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.