Friday, October 17, 2008

Return to the new normal

It has been quite some time since I last posted and entry to this blog. This will be my final entry. I have completed all cancer treatments to very good result and am well on my way to the "new" normal. I think of this part of my life as the new normal because I have been changed and, to my mind improved by my dance with cancer.

Preeminent among the lessons of this dance for me was an understanding of the importance of one's attitute towards adversity. I had enough time to ruminate on my situation and came to understand that I, like everyone are exposed to what I think of as the "human condition". It became clear to me that I wasn't singled out for suffering and punishment by some angry God. After all, 1 in 3 will get cancer at some time in their life. Rather, I understood that God was with me through my suffering and was helping me to find the faith and equanimity that there would be a blessing from this trial.

It was easy for me to find many examples of this principal in the historic figures who made profound improvements in lives of others because or possibly in spite of personal adversity. While I certainly do not count myself among them, I do know that I now have more time for conversations with friends and family, that I look for more opportunities to help in whatever small way I may. My prayers are for the healing and well being of others and gratitude for my return to health. This is the new normal for me.
To all who have read my blog, thank you. Many of you sent emails to me offering support, compassion and comfort. I cannot express how important your kindness was to me during this very difficult period. May you be blessed and your lives be full of joy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Recently, a friend forwarded to me the text of a speech given by Tony Snow. Tony was a broadcast journalist and White House Press Secretary until being diagnosed with cancer. This speech expresses better than any other writer I have read, what it is like to face cancer with faith. In his case it was fatal.
I have been blessed to be given a longer time. His great faith has inspired me and I am beginning to understand his speech more as a description of a good way to face life as well as a way to face death. I have posted the text of his speech below.

Cancer's Unexpected Blessings When you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change.Tony Snow posted 7/20/2007 02:30 PM Commentator and broadcaster Tony Snow announced that he had colon cancer in 2005. Following surgery and chemo-therapy, Snow joined the Bush administration in April 2006 as press secretary.

Blessings arrive in unexpected packages-in my case, cancer. Those of us with potentially fatal diseases-and there are millions in America today-find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence What It All Means, Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the why questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is-a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out. But despite this-because of it-God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.

Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere. To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life-and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many non-believing hearts-an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live-fully, richly, exuberantly-no matter how their days may be numbered.

Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease-smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see-but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension-and yet don't. By his love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.

'You Have Been Called'

Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet; a loved one holds your hand at the side. 'It's cancer,' the healer announces. The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. 'Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler.' But another voice whispers: 'You have been called.' Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter-and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our 'normal time.'
There's another kind of response, although usually short-lived-an inexplicable shudder of excitement, as if a clarifying moment of calamity has swept away everything trivial and tinny, and placed before us the challenge of important questions. The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing though the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes (Spain), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

There's nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue-for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do. Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.

We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us-that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us partway there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two people's worries and fears.

Learning How to Live

Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God's arms not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love. I sat by my best friend's bedside a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him away. He kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his family, many of his old friends, and at least one priest. Here was a humble and very good guy, someone who apologized when he winced with pain because he thought it made his guest uncomfortable. He retained his equanimity and good humor literally until his last conscious moment. 'I'm going to try to beat [this cancer],' he told me several months before he died. 'But if I don't, I'll see you on the other side.'

His gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn't promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity-filled with life and love we cannot comprehend-and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it. It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up-to speak of us!

This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place-in the hollow of God's hand."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dear diary....

RIP dear old computer. You served me well and faithfully for 5 good years and I am grateful for your service. I have a new computer now. Not a replacement though, for you could never be replaced. I have taken these last few weeks to mourn your passing and to withdraw from cyberspace in contemplation.

My last weeks have been relatively uneventful and I now experience myself as one nearing the end of a marathon (God spare me from ever actually running a marathon). The periphery is fading as my focus sharpens on July 17th, the day of my last radiation treatment and the day my healing can really begin.

My ability to speak has been restored in somewhat limited fashion, but I still cannot feed myself orally. Jimmy Buffet really speaks to me when I hear him sing "Cheeseburger in Paradise". Otherwise, my spirits are high, I have lost 30 pounds, gained additional humility, have decent energy levels and am buoyed up by the prayers and best wishes of friends and family.

I look forward to being in church every Sunday. I am restored at every service and it carries me through the week intact. I ask for your continued prayers as well. Your prayers do help.

I must confess that I am ready for this dance to end as I am growing weary of it. Still, I am learning from it and am content to live it day to day.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"The Earth is crammed with Heaven"

Some kind person posted this quote to this blog anonymously in reference to my post "Some Good Things Just Take Time To Happen". I found the whole poem and thought that I would share it.

“Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes - The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I have often wondered if we aren't walking around in the Garden of Eden and are just blind to it. This Sunday last, Pastor Mark told of talking to God. Seems he was on a trip with a group of our youth to a Lutheran mission in the Navajo nation to clean up a school and interact with some of the students.

Seems that Pastor thought to check the air in the tires of the trailer he was pulling. When he did, he noticed that they were low and the valve stem was leaking. He talked to God to ask what he should do now, since they were in a hurry and few stores were open at that time of the morning.

Then he remembered a nearby store but got no help. They were able to limp to another store where he found a very helpful person. This person changed the valve stem and they were about to be one there way when it occurred to Pastor to check the other one too. When he touched it, it just broke off! I prefer not to imagine what may have happened had the tires on that trailer gone flat at highway speeds with a van full of kids!

Some might say this was all just coincidence, but I would see the benefit of talking to God. I hear stories like this often and have experiences of being in the presence of God myself. And it is a great comfort as I enter the phase of my treatment that has essentially made it very painful to speak. Not that I have much to say anyway!

Not speaking is a blessing. It gives me time to listen, to think and to just "be". I don't need to speak to walk in the woods and understand that "The Earth is crammed with Heaven" and that I am in the presence of God and I don't have to speak to talk to him either. Of course, I do have to look for the answer...which I often find in the small places...when I look there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Bucket List

Over the weekend, I was blessed to attend the memorial for a man that I had never met. I had simply gone to support Karen as it was one of her co-workers for whom the service was being held. It was really not possible for me to be prepared for the importance of this event for me.

I heard the story told of a man who was described as being irascible, rude and some said, very difficult to like. He had been estranged from his son and yet was able to reconcile at the last moment, moving his Son to right a song in homage and perform it at the service. Yet this man was able to inspire many in his life.

His was the story of a man many would have overlooked or avoided. For me, not knowing him it was a beautiful reminder that try our "damnedest" we will occasionally still be given the Grace by God to reach people and help them turn towards the truly important parts of their lives. Sometimes we get to see this happen and sometimes not. Certainly, all that remained of this man were the memories of those that knew and loved him, just a faint echo and yet he reached me.

Just to ensure that I got my fill of this topic, Karen and I watched the Bucket List that evening. Being in the mood for a "light" comedy and not really knowing much about it, save for the actors and the premise, we were not totally prepared for the whole story. It is a good movie and entertaining.

You won't be surprised to learn that it got me to thinking again. The more I dwelled upon the image of my "bucket list", the more I like to think the bucket as something that I carry around with me all day, every day. I want my bucket to have holy, bright and beautiful things in it. I would like to share the contents with those I love and care about. It might be nice to share the contents of my bucket with strangers too.

It is already the case that many people make contributions to my bucket every day. The cards that I have received, the hugs, the jokes, the open concern and interest. All of these are filling my bucket quickly. I guess I will have to give some away to make room!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some good things just take time to happen

A few years ago a good friend introduced me to the Calypso Orchid while on a walk in the Wild Basin area of the Rocky Mountain Park. This surprise is also known as the fairy Slipper Orchid. You can probably imagine my astonishment at learning that orchids grew in Colorado. Every year since I have hiked that trail to look for these little miracles. They seem to come in the first week of June. This year while walking with Karen, I encountered a friend from church who was on the same quest. It was good to know that we shared this interest in a small part of creation as well as our faith.

I have been reading about this little plant and have discovered that it is very fragile and takes 20 years to bloom. You can read more about it to at This article is fascinating. I discovered that the Fairy Slipper Orchid requires very specific growing conditions. It requires the symbiosis with fungi in very specific types of soils to thrive in the harse mountain conditions where it lives. All this got me to thinking.

How am I so different from this little plant...other than it is much prettier and causes less trouble. I can only thrive in community with those who care about me and support me. Each adds their wisdom and faith to mine synergistically. They feed me and, with God's help they provide the right conditions for me to thrive. Yesterday, I started chemo therapy. The treatment was 6 hours long, but otherwise uneventful. They gave me 4 medications to control nausea, all of which have worked so far. In fact, I seem to be eating each meal as if it were my last with the result that I now have a comfortable margin of "extra" to carry me through this process. The calls I received from family and friends to encouraging me and wish me well bouyed me. They fed me well.

My path to this community has taken some time to find and to grow into. More than 20 years. I have on occasion, poisoned it. But mostly I have tried to live in harmony and give at least as much as I have received. How very like the Fairy Slipper Orchid I am in this regard. I am totally dependent upon and must be relied upon by my community to thrive...and this takes time, love, trust and faith. Some, who have known me the longest have commented that I am "blossoming" through the dance with cancer. I too feel that this is so and that others can judge it better than I.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Hat Trick

I learned yesterday that I will need chemotherapy in addition to the radiation therapy that I am now undergoing and the the recent surgery. I have taken a bit of a roller coaster ride regarding the necessity for the chemotherapy. As I now understand it, chemotherapy sensitizes the fast-growing cancer cells such that the radiation therapy is more effective. In for a penny, in for a pound I suppose.

Reflecting on all of this, I am brought to my knees with gratitude and praise God that I live in a place and a time where such incredible medical care is available. In last Thursday's Men's Bible Study, one of the men was describing his work in understanding how cancer cells can be unmasked so that our bodies will recognize those cells as foreign and destroy them. I learned yesterday that such a monoclonal antibody has already been developed. It is cetuximab, which is marketed as Erbitux.

This substance works by finding a "receptor" in the cells of squamous cancer called the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor and inhibits it's activity. This is a very targeted approach to the treatment of cancer in that this particular receptor is very active in squamous cancer cells and therefore take up more of this monoclonal antibody and the growth is inhibited and it may also serve as a radiation sensitizer.

Erbitux does not cause all of the toxicity and side effects of cisplatin (the chemotherapy drug normally prescribed). It is not without some side effects. Not the least of which is the $100,000 hole in your bank account or your insurance companies bank account! I don't know if it will be available to me, since the trials were on head and neck cancers that could not be removed surgically. Mine was resectable, and happily so. Undoubtedly, in 5 years they will be putting it in the water supply; along with all the prozac that is already there....(please note that my tongue is lodged firmly in my cheek).

I have also learned that some really bright students at MIT have developed "nano worms". These little carbon nano tudes are coated with some substance that will mark cancer cells. They will be then injected into the blood stream and circulate through the body patrolling for cancer cells. When they encounter cancer they mark it and the bodies immune system will attack and destroy it. Go Scientists go!

It is really good to know that these breakthroughs are being made and that there is the very real prospect that more effective and less trying treatment is on the horizon. Meanwhile, the birds are going nuts just outside my bedroom window and the sun has risen on another beautiful Colorado morning. I am a blessed man.