Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's That Time Again!

Tomorrow, July 1st, I will be poked, prodded, scanned, and flushed. It is time for my periodic CT and PET Scans at the Ashland-Bellefonte Cancer Center. I will also have my monthly blood work and Medi-Port flushed while there. This month marks five years and seven months since the mass was discovered in my colon.
Adenocarcinoma was the diagnosis. Stage Four. Metastasized to my liver and in a number of lymph nodes. Prognosis was not good. "Incurable but hopefully manageable". My research on the subject (and information that I pulled from my oncologist) did not give me a very rosy picture. Apparently the average survival time for that diagnosis was 18-22 months. In fact, my son's father in law had received the same diagnosis a few years earlier, and he lived 19 months.

At the time of my diagnosis, the Ashland-Bellefonte Cancer Center was running several television commercials on our local cable network. They featured folks who had been patients at the Cancer Center who were now cancer free. I told Christie McKinney (Dr. Jane's nurse at the time) that my goal was to be on one of the commercials. She just looked at me and smiled. No reply. Later I told two of the chemo nurses (Robyn & Vada) the same thing, and I noticed the quick glance they gave one another, and I realized, these folks didn't think I have a chance. And you know what? Naturally speaking, I didn't.

The idea of less than 2 years to live, with who knows what I would have to suffer was a sobering thought. The information I found regarding my particular type of cancer in the fourth stage was scary. Metastatic colon cancer was basically a death sentence. Only 10% of those patients who have it, survive for five years after surgery and treatments. There was a lot of soul searching that went on, and finally, (as I should have always been doing) I began to try to live my life as if every day could be the last.

I began to develop more patience (a virtue in which I had always been sorely deficient). My illness changed the way I looked at my family, my pastoral calling, and my personal relationship with the Father. My senses seemed to be heightened. The sky seemed bluer, the grass greener, my friends more dear, and my family more precious. Inexplicably, I began to sense a peace that surpasses earthly understanding. I had preached and taught about such a peace for over three decades, but it was not until then that I ever truly experienced it!

There was a deep settled stillness in my soul that allowed me the comfort of knowing that I was held tightly in the hands of God. Jeremiah 11:29 became a very precious promise to me, " 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.". Equally precious was Isaiah 41:10 "'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.' "

Promises like that, enable one to be at peace with whatever comes.

To be perfectly honest, the next couple of years were pretty tough. Surgery, chemotherapy (two courses of it), a Radio Frequency Ablation procedure, and other procedures consumed my life. But, an amazing thing happened. I didn't die like I was supposed to do. And now, way down the road, those memories just seem surreal.

Remission is sweet! Dr. Jain tells me that I will never be "cancer free", but with all due respect I know that I will be one day. I have the promise of a full and complete healing, in the form of a new body that will NEVER know infirmity! In the mean time, we'll take the precautions that the doctor advises. That is the reason for the monthly blood work. That is why he says the Medi-Port will never be removed (unless it malfunctions and needs to be replaced with another). That is why we still have the annual colonoscopy and the various scans done throughout the year. Precautions are good, but I am thankful that my God is the one who holds my future in His loving hands. With that assurance, there is absolutely nothing to fear!

Several months ago I received an invitation to speak in a program on July 21 at Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital (where my surgery was done). The program is an "Oncology Update" and will feature several medical professionals (including Dr. Jain) who will take part in the all day conference, revolving around the particular subject of Colon Cancer. I am the only non medical person on the program. I am due to be the first speaker of the day. According to the printed program I recently received, I am to speak for 50 minutes on the "Psycho-Social Support for Cancer Patients". I'm not really sure what that means, but the program coordinator told me to just "tell my story and give my testimony". I don't think I'll have any problem with that. I never tire of telling what God, Dr. Jain, and OLBH has done for me (in that order).

Remember Christie McKinney (who was formerly Dr. Jain's nurse)? She left the Ashland-Bellefonte Cancer Center a few years ago and is now the head Oncology Nurse at OLBH. Turns out that she is the one who recommended me to speak on the program.

The Cancer Center no longer runs the TV commercials, so maybe this invitation is to make up for that! Oh, well. Life is a series of trade offs. Even if I can't be on the commercial, I can still tell my story to whomever will listen ...

I am blessed.

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