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!!


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 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 "".  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!


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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Loving Worship From a New Perspective

I've been so blessed to have had the strength to continue to lead worship through my treatments, but most recently I've had to step aside for a couple of weeks.  I just haven't had the strength for many tasks, I tire quickly, and I found that the exertion of singing (even with correct vocal technique) wears me out.  I'm so grateful for our Worship Pastor Mick Nichols and others who are leading in my absence.

Last Sunday morning I woke up thinking, "I can't believe I'm not going to church today."  I felt a real sense of loss, not because I wasn't going to be on stage in front of people (God broke me of that in the 80's!), but because there was going to be a party, and I wasn't going to be there.

I was raised in a small, old-fashioned Baptist church, but there was one element of each worship service that the pastor hit right on the head.  As a young boy, I remember that at the beginning of worship each week this larger-than-life hero of mine (in reality, he was pretty large) in a black suit would step to the pulpit and call us to worship with his beautiful booming baritone voice.  Unlike so many modern pastors and worship leaders who begin worship with chit-chat or a stand-up comic routine (as if we've gathered to spend time with them), Pastor Floyd would intone the words of scripture,

"I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord.'"

So last Sunday, I awoke rather "un-glad" because I wasn't going to the house of the Lord.  Now the doctors have been telling me, "Mr. Price, this is a time when you have to listen to your body."  They're all right, but I'm getting kinda tired of listening to my currently uncooperative body!  So around 9:30 I told my body to get dressed; we were going to church.  Charlene and I arrived at the last minute, parked in the rear lot and  sneaked into the back for the 10:30 service.  While my body was in pain and protested a bit, my spirit was fed by the worship, prayers, reading of scripture and John's sermon.

I'm still not 100% and unable to lead this weekend (Aug 1), but I attended worship tonight and plan to return tomorrow morning.  Again, I was moved and strengthened by being there with other worshipers.  As I drove to church, I didn't have the normal pressures of an upcoming "performance" (you understand my use of the word.  There are hundreds of "performance elements" that comprise each service; logistics that the worship leader, media team, ushers and others have to pay attention to for things to go smoothly), so I was able to prepare myself mentally for meeting with God.  Following the Hebrew pattern for worship, I asked myself, "What am I coming to give in worship, and what do I want to receive?"  Coming to worship to give something to God (at least beyond the normal offering) isn't the way we often approach the weekly gathering.  But if I want to be a blessing to God and bring him joy, it's appropriate for me to think of giving something to him.  Of course, I should surrender him the things that I shouldn't have in the first place; self-sufficiency, worry, sin, etc., but beyond this I should approach worship to give him thanks, praise and service.

As a worship participant (never an audience who only comes to listen or a spectator who only comes to watch), I found that I could make that giving and receiving connection with God when I focused on the lyrics of the songs, the words of the prayers and the text of scripture.  This may be more difficult than you think, but it's especially true for a musician.  We most often engage God's gift of music to express praise, prayer and scripture, but it's very easy for us to get distracted by the beauty of the music.  I'm so thankful for a worship team that realizes that by their song selection, they determine what words I get to say to God in worship and what the songs tell me about Him.  For the last couple of weeks, Mick has chosen songs that allow me to say to God (and give to God) what I need to say and songs that allow me to hear God say to me what I need to hear.  Often I was so moved by the lyric that I could not...really, didn't need to make a sound.  Perhaps those moments of awe-struck silence are the ones God most yearns for.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Didn't See THAT Coming!

Silly me.  I thought, "Okay, finished with chemo/radiation on Monday...I ought to start feeling a little better each day now!"


I really thought I had dodged a bullet with my side effects being so moderate throughout this process.  I breezed through week one and two without a hitch.  By week three, my doctor was amazed and asked, "Are you taking the medication?"  Except for a rather unfortunate ER episode which I hope to never relive, I pretty much sailed through the 28-day treatment.  I rang the bell on Monday and walked out with a smile on my face.

Then came Tuesday.

I went to work on Tuesday morning and made it through half the day.  It was our wedding anniversary (#26!), so I picked up some roses and took them to our favorite restaurant (Sushi Nishiki, of course) so they would be waiting for us at the table when we were seated (I can be very sneaky that way).  I went home and was feeling kinda tired, so I decided to take a nap for awhile.

I don't remember much more about Tuesday, and Wednesday was even worse.  I woke up exhausted on Wednesday morning and pretty much slept my way through the whole day.  I can't remember ever having a day like that, a day full of weird dreams and dreaming about dreaming.  Totally, completely exhausted.

Okay, so now I realize that my body is working really hard to heal itself from 28 jolts of radiation and I shouldn't expect that after pumping myself with 89,600 mg of Xeloda (I did the math) that I'm going to be able to jump up and play flag football (duh!).

They say that inside every adult male there's an invincible 18-year-old boy who wants to go out and play.  I just told my 18-year-old to go to his room and leave me alone.

At this point I would love to conclude with some deep  nugget of theological truth, but frankly I'm just too tired.  When my kids were young, I used to LOVE when we'd assume this position and snooze together.  This is kinda where I am with God right now, and it feels pretty good.

Thank you for praying for me.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Celebration Day - Ringing the Chemo Bell

When you complete your round of chemo at the Mayo Clinic, you get to ring the bell in the waiting room to celebrate (click for YouTube video).  I've watched others ring that bell for the last month, and today was my turn!  It was great to have friends and family with me to celebrate this morning.

The next big task for me is to get my strength back and be ready to travel to VA in three weeks to take Blair to college.  We'll get back to town on Aug 31, play a couple of rounds of golf then have surgery to remove the (now hopefully dead) cancerous tumor on Sept 9.

Thanks for your prayers and wonderful words of encouragement through this long process.

BUT, there's no way my chemo celebration can top this one!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Home Stretch! least for phase one.

I have five more chemo treatments to go!  Next Monday I get to ring that bell to celebrate the end of phase one of my treatments.  I'm thankful that I've had the strength to continue working and the side effects have been (mostly) manageable.  I am tired now; I was able to lead worship yesterday (July 18), but told Mick (the Worship Pastor) that I don't think I'll be up to it next week.  I was running on empty and praying for strength the whole time (which is not necessarily a bad thing to be doing while leading worship).

I have a surgery date - Sept 9.  Please mark that day to be praying for me, and I'll follow with more info later.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Someone Served Superman a Kryptonite Milkshake!

I expected the fatigue part of chemo to be incremental, kinda sneak up on me, but that hasn't been the case.  I'm not Superman, but I now feel like I've just drunk a Kryptonite Milkshake.

I used to take the stairs two at a time; now I'm waiting for the elevator (and lustfully eyeing the wheelchair).

I used to stride; now I stroll.

I used to LOVE this hot, humid weather; right now I can't get a good deep breath.

In short, my allegro has become an adiagio.

My radiation tech and all the cancer survivors I know are telling me to listen to my body.  They are right (man, it kills me to say that!) and I have to slow down.  One person reminded me that at the molecular level, my body is fighting a war that I can't see (a war I need my body to win!).  The more resources I draw away to do things I think are important the more "aid and comfort" I'm giving the enemy.

So I'm going to shut down my PC, turn on the British Open and snooze (whether I like it or not).

To quote a REAL superman (whose life I've admired for years), "I SHALL RETURN!"

MacArthur coming ashore at Leyte.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Painful Setback, July 8

I'll try to give you an update on why I missed work on Thursday and spent most of the day in the ER without going into all the gory details.  (Medical professional's alert: I'm not going to use the correct medical language here and the names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

I wasn't able to sleep well on Thursday night and finally dozed off early in the morning.  I woke up around 4:30 to a rather acute pain that got progressively worse for the next couple of hours.  Blaine was up about that same time to make a 5:30 departure for a missions trip and I went back to bed after he left.  Exhausted, I fell asleep for about an hour after he left, but the pain was much worse when I woke around 6:00.  I was scheduled for a 9:00 a.m. radiation and doctor's consultation, but decided I couldn't take the pain that long.  

Sometime ago, medical professionals stopped asking, "How bad is it?" which is rather subjective and started asking, "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst pain you've ever experienced, how would you rate this pain?"  I learned that when you can't walk normally and answer that question with "eight!" the ER receptionist will have you looked at pretty quickly.

I made a new best friend in the ER that day, "Morphine."  I'm sure they're still repairing the claw marks I left in the exam room wall.

A nice ER doc (with a British accent, no less!) attempted a physical exam, but even with my buddy Morphine holding my hand, the pain was too excruciating (and I now know why the Latin word for "cross" is the root word in "excruciating").  "Okay Mr. Price, I'm going to go get a consultant (Mayo-speak for his boss) and let him take a look at this," he said as he left the room.  Charlene was sitting in the room during the exam, so I have proof that I finally reached that high F# I've always wanted to sing.  Once the good doctor left the room, I had a special request.



"Could you do something for me?"

"Well of course, what is it?"

"When that doctor comes back in, could you please pick up your chair and hit him with it?"


The diagnosis was a herniated blood clot (the medical pros are saying to themselves, "What?, but I'm not going to give you the actual name).  We're talkin'  P  A  I  N.   The first course of action was to tilt the table head down with me lying on my stomach for 45 minutes in an attempt to relieve the pressure.  When that time was up, I got another comforting hug from Mr. Morphine and the consultant attempted to resolve the issue.  Nope...ain't gonna happen...too much pain!!

At that point, the docs concluded that seeing a colorectal surgeon was the best course of action.  Since I had about two hours before that appointment at 1pm, I went home, got a shower, let Charlene eat lunch and headed back downtown.  Charlene is a VERY good driver, but I'm going to petition the city council to repave parts of Broadway near Hyw 14...OUCH!

Two doses of morphine had taken the edge off by now, so the doctor was able to confirm the diagnosis and suggest a treatment.  My first option was out-patient surgery, but they didn't want to do that since the area was under daily radiation therapy, making post-op healing difficult.

They finally settled on the four-fold "GABI" therapy.


For being such a great contestant, I received several nice parting gifts: a pink Sitz bath and a prescription for Oxycodon.  The bath is helpful, the Oxy I'm trying to stay away from.   

No 20-mile bike ride this Saturday!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Well-Spoken Words, July 7 :)

Proverbs 25:11 says that "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."

In the course of my daily radiation treatments I have the opportunity to have brief conversations with the wonderful technicians who are microwaving my backside.  I should begin by describing the process for the sake of those who have not had the privilege of irradiation of their "southern hemisphere."

It's not a totally humiliating process...they do let you keep your socks.  Patients who see each other in the hallway don't have to ask the "What'cha in for?" question; you simply look to see what article of clothing has been taken away from them.  I believe the hospital gowns are made by the same company that designs those jackets with REALLY long sleeves and heavy-duty buckles.  
Seriously, the technicians do everything in their power to "keep it light" and preserve as much of your dignity as possible (I only heard snickering on the other side of the glass once or twice.)  Each session begins with the Mayo version of "name, rank and serial number," "William Price - 6/9/61."  Followed by a jovial, "Well hello Mr. Price, how are we today?" Or, "how's the weather out there," or (in my case) "Did you get to play golf this weekend?"

I kinda feel sorry for these folks.  They have to make a very unpleasant routine task as bearable as possible, and they do a great job.  They carefully watch what they say, but there's been a few slip ups lately.

Now, my particular treatment requires me to lie face down on something like a massage table (minus the massage) while they line my tattoos up on three laser beams.  Oh yeah, I've got three tattoos!  I think I'm the only pastor on staff who has one, and I'm raising money for the new building by selling peeks at my tattoos (although I bet Karen Foster has one somewhere!).    

The techs have a very discreet process down to a fine art, kinda like an Indy pit crew.  One will open the gown while another deftly slides a towel in place, quickly covering the offensive "real estate" (although mine's not as offensive as others).  Once the towel is in place, your face is looking down through a hole in the table, your legs are fit into a mold (so you can't shift around while their microwaving you) and the lasers are lined up on your tattoos, they like to give some gentle parting words to let you know that they are leaving the room (and also to help them withhold the snickering until they're out of earshot).  
Today Alex got me into position and as he prepared to leave the room he said, "Okay Mr. Price, we're cookin'!"

My head shot up out of the hole in the table.  "Really, Alex?  You're about to fry me with 15000 rads of something, and the best you can come up with is 'We're cookin'"?

"Sorry!" he replied, "I try to watch myself, but that one kinda slipped out!"

So they slide this big lead barn door behind them because, of course, they don't want to get fried by all the stuff they're shooting at me, and I get to lay there for about ten minutes and listen to the worst elevator jazz on the planet.   I swear, if the radiation doesn't kill my cancer that  music will!!  

Because they know that that music has the potential to turn your brain to mush in less than ten minutes and so they don't startle you off the table, they like to say something to get your attention when they reenter the room.  Very thoughtful of them.

So one day last week I received my treatments from two very attractive young nurses.  Now, I got over the embarrassment of the whole process pretty early on and these are medical professionals, so there's no issues here.  When my session was over, they entered the room and one of the girls mindlessly said

"Okay Mr. Price, everything looks really good from here."

"Ladies," I replied, "I can't tell you how gratifying it is to be laying here like this and have you tell me how good it looks."

I left the room and had a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

The Greatest Danger

It has been so encouraging to receive the prayer and love of Autumn Ridge Church during this past month.  I'm continually overwhelmed (really, I've been "whelmed" before...this is OVERwhelmed!) by the cards, emails, gifts and personal words of people who are daily demonstrating God's love.  On Sunday someone came up to me before the worship service and said, "I just want you to know that there is a team of people fasting and praying for you."  Of course, I'm completely humbled by these expressions of grace and love.  (I mean, no one should miss a meal on my account!)  I ran into a couple of guys at the coffee shop on Monday and we talked briefly about my treatments.  They left at the same time, and a couple of minutes later I looked out to the parking lot to see them standing by one of their cars with their heads bowed in prayer.  "Oh, man!" I thought, "I know they're talking about me!"

This leads me to a couple of statements I've heard that I think need correction and to what I think may be the greatest danger of living out this cancer journey publicly with the rest of the church family.

A couple of times I've heard, "Oh, you're a pastor; you've got nothing to worry about.  God's going to take care of you" as if there were some special dispensation of God's grace to me because my paycheck says "Autumn Ridge Church."  Maybe there's a special calling to serve God's people as a pastor, but believe me, I put my pants on spiritually one leg at a time, just like everyone else.  I'm no better than anyone sitting in the pews; if anything, God is going to hold me to a higher level of accountability (Jm 3:1) because of my role.

The other one I've heard goes something like, "You are a man of great faith; you're going to be fine" as if the measure of my personal faith was going to determine my physical healing.  I am SO glad that my healing is not based on the amount of faith I can gin up.  The issue is not how much faith I have (or anyone else has for that matter) but rather on the object of our faith.  I don't have great faith, but I do have faith in a great God (sounds like a Christianese cliche - and I don't like Christianese cliches - but it's true).

So in my opinion, the greatest danger of walking this cancer journey publicly is for people to somehow believe that there is some well of personal strength, some resource of determination or some personal heroism that is sustaining me through this time.  Can I set the record straight in this regard?  I was crucified about three weeks ago - all my strength, courage and (thankfully) self-sufficiency died when I heard the word "cancer."  If anyone had cause to boast, it would have been the ultra-talented apostle Paul.  He counted all his pedigree and achievements as rubbish and said "I die daily."  If there's a spiritual flaw that this cancer has brought to light for me personally, it is that...truth be told...I hadn't died in a long time.

I'm so grateful that God has given me the strength to continue to work and continue to lead worship on the weekend, but please don't come to the incorrect assumption that it's me up there, because it's not.

"...and the life that I now live..."

Dealing with the Fear, July 6

I'm into week three of my chemo/radiation therapy and as much as possible for a person without medical training, I think I've got a pretty good handle on the rest of the process.  Chemo/rad through July, about five weeks off for the body to heal, then tumorectomy surgery in early September.  I'm not excited about it, but I'm coming to realize it could be much worse.

Before I get too far removed from the initial diagnostic events and the emotional trauma of that time, I want to capture my thoughts from that time, perhaps for the sake of others who find themselves in that situation.  From my perspective, dealing with the physical aftermath of a cancer diagnosis is far easier than dealing the the emotional effect.

I've decided that waiting for medical results is like watching water boil, knowing that when it does someone is going to pour it all over you.

I talked about the most difficult part of the emotional journey in my extemporaneous comments before communion a couple of weeks ago.  One of the bigger fears a patient deals with during this time is the fear that the cancer is at an advanced stage and has spread to other parts of the body.  When I got a call that additional tests had been ordered, I figured out pretty quickly that they had found additional tumors.  I watched the technicians faces during the abdominal ultrasound and knew they saw something and were trying to get the best possible images for the doctor.  I woke with a start in the middle of the night when I got stabbed with the word "pancreas."  I'll admit it; it was agonizing.

It's impossible to describe the mental gymnastics of waiting through a day for the appointment when you will learn the extent of your cancer.  I'm a spry 49 years old, and in a few minutes some doctor is going to tell me how much time I've got left.  One one extreme, he could say, "Tumor? What tumor?  We just can't find it!"  On the other hand, he just as likely could say, "I'm sorry Mr. Price, but there's nothing we can do.  You should go home and enjoy the next few months."  It's very hard to get your mind wrapped around that concept, I don't care how spiritually mature you are.

I've always had this weird thing going where if I get really nervous about something, I get sleepy.  I guess it's an escape mechanism.  Several hours before my appointment, I just had to go lay down and crash...I don't think the human mind is designed to take that kind of stress long term.  The process of driving to the hospital and sitting in the waiting room seemed almost surreal.  Jacqui Stahl had given me an excellent little book called "Red Sea Rules."  Reading that book (and reminding myself to keep breathing) got me through until time for the appointment.  Charlene was a rock; I could not have survived without her.

Two biblical images helped me deal with the "boiling water" phase of my cancer.  The first was of John the Baptist.  This is a locust eating, leather girdle wearing, Pharisee-attacking desert preacher that Jesus said was the "greatest man ever born of woman."  He jumped and kicked and screamed in utero when Mary came to visit Elizabeth.  He was the first to point out Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  John was a real tough guy; think Chuck Norris with a pulpit.

So Herod throws John in prison and John gets a message out to Jesus' disciples (some of whom used to be his disciples).  You may expect this tough guy to come out with some great tough guy phrase, something that people would repeat time and again to celebrate John's bravado in the face of danger.

Nope.  He gets a message out that says, "Ask him if he really is the One, or if we should be looking for someone else."  In the face of death, John's faith was shaken to its core and he wasn't afraid to admit it.  (By the way, you should read Matt 11 to see Jesus' compassionate response.)  John was scared to death.

The second image is of Christ in Gethsemane.  Perhaps the incomprehensible spiritual separation from the Father was foremost on his mind, but the impending physical torture of his human body must also have been a factor in his agony.  He pled with the Father for "the cup" to pass, but he found strength by putting himself into the Father's hands.  

I've tried to imagine how I would have processed the news (and what I would be feeling right now) if my diagnosis had been more grim.  I've got a long, painful journey ahead of me as it is, but at least it appears at this point that this cancer is not going to kill me right now.  I don't know the answer to that question, but based on what I've experienced thus far, I know that Jesus has been through what I'm facing (and more) and that God's presence and the prayers of his people can sustain me through any diagnosis.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Little Encouragements

The Mayo Clinic has wisely posted a couple of wonderful encouragements in the radiation treatment area.   In the long hallway that leads from the treatment area back to the waiting room there are eight large 4' X 12' "National Cancer Survivor's Day" banners, 2001 to the present, each with scores of signatures of cancer survivors.  "Ben Jones, prostate cancer, 13 years," "Sarah Jennings, breast cancer 23 years," "Susan Larson, ovarian cancer, 4 years," etc.  Walking down that hallway each day, you can't help but think to yourself, "There IS hope...if they can do it, I can do it!"

I also had the privilege of witnessing a wonderful "graduation" ceremony for one gentlemen early this morning.  When you complete your course of treatments, you get to ring a bell in the waiting room.  The man's wife and teenage daughter came with him to his final treatment at 7am.  The joy and anticipation on their faces was exciting to watch.  There were hugs and kisses and picture taking, and when he finally reached over and rang the bell, the three nurses and seven of us in the waiting room cheered as if he had just won a marathon.  I guess in a way, he had.

A signed poster on the wall and a bell in a waiting room are small things, but their power to celebrate and provide encouragement are enormous.  Maybe there's something small each of us can do, seemingly insignificant to us, that has the power to encourage some weary person along their own journey of faith.

"...and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24).