I was five or six years old when my father built a basketball goal, effectively converting our driveway into my personal arena of hoop dreams. He coached me on the rules and techniques of the game: dribbling, shooting, rebounding and use of the backboard. We played games of horse and one-on-one where the winner was the first person to score ten points. From that moment I considered myself an athlete. Like many young children I would eventually test my abilities at several sports but none of them suited me like basketball. Football, they used me as the tackling dummy. Baseball, to this day I will strike out in slow-pitch-softball. Track and Field, they once awarded me a ribbon for good sportsmanship. Swimming, I was assigned a personal lifeguard. Basketball, however, was a perfect fit and I devoted countless hours to the game even into my adult years, participating in basketball leagues and “working on my game” into my 30’s.
I’m a few years away from building a basketball court over the driveway for my sons but it’s never too early to acclimate them to sport-themed paraphernalia. When my youngest turned two a few weeks ago Teri suggested a “ball” themed party. Teri, her parents and Hudson decorated the walls of the house in “ball” stickers and inflated about 50 plastic basketballs, baseballs and soccer balls for party gifts. Maddox has a blast with all of the children running through the house terrorizing each other with the inflatable balls and kicking them into the neighbor’s yard (sorry about that Cesar). After we sang “Happy Birthday” and the candles were blown out I held my son on my lap while he ate his special chocolate vegan truffles and became a little emotional. Overcome with the joy of the moment. Partly because my youngest had officially entered the toddler years, but primarily because in the months leading up to his birthday as I dealt with the realities of my cancer there were moments when I questioned whether or not I would be alive for this moment. From the oncologist’s perspective the prognosis was so grim that I found myself praying, “Lord, please let me make it to see my son turn two.” His birthday had become my goal. It had become the means by which I started keeping score.
My last visit to the oncologist’s office was the most difficult and emotionally debilitating day of my life. I left his office and cried for hours as fear and doubt took the upper hand. Even now, four months later, I find I am still recovering from emotional wound delivered during that appointment. Despite the foreboding medical opinion, however, the visit to the doctor revealed something profound. When he looked at the image of my body on his computer screen and issued his ominous proclamation I discovered there were two cancers I was fighting. One is the melanoma and the other, a much more serious cancer, is fear.
Fear is a cancer whose roots are planted deep into my mind and spirit. Its presence robs my life of joy. Fear and joy are forever at odds and cannot co-exist. Where fear reigns in my mind, joy is nowhere to be found.
Healing the mind of fear, I am learning, is a spiritual and emotional process that requires a different means of keeping score. Initially I tried keeping score by hoping for favorable results when I slid into a PET Scan machine and had the results interpreted by a doctor who provided a prediction about my future. I quickly tired of being told “eight to twelve months” followed by a consoling pat on the shoulder. Fear is not purged with a scan. Technology will never advance past primal fear. Medical machinery will never trump human instinct. Fear cannot be removed on the operating table. The surgeon’s scalpel cuts deeper than flesh and bone. It slices through the mental, emotional and spiritual tendons that make up a whole person and these must be repaired in order to affect recovery.
A different way to keep score had to be found. A method that doesn’t rely on a prognosis but takes into account the state of my mind. I had to find a way to measure joy. This is how I do it. Each day I ask myself a simple question, “Am I able to greet the morning with joy, thanking God for the day and possessing the ability to spend time with family and friends?” If I can answer that question, “Yes!” then I am winning. When I score what is truly important I find it is possible to win regardless of what happens with the melanoma.
Will I ever drag myself back to oncologist’s office for another scan? I can’t say for certain. In many ways I feel like my five-year-old self again, learning the rules of a game for the first time. I’ve traded the basketball, backboard and driveway for faith, nutrition and the discipline of a daily routine. And the object of the game isn’t to score the most points or have the most scans done, but to live each day with the most joy.
• Teri and I are so thankful your constant encouragement and participation in our journey. You are a source of joy for us and we love hearing from you.
• Our experiences and research over the past eight months have taught us so much about health, nutrition, eating, and treasuring life. We are eager to share our experiences and learn from your experiences as well. To that end Teri and I are going to host people in our home semi-regularly to impart some of what we have learned and further participate with you in this journey. If you are interested in joining us, please let us know and we will add you to the invitation list.
• I am going to be posting these emails and, from time to time, other curious essays on the website http://www.brucebbriggs.com. Please feel free to stop by for a visit and subscribe to have the posts sent to your inbox.