Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Decorated Office

I received a beautiful gift from my co-workers when I was able to return to work this week.  My office was decorated in "celebration mode" with stars, banners and checkered flags hanging from the rafters (as well as a small giraffe with a puzzled look on his face).  This has really been a shared journey and I'm thrilled to share my sense of accomplishment with everyone who has loved me and prayed me through this past year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line

I realize that once started, the journey with cancer is a life-long proposition.  I've heard other cancer survivors talk about their ongoing relationship with cancer.  Somehow it's always a part of your life, there's a sense it which it may reoccur for nearly anyone, yet you must find a way to rise able the fear and dread of a reoccurance.

For today at least, I've put future fears behind me.  This is a day of celebration; a day I've anticipated for many months.  I crossed a finish line of sorts today, the final chemo treatment.  As far as I can tell right now, the treatment phase of my cancer is at an end.  Next comes five years of watching, waiting and testing.  I'm greatly encouraged to see that some of my personal physicians are the men who have created the national standards for ongoing testing.  Along with regular CAT scans, chief among these tests are Carcino Embryonic Antigen testing (CEA).  If cancer cells reappear, the CEA numbers in my blood work will indicate that further treatment is needed.  I've been told the test is highly sensitive; taking this test every three months for the next five years gives me some assurance that cancer won't sneak up on me again.

An even greater assurance that gives me even greater encouragement is the hope of Christ's sustaining presence through all of this.  I've come to the conclusion that while he is not the author of this evil, cancer has been his servant to disciple me into a closer fellowship with Christ.

And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character produces confident hope. And confidence in him will not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:3)

In some cases, cancer is his servant to bring a person to an understanding of their need of a savior.  In others, cancer is tool of discipleship, pruning a plant for greater effectiveness.  For many, cancer is sent as a servant to usher a believer into the presence of Christ.  In any event, cancer (and the evil one behind it) can have no more influence that Christ allows.  


While describing the redemptive sufferings of Messiah, Isaiah makes the point that he was despised and rejected by men (Isa 53:3).  Not merely despised, but fully rejected to suffer alone.  His only companions at the cross were his mother, several other women and John.  Having suffered the injury as well as the insult, Christ attends our sufferings in a different manner.  The limitations of physical sight in this body lead us to believe that we are also "despised and rejected," but Christ truly enters into our suffering and invites us with eyes of faith to embrace his presence.  


Hebrew 2 relates the necessity of Christ's full participation in our humanity and suffering, so that he will be able to strengthen those who are suffering:


Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants.  For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

For the past year, my body has been the subject of a constant onslaught of chemicals, drugs, surgeries, radiation and other painful procedures.  For a year or so before that, a growing colony of cancer cells were eating away at my insides.  But more importantly, more powerfully has been the onslaught of love, hope, encouragement and prayer aimed at my body, mind and spirit by hundreds of believers for the last year.  James says that the energetic prayers of righteous people are highly effective.  My gratitude is inexpressible. 


Second Sunday of Lent, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dread

My mind has started playing tricks on me, but I've found there's drugs for that.

"Anticipatory nausea" is a new term added to my vocabulary as a result of this experience.  There's almost always a physical nausea that accompanies chemotherapy and the medical team has been really good about keeping this under control.  However, the further I have progressed through these cycles of chemo, the more a Pavlovian response has kicked in; my mind has taken over and started dreading the next upcoming treatment.  Most recently, that dread manifested itself in anticipatory nausea.  When I drive downtown and see the Gonda building, when I smelled the Dial soap in those ubiquitous dispensers distributed throughout the Clinic, even when I walked down the hallway of St. Mary's Hospital yesterday to visit a church member, the uncomfortable urge in the back of my throat begins.

I am SO glad this Friday is "finish line" day...my last treatment.

I know this sense of dread is completely psychosomatic.  I told my doc that I knew it was "all in my head."  "Just because it's all in your hear doesn't mean it's not real" was his wise reply as he wrote me a script for Ativan.

During Lent, I've been reading through the gospels.  It continues to amaze me that Jesus regularly and clearly told his disciples exactly what was about to happen.

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  (Matt 16:21)

It really doesn't get any clearer than that.  He didn't say this just once, he repeated it over and over.  Their response ranged from being oblivious to misunderstanding the words.  Sometimes they argued with him that he was wrong, they volunteered to charge into Jerusalem and die with him, and on at least one occasion they responded by fighting among themselves over who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom after he was gone.  With friends like that...

So during Lent as my mind and body have dealt with a sense of impending dread for my bi-weekly chemo treatments, I've found myself pondering how a sense of dread affected Jesus, when the dread of the impending cross began, how he dealt with it and what he set his mind on to get him through.

I think it's easy to look at the portrait of the beatific Jesus leaning on the rock with the light streaming down from heaven and dehumanize him; that is, to believe that his divinity overrode his humanity in Gethsemane and he really didn't feel the full brunt of the dread of the cross.  That famous painting is out of sync with the biblical record.  A raw, Ansel Adams-style photograph of the same event would reveal a man so racked with dread that the blood burst through his skin.  "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses..." (Heb 4:15)

When did the dread of the cross begin for Christ?  Certainly it intensified as he approached Passion Week.  No one could endure a dreadful agony of that intensity long term, but it must has started years earlier.  During his three-year ministry when he attended the high holy days in the Temple, when he saw the massive slaughter of the animals at the annual Passover, he must have felt anticipatory dread.  It must have felt it when he attended synagogue and heard the reading of Isaiah 53, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows..." knowing as no one else in the room could have known that he was the object of that ancient prophecy.  History records the public crucifixion of 30 Galilean insurrectionists in Jesus' day, their crosses erected one after another along the road from Galilee to Jerusalem as a Roman reminder of what happens to "messiahs."  At some point in his adolescence, Jesus must have realized who he was.  But at what point did he fully realize what he was to do?

How did Jesus deal with the sense of dread, whenever it must have began?  The answer is probably buried in the routine of Jesus' life, a routine marked by a dogged determination to do the Father's will and a life of intimate communion with the Father.  Any time he had the opportunity, Jesus unequivocally told his disciples and the crowds that followed him of his absolute devotion to the kingdom of heaven, his commitment to fulfilling the Father's will.  
     "My meat and drink is to do the will of him who sent me..." (John 4:34)
     "I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (Jn 5:30)
     "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (Jn 18:11).  


Perhaps the best indication of how Jesus fought a sense of dread by a total devotion to the Father is found in the fact that that devotion was recognized even by his most bitter enemies.  Those who forced Pilate's hand and urged on the torture of the soldiers sat down to watch the spectacle of Jesus' crucifixion.  They yelled out, "He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him" (Mt 27:43).  Jesus' intimate relationship with the Father was famous even among his enemies.


I've dealt with the dread of chemo by focusing my mind beyond the finish line.  Once I get "hit by the bus" and crawl out of the "chemo ditch" for the final time, I'm looking forward to tasting my food again, regaining my strength, leading worship on a weekly basis, dating my wife and getting back to a regular workout routine.  Setting goals beyond the chemo is essential to surviving the mental side of this battle.  So what did Jesus look forward to to deal with his dread.  When he stood among his friends in the upper room, breaking the bread, pouring the cup and surprising them with the words, "This is my body...this is my blood," where was his mind?


Certainly his immediate purpose was to fulfill the Father's will, but Heb 12:2 says that, "For the joy set before him [he] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  Part of "the joy set before him" was a reconciled relationship with you and me.  He overcame the dread of the cross and suffered inexpressible grief for the sake of spending time with us. 


I am encouraged in my dread by knowing the Jesus knows exactly how I feel and endured his dread for the sake of knowing me.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Disappointment

Disappointment - His appointment, 
Change one letter, then I see 
That the thwarting of my purpose 
Is God's better choice for me. 

His appointment must be blessing 
Though it may come in disguise 
For the end from the beginning, 
Open to His wisdom lies. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
Whose? The Lord's who loves best. 
Understands and knows me fully, 
Who my faith and love would test. 

For like loving, earthy parent 
He rejoices when He knows 
That His child accepts unquestioned 
All that from His wisdom flows. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
No good thing will he withhold 
From denials oft we gather 
Treasures from His love untold. 

Well, He knows each broken purpose 
Leads to fuller deeper trust 
And the end of all His dealings 
Proves our God is wise and just. 

Disappointment - His appointment 
Lord I take it then as such, 
Like the clay in hands of potter 
Yielding wholly to Thy touch 

All my life's plan is Thy molding 
Not one single choice be mine 
Let me answer unrepining, 
Father not my will but Thine.

-Edith Lillian Young

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Update

I haven't posted anything for awhile and I'm always amazed at the number of people who approach me to say that they're following this blog and enjoy reading.  For a long time I asked myself, "Why do they care to read anything I've written?  I'm not that good a writer and my 'medical drama' is winding down at this point."  It dawned on me after worship this past weekend, after a long line of people approached me to assure me of their prayer, that those who follow this blog don't do it for the high literary value of the writing...they do it because they love me.  (I'm a little slow sometimes.)  Thank you.

I was supposed to begin the final round of chemo (three bi-weekly treatments) last Friday, but the surgeon decided I needed one more week of recuperation before they "release the hounds" again.  I had no objections; another week to enjoy a normal life, get work done and stay involved in the worship ministry.  Mick and I had worked out a detailed plan to cover choir rehearsals and lead the Adoration Service; now it's 180 degrees out of phase.  "Blessed are the flexible."

So, chemo will resume on Friday, Feb 11.  Gets me out of buying an expensive Valentine's Day dinner for Charlene (believe me, I'd much rather ditch the chemo and spend big bucks on my wife!).  The end is in sight.  By the time we get to mid-March, I'll be through with chemo and will be able to get life back in order.

At our staff devotional time the other day, one of the pastors talked about joy and asked people to share recent blessings in their life that bring them joy.  A handful of people shared some interesting and significant things that had recently happened in their life.  As I built my mental list, I discovered that as a result of my cancer battle I am finding joy in simple, everyday blessings that I once overlooked.  I walk out the door in the morning in this brutal cold (-10 !!) and am thankful for the strength to walk to the car.  I drive to work singing "All Creatures of our God and King" or "Holy, Holy, Holy" and am thankful for a voice to sing.  I step into my office and see yesterday's stack of jobs and a growing "to do" list and am thankful for a job where I'm needed and can make a contribution.  And don't even get me started on the list of blessings I count when I get back home at the end of a busy day.

I'm looking forward to this all being over.  In the mean time, it's all good.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On the Day I Called...Wow!

During the long (and life-changing) journey, I've been studying the longest book in the Bible, the book of Psalms.  I've taken a psalm a day (okay, I've missed a few, but we all do) and have found wonderful encouragement and strength along the way.

While reading Psalm 138 the other day (I'm nearly at the end of my cancer treatments and nearly at the end of the Psalter), I read a phrase that caused me to suddenly look up from the page with wide-eyed surprise:

"On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased" (Ps 138:3).

Okay, I've got enough faith to believe that God hears prayers, although I have no idea how he can hear all the prayers of all who cry out to him simultaneously.  But without thinking it through, my mental picture of God's hearing of prayer has been a bit like my getting email.  You're certain to get a reply from me when you send an email and I'll do what I can to help you, but that email is probably going to sit in my inbox for a bit while I'm working on other's requests or taking some time away from my PC.  Not so God.  I like the New English Translation here, "On the day you called I answered."

Do we have enough faith to believe that God not only hears our prayers the instant they are prayed (or perhaps even before since He knows our thoughts before we think them [Ps 139]), but that the answer comes immediately?

Now it's certain that we may not realize that the answer has been given simultaneously, but just because we don't instantly grasp God's answer doesn't mean that he hasn't answered instantly.

An example of the supposed delay in answered prayer is found in Daniel 10.  Daniel fasted and prayed for three weeks, then one day while standing on the banks of the Tigris (in modern day Iraq) an angel appeared to him with a message from God.  The angel revealed to Daniel the immediacy of God's response to his prayer and the reason behind the supposed delay:

Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.
Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come."

Okay, I have to confess that I don't totally get that "Prince of the Persian kingdom" and "Michael...came to help me" stuff.  It appears that "We don't wrestle against flesh and blood" (Eph 5) stuff was going on with Daniel, and it may account for the "delays" we experience in answered prayer, but the point is that Daniel was heard by God on the day Daniel prayed and God dispatched a messanger with the answer on that same day.

God doesn't have an "inbox," it's ALL "instant messaging" to Him!

So...pray.  I am.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully

Left to their own, things naturally fall apart.  In school we learned to call this natural phenomenon the "second law of thermodynamics."

So how is it that muscles heal and tissues regenerate?  Is there some invisible intelligence within each cell that just "knows" how things are supposed to be?  But then what about that principle that things naturally fall apart?

David noted in Psalm 139 that we are "Fearfully and wonderfully made," and my recent experiences have left me with a sense of wonder at what God has created and entrusted us with.  Healing is a gift that he gives and a process that he superintends.

I had surgery last Monday to reverse the temporary ileostomy that has been in place since September's surgery. The doctor predicted a five-day hospital stay and weeks of post-surgical recovery, but they also said that the sooner I was able to get up and start walking, the sooner my system would get back on track and begin functioning normally.  Soon after surgery, I developed the reputation for being the patient who spent more time walking the hallway than resting in his room, and Charlene was with me every step of the way.

By God's grace, I was discharged after only three days.  There's still a bit of soreness and the recovery is on-going, but I'm grateful to be regaining my strength (if not my weight) and able to return to work.  I'm not going to push too hard or try to come back to full speed too fast, but I'm grateful that none of the horror stories I heard about the recovery period have happened to me yet.

I have three chemo treatments planned for February and early March, then I'm looking forward to putting this whole process in my rear view mirror (except for the life lessons learned).  Thanks for your continued prayer and encouragement.

Bill

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mileposts: Medical and Spiritual

One of the ways of dealing with the extended length of cancer treatments is to try to break it into manageable chunks of time and identify mileposts along the way.  A milepost lets you pause to look back over your shoulder and say, “Yes, there’s a long way to go, but I have made some progress.”   

Setting mileposts are part of the mental game you play with yourself to survive.  I’ve never run a marathon (and don’t intend to), but I’m guessing that marathoners use a similar technique to deal with the mental side a long race.

I’ve got a few mileposts ahead of me, and I think (hope) I’m coming into the final leg of this part of the cancer journey.  Others who have walked this path ahead of me tell me that you never really consider yourself “cured” of cancer; once you’re officially a cancer “survivor,” the emotional side of cancer stays with you.  Not only because there are no guarantees that your cancer will never return or because you are subjected to regular screenings for the rest of your life, but also because cancer changes who you are and your outlook on life.

On the medical side, the four mileposts left on my journey are a surgery in January and three chemo treatments in Feb-March.  After that, I believe the treatment phase of cancer will be over.  I’m really looking forward to having this behind me and discovering what life post-cancer treatments is like.  What will “normal” be? 

From the beginning, when I was first diagnosed, I began praying for spiritual renewal as well as physical healing.  I’ve always said them in that order believing that both were needed, both were possible and both would be a work of God.  Looking back, I can see that mirroring the medical mileposts there have been spiritual mileposts along the way.  Just as cancer will always be a part of who I am in the future, I hope these spiritual markers will define me going forward.

Milepost #1 – A corporate journey

In many ways, the diagnostic phase of cancer, the first three weeks, was among the most agonizing.  There were just so many unknowns, questions about the future that couldn’t be answered quickly.  I really just wanted someone to tell me what was going to happen next, but that’s just not possible.  Wanting to know is a part of trying to control.  Part of the emotional disorientation is being out of control, knowing that you are dragging your loved ones along on a journey with an unknown destination.  Because of their love for you, they are happy to walk alongside, but it’s still difficult to subject others to the emotional roller coaster.

My first milepost was the decision to let the full church know about my condition and ask for as much prayer as I could get.  (For those who don’t live in Rochester, this got the word out to over 2000 people very quickly.)  Maybe this seems like a “no-brainer,” but I’ve discovered that many people carry deep burdens around without telling even their closest friends.  More than they should (more than we typically deserve), people often put pastors up on a pedestal, believing we have no problems and have all life’s struggles under control.  I wanted to shatter that fallacy and give everyone permission to be open with the tragedies that come by living in a fallen world.  I didn’t share the news of my cancer to be heroic or to get attention; I truly believe in the power of prayer, I’m in a church full of accomplished pray-ers, and I wanted as much prayer as I could get.  I’ve jokingly mentioned that the benefit of being kicked out of so many good churches is that people all across the country are praying for me.

Milepost #2 – Thankful for cancer

Yesterday I talked to someone that I had not seen in several years.  He heard about my cancer and was shocked that I could get cancer.  He recounted (accurately) my high-fiber, low-fat diet, disdain for desserts and love for regularly working out.  “How in the world did you get cancer?!” he asked. 

That’s a question even the best Mayo doctors and scientists can’t answer.  To say that age 49 I’m outside the bell curve of the typical cancer patient is an understatement.  A possible reaction to the diagnosis would be despair mixed with anger, the “Why me?” response.  (Okay, honesty time: when I see the long line of Mayo nurses on their break, standing outside smoking, the “Why me?” response sometimes rears it’s ugly head.  I’ve learned to pray they don’t get it). 

Since cancer isn’t my “fault” for any environmental/lifestyle reasons, I had to come to the conclusion that I “needed” cancer.  As if my approaching 50th birthday weren’t enough, cancer has given me the chance to stop and take an assessment of my life.  Cancer gives you the chance to take Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey, reviewing your past, present and future.   I can’t imagine that there are too many people who can look into the mirror and not find some areas of their lives that need attention.

After looking in the mirror and beginning the prayer for spiritual renewal, I found that God was slowly making changes and that I could pray and say “Thank you” for cancer.  In some ways, the only thing worse than getting cancer is not getting cancer and losing the opportunity for a Holy Spirit guided self-assessment.  I’m not sure that any of us has the wisdom or strength to face the mirror until tragedy forces us to do so. 

Milepost #3 – Moved with Christ’s Compassion

During this phase of my life, I’m on a journey with thousands of others who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  The valley can be rather beautiful (if you’ve seen the spacious lobby of the Gonda building at Mayo, you know what I mean).  The valley is full of professional caregivers, art, music and caring loved ones.  But the presence of beauty can’t hide the pain, sorrow and fear that’s also in the valley.  When you look in the eyes of patients, or even worse, the parents of patients, you see agony.  Their agony is my agony, and a milepost for me was seeing, sensing and then owning their agony as my own.  I can’t just rush up to the 10th floor for my treatment then escape to my car without looking in their eyes.  I remember Jesus feeling the touch of the woman in the street, turning around and saying, “Who touched me?”  The disciples thought he was kidding, “In a crowd this size he asks, ‘Who touched me?’?”  The weren’t seeing the people in the crowd as Jesus saw them.  The Man of Sorrows had already made the agony of the people his own personal agony; what the disciples couldn’t see He couldn’t escape. 

I wonder sometime if anyone has watched me from a distance and seen me lift my hand in a sign of blessing to a fellow-patient nearby, wondering if I’ve got some strange Darth Vader fixation.  I’ve found myself praying over and over for people I will never meet, people suffering agony like and beyond my own, other valley-people.  I wasn’t doing this before cancer, but I do now.  Especially for the parents and their children. 

Milepost #4 - Encouraging Susan

Though an odd, God-ordained series of relationships, I’ve gotten to know a woman named Susan who lives in Minneapolis.  Susan is 72 and while on an Alaska cruise met a pastor and his wife with whom I worked in the 1980s.  They struck up a friendship on the cruise and have stayed in touch ever since.  When my pastor friend heard of my diagnosis, the “Minnesota connection” was made and my name came up in conversation with Susan last summer (again, I’m happy for all the prayer I can get). 

Remarkably, several weeks after hearing my story Susan was also diagnosed with grade 2 rectal cancer.  She is about three months behind me on the treatment journey; we’ve had many conversations about my experiences and what she may expect.  She’s going through the initial chemo/radiation treatment now, facing surgery in the spring.  Her doctor has prescribed a treatment path very similar to mine. 

Talking with Susan regularly has allowed me to reflect on God’s goodness during this journey and to celebrate the progress I have made.  We always look for “reasons” for these tragic life events.  If part of my reason is to encourage Susan, pray for others I will never meet and reassess the life God has entrusted to me, I’m happy for the experience.

But I’ll also be happy when it’s over.

My 2010 Christmas Letter

2010 – Quite An Event-full Year

Two things I’ve promised myself to do in the near future: #1, write a Christmas letter (I’ve never been very consistent at this), and #2, plan a 50th birthday for myself for next June (I’ve always shied away from these events, but this one I plan to embrace!)

My cancer is “The elephant in the room” for 2010, but as I decided months ago not to let cancer define who I am, so I’ll get to that later.

For a full year prior to 2010, I had been exploring a major choral work to do with the church choir and orchestra.  I finally decided on Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and found it to be the musical high point of my career.  As a Jewish believer in Jesus, Mendelssohn chose wonderful biblical texts to reveal the holiness of God, God’s power to answer prayer and the victory we can have through Christ.  It was a great joy to lead 100+ voices and an excellent orchestra in some of the greatest choral music ever written.  (view YouTube clip here)

Many Price family events converged in May, changing our lives in many ways.  The first of two performances of Elijah was on Friday, April 30.  It was a wonderful evening, then we were up before dawn to drive to Chicago for Blaine’s graduation from Judson University.  He received his Bachelor of Architecture on Saturday afternoon.

Blaine (B.A.) has been working very hard all year since getting his degree.  He sent scores of resumes to architectural firms, but found that the depressed economy has greatly affected the design industry.  He set his sights on preparing for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and applying to grad schools (UVA, Va Tech, NC State, Clemson, USC, etc.).  I get the impression he wants to move back east.  Given my health situation, it’s been great having him back home for a year.  He’s now working 30+ hours at Kmart in Rochester, but was just contacted by an architectural firm in Va Beach, VA about a possible position beginning in early 2011.

Back to the Elijah part of the story, we got up early on Sunday morning, driving back to Rochester from Chicago for a 6pm performance of Elijah.  It was another wonderful experience that was fulfilling both musically and spiritually.  I decided to take a week of vacation after the demanding weekend…time to get some rest.  I had been having some light rectal bleeding for a few weeks, but assumed it was due to the increased stress of a major performance endeavor on top of my already busy job.  When the symptoms did not subside after a week, I saw my doctor who called for further testing.

On May 28, I was diagnosed with grade 2 (moderate cell growth), stage 3 (lymph nodes minimally invaded) rectal cancer.  Because I wanted as much prayer as I could possibly get, I decided not to “suffer in silence,” choosing rather to let our entire congregation know about the diagnosis.  The outpouring of love, prayer and support continues to be overwhelming.  I started this blog to allow people to travel this journey with me.  Fortunately, as many have noted, I have lost neither my hair nor my sense of humor. 

Blair graduated from Mayo HS on June 11.  He had taken all his classes at RCTC for his senior year, focusing his attention on courses in psychology and guitar.  He is continuing those studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.  Next year he will probably double major in psychology and guitar…he seems to enjoy both very much.  (view YouTube link of Blair’s guitar exploits herehere and here - hey! I'm a proud dad!  Sue me!)

July was spent receiving chemo and radiation.  Fortunately the painful side effects subsided early enough for us to take Blair off to college and for Charlene and I to enjoy our first two-week vacation together.  We said a brief, tearful good-bye to Blair and headed straight for the Blue Ridge Parkway/Appalachian Trail.  It was one of our best vacations ever.  A week of strenuous hiking, followed by visiting friends and family in SC, NC and VA, finishing off with a couple of days at the beach.  This may become an annual trip as long as Blair’s at LU.



Major surgery took me completely out of commission in September, and I’ve spent much of the fall and winter recuperating and undergoing additional chemotherapy.  The surgeon was very optimistic about having identified and removed the cancer cells; the second round of chemo is double-insurance for the future.  The chemo in Oct-Dec has been much more difficult to take, especially with the onset of cold weather.  Our friends have been wonderfully encouraging during this time.  Of course, Charlene has been an angel…we’ve never been closer, even (because of?) in the midst of emotional agony, physical distress and concerns about the future. 

A less invasive surgery is planned for January 10, then I’ll complete the treatment phase with three more rounds of chemo in Feb/March.  I’m really looking forward to Easter and having all this behind me. 

This is already too long.  In the space of this letter I can’t capture all the blessings I’ve received this year, all the lessons learned and all the prayers answered.  I am so grateful for friends all over the country who regularly pray for me.  It’s great to have been part of so many wonderful churches and have so many godly friends. 

Realizing early on that both were needed, I’ve been continually praying for spiritual renewal and physical healing.  I believe God is working and will continue to work in both of these areas of my life.

Now, to get started on that 50th birthday party...

Grateful for innumerable blessings and abounding grace,

Bill Price
December, 2010




Monday, November 29, 2010

A Bit of Relief

Thanks for your continued prayers for me.  I arrived for my bi-weekly chemo this past Friday, of course dreading getting "hit by a bus" again.  The nurse asked me to describe my most recent side effects and seemed surprised that they were so long-lasting.  She eventually called the doctor who decided to remove one of the medications for this one cycle.

Oxalyplatin is the "bus" that was removed from this cycle.  I still had the accompanying 5FU, the same chemo I had back in the summer prior to surgery.  Since this chemo treatment is post-surgery and they believe that they removed all the cancer cells, there's a bit more flexibility with treatment options.  The nurse described it as attempting to balance longevity and quality of life issues.  Anyway, it's nice to get a bit of a reprieve.

My next treatment was scheduled for Friday Dec 10, but someone gave us tickets to "Oragami" (a great sushi restaurant in Mpls) as well as tickets to the Mpls Symphony presentation of "Messiah."  So I'll enjoy a great weekend and get hit by a bus on Monday...the last bus for 2010!!

Bill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I know, I know...long time, no blog

This is the first time I've added to the blog since starting chemo, now almost five weeks ago.  Sorry for the extended absence, but I'm remembering what a good friend (cancer survivor and experienced blogger) told me, "The blog is for you; blog if you want, take a break when you want."  So I'm taking his advice and not letting myself feel guilty.

I've had three sessions of chemo now, one every two weeks delivered on a Friday morning, and my body's reaction to each has been different.  The first time, I didn't know what to expect, and it was a totally weird experience.  Neuropathy was the strangest part, a tingling in my hands and face.  We walked out of the Gonda building to a clear 65 degree day, and I felt raindrops hitting my hand.  I looked up...no clouds...strange.  A few seconds later, more raindrops, this time on my chin.  I looked up again, thinking a cooling tower on a nearby building must be throwing spray...nope.  When we got into an elevator and the "rain" continued, I knew I was in for a strange ride.

Well, the weather is not in the 60s anymore, and the tingling is more than a couple of raindrops.  For those who have never experienced it (and I sincerely pray you never do), it's the feeling you get when your hands "fall asleep"...pins and needles, times 10 and somebody is slapping your hands.  If my hands get chilled, even in my office, the pins and needles kicks in and sometimes the muscles in my hands lock up.   More than once, someone has stepped into my office to see me reading my Bible with my hands in an electric warmer.  I've been to Fleet Farm to buy the hand warmers that hunters use and that helps.

Fortunately, I haven't had to deal with much nausea, but the fatigue is absolutely inescapable.  I usually get home from the Friday treatment by noon, then I'm mostly out of commission until Tuesday.  Nothing can be done about it, and I'm grateful it isn't any worse or longer than it is.

On my "good" weeks, I have loved singing in the choir on Sunday morning.  I've been able to turn off the Type A voice in my head that fears some church member sees me up there and thinks to themselves, "Hey, we're not paying that guy to sing in the choir!"  I have received many affirming notes from people when they see me singing, and it has been such fun to rediscover the joy of choral singing without having to wave my arms around (which I've been doing since college days).  I only get to be there every other Sunday, but it is something I really look forward to.  I get to sing in the Christmas musical this year (and if I play my cards right I'll end up sitting next to my favorite alto!!)

I'm grateful to God for the strength I do have when I have it, and for the opportunity to continue working.  The other pastors have been great during this time, taking big chunks of my normal responsibilities on top of their already busy schedules and keeping things going well.  I've been able to reclaim some parts of my job and there are plenty of end-of-year projects to keep me busy.

I find myself playing "mind games" to win the mental battle with cancer.  I've completed three of five pre-Christmas chemo treatments, so that's an accomplishment.  My last treatment for 2010 is Dec 13, then I'll have my eyes set on a follow up "reconstruction" surgery (which I'm actually looking forward to) on Jan 10.  After that, three more sets of "raindrops and fatigue" sessions in Feb/March and I'll be done...whatever "done" means.  I know there will be follow up testing at regular intervals for years to come, but at least the end is in sight for this most invasive phase of overcoming cancer.

Thanks for your continued prayers.  I know you are praying, I can feel it, and you have no idea how encouraging it is to me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prayers and Cookies

One of the most beautiful prayers I've ever heard was prayed for me by my friend Lauren, 11 years old, when a group of 40 adults had gathered for prayer and anointing with oil by the elders.  I had just received my initial diagnosis and was yet to learn exactly what was ahead for me.  Elders prayed, pastors prayed, dear friends with years of praying experience prayed, then a child's voice was heard:

"Lord, I know I'm only a child, but I really hope you're going to heal Pastor Price..."

Everyone was moved by the beauty and sincerity of her prayer.  I really wanted to interrupt the prayer time and say, "Okay, that'll do it!  If God doesn't answer that prayer, the rest of us don't have a chance!"

Several times over the last week, people have told me that their children pray for me at bedtime every night and that participating with me in this cancer journey through their prayer is proving to be a faith-building exercise for them. That's really exciting for me.  We all look for purpose in adversities that seem random and meaningless.  I know the cancer has purpose in developing my faith, and I'm happy that others can be a part of this journey of faith.

My friend Emily, who lives next door and takes piano lessons from Charlene, also prays for me, sends me notes and made me these delicious cookies!  There were other cookies on the plate, but I couldn't resist eating them long enough to take a picture!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Short-Sighted Name Choice for the Blog

When I first set this blog up last spring, it made sense at the time to use the web address "billprice2010.blogspot.com".  I don't remember what I was thinking at the time, but it's clear this journey is going to progress well in to 2011.  I won't change the blog address...we'll just have to deal with the obsolete date.  I thought I'd take a moment here to update you on the next phases of this long process.

Surgery was a little over a month ago, on Sept 9.  I have a post-op appointment with the surgeon on Oct 12.  I hope he'll be as optimistic on that day as he was just after surgery.  He seemed happy that the tumor was accessible with moderate tissue removal and that the prognosis was positive.  I guess it was a good day for both of us, except that he went home that night and I began a five-night stay in the hospital.

I meet with the oncologist (cancer doctor) on Oct 14 where I'll get more info on round two of chemo, then I'll start chemo treatments on the 15th.  The first round of chemo in July was rather simple; I took a handful of pills each day with virtually no side effects.  I don't expect that to be the case this time.  The plan is for me to have four chemo sessions, one every two weeks, from mid-October through mid-November.  I'll have a month break, and then there will be a follow up surgery (not nearly as invasive as the first) to put all the plumbing back where God intended.  After another month's rest, there will be a third (final?!) round of chemo, identical to the Oct-Nov treatments.

So my best guess is that if everything goes as we hope, all the chemos and surgeries will be completed around Easter 2011.  There will still be some rehab after that and it will take a while to get my strength back fully.  Looks like the "2010" in the web address was a bit short-sighted.

One of the more difficult things to deal with during this process (of the many embarrassing, humiliating, and difficult things to deal with) has been fear.  A week after I had been initially released from the hospital, I had a very painful intestinal obstruction that put me back in the hospital.  Fear of another obstruction has been like the "Sword of Damocles" hanging over my head for the past three weeks.  Since I feel "full" soon after starting to eat, I have been eating far less and have dropped about 12 pounds.  I'm getting back on the Gatorade, eating more yogurt and starting to eat high protein bars during the day to reverse the weight loss.

Dealing with the weight loss is one thing; dealing with the fear is something else altogether.  My only defense has been to pray every time I feel the fear coming.  During an especially difficult time for Charlene and me about 20 years ago, the Lord gave us Joshua 1:9,

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."


I've had to hold on to that verse with the assurance that the God who made this body is fully capable of either preventing or allowing the things that cause me fear, and that if I do have another setback, it's because there's something I need to experience and learn through the process.  That sounds really heroic, but you should not be impressed with me.  I've found it's easy to have faith when faith is all you have.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Mailman Must Be Exhausted!

It has been such a blessing and encouragement to go to the mail box several times each week and walk away with a handful of "get well" greeting cards.  There were fifteen cards in the mail today, and my poor mail man must be getting tired of handling the increased traffic.  One of my favorite cards today said,

[cover] "Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, you're getting better!"
[inside] "Thanks to that wierdo in radiology, pictures of your colon are all over the internet!"

I must say, it's not very nice to make a person with a 16" abdominal incision laugh so hard!  I'm just now getting to where I can survive an occasional sneeze!

Many people have gone the extra mile to include a nice gift card with their greeting.  I think I have enough Panera gift cards to last for quite a long time; it's very helpful to be able to go out to eat every so often, especially after Charlene has spent a day teaching piano.  I'm grateful for all the kindness I have received.

Of course, the prevailing sentiment in all the cards is prayer.   As grateful as we all are for the world-class medical treatment available here at the Mayo Clinic, we all recognize that ultimately all healing comes from God and our best recourse in times of adversity is to "cast all our cares on him, for he cares for us."  I have to confess that prior to my current medical situation, I didn't fully realize the power of a simple greeting card.   While still in the hospital, I received a simple, hand-drawn card with tonka truck stickers from Rylan Harrison (my three-year-old friend).  Because of the bright colors and love expressed by the card, it stayed posted in plain sight the whole time I was there.  As a pastor, I receive multiple emails each week about people who are home-bound or hospitalized; one of my "take away" lessons from this experience will be the privilege I have to encourage someone else with a card and a prayer.

I spent some time today in Psalm 90.  This psalm is labeled "A Psalm of Moses," and commentator James Boice believes it was written late in Moses' life, following the deaths of Miriam and Aaron.  Moses was approaching the border of Canaan, the Promised Land, knowing that he would not be making the journey across the Jordan River with the rest of the nation.  Moses' words are framed by grief as he ponders the brevity of life, yet there is an aroma of hope throughout the psalm as he remembers the faithfulness of God and recalls that the Promised Land he sees on the horizon is merely a shadow of that greater Land to which we all must journey.  So in the span of one musical expression, he writes,

"The length of our days is seventy years-
   or eighty, if we have the strength,
yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,
   for they quickly pass, and we fly away..."

but with confidence, he also notes,

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place
   throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
   or you brought forth the earth and the world,
   from everlasting to everlasting, you are God."

After considering all this, Moses' "take away" lesson is found in verse 12:

"So teach us to number our days
   that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Satisfy us each morning with your stedfast love,
   that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

So how can "all our days," which he formerly described as full of "trouble and sorrow" also be days of gladness and rejoicing?  Simply by being satisfied each morning with the stedfast love of the Lord.  Or as David wrote in Psalm 37,

"Find your greatest delight (satisfaction) in the Lord,
   and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That's My King!

I've had plenty of silly posts, poking fun at this whole cancer treatment process, so I thought I'd share something a bit more inspirational.  This brief video is a wonderful, joyous exploration into the sufficiency of Jesus and his ability to meet all our needs.  Enjoy and rejoice!

Bill

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What do YOUR initials stand for?

I mentioned in a previous post (final pre-op post) that one of my surgeons had initialed the kidney targeted for surgery "A.A." and that I was happy that my friend Bob Stanhope (B.S.) wasn't doing the surgery.  I shared that story with Bob, and he said that his fellow surgeons give him a hard time when he has to initial a patient because he uses his full initials, "C.R.S." which they all claim means (pardon the indiscretion!), "Can't Remember S...[anything]."

When I was wheeled into the pre-op room, I met a very friendly and competent team of anesthesiologists who fully explained the combination of protocols that would be used for my surgery.  Since I was going to be out for so long, there was a combination of general and local anesthesia being used.  The goal, of course, is for the patient to not remember the procedure.  The lead doctor gave me the full name of the protocol, using five or six completely unintelligible words.

I looked at her and said, "With a name that long, there's GOT to be some acronym to shorten it."

"Oh, yes," she replied, "It's called "C. R. S."

Thinking I was being let in on an inside joke, I said, "Right! I know...'Can't Remember S...[anything]'!"

Well, everyone around my bed burst out laughing.  Turns out the acronym really is C. R. S., and that none of them had ever heard my interpretation before.  I'm sure the foul-mouthed preacher in the stylish robe was the talk of the doctor's lounge that day!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

the fog is clearing...

I thought I'd take a second to update everyone on my progress.  I'm feeling much better today.  It really lifted my spirits to be able to sit outside on the deck in the sunshine most of the day yesterday.

It's also been helpful for me to establish a daily routine.  Now for those of you who think I'm too driven and too "Type A" (and I confess, you are right), I promise you it's a very "soft" routine that simply gives some structure to each day -- one that can be abandoned at any time when I can't keep up.  There's plenty of rest breaks throughout the day; at this point just showering and getting dressed exhausts me.

I've been reading two psalms a day and a chapter from John.  Today was Psalm 77 and 78.  I can tell I'm still feeling the foggy effects of the drugs; I started reading Psalm 77 and stopped about three verses into the psalm.  It seemed somehow very familiar, then I remember preaching a sermon on that psalm a few years ago.  (I may have to go back and see what I said.  Usually when I go back and read an old sermon I wonder why anyone ever put me behind a microphone!)

Psalm 77 is a lament, the most common expression in the psalter.  Written in a time of sleepless desperation, the psalmist encourages himself by remembering the greatness of God, especially as demonstrated by His redemption of Israel at the parting of the Red Sea.

I also have a slot in my day to listen to the great music of JS Bach.  A couple of years ago for Christmas, Charlene gave me the complete works of Bach on 155 CDs (eat your heart out, Brian Dunbar!) and I've also been collecting full orchestral scores of his works.  Listening to those CDs on the home theater system the choir gave me a few years ago is a daily treat.  Today I listened to a cantata entitled "Ich Hatte Viel Bekummernis" which begins,
"I had much sorrow in my heart; but your words of comfort refresh my soul."  This work contains a beautiful soprano/bass duet where Christ sings to his beloved church (as in cantata 140 which we performed in 2000 on the 250th anniversary of Bach's death).

In this original text, Bach beautifully demonstrates Christ's love for us even when we don't fully realize the extent of that love.  Here's the lyrics of two melodies beautifully woven together:

Bride: My soul shall die...
     Christ: Your soul shall live...
Bride: and cannot live!
     Christ: you cannot die!
Bride: I will always hover in sorrow...
     Christ: I will sustain you with Holy Wine
Bride: yes, oh yes! I am lost!
     Christ: no, oh no! You are chosen!
Bride: no, oh no!  You hate me!
     Christ: yes, oh yes! I love you!
Bride: Oh Jesus, sweeten my soul and spirit.
     Christ: Be banished cares and pain.

I know I'm a musical geek, but this stuff really feeds my soul!

Charlene and I went to the mall for a few minutes today (for those of you not familiar with Rochester, our mall is REALLY small).  I was able to walk from the food court to JC Penney, then I needed to sit for 15 minutes.  I realized I've never actually sat down in a mall before!!  I had to buy a pair of sweatpants (since none of my pants will fit around my swollen tummy!), then we made the trek back to the car.  That was quite enough for one day...after that it was time for a nap.

The only real pain I'm dealing with right now is back pain.  My stomach muscles are on strike (they're not very happy about a 12" vertical incision) so my back muscles are having to compensate.  I'm going to talk to a physical therapist friend in the choir about some simple stretching exercises so my body doesn't ball up into one big knot.

I got another flood of greeting cards today.  Thanks to all of you for your continued love and prayers for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finally Back Home

This will be a short post...not a lot of energy for writing (much less thinking) right now.  Lots of very good news. The doctors were very, very positive in their post-op comments.  Both the rectal and (unrelated) kidney cancers were completely removed and the long-term prognosis is good.  After a month to heal from surgery, I'll begin a final round of chemo in late October.

The first couple of days post-op (Friday and Saturday) went better than expected.  Because the tumors were located in places that made removal relatively routine for the surgeons, the surgery took less time than expected. Unfortunately, things took a nosedive when the anesthesia wore off and Sunday/Monday were extremely difficult (but I won't go into detail).  I spent as much time and energy as possible on Monday trying to walk the halls, jump start my system and get my appetite back.  I'm back on solid food now, taking one day at a time (no sushi anytime soon  :(

I did not realize the mental impact of a lengthy major surgery.  The physical battle was mirrored by an emotional battle.  It was nice to get wheeled out this morning and come home to take a nap.  I needed sunshine, music and stimulation, so we got in Blaine's new car and went for a long ride to nowhere.  Feeling better now, and I'm so grateful for your continued prayers for me.

When I have the energy for a longer post, I'm going to write about what an absolute angel my wife is.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Final Pre-Op Post


I haven't posted anything for awhile because Charlene and I were on vacation.  I took about 10 minutes to post a couple of vacation pix last week, and I thought I'd upload a couple more here.  This is probably going to be my last post for awhile.  Surgery is this Thursday, and I'm so grateful for all your prayers for me.

You've probably heard it said that "minor surgery" is when you're not the one having surgery, and of course, everyone wants "laparoscopic" surgery these days.  Turns out that's not going to be the case for me.  I have two cancers to be removed, one rectal and one in my right kidney.  In my pre-op visit to the urological surgeon last week, I learned that I'm going to have a "fairly large" incision, that the surgery could take up to eight hours and that I'll be in the hospital for five or six days...not what I was expecting.  Now, when a woman gives birth, she's usually sent home the next day, so I'm assuming this will be the equivalent of giving birth five times...maybe not.

Since the urologist wasn't going to see me again until the day of surgery, she pulled out her permanent marker and wrote on the right side of my belly (just to the right of my six-pack...ahem!)  I didn't mind; I certainly want them working on the right kidney!  When I looked at the mark a couple of days later, I noticed it was the letters "A A."  Only later did I realize that it was HER initials, Angela Alman, on my belly!  At that point, I was very glad that I wasn't having forehead surgery by my friend, Bob Stanhope.



On Friday, I went in for a "simple" pre-op procedure to have a semi-permanent IV port installed.  All my meds for the surgery and the chemo treatments in Nov-Dec can now be delivered without any additional needles.  I was anesthetized for the procedure (i.e. "out like a light") and one of the OR nurses recognized me from church.  Just before the lights went out, I looked up at her and asked, "Tell me, will I be able to play the violin after this procedure."

"Well, yes, I guess so, once the wound heals," she replied.

"Great!" I said.  "I've always wanted to be able to play the violin."   (I've been waiting for YEARS to use that line!  Thank you, Henny Youngman.)

So I'm going to be incommunicado for awhile.   I don't dread the actual surgery nearly as much as the time away from family, not being able to work with the choir this fall or attend worship, and not being able to work with my colleagues at Autumn Ridge.  The plan at this point is surgery this week, chemo (but NOT radiation, thankfully) in Oct-Nov, then reconstructive surgery in January.  This is definitely becoming a year to remember.

Okay, enough of that.  Here's some pics from our wonderful vacation in Virginia.  I HIGHLY recommend a visit to my native state, and would happy to share my travel guidebooks.  The Appalachian Mountains or Shenandoah Valley in spring or fall is the place to be!  (Click on a picture for a larger view.  I took 503 pix, but you only get a handful here.)







































I actually became fairly proficient at taking self-portraits!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wonderful Vacation

Charlene and I have had an absolutely wonderful vacation.  We flew to Norfolk (correctly pronounced "GNAW-fuk") to my parents house, then left to take Blair to college in Lynchburg, VA.  He settled in very quickly, and after an appropriately brief (tearful) farewell, we left for our vacation.  I knew the best way to turn off Charlene's tears was to put her behind the wheel of the car and head directly for the mountains.  We spent the next four days doing the kind of agressive, strenuous mountain hiking that would make John Steer proud.  I'm so thankful to have completed chemo three weeks ago, and yet have the strength to get out and really enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We spent four days on "the Parkway," from mountain summits to deep gorge waterfalls.  The last point was Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi.  Week 2 of this vacation (why in the world did I wait so long to take two-week vacation???) is visiting Char's family in SC, visiting some friends in NC, spending a day at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg, going to Va Beach for a day and visiting my family before heading home.  This "empty nest" thing is going to be really tough!!! :)  Here's a few pics to enjoy; click to enlarge and I'll post more later.