Monday, January 23, 2012

Wild Emotions: Constant Grace

I think, one of the hardest aspects of having cancer is your inability to take a vacation from it. And I don’t mean just the treatments and stuff; those will eventually go away. I am talking about taking a vacation from the idea of having cancer! Taking a vacation from having cancer. Dr. Anthony said it when he said it; “My full time job was now to be a cancer patient”. There is no break from it. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, I must live with this condition.

Before they found the mass, I had no idea that I had cancer. I figured something was a little wrong with my stomach, but never in my wildest dreams… So it came to a moment in time – a flash really when I went from living a normal life, carrying on as I always had to suddenly having cancer – and not knowing, at the time, how bad it was. Over the next twenty days, after surgery and scans, it became apparent that this cancer is probably not medically curable. One hundred and fifty one days now of ups and downs, sadness and fear, hope and faith – one life, one in which I fully expected to live another thirty years, and raise and grandchild has become very much in doubt.

Having gone from a mild angst about having only thirty years left, to the completely unknown, and possibly ten times less than that, my emotions have run a complex and difficult course.

I spent the day yesterday, thinking a great deal. There are times when I am stopped in my tracks, and the malignant realizations hit me all over again as if for the first time. At times, I literally ache for other, simplier times, from before I had cancer or even knew about it.

For the most part, I have kept a positive outlook, believing that if anybody could beat this, then I surely am a good candidate. I am relatively young and I was in very good health when this thing came along. I was just about as strong as a forty-nine year old could be, so I figure my chances are on the high end of the scale. Still, it is a difficult and very saddening thing, when you have to pair down what you actually wanted to do with the rest of your life, decide what to discard and hope you have time to finish what is left; only those things most important.

The emotions are wild. Some days I am okay – full of hope and faith… and even on the days that is thin, I have accepted, for the most part, the unthinkable. Which isn’t to say I am not frightened. Indeed I am, not only from one day to the next but also from moment to moment; those crazy feelings where one moment your fine, then suddenly, as if struck by lightening, the significants and magnitude of what you’re going through crashes down upon you with the force of a planet killing celestial object.

The thoughts mostly on my mind these days are upon how much time I have wasted in my life. My Gosh, the time I have wasted in the past, as a healthy, able human being is remarkable. How much quality of life I let evaporate because of a million separate worries; and those added together equal nothing at all to worry about in comparison. If I am restored to a normal live expectancy, I hope and I pray that I will not also return to those periods of complete apathy within which I actually allowed parts of my good life to literally rot away.

I never imagined something like this would come along. In that regard, I am just like many of you now reading these words. When it first came to my attention, I spent a lot of time asking how and why; waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats and troughs of disbelief. But as time passed and these ideas matured, as God Promised, along with the trails of a human life, comes the grace upon which we may life through, not only accepting our fate with “the peace of God that passes all understanding”, but to thrive in ways that we never could have before.

Even though I am frightened a lot, and even though I want to live on normally… even though I do not want this cancer, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can keep me from living vibrantly and thriving for as long as I can, so long as I have God’s Grace with me.

Many say that God does not put more on us than we can handle. I say, so long as we live with God, there actually is nothing we can’t handle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Camps of Belief - where will I camp tonight?

Photo by David Altmaier
Jonathon Livingston Seagull always believed.
Click to read the story

You know, it is all such a confusing prospect… Everybody I talk to on the cancer side of things, patients, doctors, nurses, cancer literature say that surviving (being completely cured) of my stage and type of cancer is rare. On the other hand, everybody on the faith and healing side of things are all absolutely certain that my total remission is certain and guaranteed in their hearts and minds.

Oddly or not, the camp of thought I generally agree with most is the one I’ve been spending the most time with.

When I am taking my treatments (three days every other week), I am in the infusion room with many other cancer patients…. Most of them are very helpful, happy and encouraging. But they are also honest, and being honest about this disease is often not something you want to listen to. The nurses and doctors are either non-committal, or brutally honest. Neither of which are very pleasant.

On the other hand, friends, family and mentors are all certain that I will defy the odds and live to be an old man. I spent the most time with this crowd. But is all still very confusing.

It is easy to understand how and why a cancer patient would and does waffle around in there own beliefs about their disease.

A good story

1 Samuel 17

David and Goliath

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.[a] 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[b]; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.[c] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah[d] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance[e] from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Wren

In August of 1998, I wanted to keep a journal called the Wrens Tea Kettle. I asked a good friend of mine, Michelle Walters to draw a Wren in my journal at the time. This is what she drew. Now, after fourteen years, I am able to use her drawing.

Positive News for the First Time

I honestly hadn’t thought about the extreme drought of positive information I’d been in since the beginning of this cancer business that started 140 days ago today. Looking back on it all, my family and I have had to endure this inside a constant barrage of negative news.

I didn’t realize that until today, this afternoon, when the UK Markey Cancer Center doctor called with some news regarding a PET scan I had had.

Being so used to bad and worsening news, when I heard the doctors voice on the line, I figured it was going to be bad news again. As it turned out, this time the news was positive. Receiving the news, I realized it was the very first time in this whole ordeal, we have something positive.

A PET Scan I had just after surgery last fall indicated some of the cancer had been left behind. The Markey Center Opinion had been that the chemo probably would not kill it. The call today indicated, after review of several doctors, the anomaly’s in the scan may not be cancer, but simply scare tissue from the surgery. The oncologist on the phone told me not to get overly hopeful but that if that analysis is correct, my chances improve a great deal.

What amazes me most is that, despite this being the first positive news in all of this time, my friends, family and I have never lost faith in healing. With all of the prayers going up all of this time, is it possible that the Devine Forces have intervened and what was once cancer not only inside me, but on film has now become nothing but scare tissue?

I will take the doctors advice and not get my hopes up too far, but I do feel as if a gun held at my head has been lowered. And at the very minimum, I have been granted a reprieve - an ounce of hope coming from the outside of my heart for the first time.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Deepening Nature of Life With Cancer (with adjustments)

The last few months have been difficult. I have maintained a positive attitude as much as possible. I have had a lot of hope and positive thoughts (which I find not easy in light of things). I have also had some fear, doubts, regrets and sadness. I honestly don’t think anybody really knows how they will react to a serious, late-stage cancer diagnosis unless they actually get one. I am doing far better with it than I ever imagined. Even then, it may take them weeks or months for their “system” of beliefs and lifestyles to settle down upon any given attitude. As an idea beside the point, I have such incredible respect not only for cancer patients, but especially those who have gone home to God. I know what they went through; and as such, while it may feel like I am the only person in the world who is challenged with only small chances of living a full, normal life, I am only one of millions who are with me now or who have gone before us.

Mine is not a fight in which I stand up strong and formidable all the time. After a second opinion yesterday, the emotional strength that I had been drawing upon for so long simply collapsed and I went to my Mothers at about midnight last night, not wanting to fall asleep alone in my own home. I slept 12 hours there, then went to the oncologist to get my weekly blood work done, came home and promptly slept several more hours. I don’t know if the physical excursion of driving to Lexington (I haven’t been any where since August due to stamina) was the reason for my tiredness, but I think it was that I simply did not have the strength, emotionally to be awake. Of the 24 hour day, I slept nearly 16 hours.

My Mother came by this evening with food and groceries, and she said to me that I was not going to die from this cancer. (Many others have told me that as well). I honestly don’t know if I will loose the battle or not, but I can’t say either way. I do not know, and neither does my Mother. For me, at this time, one of the things that is most important is to be honest with myself – I don’t want to claim that I am going to live on and beat this cancer when I do not know. Neither do I want to fold up my tent now, and just give up. I must learn to live with what is known, and what is true.

My mother had known that I had slept most of the day and she was worried about it. Her statement, that I was not going to die from this cancer was well meaning, and a direct result of the depression she saw me sleep through today. I simply told her that I disserved 24 to 48 hours to be frightened and unsure. And she very lovingly agreed.

If the outcome in any given battle in history was known before it was fought, surely it would be unnecessary fight it. I am not being told that I am going to die, and I am not given a certain amount of time within which my doctors are expecting me to live. Neither am I being told that it is certain I will survive. What they do tell me is that my challenges are great, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more classic definition of “a battle”.

While I believe my attitude prior to this second opinion has been pretty good, despite some emotionally low times, I do believe that my attitude could stand some modifications or adjustments in light of these new opinions.

First of all, it is important to realize that my fate is uncertain. This is important to me because it is the truth, and I can’t spend any of my resources on things that may or may not be true.

Second, and probably most importantly, I must relearn how to not only live my life, but how to cherish the things that I love in a new way. I have been a physically fit person my entire life, capable of physically being in some very lovely and beautiful places in nature. During these three months of chemotherapy, I have been cautious and hesitant to overextend myself physically. This has had an impact on the quality of my life because most of what I love to do, stream fishing, hunting ginseng, backpacking and bicycle racing, require a lot of physical exertion. But with my doctors approval yesterday, I am medically allowed to exert myself as much as I am able. And I plan to do so. In so many ways, I have stop living the way I normally would because I was afraid of getting worse. In my case, it would be so much easier if my passions were something like needle-point or basket weaving, that required little physical stamina. I love dynamic and extreme locations upon the earth, and that requires physical challenges to obtain access to them. I have been afraid to extend myself to get to the places I love.

Lastly, I must change my outlook upon the things that I love and my involvement in them. An example would be when I go to any given race. I always knew there’d be another race to go to. And I valued the process of being a competitive cyclist more than any given event. The fishing – valuing the idea of being a fisherman, capable of going fishing at any given time in the future, especially when the fish were not biting. It seems I have valued the overall activity more than any given single outing. If I did love each and every outing, be it fishing, racing, or ginsenging, I simply would not be doing it. I need to learn to cherish each day instead of cherishing the process extended to an unending future.

I must learn to live with cancer, uncertainty and I need to learn to live with the things I value. I must learn to live a life of quality rather than quantity – and I must learn to cherish every day that I may engage my passions; and be satisfied with the time spent and not always look forward to the time I might do it again.

Unfortunately, fear and uncertainly have allowed me to become physically diminished and unable to pursue most of my passions. I feel confident that the chemo has weakened me, and not the cancer. So I am going to need to train a little bit – to strengthen my body enough do some of the things that I love. I am coming to realize, to not do this would be an emotional defeat in the battle which would inevitability lead to the physical one.

Whether I live or die due to this cancer really shouldn’t matter how I conduct myself today when it comes to my passions. I was not dead today (although I may have been asleep most of it) and I will not be dead tomorrow, or the next. I find it insane to live my life any further as if I were dead- gripped in some sort of deranged emotional straightjacket of fear. I want to live. I want to live so long as I am alive, and I am certain this is the correct way to conduct myself from now on.

While I may not win another bicycle race, at least I know I can race again – and that is what I love about it anyway. While I may not spend my golden years as an old-fisherman like the man from “A River Runs Through It”, I know I have not caught my last fish. And as the Cherokee have always said about ginseng, only the worthy can even see it. I have always been able to see it and I will see it again.

We are all going to dye. And while it seems cruel to know you may not live a normal longevity, I believe the uncertainty may also lead to a richer fuller life.

Yes, I have some work to do in order to live in the manner I want to live. This must be my dedication. While I have millions of fellow sufferers, and millions of other have succumbed to cancer before all of us, nobody has ever died from the actual cancer that is in me, and nobody has lived the exact live that I have lived. Therefore, the quality or lack of quality of the life I will live from this point forward depends only upon my willingness live it as a live human being, and not a cancer patient who might or might not die an early age.

Your prayers in this attitude adjustment for me are requested.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sitting out side the IGA last night, the sun was gone over the horizon… the colors – orange, blue, pink and gray were remarkable. Still I was not a happy person. I turned my truck off; turnout the lights and I sat there feeling as if there was something I needed to do before going into the store to buy my groceries.

Sitting in my truck in the dark and darkening parking lot at IGA I began to cry; a little at first, and more and more… until I was weeping uncontrollably. When It was over and I had wiped clean my face, I went on into the store as if nothing were wrong at all.

I have enjoyed the holidays. I have enjoyed the time off from chemo and I have enjoyed the joy and love and peacefulness of the season. But that is over now, and it time for me to resume my fight against this cancer.

It is time for me to resume my fight against the cancer. I never imagined I’d have need to say those words, nor engage in such a combat, at least not so early in my geriatric career. Sure I have been taking it in stride. I have been as positive as I could have been. Perhaps it is the post holidays blues combined with having to return to chemotherapy and all of the side effects and sickness that in tells (Subjecting yourself to nearly intolerable sickness to save your own life is not a joyful thing) and I am taking it hard.

So much out there about new years resolutions… some people want to loose weight, drink less, spend more time with family, work less, work more, take vitamins…. On and on. I have had no idea for a resolution – even though it is obvious what my resolution should be. It seems as if I either burry myself in the genealogical work I am presently doing, or I burry myself under my bed covers, behind a locked door, and a long and steep stairway.

I have never liked the times after Christmas and by the time the new year rolls in, I have been, historically beset with some depression. Stage 4 cancer has done nothing to remedy that affliction.

Yet, though it may seem like bitterness, it is not a bitterness that besets me. It is a genuine sadness. It is a sadness which, if I did not let my self process, would surely become bitterness. Occasionally I am criticized for hanging on to negative things, or sad nesses. As human beings, I believe it is crucially necessary for us to hang on to the things that trouble us most until we resolve them- at a minimum, make peace with them. Difficult emotions quickly discarded in the sake of immediate relief, I am certain leads to deeper, more damaging bitterness. So I am working though this low time, here, writing, not necessarily for this blog, but writing for the sake of the healthy human process that can make us more well, and not deeply more better and far less well.

Expressing ones true heart and state of being can be damaging to one position and prestige. Those are never things I’ve cared about – so it is easy for me to write this, knowing that I will probably put it up there for you to read.

I believe, we has human beings must present ourselves to the public with a certain amount composure. To do other wise, we believe, often results in social death… and that is not far from the truth. That is the case many times.

Yet I am not composed – and I feel it completely and entirely more HUMAN to express myself; my fears, and anxieties, even short comings; so that I may have lived as a human being and not just a person seeking status.

I have discovered in the last four months, that being sick with possibly terminal cancer brings for in my environment, just two types of people. Those who will engage you as a human being and offer prayers, and those who will avoid you (perhaps in fear of not knowing what to say, or fear of the sickness itself – wanting to distance themselves from death as far as they can). I honestly don’t mind or care which of those you have been when you see me. My body may fail before its due time. It may not; but my body will one day fail as will yours. God calls us all home regardless of our status or importance. Dignity comes to mind for those who are critically ill, And our sacred responsibility to our loved ones to provide that dignity. Death and dying is an ugly and necessary process in life. Dignity for me lies in my ability to tell you how afraid I can me at times. It lies in my ability to tell you, I don’t want to be sick. It lies in my ability to tell you that I want to live to be an old man. And it lies in my ability to show you how vulnerable I am; and uncomposed and downright at times horrified at times.

Perhaps a dignitary would not do this. I am not that. I am a man who wants to live just like millions of other cancer patients. So in efforts to remain not bitter, but joyful and accepting whenever possible, I can’t simply dismiss my emotions for the sake of composure. I must process my emotions. And this journal and other writings and activities do that for me.

Dying is not my greatest fear. Dying a bitter person is even worse. Dignity in death stems from the knowledge that all life, not just human life, is nearly always hard. In our World, it is fear it is all to easy to become bitter. When those who have scrummed to bitterness in life will probably have a bitter death, and not a triumphant one.

Today, in the cold wind, and snow, I was engaged by an abandoned kitten. It was hungry, cold, thirsty, and unloved. I think, thought I am not sure, it made me consider; not all life is human. Not all live to lose is human. All creatures fear death and experience cold, hunger and suffering.

If I had a resolution for 2012, it would be to become in remission of this cancer. I will do everything in my power to achieve this. But more, I seek dignity in my illness. And this, not just because I want to be dignified. Hardly. There was a time when any given number of my own friends were sick with cancer and family who died from it.

Our instinct and desire is to live as long as possible. To do so without bitterness or regret, Devine.