* Originally published January 29, 2013
In mid-October a doctor at Presbyterian hospital walked into my room on the 6th floor where I had been their guest for a couple of weeks and confirmed that tests on the tumor removed from my stomach were positive for melanoma. From that moment not a single day has passed without Teri and me engaging in a cancer related discussion. We’ve shared both difficult and truly wonderful talks about: my cancer, how to treat cancer, the prevalence of cancer we have began to notice everywhere, the fear cancer brings with it, how cancer is changing our lives for the better, and what to do once we beat cancer. We go on and on for hours and when we’ve worked each other into a frenzy, family and friends want to talk and we rehash those same exchanges. Honestly, we never get tired of having these conversations. We are a small part of a grand story and cancer has become an essential subject of our storyline and we are glad to have opportunities to tell the tale.
It is difficult to know, however, how much of this story gets picked up by our children. Maddox, 20 months, understands nearly every command or question we give him, “Bring me your dinner plate. Go upstairs for bath time. Do you need more milk? Is your diaper poopy?” Terms like metastatic melanoma, however, are a little beyond his comprehension. Hudson, on the other hand, is surprisingly aware for a four year old. When we drive by the hospital he says, “Look daddy. That’s where I came to see you and ate your food.” He then proceeds to name each of the snacks he ate while sitting at my bedside. He was particularly fond of the variety of colors of Jell-O at his beck-and-call.
Last week he and I had this conversation:
“Dad, are we getting another pet?”
“No, we’re not planning on it. Do you think Mala needs a friend?”
“Well, you said to mommy you’re getting a pet.”
“Are you sure that’s what I said?”
“Um, well, yeah, that’s what you said to mommy.”
“I don’t think we need another cat right now.”
“No, not a cat. You told mommy you are getting a pet scan.”
“Well, um, yes, I did say that but, buddy, a PET scan isn’t an animal.”
“Yes it is, it’s a special friend for Mala.”
“Not quite, but I see how you might think it is. It’s actually a test the doctors will use to look inside my stomach and see how daddy’s Ouchy is healing.”
“Oh. Does your Ouchy still hurt?”
“Not much, but we need to know if it’s getting better on the inside.”’
“Can I touch your Ouchy, daddy?”
“Can I have a cookie?”
My next PET Scan is scheduled for this Thursday, January 31st, and, since Friday is the doctor’s golf day, we will meet with him Monday, February, 4th to receive the results. The words “PET Scan,” for those of us who get them, evoke an ominous sensation. Waiting for the day of the scan reveals a dark side to human nature, or at least my nature, a propensity to project the worst possible scenario no matter how irrational or bevy of evidence to the contrary. This projection to fear which then give birth to bigger fear and before long everyone is frazzled and no one in our house is getting any sleep. One of Teri and mine’s discussions last week led to a profound revelation that took the menacing edge off of the upcoming test when we realized a PET scan is merely a picture, a snapshot of my guts at a single moment in time. Like a photographer takes pictures at weddings or an eager parent uses their cellphone to capture photos of their children, the PET Scan is a giant, highly sophisticated polaroid taken by photographers in labs coats standing behind a protective barrier. The results, good or bad, are just an image which becomes part of the story, but it isn’t the whole tale. It is unlikely the PET Scan picture will make the family Christmas card next year, however it will give insight into changes since the last scan 3 months ago and will help provide direction for how we administer future treatment protocols. And, with any luck, after the scan they will give me a cookie.
Not only do Teri and I have daily conversations about cancer, but God and I wrestle on an ongoing with the subject as well. Here are some of the things He and I talk about; I would be honored, if you’re in the habit of praying, if you would join in our discussion.
- Say good-bye to cancer. I continue to improve in strength and endurance. This improved well-being has made Teri and me hopeful the upcoming scan will bring good news.
- Live life without fear. My mind is prone to easily wander into thoughts that are irrational and embody a worst case scenario and these thoughts are not helpful. There is no amount of fear or worry that can add a single hour to my life; rather fear steals joy from the moment. Cancer loses its hold on my mind when I replace thoughts of fear with thoughts of thanksgiving.
- Don’t waste my cancer.
- I waste my cancer if I retreat into solitude rather than deepening relationships with family and friends. Teri and I (Hudson and Maddox too) have experienced incredible encouragement from friends, family and even complete strangers who have shown love and support for us over these past months. Had I decided to wrestle alone with this struggle, we would have missed out on incredible acts of kindness that have brought us immense joy.
- I waste my cancer if I hide this struggle rather than tell the story. I don’t know how all of this is going to turn out, but I hope and desire that my experiences are able to inspire hope and thankfulness in others.
- I waste my cancer if I become consumed with the odds. The truth about odds is that they don’t pertain to me. They are formulated based on situations and cases that are distinctly different from my own. My future cannot be predicted by referencing a set of statistical numbers as if looking into a crystal ball.
- I waste my cancer if I believe that beating cancer merely means staying alive rather than cherishing life. Don’t misread this. Yes, I am praying for the cancer to be eliminated, that is prayer number 1. But even if the results of the scan indicate all the tumors are gone, cancer can still win if I fail to value the things of utmost importance. Conversely, whether I live for 2 years or 20 years, cancer doesn’t win if I learn to value relationships and share this incredible story I am privileged to live.