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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Birds will be birds

Just before dawn the birds started celebrating being birds. My bedroom is on the top level of my town home. I wake up in a tree house because the tops of the trees are just out my window. I wake with the birds every morning and it is a cheerful way to meet the new day. This morning I was especially happy to celebrate the day with them.

Yesterday I started radiation therapy. I got to see what the astronauts saw. Apparently, the astronauts would sometimes see flashes of light caused by the gamma rays. My friend, Eugene told me to expect this.

The technicians make a "mask" to hold one's head in the same position each time you receive treatment. It is easy to breath, but it is still very confining. The treatments only last about 15 minutes. Altogether, the treatments are not much of a bother and I only have 33 sessions left. I will be finished with this in mid July. Just countin' em down for now.

I have noticed that while the birds are here, they great each day with their cheerful noise. It doesn't seem to matter to them whether the day follows a very cold night, is cloudy or rainy. They always seem happy to greet it.

Should I greet the day with less joy than these?