The adrenaline pumping chaos that ensues each morning as our family endeavors to depart the house punctually leaves little leeway for idle conversation. After my wife hits the snooze button too many times (I am the snooze button), we stumble over each other and hurriedly shower, prep food, juice vegetables, feed growling stomachs, diaper the naked two year old, pack lunches, stuff backpacks, clothe both adults and children then leave, Lord willing, on time. One morning, however, as I stood in front of the bathroom sink and I swished water between my cheeks to rid myself of the toothpaste residue I noticed my wife had paused in the midst of the bedlam and was checking me out. She leaned casually against the countertop, toothbrush paused mid-stroke and stared at my arms.
“Huh,” she said.
She leaned over and touched my bicep.
“What is it?”
“I think your muscles are getting bigger.”
“Whatever,” I said.
Are they really bigger? I thought.
“No. I’m serious. Your muscles are definitely bigger.”
I stood in front of the mirror and flexed.
I think she’s right. Look at those guns. Definitely bigger. How about the triceps? Yep, looking good.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe a little.”
“No maybe. You’re muscles are definitely bigger.”
“If you say so.”
“Come on, you can’t see it?”
Oh yeah, Bruce, you’re looking buff.
“I suppose they’re maybe a little bit bigger.”
“That makes me sick,” she said.
“You haven’t been to the gym in a year and your muscles get bigger without even trying. I wish I could make my muscles grow on command.”
“Hold on a second,” I said and waited a few seconds, “I think they just grew some more.”
This physiological change was noticeable because during the first few months after my diagnosis I lost seventy pounds and much of that weight loss was muscle mass. As a man who had spent nearly two decades lifting and pressing heavy pieces of iron around the weight room, that erosion was difficult to witness. A metamorphosis took place, seemingly overnight, and my bulky frame withered. Clothes hung like rags across my slender shoulders and the reflection in the mirror appeared to be somebody else.
The joke in our house was about my magical muscles which grew without any concentrated effort on my part. We marveled at the results of my diet and Teri wondered when her muscles would start to get bigger.
“I’m one of God’s favorites,” I joked.
One evening about a week later I returned home from the office and found Teri sitting in front of the computer, tears welling up in her eyes.
“Are you okay? What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’ve been reading a book by Dr. William Kelly.”
“Oh right. One Answer to Cancer. I’ve read part of it.”
“Did you know he has helped over 33,000 people fight cancer using nutritional therapies?”
“Wow, that’s a lot.”
“Let me read you what he wrote,
In almost every case of cancer, particularly those cases of long standing, the protein from the muscles has been used to maintain life. In other words protein metabolism has been so poor that the body had to take protein from the muscles and, to a very great degree, the muscles have been consumed.
After the cancer is destroyed, the muscles begin to rebuild.
My mouth dropped open, eyes widened and I threw my arms to the air in a victory pose. Teri jumped out of her chair and wrapped her arms around me. Soon tears of joy were falling, dropping from my cheeks onto the top of her head.
Could this explain, at least in part, the physical changes that had transformed my body? Had my body been so starved of nutrients it “ate” my muscles? Does the growth of my muscles signify the healing process is working?
We agreed this was not an official diagnosis merely observations about physiological changes I am undergoing paired with a statement from a book. These words can’t tell us if the tumor that showed on the scans are still there, smaller or gone. They do, however, give us great reason to be optimistic.
In the battle with cancer, however, moments of rejoicing are often too short lived and are quickly overcome by fear and anxiety. Tears of joy succumb to the pressure of the mind to worry about what outrageous “what if” my imagination conjures. As I near the one year mark from the date of diagnosis I grow increasingly apprehensive about what is lurking behind every sensation that trickles across my skin. Over the course of the past several weeks I’ve experienced constant detox symptoms, which has led to a parade of thoughts marching through my brain.
“What if the doctors were right and I really did only have twelve months to live? That only gives me a few weeks left.”
“What if the cancer is silently, and without symptoms, growing?”
“What if the scratch on my head isn’t just a scratch?”
“What if the growl in my stomach at noon isn’t just hunger pains?”
“What if the Dallas Cowboys actually made the playoffs this year?”
Physically I am doing well but the toll of the emotional weight of carrying this fear became obvious to at least two people. Last Thursday, in the span of 24 hours, both my wife and a co-worker pulled me aside to ask me if was doing alright. “You just haven’t been yourself,” they said.
“No, I’m not okay,” I confessed, then fell to pieces.
Fear, it turns out, is perhaps the most vicious side-effect of cancer.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of my thirteen day stay in the hospital and the start of my journey with cancer. Each day I find myself thinking about what I was doing on that day last year. One year ago Tuesday, the 15th, I learned I was anemic, drove myself to the ER, received a blood transfusion and was checked into the hospital. The next three days I spent enduring tests designed to figure out the source of internal bleeding. One-year ago this Saturday, the 19th, I was told I had a softball size tumor intersecting my intestines (which caused the anemia) then promptly wheeled into surgery. A few days later test results confirmed what I suspected. Melanoma. The life expectancy of someone with stage IV melanoma, according to the doctors, is eight to twelve months from the date of diagnosis.
Despite all evidence to the contrary that my body is healing (I have the biceps to prove it), my mind is so quickly overcome by fear. I am writing all of this down so that one year from now I can reflect on how silly it was to be afraid. For those who have read my previous updates, you know that I am eternally filled with hope and confidence.
The following passage from Psalm 116 has brought comfort and peace during these past weeks. Thank you for your continued prayers.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
He heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The cords of death entangled me,
The anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord;
“Lord save me!”
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
Our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
When I was brought low, he saved me.
Return to your rest my soul,
For the Lord has been good to you.