.  Then, of course, there are those who always seem to rally around tragedy, and are very attentive to those going through the fire, but then seem to disappear from the scene as the flames die down.

But there are people who, whether I fully appreciated it or not, were there for me before I ever entered into my “trial by cancer.”  They have encouraged me through it and they will still be there when it’s over—if it ever truly is.  And, when you’re beginning to “feel the years,” and start to realize just how few of them may be remaining to you in this present realm, precious relationships like these seem to skyrocket to the very pinnacle of one’s value system.

I guess I just need to learn to be grateful for any amount of love and friendship that I am allowed to experience with anyone during my short tenure here on earth—whether they are life-long relationships, or only for a little while. Are you familiar with the little poem entitled, “Reason, Season, Lifetime”—attributed to Brian Andrew “Drew” Chalker? I wasn’t, until recently, but I think it helps express what I’m feeling and trying to say about relationships:

REASON, SEASON, LIFETIME

When someone is in your life for a reason, it is usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have come to assist you through a difficulty; to provide you with guidance and support; to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are. They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand. What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done. The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a season, because your turn has come to share, grow or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh. They may teach you something you have never done. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy. Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

Lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

 Thank you for being a part of my life, whether you were a reason, a season or a lifetime.

______________________________

How did you know
That I’m all alone today
Oh, I feel so scared
And I want to go away
I bleed so deep underneath
My soul is screaming

[Chorus:]
I’m not gonna hide
I’m not gonna run away
I’ll uncover the scars
And show you every mistake
Your love is mending my blisters
And the bruising shame
Here with you
I am safe

Drowning the tears
Won’t make it go away
It’s robbing my soul
I’m taking this mask off my face
To discover love
And uncover all
It means to live and breathe

28.) The Comeback Trail

No doubt about it, the ole “comeback trail” can be a long, hard, and often lonely road to travel.

As I’ve already mentioned, I like to run; but not for competition, not for accolades, and not so that somebody will be impressed or celebrate “me.”  I run for the discipline, for the joy of it, for the freedom, and for the celebration of “life.”  I prefer to run alone, or maybe with just one or two other running partners who are in it for the same reasons I am. But finding those kinds of running partners is super hard these days—everyone seems to be in it for the competition, or not at all—so, I run alone.

I run for health, for fitness, for endurance, and as part of my ongoing spiritual training.  My runs are typically couched in prayer and surrounded by praise.  Taking my cue from Colossians 3:17, I try to offer up each run as a living sacrifice of praise unto God.  If I run in some small competition from time-to-time, perhaps a 5K or a 10K, I run for the comradery, to help build local community, and for a cause—to try to raise funds for organizations such as CRF (Christian Relief Fund)—one of my favorites.

For me, running, like a healthy diet and accompanying cross-training, suits my lifestyle.  Even though research indicates that I’ll never “outrun my fork”—diet is far more essential to weight management than is exercise—still, running, I believe, helps me control my weight.  It provides me with some viable measure of personal control over my health and body maintenance.  It’s a general indicator of how well I’m doing overall—physically, emotionally, and, to some extent, even spiritually.

So, of course, when I think of “coming back” from the ravages of cancer, one of the first areas of consideration that I’m going to focus in on is my running.  In that regard, however, first let me say that I’m just glad to be here and to be, once again, back out on my running trail two or three times each week.

I am both humbled and haunted by the fact that this whole battle with thyroid cancer could be much, much more difficult for me than it is.  There is a type of cancer—anaplastic thyroid cancer—that is a virtual death sentence.   Shomon (2004) reports that, “The prognosis for anaplastic cancer is very poor, and less than 5% of patients survive 5 years. An estimated 10% of patients are alive at 3 years.  Most people do not survive longer than 6 months, and 80% do not survive beyond a year.”  While anaplastic cancer cells can develop from other types of less traumatic cancer, such as papillary and follicular thyroid cancer, I am grateful to God that, thus far, I have not been diagnosed with that.

But even for the significantly less deadly varieties of thyroid cancer—papillary, follicular, and medullary—the prognosis depends a great deal on the staging of the cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society, those diagnosed with Stage I and Stage II of these types of cancers—such as myself—have a five year survival rate ranging from 98% to 100%.  Those diagnosed with Stage III range from 73% to 91%.  But those diagnosed with Stage IV range from only 28% for medullary to 51% for papillary thyroid cancer (American, 2013).

For some people, looking in from the outside, some of these percentages and survival rates may not appear to look all that bad; hence the creepy idea that thyroid cancer is, somehow, one of the “good” cancers.  But try telling that to the person who happens to fall within the 2 or 3, or even the 20 or 30—depending on the type—out of every 100 people for whom thyroid cancer will prove to be 100% deadly.

So, while it remains to be seen what God’s plan for me will be over the long-run, for now—in the short-run—I’m just rejoicing that this cancer hasn’t been any worse for me than it could have been, and is for some.  I rejoice that I have a great medical team working with me and that, so far, the medical procedures have all gone smoothly enough.  After six months of some pretty radical stuff, I rejoice to say that I’m back up on the “comeback trail.”

However, I think it’s important to recognize and acknowledge the fact that, even after having overcome some of the major hurtles and, perhaps, dodging the proverbial bullet, if I’ve dodged it—perhaps I’m already shot through and just don’t know it, yet—that doesn’t mean the battle is over; not by a long shot!  In fact, I guess for some, recovery can be the toughest and most discouraging part of the journey.

This ole comeback trail, I’m finding out, can be a pretty tough row to hoe.  Being acutely aware of how much ground I’ve lost, and that I need to try to make up since being diagnosed with cancer six months ago, can be incredibly discouraging.  And, there are all kinds of other “bumps in the road” that an effect one’s recovery on this long and arduous comeback trail.

For example, I recently had to undergo surgery for umbilical hernia repair; something that should have been taken care of last year but had to be postponed until we could get a better handle on all this cancer stuff. This was my third major surgery in the past six months and the procedure left me very sore and unable to engage in any strenuous activity for quite a while.  Every medical procedure, at this point, seems exasperated by the fact that I have not yet fully recovered from my bout with cancer.

The comeback trail can not only be pretty tough physically, but it can also be rather “taxing” on relationships.  This, I think, is due in part to the intensity of the emotions involved.  Being diagnosed with cancer, or facing any potentially life-threatening situation, changes you.  Jeff Tomczek described this process well, I think, when he said:

Do not be too proud to speak to someone. You cannot afford to store up the intensity of the emotion that comes with fighting a life-threatening illness. Let it out for yourself. You will begin to hear your voice changing. That voice is who you are becoming in the face of mortality. Listen to that voice. It will be the purest, most authentic version of you that you have ever known. Bring that person into the world—strengths and vulnerabilities and everything between. Be that person forever. (Tomczek, 2012)

That doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone changes in exactly the same way; but—for better or for worse—we all change.  As Jeff goes on to note:

Your body will change first and your mind will follow. You won’t lose your mind, memories or sensibility. It will all come back. But, you will be different. You will never have the same sense of self. You should embrace this. Your old self was probably really great. Your transformed self will be even better. Give in to what is happening and trust it. (Tomczek, 2012)

The thing is, while I, myself, struggle to “give in to” this new person I am becoming, others are having an even harder time accepting the new me; and some people, I’m afraid, simply aren’t going to like this “new version” of me very much at all.

One thing that does help with all of these changes, however, is that I do have a few “advocates.”  Every cancer survivor, every person who has ever faced a potentially life threatening illness or situation, every person who has lost an intimate someone very close to them, every person who has been diagnosed with PTSD—regardless of the origin—every person recovering from a medical condition or addiction, every person on the “comeback trail” needs advocates. We need enablers who will stand beside us, helping us interpret life and what is going on within us and around us. We need people who will help keep things in perspective for us, who will help us communicate with others and help others understand us, and who will serve as a buffer between us and this big, wild world all around us—a world we once thought we knew and understood, but which now seems to have shifted, somehow, to a whole new reality.  I am learning that a huge part of what we call “ministry” involves “advocacy”—simply “being there” for one another.

As Jeff noted in one of the quotes above, there really is a lot of “intensity of emotion that comes with fighting a life-threatening illness.” In that regard, there are a lot of things in this world that I seem to be growing increasingly passionate about; and other things of which I am, seemingly, becoming increasingly intolerant.  However, I don’t know if I sincerely care any more deeply about any of these issues than I once did, or if they simply serve as a potential temporary outlet for some of that pent up emotion.

My wife, Ne’, is quick to point out that I probably don’t want to allow myself to fall victim to one of the first things of which I,  myself, am becoming increasingly intolerant—that is:  puffed-up people who come across as being a little too full of themselves and seem to think they have all the answers; as well as people who just can’t seem to help being “stupid in no-stupid zones”—and, yes, I know I’M perpetually teetering on the brink of THAT one.

She is also quick to point out that all the various political, social, and spiritual “issues,” as important as they may seem at the moment, do not begin to compare with our overall mission as servants of Christ—loving, serving, reaching, teaching, and helping people fall more in love with Jesus!  “Why risk hurting a single individual,” she says, “or wounding a precious heart and, perhaps, turning them away from the Lord, for the sake of some social, cultural, doctrinal, or political issue?” And, I supposed she’s right—“again!” At least the Apostle Paul seems to agree with her, or she with him. He put it like this:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.  I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (I Corinthians 9:19-23, NASB)

So anyway, I bend down to lace up my old, beat up Saucony runners and think about all the miles they’ve traveled, and how far they still have to go.  I imagine them asking me, if shoes could talk, why they’re not as fast, bold, and courageous as they once were, just a few short months ago?  I don’t know if I have the heart to tell them that they may never be that fast again.  (Yikes!  Now I’m carrying on full conversations with my shoes—still a little hypo???)

Shoes strapped up, muscles stretched, I turn and press myself into the wind, feeling the sun beat down on my dry, chaffed face and blistered lips.  Swallowing hard, I tentatively summon the strength to just put one foot in front of the other, then again, and again; settling into a slow-but-steady pace as the empty path stretching before me bids, “press on.”  The plethora of little aches and pains seems accentuated by the notion that all this effort is likely to produce little or no tangible results—at least, not in the short run—but, still, I’m compelled.

No doubt about it, it’s going to be a long, hard, lonely road—this comeback trail!

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!

25.) Team HOPE

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:24-25, NASB).

______________________________

Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master!  What shall we do?”  So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17, NASB)

“O Lord, I pray, open my eyes that I, too, may see!”  I know that there are forces—physical and spiritual—of which I am not aware, but that are very much hard at work on my behalf.  But every once in a while, as I bounce along in the eye of this storm, I am astounded by something, or someone, that God surfaces and brings to the forefront of my vision to remind me that I am never alone in this battle.

I have to admit, I’ve been feeling kind of blue lately, kind of worn down and apprehensive about that upcoming liver ultrasound.  I’m still more than a little depressed by the hypothyroidism and experiencing moments of doubt and sadness; even while trying to be brave and keep my smiley face on.

Then today, I received a message from someone that I didn’t even know existed, but who has been reading my journal on the ThyCa (Thyroid Cancer Online Support Community) website.  She, too, is a thyroid cancer patient and she said:

Salty, dear, my prayers and lots of good vibes are for you alone at the moment.  I just don’t know what to say, other than my hopes are that you get through this health problem sooner than later. If nothing else I can offer you, I can offer my understanding.

Then, after sharing some of her own recent experiences with thyroid cancer, she told me:

…we do our best to smile even when we don’t feel like smiling. Honestly, it’s okay to be afraid sometimes, it’s okay to be tired and take a nap, it’s okay to feel your feelings. It doesn’t mean that you’re giving up, it just means you are human. Keep smiling. You are a rainbow on a cloudy day.

Later, in closing, she said:

Your story gives me pause for a big sigh. At the moment, all of my prayers are for you. Your faith in God, as is my faith in God, is precious; but remember, it’s okay to feel your feelings once in a while. It’s okay to be afraid once in a while. Just don’t sit in it.

While I don’t even know her real name—she goes by Tree Song online—her message touched my heart very deeply.  I don’t always believe it when people tell me, “I’ll be praying for you” or “You’re in my prayers.”  But, I don’t doubt this one; and the best part, I didn’t even see it coming!

I’ve got to tell you, while I’m a little like the Apostle Peter, not wanting to submit to others washing my feet, still, it is wonderful seeing people taking care of one another, being alert to one another’s needs, and moving to meet those needs without even being prompted—except by the love in their hearts.  I love people who are not always trying to second guess what the real needs are;  people who don’t feel it necessary to, first, make contact and ask if there is anything they can do; hoping that there isn’t.  In fact, I’m beginning to despise that old cliché:  “call us if you need anything” — (ummmm, yeah right, like I would actually DO that).  I love people whose plain old common sense is enough to inform them that some very real needs exist, that there is something that can be done; so, motivated by love, they simply do it; whether it’s offering a kind word, a prayer, a gift of some sort, or an act of service.

I’m beginning to feel a little like Elisha—surrounded by the Lord’s army riding in flaming chariots of love; an army much bigger than I had ever imagined.  This morning, while sitting out in the sun in front of my uncompleted greenhouse—I’ll get to it someday—and talking with God in prayer, I felt myself not only honored to be the recipient of such love, but also convicted with regard to my role in doing my part in loving and serving others.  I was thinking to myself, and asking God, “Why is it that, down through the years, despite the numerous bedside deaths I’ve attended and many funerals I’ve officiated, with few exceptions, I really haven’t seemed to care all that much about what other people are actually going through—the details, I mean… the feelings, the fears, the trepidation, the emotional turmoil; not until now, when it’s my turn to have to walk through the fiery furnace?”

If cancer has taught me anything at all—and, believe me, it’s taught me “plenty”—I thing it is teaching me to get out of myself. I’m learning to get out of my own little world, and out of my own little programs, projects, and ministries, and look anew, through eyes of compassion, at a bigger, broader, more expansive world of opportunity.  Opportunities to love, to serve, to reach, and to teach abound. And, while continuing in prayer, I was reminded of Jesus, of whom it is written:

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.  Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.   Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38, NASB)

While I’ve preached that passage a hundred times over the past thirty years of ministry, it has never meant what it means to me now.  And I felt a momentary flash of anger:  “So many wasted years!  Why don’t they teach you what it really means to “minister” as you study and work toward your degree in Biblical studies?”

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology, as well as a Masters of Education—so what?  So I know a lot about the Bible, about Bible history, about church history, about doctrine and dogma and tradition, about church administration and mission—so what?

Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36, NASB).  In that same vein, I asked myself, “What does it profit a man to know the Bible forward and backward, and even to gain some degree of recognition among men for one’s ministerial and academic pursuits, and yet lack the vision and the compassion to see and touch a heart that is hurting?”  I guess some things just can’t be taught in the context of some university or school of preaching; they can only be fully appreciated by “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17, NASB) over the course of a lifelong sojourn with God.

And so, today, as I poured out my heart to God in prayer and pondered my continued purpose in this world—for however long He sees fit to keep me here—I’m determined to walk with greater awareness of the needs of those around me, near and far, whom God has, in one way or another, swept into the course of my life.  I’m determined to try to reach out and touch the heart that may be hurting with the reassurance of God’s love and His providential care; not because it is my “ministry” or because it will make “me” feel better—no one wants to be the object of somebody else’s “ministry”—but because, at a personal level, I really do care.

I’m also determined to look for every opportunity to engage the world beyond the narrow confines of my little day-to-day existence; to try to participate more fully and meaningfully with the beautiful people in my world who say they love me, and to work more closely with them in striving to make this world a better place for all of us.

Wouldn’t you know it, no sooner had I finished recommitting my heart to more authentic ministry, than God laid one such opportunity right at my doorstep. You see, for the past three years, I’ve given a bit of “lip-service,” and thrown a few bucks in the direction of, a local, regional, national cause—the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life.”  But I’ve always been somewhat hesitant to get very deeply involved.  For one thing, I don’t trust the whole industrialized, pharmaceutical, medical research industry.  “Do they really want to “cure” cancer, or are they content to just keep the money flowing for endless alleged ‘research’ projects?”  For another, I don’t trust the corporate world, large or small, any more than I trust the government; and especially giant corporations, even non-profits, with millions in income and assets. I’ve often wondered, “At what point does the mission cease to be about helping people and becomes all about keeping the institution solvent?”  As a result, I’ve often excused myself from participating in wonderful opportunities to love and serve others. I’ve excused myself by first asking:  “Yeah, well, how much of every dollar actually goes toward helping others, and how much goes toward greasing the palms and pockets of the so-called administration?”  And then, having arrogantly tossed out that rhetorical question, I summarily let myself “off the hook”—convinced that I didn’t have to allow myself to actually care all that much.

However, I have to admit that, after doing a bit of research on Charity Navigator (2013), I was surprised to learn that the American Cancer Society has a pretty good overall rating.  Last year, 71.2% of all their income went toward actual program services—patient support 28%, research 16%, prevention 16%, detection and treatment 12% (American, 2013)—while 21.8% went to fundraising activities, and only 6.8% went toward administrative expenses.  “Uh oh, now I might have to actually care a little bit—and especially since I myself have now become a direct recipient of research, information, and other benefits derived from the work of the American Cancer Society.”  This is yet another example of God’s vast army of support, spiritual and physical, that He has in place for me; and of which I have remained, to this point, woefully unappreciative.

Research funded, in part or in whole, by the American Cancer Society has helped me understand, contextualize, and proceed with appropriate medical treatment.  Furthermore, the American Cancer Society has a wonderful way of partnering collaboratively with many other institutions to form a vast network of services that benefit hundreds of thousands of people annually.

For example, on the community level, I just read in our local newspaper about the “I Can Cope” cancer classes, being offered at our local Kaiser Permanente Kona Clinic; which are designed to provide “practical information about cancer, and understanding of the various treatments used to fight it and strategies for self-care” (Editor, 2013).  According to West Hawaii Today:

The program is a component of the American Cancer Society Cancer Resource Network—a free, comprehensive resource to help patients and their caregivers manage the impact of cancer on their lives through up-to-date cancer information and referrals to society programs and other community resources. (Editor, 2013)

Of equal importance, I think, is how the American Cancer Society draws people together to help foster awareness and strengthen community bonds at the local level through events such as the “Relay For Life” and other such activities.

So, this year, because of the way God has been working on my heart through this cancer, and because a close friend dared to ask, I am getting involved at a much deeper level than ever before.  In fact, I have become an official member of Team HOPE.  I am committed not only to helping my team reach our financial goals, but to actually participating, with my whole heart, in this year’s relay.

If there is one famous—or, shall we say, quasi-famous—person in the whole world that I would most love to meet personally, it would be Christa Wells. In my wildest dreams, she and I actually write a song together.  :o)  Anyway, this song by Christa speaks directly, I think, to everything I’m trying to say in this reflection.  I hope it ministers to you as it does to me.

I’m afraid of the space where you suffer
Where you sit in the smoke and the burn
I can’t handle the choke or the danger
Of my own foolish, inadequate words
I’ll be right outside if you need me
Right outside

What can I bring to your fire?
Shall I sing while the roof is coming down
Can I hold you while the flames grow higher
Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now
Can I come close now?

So we left you to fight your own battle
And you buried your hope with your faith
‘Cause you heard no song of deliverance
There on the nights that followed the wake
We never thought to go with you
Afraid to ask

What can I bring to your fire?
Shall I sing while the roof is coming down
Can I hold you while the flames grow higher
Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now
Can I come close now?

Lay down our plans
Lay down our sure-fire fix
Grief’s gonna stay a while
There is no cure for this
We watch for return
We speak what we’ve heard
We sit together
In the burn

What can I bring to your fire?
Shall I sing while the roof is coming down
Can I hold you while the flames grow higher
Shall I brave the heat and come close with you now
Can I come close now?

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.

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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:

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

20.) Preparations for RAI

Herewith commences what may well prove to be a somewhat lonely season of life. I’m in the thick of the storm. The surgeries are done, I hope, but I’m still six weeks out from the I-131 internal radiation ablation. In a telephone conference today with my new lead nurse, Annie, from endocrinology, I received notice that I need to start limiting my contact with people in the public sphere because it’s flu season; and, though it’s not yet rampaging through Hawai’i, like it is in other parts of the country, the flu will soon make its annual debut here in the islands. Furthermore, she said that, when I go in for blood work in a couple of days, I also have to get a flu shot.

I argued, of course, that I didn’t believe in or want the vaccine, but she strong-armed me—yes, over the telephone—saying: “Well, the flu is coming. We’re getting lots of visitors from the mainland this time of year, your wife is a teacher, and you are a minister, so you’re already at risk. Plus, you’re going to be in and out of the clinic and the hospital, and sitting in a lot of waiting rooms, over the next couple of months. If you contract the flu, all your treatment plans go down the tank and we’ll just have to reschedule for later in the year. Your call!”

Dooouuugghhhhh!!! So, have I mentioned that I’ll be getting the flu shot in a couple of days? And then, I guess, I’ll have to try to limit having close contact with people in general for the next month or so; until I get beyond the radiation treatment and the whole body scan to follow.

This is really a bummer because I’m a fairly sociable guy and I enjoy being around people; it’s just a huge part of my life, my work, my ministry. But, all-in-all, the temporary isolation is probably a good thing, given the roller coaster hormonal ride that I’m enduring as the doctors try to regulate my blood serum leading up the radiation treatment. Right now, they’re still trying to regulate my vitamin D and calcium levels. They have taken me off calcitriol, meant to foster the uptake of calcium, because they think it is interfering with my absorption of the Liothyronine (T3)—the thyroid replacement hormone. So I’m being constantly monitored for hypocalcaemia.

At the same time, my endocrinologist doubled the dosage of liothyronine—the most potent form of thyroid hormone—to produce somewhat of a hyperthyroidism effect prior to the whole body scan. Potential symptoms include: rapid heartbeat (tachycardia); irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or pounding of your heart (palpitations); nervousness, anxiety and irritability; tremor—usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers; sweating; increased sensitivity to heat; changes in bowel patterns; fatigue, muscle weakness; difficulty sleeping.

Then, two weeks before the radiation treatment, I’m told, she will take me completely off the thyroid hormone, which will plunge me into a state of hypothyroidism; and my TSH (thyroid stimulation hormone) levels, produced by the pituitary gland, will skyrocket. Symptoms will include: fatigue; increased sensitivity to cold; constipation; puffy face; hoarseness; muscle weakness; muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness; pain, stiffness or swelling in the joints; slowed heart rate; depression; impaired memory. All of this is supposed to help facilitate the cellular uptake of the radioactive iodine when they give it to me.

Worst of all, they’re forbidding the use of my beloved floticasone (Flonase), as well as Afrin and any and all other antihistamines or steroids. So now I have to go around with a swollen, sniffling, stuffy nose.

This is typically how it goes. It’s not so much the cancer itself that makes you feel like “junk,” but all the related treatment that you have to endure and the therapies you have to go through to eventually, hopefully, get better.

I feel sorry for my family and friends. After all, who wants to be around somebody like that? Not only will I not be very pleasant company, but, due to increasing levels of what they call, “brain fog,” I may not even be able to remember people’s names. It’s like getting a little taste of “old age” long before you’re due—uggg!

However, despite my terrible treatment of them, I do find myself coveting the love, support, and encouragement of family and friends. It means the world to me when people correspond, leave a text message, or just find little ways to help cheer me up. I’m leaning heavily these days on email, Facebook, and my friends in the ThyCa—Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association—online support community. I’ve got to say, I am more than a little amazed at those who want to stay informed on my progress and who take the time to check for my blog updates. I’m already finding that what Jeff Tomczek (2012) said is true:

Your relationships are about to change. All of them. Some will get stronger. They will probably not be with the people you would expect. The people you want to handle this well might not be able to for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons will be selfish. Some of them will be entirely innocent and circumstantial. All of them will be forgivable because no one plans for cancer. Carrying bitterness or anger won’t help your recovery. Fighting for anyone to stick with you won’t cure you. Those who can, will.

It humbles me, though, and even makes me feel a little guilty, just knowing that a few friends and loved ones actually bother to whisper a little prayer for me from time-to-time. After all, it seems like we’ve all got so much on our plates these days. I know that the time and energy that we have available to give to others, even in prayer, is often pretty limited; no matter how much we may care.

I find myself not wanting to impose on anybody. Furthermore, there are so many people with dire needs far exceeding my own. It makes me feel kind of strange even just writing about my feelings—it feels too much about “me.” But I guess this, too, is just a part of the journey that all who are dealing with cancer, and similar circumstances, are forced to deal with.

So, I’ll continue to write in order to acknowledge this sojourn and, perhaps, to encourage other lonely sojourners as well. And I do give thanks that these dark days of relative isolation and chemical craziness are made significantly less lonely and endurable by the support of others and, of course, by Him:

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

Even there Your hand will lead me,

And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night,”

Even the darkness is not dark to You,

And the night is as bright as the day.

Darkness and light are alike to You.

(Psalm 139:7-12, NASB)

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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.”

18.) Hospital Antics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cowboy sillouette

17.) Pomp and Circumstance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

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

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

When the morning comes.
When the morning comes.

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

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

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

Hey!

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

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

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

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

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

When the morning comes!

16.) A Trip to the FARMacy

But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables. (Daniel 1:11-16, NASB)

I was looking over various bottles of fruit and vegetable juices at Safeway and carefully examining labels, which, I guess, looked kind of odd for an old rough-neck like me. Finally this woman, who had been watching me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I see you’re really spending a lot of time checking out the information. What’s the deal? Are you price shopping, looking for the best deal for the money, or what?”

To which I responded, “No, I’m checking out ingredients, sugar content, and, especially this”—as I pointed to a little green symbol that read: “USDA Organic.”

The gal got all “head up” and indignant, proudly declaring in a condescending sort of way, “Oh, right! Whatever! I’m too old to care about all that kind of stuff!”

I look at her and noted that she was about my age and appeared healthy, vibrant, and attractive. So I said, “You know, I was thinking pretty much that same way up until a couple of months ago. Now, I’m fighting cancer. So now I have to care about ‘all that kind of stuff’.”

The woman immediately dropped her ego, lowered her head, and quietly muttered, “Oh, oh, I’m sorry; God bless you!” as she pushed her shopping cart on by me.

I laughed to myself and thought, “She’s embarrassed, but I’m just like her.” Why are we all so stubborn? Why does it take such a drastic change of events in our lives just to get us to care about basic things like healthy eating, or adopting a lifestyle that nurtures vibrant living?” Granted, it’s not an easy choice. In fact, just a few minutes later, after my encounter with the woman, I was standing with Ne’ in the checkout line feeling frustrated, worrying that I was going to starve to death, and hopelessly throwing my hands up as I declared, rather loudly I’m afraid, “THIS STORE CANNOT FEED ME!”

So, the next day I was at our local “health food” store—Island Naturals. Now, there are few things funnier than an old cowboy in a health food store. I mean, of course, I’ve stepped in and out of a health food store or two over the course of my life; usually accompanied by someone else who was looking for something special that they just couldn’t find elsewhere. But this was, honestly, the first time I had ever walked into that place with a feeling of need, bordering on dependence; and it was frightening. Someone probably should have had a camera phone out, just for the comic relief. But it didn’t seem too funny to me at the time

I spent a couple of hours carefully canvassing row after row—all six or so of them—looking for things that appeared halfway edible. I couldn’t even pronounce the names of most of the items on the shelves. To make matters worse, I soon found myself surrounded by several zany, freaky—albeit beautiful—people who looked like they just tumbled off a Bob Marley toke wagon, dreadlocks and all. I thought, “Really, this is what I’ve now become? What next, a move to Puna?” – (well, you Big Islanders will get it). Anyway, fortunately, there are already more than a few people in my life who share that particular sub-culture, and who I love dearly, and thinking about some of them, and how proud they might be of me at that moment, kind of softened the overall impact of the whole experience and made me smile.

But another thing I began to note was how “old fashion” our health food store really is. It comforted me to see a lot of products that my grandpa would probably have been very familiar with—black strap molasses, malted barley, assorted whole grains, fresh organic vegetables, even homemade organic ice-cream. In fact, this place wasn’t too much unlike my grandmothers canning kitchen. It even smelled the same. I began to have visions of an older, simpler, more—dare I say it—“organic” way of life; you know, farm life.

I really started getting excited when I discovered a free-range, organic chicken. Then, when I finally found the free-range, organic, grass-fed beef, I thought to myself, “Yessssss… the cowboy can do this!” In fact, I actually bought a couple of things that very day: a bag of organic whole rolled oats, and a small, organic, underarm deodorant. Not much for a two hour expedition, perhaps, but it’s all I could bring myself to do on a first trip.

Of course, just because it’s in the “health food” store doesn’t automatically mean that it’s good for me. I noted that our “health food” store is stocked with all manner of highly processed foods containing sugars, glutens, dairy products, and all kinds of other things that should be avoided by a lot of cancer patients. While I don’t claim to understand much of it, my research consistently indicates that there are certain things I should be doing and eating, and other things that I should be avoiding.

For example, there seems to be a lot of evidence that cancer thrives in an acidic environment. Most people’s pH runs toward the acidic side—from 6.5 to 7. But to effectively fight cancer, to prevent cancer from reoccurring, or to help avoid cancer altogether, it is optimum to keep one’s pH slightly base—above 7, with 7.3 to 7.5 being optimum. So things that produce acidity in the bloodstream, not necessarily the digestive tract, should be avoided or, at least, limited. Animal protein is one of those things. Not only is it hard to digest and interferes with nutritional absorption, but, apparently, it contributes to an acidic environment within the body. So, “organic,” “free-range,” and “grass-fed” notwithstanding, still, I can only have my beef once or twice a month; same with chicken, and fish—which should only be cold-water fish like salmon or cod; or occasional pelagic fish, so long as they are well under 50 lbs. Apparently, large pelagic fish, like the bottom feeders, accumulate and concentrate all manner of toxins.

Also, it seems pretty obvious, from virtually every source I’ve consulted, that cancer cells thrive on sugar—they need their glucose. Therefore, all foods with a relatively high “glycemic index”—the measure of how quickly blood sugar levels (i.e. levels of glucose in the blood) rise after eating a particular type of food—should pretty much be avoided because they produce a “sugar spike,” flooding the body with glucose. Dangerous foods that should be limited would be those with a “GI” of 55 or greater.

Then, there’s gluten; which isn’t so much of a problem, perhaps, for most people; but I think it may well be for me. “Gluten is a protein found in wheat (including kamut and spelt), barley, rye, malts, and triticale. It is used as a food additive in the form of a flavoring, stabilizing, or thickening agent, often as ‘dextrin’” (Kalmus, 2011, para. 2). When it comes to gluten, we should remember that our body’s first line of defense against mutating cancer cells is our immune system. According to the Livestrong website:

“Every person, regardless of health, produces periodic mutated cells that could potentially turn cancerous. In most healthy people, the immune system eradicates these problematic cells handily. But when the immune system is compromised in some way, these mutated cells are more likely to proliferate and cause cancer. Certain peptides in gluten called exorphins have been found to compromise immunity in just such a way, thereby elevating cancer risk and, in people who already have cancer, aiding its proliferation” (Kalmus, 2011).

Maximizing my own immune system to fight cancer is but one reason that I think I need to avoid gluten; there are many other associated reasons, ranging from alleviating digestive issues to dealing with various inflammations throughout the body. Havens (2008) reveals that “. . . gluten is inflammatory and inflammation has been linked to most chronic illnesses and pain syndromes . . . including heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, systemic lupus, arthritis and many others” (para. 6). He goes on to note, “Clinically what we see is that if we get a patient off gluten 100%, they heal at a predictable rate; they stay well and they can get on with their lives in a pain-free way. Clinically what we see is that the clients who take in gluten don’t heal very well; they have significant ups and downs; they don’t have good outcomes” (para. 7).

So, I think, what I need to do is avoid foods that produce an acid environment within my body and gravitate toward those that will help me maintain a balanced pH, preferably a little toward the base. I think I need to avoid foods that have a high glycemic index and move toward those that release their carbohydrates gradually. I also think that I need higher concentrations of antioxidants in my diet to help manage those destructive free-radicals that tend to damage or kill healthy cells. And, I need my Omega-3 to help facilitate the healthy transfer of oxygen through cell walls and to assist metabolism.

Most of all, I just need to avoid poisoning my system with all manner of toxic chemicals, as if my body doesn’t have enough to do with just taking care of the natural ones. And I need to try to “beef up” with all the good vitamins and minerals that are necessary to maintaining a super-strong immune system. I don’t want my body overwhelmed with fighting all the continual little internal infections while, at the same time, trying to mop up any number of continually mutating miscreant cancer cells.

Well, anyway, all that is just the tip of the head-spinning iceberg. The big question is, when I get past all the processed foods, the sugars, glutens, toxins, hormones, GMOs, and the rest of the smorgasbord of bad food entrées being continually offered up on today’s modern menu, what am I left with? Just a bunch of organic greens and an occasional bite of old, scrawny, grass-fed cow? Well, that’s enough to keep many an old trail-hand alive and kickin, I suppose.

healthy fridgeHowever, I’m joyfully discovering that it doesn’t have to stop there. In fact, believe it or not, there really is a big, wonderful world of healthy food choices still in existence on the planet. The whole world of agriculture hasn’t gone completely corporate, just yet. There are still enough local, organic farmers and ranchers to feed us—well some of us. Basically, with a few exceptions, it all comes down to this: “if God made it edible, then it’s fine to eat it; just try to eat it in the same form that God made it!” Now that sounds like something my grandpa would say.

 

By the way, I’m thinking “dreads”—if I could just get my hair to grow… doouugghhhhh!!!

______________________________

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

15.) Okay, So Let’s Fight this Thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14.) Wait, wait, wait… What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

13.) Is This What It’s Like to Die?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12.) Eve Before Surgery

There is a deep, unexplainable “peace” in my heart tonight. Is this the peace Paul wrote about to the church at Philippi, when he said:

The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5-7, NASB)

I saw my primary physician this afternoon so she could put me through my pre-op paces and sign-off on the final approval for surgery tomorrow. Everything looks to be in good order, except the high blood pressure—160/98—which is not good, but not high enough to forestall surgery. She also found a few other things that will need attention following the surgery, but I don’t have the energy to think too much about those issues right now—one thing at a time, please.

You know, I’m so grateful for the gift of good medical care. While I may not have the very best medical insurance plan in the whole wide world, still, it is so much more than what people living in most of the rest of the world can ever hope to expect. What if I lived in one of the “developing countries” of the world where medical care is always hit and miss? I am so blessed; thank you, Lord, for the marvels of modern medicine.

Following the doctor visit, we had to, of course, make the obligatory “therapeutic” trip to good ole Walmart for last minute supplies. Nothing helps ready you for travel like a trip to Wally World to get some “stuff.” My grand prize of the day—“Dear Foams”—yes, house slippers, for getting from the house, through the airport, and around the hospital. Plenty of us ole cowpokes love our Dear Foams; contrary to popular stereotype, it’s not always about the boots – ha!

We’ll have a light meal tonight, nothing to eat or drink after midnight—you know that routine—then up at 4:00AM to catch an early morning flight to Honolulu. We arrive at 6:55AM, catch the shuttle to Moanalua Medical Center at 7:30AM, and I go into surgery at 8:30AM. That’s as far ahead as I can realistically plan, for now—interesting feeling.

I’m convinced that no matter which way this thing breaks, regardless of the extent of the surgery—and they won’t know until they get in there just how far they’ll have to go—and no matter the prognosis that might lie before me—and that won’t be determined until after the post-surgical biopsy and staging of the cancer—there are, really, only two possible outcomes: “good” and “better!”   I’m taking my cue from the Apostle Paul’s statement with regard to his possible impending departure from this world, when he said:

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)

There was a time in my life, not so very long ago, when I really had a hard time relating to Paul’s statement. I simply could not imagine not knowing which to choose—life or death—let alone being “hard-pressed from both directions.” While mentally acquiescing to the idea that “to depart and be with Christ” is, in reality, “very much better,” still, I wasn’t ready to go any time soon. Like the old adage: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go today!”

I can honestly say, however, that, for me, that has changed; at least for the moment. In all sincerity, I can think of nothing sweeter right now than to step through death’s portal and fall into the arms of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like to draw that first sweet breath of spiritual sustenance in that beautiful and comforting place Jesus referred to as “Paradise.” I don’t know if I’ll still be able to say this next week—for me, spiritual growth is often one step forward and two steps back—but, for tonight, I almost envious of the thief on the cross to whom Jesus said: “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NASB). I just hope my journey to paradise is a little less challenging than was his – yikes!

If my soul is a little unsettled this evening, it has nothing to do with me per se, but rather is due to the fact that so many of my loved ones are not yet at this same place in their own hearts—even many who have been “Christians” for years. I know, as my own experience reveals, that having this kind of spiritual perspective is not something that can be inculcated upon another simply by teaching. Rather, it’s something the Holy Spirit of God has to grow us into. Paul was speaking from the viewpoint of an incredible spiritual maturity; a maturity that I am just now beginning to comprehend and appreciate. I understand, all too well, that it has taken more than thirty years of ministry and a potentially life-threatening illness to bring me around to actually embracing this philosophical viewpoint and making it my own.

Still, I can’t help but find it a little irritating, and not at all comforting, when people come up to me and they’re just all about me getting well and being restored to my physical health in this present world; you know, like some kind of cheerleader: “yay, yay, whatta ya say, I’ve prayed for you, and you’ll be okay!” (That’s supposed to rhyme somehow – ha!) Don’t get me wrong, please, I “do” want to be okay. I’m praying for a safe surgery, no complications, and no infections; as well as for a rapid recovery and a great prognosis. Every day I ask the Lord for healing. But, in light of God’s grand spiritual scheme of things, my physical health seems to pale to insignificance.

I’m laughing right now, thinking about our poor brother Lazarus; you know, Jesus’ good friend whom He raised from the dead. I’m just imagining what that must have been like for Lazarus. He’s led a life of relative poverty, he’s been terribly sick, then he dies; and now he’s being comforted in paradise. Man, I mean he’s got it made, the victory is his, things are finally good, really, really good!

Then, Jesus calls, “Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43, NASB).

“Ohhhhh man! Seriously? I’ve got to go back to all that? Really? I’ve got to finish living out my life and then die all over again?”

Poor guy! I can just hear it now, some of his old buddies coming around saying, “Hey, Laz, great to have you back, man!”

And Lazarus shaking his head in response, “Yeah, yeah, great… just great!”

But, you know, when the Lord beckons, every faithful servant answers with that same response demonstrated by Jesus Himself when, facing the cross and all that was about to happen to Him there, He said to the Father, “not my will, but Yours be done!” (Luke 22:42, NASB).

I’ve tried to share this Biblical perspective with a few people of late; only to be met with resistance. In fact, I’ve actually been accused of not having enough faith, or not understanding God’s promise to grant physical healing. One person even hinted that I’m being selfish when I talk like this because I’m not taking into consideration other people’s feelings.

But, just for the record, I want you to know that I had a good talk with the Lord today about my future plans for ministry and He reminded me of how much work there is still left to do. And, for these reasons, like Lazarus, I’m probably not going to get off all “that easy.” I fear Paul’s final words in the statement above likely ring true for me as well, “. . . to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake” (Philippians 1:24, NASB).

That having been said, regardless of when the Lord decides to take me on home, I don’t want to meet Him like some vagabond who’s been drifting along without any direction or aim in life other than just trying to survive and avoid taxes. Rather, I want to meet Him having a divine “purpose” in one hand and a “plan” in the other. So I know what I need to do during the recovery process following this surgery and whatever medical protocol is to follow: I need to inventory, evaluate, and rethink my mission as it currently exists; and I need to outline a strategic plan of ministry as I think about moving forward. Well, anyway, when you’re staring cancer in the eye, and you’re face-to-face with your first surgery, it sure is nice to at least contemplate having some kind of a life after cancer.

Back to those passionate, redneck, borderline fanatical loved ones of mine; my encouragement to you this evening is to remember what really matters. I’m thankful that I live in the time of this current presidential administration, and not under the Pharaohs, or the Caesars, or even the King Kamehameha dynasty. And, while the man in the oval office may not be the best president we’ve ever had, neither is he the antichrist some of you are making him out to be. The constitution is still intact. The republic is still alive and well. So why don’t we just focus on the things that really matter. Pray for the prez, but keep your eyes on the King!

Furthermore, let’s not forget the mission our Lord has set before us. As children of God, we do the cause of Christ little good, and perhaps much harm, by grandstanding on one political or social issue or another—I’m thinking about some of the things that get posted on various social media sites. We need to remember that, ultimately, we’re not about patriotism, constitutional rights, or making this world a better place in which to live. Because, even if we do somehow manage to improve as a society—that is, if our great nation should, indeed, one day find the heart to pursue righteousness and to actually implement “liberty and justice for all”—if people lose sight of Jesus and fail to surrender their hearts and lives to Him, well, it just doesn’t matter all that much, does it?

I’m reminded of Jesus’ passionate plea when He looked out over the people and felt compassion for them, because they were “distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38, NASB). I know many of you have a lot of political, social, and even moral issues that you feel must be addressed. But let’s never forget that the most important thing of all is that people learn to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, NASB).

11.) A Philosophy to Live, or Die, By!

“And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.”

(Psalm 139:16, NASB)

As I observe the gathering storm clouds, dark on the horizon, my thoughts are scattered; but I know I’ve got to get a handle on all of this. This cancer could very well take my life. We’re not sure just what variety of thyroid cancer I have, nor what the staging may be. Has it already metastasized? Are my days numbered?

I believe the day and hour of my departure from this old world is already known to God. I believe, from this passage of scripture—Psalm 139:16—that He has known it long before I ever came into this world. The days of my life are “ordained” for me.

What I’m not wise enough to know is how much the decisions that I make in life have helped determined that day and hour. On the one hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live an unhealthy, undisciplined, and self-indulgent lifestyle, or that I would make stupid decisions that would lead to an early grave, did He, then, ordain my days accordingly? Or, on the other hand, if the Lord already knew that I was going to choose to live a healthy, wholesome, and disciplined life, and make intelligent, insightful decisions that would enable me to live long and prosper, did He, then, ordain a longer life-span for me? Some say it doesn’t matter what choices we make; that when your time is up, it’s up; and if it’s your day to go, you go—by one means or another. Others say it does matter and that the day of our departure is scheduled, at least to some extent, according to the decisions God knows we, and others, will make as we go through life.

James, the elder in Jerusalem, and physical, younger brother of Jesus, exhorts us saying: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NASB). So, I ask for wisdom in all matters pertaining to life, health, and living to the glory of God during my time on earth. Whether it extends my life-span or not, I want to make good choices and live healthy and strong. I want to be an example of the quality of life that we can have if we choose to live God’s way—with spiritual and physical discipline. Perhaps these choices have already extended the days that have been ordained for me, even before there was a one of them. Perhaps these choices have nothing to do with my lifespan, but do provide a healthier lifestyle and a higher quality of life for however long I’m here. Either way, wisdom dictates that God is far more pleased with me when I make good decisions than when I don’t; and that’s enough motivation for me these days!

So, should I go vegetarian? Vegan? Should I adopt some strange therapeutic diet that has me pulping and juicing all day long? Should I give up coffee, tea, chocolate, ice-cream, along with all other processed sugars and carbohydrates; fruit or no fruit, or only certain fruits? Can I eat fish; pelagic fish, only farm-raised fish, shellfish? Do I go with high protein, low protein, or whole foods only? I know I can always have all the “green leafy vegetables” that I can eat—(someone just shoot me in the head, already).

And why does eating a fresh, healthy, organic diet have to cost THREE TIMES MORE than eating the normal, chemical laden, toxic diet that we typical Americans have become accustomed to? Should I get into a high-powered exercise routine, running, resistance training, or cross-fit? Will more moderate exercise, walking, swimming, biking suffice?

When it comes to treatment for what ails me, do I agree to surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? I know that whole “cut, poison, and burn” therapy is highly controversial and condemned by many. So, what about alternative medicines and therapies? Should I, really, be placing raw seaweed under my tongue for a few minutes, before swallowing, everyday? Do I agree to coffee enemas five times daily—yikes! And at what point does the treatment become worse than the disease? When does having some measure of quality in one’s life outweigh any possible life-extending benefits that some treatment might provide? How many have been put through hell on earth, only to die anyway, when foregoing the “life-saving” treatment may have ensured a higher-quality existence and a far more peaceful death process?

If the day of my departure is already determined, and any decision I make while here on earth does not change that, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will give me the highest quality life experience possible while I’m here, regardless of whether or not it promises to extend my days. If the day of my departure, while already ordained, is determined by decisions I will make while here on earth, then I’m going to go for whatever treatment or therapy I think will extend my days, unless those days are going to be miserable; then, I think I’d rather just go out peacefully; with grace and dignity. Either way, I think I’m saying the same thing, aren’t I? Quality of life outweighs length of life! And, being the big “chicken” that I am, I’d rather avoid as much pain as possible.

It wasn’t long after I shared the diagnosis with others—in fact, about two seconds—before people started advising me on how best to treat this illness. While I do appreciate every concern and each person’s kind word of advice, I have to tell you that it all gets pretty confusing really fast. Sometimes I feel myself buried under an avalanche of conflicting, contrary, and opposing opinions and so-called “research.” Even people in the medical profession, for whom I hold a very high esteem these days, seem to continually contradict one another.

So, what can I do? I can follow James’ advice and ask God for wisdom. Then, trust the wisdom He gives me. Right now, that wisdom points me in the direction of trusting my doctors and their medical team, almost implicitly. They’ve told me nothing, so far, that doesn’t make sense or that would appear to eventually lead to a lower quality of existence.

Forgive me, those of you who love me, if I appear to, at least temporarily, shelve some of your good advice and alternative suggestions. Right now, I don’t really feel like I have the luxury of indulging in various medical or philosophical alternatives. I only have the mental fortitude and emotional strength to focus on the course that is clearly set before me. However, as things progress and change, I do reserve the right to hold on to all conceivable options.

But know this, Ne’ and I have talked it over and neither one of us is into extending our lives on earth at all cost. I’m not afraid of death—at least that’s what I keep telling myself upfront; as the storm gradually swells all around me. While I don’t relish the thought of being separated from the people I love in this world, even if only for a little while, death itself holds only the promise of beauty, joy, and happy reunions for me. As I face the storm, those thoughts fill my heart with courage and my limbs with strength. What I’m about, first and foremost, as far as this world goes, is quality of life; living each day for the glory of my Lord with as much energy and exuberance as I can muster. It’s a philosophy, I know, by which I am choosing both to live and, perhaps, to die. I want, so much, to identify with the Apostle Paul’s take on his own mortality when he says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21-24, NASB).

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