Tag Archives: Cancer

The Peloton Part 2: A Brief Follow-up to a Previous Post

I received numerous questions about a previous post titled The Peloton. Here I try to answer them.

 

Lynn greeted me at the Kansas City airport on a Friday afternoon in early June and eagerly relayed the plans for the following day’s kick-off to the “Vision Tour”. There would be twenty-five serious cyclists in the peloton. This was a collection of men serious about their bicycles. For them, a one-hundred-twenty mile excursion seemed like a delightful way to spend a Saturday. Then there was me. My love for and desire to support my friend compelled me to endure the soreness and inevitable chaffing that would follow. I was glad to learn that I had been assigned the task of driving the “sag-wagon” (a support truck for anyone who found themselves in distress) and would join the pack for the final fifteen miles into Manhattan.

The details, as Lynn laid them out, had been carefully arranged, but there was one aspect outside the realm of careful planning that could make or break the trek: weather.

A meteorologist friend had kept a vigil on the climate in the week leading up to the event. An early prediction of a beautiful sunny morning soon gave way to an ominous storm front bearing a torrential downpour. Cyclists are a dedicated bunch known to willingly endure tremendous physical suffering as they charge up the side of mountains or ceaselessly pedal into a fierce wind coming across the plains of Kansas. They are not, however, crazy. When weather conditions promise lightning and flooding, plans get rescheduled. By five-thirty Friday evening Lynn made the decision to delay the launch of the tour to Sunday.

For me that meant a number of things. First, my return flight to Dallas was Sunday afternoon so I could no longer participate in the experience. Second, I was able to sleep in without kids jumping into my rib cage asking me to make pancakes. Third, the delay allowed Lynn and me to spend a wonderful Saturday afternoon together. Lastly, my entire Sunday wasn’t a loss as I was able to play a quick nine holes of golf with my brother-in-law before being dropped off at the airport.

The peloton was somewhere between Lawrence and Topeka by the time I stood on the first tee box and sliced my golf ball into a lake. What was impressive, however, is that of all those who volunteered for the ride the only person who couldn’t make it because of the rain delay was me. When their friend was in need they made room in their schedule to be flexible and showed up.

My flight back to Dallas allowed me the opportunity to think about the incredible number of people who are in my family’s peloton and showed up when we were most in need. We are all eternally grateful for everyone who carved time in their schedule to send cards, emails, Facebook messages, phone calls, care packages for the boys, run errands or travel to Dallas for a visit. We treasure the encouragement and continue to love hearing from you as we “ride on.”

 

The rain delay scratched both the bike ride and the basketball game. But I stand ready...

The rain delay scratched both the bike ride and the basketball game. But I stand ready…


The Peloton

My usual breakfast fare doesn’t normally include a hotel buffet line three miles from my house but when my friend Lynn is visiting Dallas and there is only a mere hour to spend together before the demands of work drag us back to our respective careers, I will make do with whatever is on the menu. This meal was the first opportunity for us to talk since his wife passed away a few months prior. Small talk isn’t his style so the conversation dove deep and the tears flowed. We are each, it turns out, suffering through a loss. He was grieving his spouse while I mourned the loss of my health and the planned future for my family. We comfort each other over bowls of tepid oatmeal and discussed the need to re-imagine life, one forged in the fire of this suffering.

“Bruce,” he said and a grin spread across his face, “I’ve got something in the works. Something, I think, that is going to be big,”

Lynn is a dreamer, always looking at the big picture. I was instantly intrigued by his proclamation. “Alright. Lay it on me.”

“I’m planning a bike ride to cast a new vision for my life.”

“Okay. Where are you going to ride?”

“The ‘vision tour’ will start in Kansas City and end eight-hundred miles later in Crested Butte.”

“It’s your personal Tour de France, but with fewer mountains and no yellow jersey at the end.”

“Yes, and I want you to join me.”

“Uh, what?”

“In cycling there is a big group of riders that in tight formation who work together and become more aerodynamic, can ride faster and farther while expending less energy.”

“Yeah, sure, the peloton.”

“Exactly. Come be part of my peloton.”

“Man, I don’t know if I could ride eight miles right now, let alone eight-hundred.”

“Not whole way, just for a day. Ride the first leg from Kansas City to Manhattan.”

“How far is that?”

“One-hundred-twenty miles.”

“Lynn, God didn’t build these skinny legs for endurance sports. I’ve tried and the result wasn’t pretty.”

“How about this, you could meet us along the way and ride the final fifteen or twenty miles into Manhattan.”

“I might be able to survive twenty miles, but I haven’t touched a bike in two years. I don’t even own a bike anymore, it was stolen out of my garage.”

“I’ll find a bike for you to use. Think about it.”

Lynn isn’t crazy, he’s a cyclist, and cyclists are fanatical when it comes to their sport. They have their own social clubs, language, clothing lines and, for many, their own rules of the road. They push their bodies to endure through the sweltering heat, bitter cold, driving rain and thrashing winds then celebrate the suffering while sharing hard earned pints of beer. It’s a fantastic world of camaraderie and friendship for those who find pleasure in the sensation of leg muscles burning in protest as the mind forces the body to peddle one more mile and to summit one more steep hill. For men like Lynn, who have a garage bursting with bicycles, are known by name at the bike shop and talk intelligently about pelotons, panniers and sag wagons, hours spent “in the saddle” are better than therapy.

Lynn’s “vision tour” across the Amber Waves of Kansas and into the Rocky Mountains made sense because he understands that life’s most difficult moments, the one’s that disrupt the routine of life and destroys best laid plans, whether caused by the death of a spouse or a terminal cancer diagnosis, are opportunities to reinvent yourself and experience God in new ways.

Not every person, however, plans a grueling bike ride to cast a vision for their life, but the process of re-purposing is a vital part of the healing process. There comes a time when it is necessary to face the suffering head on and forge through the jungle of emotions and uncertainty in order to understand how these experiences will impact the future.

I began re-envisioning my life the moment, twenty-one months ago, the doctor’s words, “The test was positive for cancer,” filled the silent hospital room. The re-imagining process is slow and tedious and there isn’t a single aspect of life that escapes the examination. Parts of life that seemed mundane were put under a microscope and scrutinized anew.

When I walked through the front door of my house after two weeks in the hospital it felt as though I was entering for the first time. Through the filter of a terminal cancer diagnosis the furniture, tile floors, ceiling fans and even the grass in the back yard felt new, as if I had never been in that house. My children greeted me with tender hugs and I wrapped my arms tightly around them, kissed them and savored the scent of their hair. The joy of that aroma was immense and I wept.

“Why are you crying, daddy?”

“I’m so happy to be home and see you again.”

“I’m glad you’re home too.”

At that simple act of a hug from my sons ceased to be a mechanical process of bending elbows, pressing flesh and a quick squeeze. Each hug from that day since serves to re-iterate the motivation for the hard work and sacrifice my wife and I put into nutritional therapies that are repairing my immune system so it can rid my body of cancer.

Scrutinizing the present and renewing passion for the future doesn’t happen overnight and requires asking both the big and little questions:

“Am I living for my highest calling?”

“How can I use this new knowledge to help others going through similar experiences?”

“How do I do a better job of managing stress?”

“Will the Kansas State Wildcats compete for the Big 12 title this year?”

“Am I doing enough of the right things to allow my body to heal?”

Following nutritional healing protocols is difficult work that requires complete transformation of habits and thought. Progress is tracked through a number of tests and the results I’ve received indicate healing is well on its way. Additionally, my physical condition, stamina and abilities continue to improve (this past weekend I scored the best nine holes of golf in over five years). These results are a gift from God that give hope on days when I am consumed with fear.

 

Lynn finished his vision ride but didn’t do it alone. There were a peloton of riders with him at nearly every stage along the way who sheltered him from the fierce Kansas winds, motivated him to push through the fatigue, engaged in probing conversations and celebrated when he crossed the finish line.

Like a group of cyclists whose communal efforts allow them to cut through the headwinds, travel faster and encourage each other to power through the fatigue our family continues to be carried along by the support and love of family and friends. Life, like cycling, is best done in a peloton.


Survive and Advance

Avid college basketball fans anticipate the advent of March like a five-year-old waits in expectation for Christmas. The entire month is filled with compelling match-ups and exciting games but the opening days of the NCAA Tournament truly are the most wonderful time of the year.  For myself and long-time friends Joel and Dave the dawning of the month of March ushers in the continuation of the March Madness Marathon tradition. Joel converts his living room into a tournament shrine where TV’s and food abound, Dave flies in from Florida, and for four glorious days we cheer on the underdogs as they play for an upsets and curse the teams who ruin our predictions. As I write this Joel and Dave are updating their brackets based on the latest game’s outcome and I’m sipping on a glass of carrot juice. 

Despite my cancer diagnosis the tradition carries on. The weekend does, however, look quite a bit different for me than in years past. There are no days off when working to heal the body with nutrition. When a person’s life is on the line, each day of survival is an upset.  The nutritional cancer protocols don’t take a vacation just because I’m enjoying a few days with college friends. In fact, being out of my normal routine requires serious preparation in order to keep going. Watching basketball, these days is a lot of work. Here is a list of things this plant-based cancer survivor needs for a weekend of basketball watching (in alphabetical order):

  • Almond Milk
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Barely Grass
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Braggs Aminos
  • Carrots
  • Carrots
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Clothes
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Cucumbers
  • Flax Seed Oil
  • Hummus
  • Juicer
  • Kale
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mason Jars
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Parsley
  • Raspberries
  • Red Cabbage
  • Sea Salt
  • Shaker Bottle
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Swimsuit
  • The Zip
  • Walnuts
  • Wheatgrass
  • Winning Tournament Bracket

 

It has been seventeen months since I sat in an oncologist’s office and was told I wouldn’t survive more than a year. That prognosis casts a dark shadow over last year’s tournament and I wondered if I would live to see another March Madness. A year of survival and thriving health has replaced fear and uncertainty with joy and hope. So I, like teams that win a close game to move onto the next round of the tournament, continue to “survive and advance.”


Screams Like an Adolescent Girl

My wife once proclaimed that I am the woman in our relationship.

This declaration was made one evening when, while playfully wrestling with my sons, the two-year-old was launched from my arms onto a bed mattress. As he arched through the air and peals of laughter poured from his mouth I saw a belt, coiled like a snake, beneath the comforter at the precise place he was about to land. I stretched my arms to catch him but was too late to avoid the clap of his head hitting the buckle. Glassy eyes stared up at me and I forced a smile hoping a happy face would convince him all was okay. Gently I lifted him onto my lap to examine the impact and found a small drop of blood.  It was at this point, in the words of my wife, “screams like an adolescent girl” streamed from my mouth. My yells startled the four-year-old and he began to mimic my distressful yells. Teri sprinted into the room, quieted the screeching chorus, took control of the triage and issued an abundance of motherly kisses.  The tough little guy didn’t even cry. My wife, however, was less than impressed with my performance. Once the belt was put away and a bandage applied she rolled her eyes and said, “I swear, Bruce, sometimes I think you’re the woman in our marriage.”

How many fingers am I holding up?

How many fingers am I holding up?

The exaggerated reaction couldn’t be helped. Squeamishness is an inherited trait. My dad, who fainted in the delivery room when my mom was giving birth to me, passed it onto me and from what I can tell about my sons, there is a good chance they carry the queasiness gene too. I’m not hemophobic, the site of blood doesn’t result in a wave of nausea causing my knees to give way and throw my body to the floor. What causes my brow to squint and teeth to grind is the action or injury which results in the flow of blood. Be it an accidental impalement or the prick of a needle, the effect is the same.

I thought the weak stomach trait had passed my generation until several years ago when I donated blood. It wasn’t the first time my veins had been drained of a few ounces, but it was the only occasion I made the decision to watch as the phlebotomist pierced my skin with the needle. My memory after the initial stab is a little fuzzy, but I do remember waking up on a table, a wet towel on my head and being encouraged to help myself to as much orange juice as I needed.

This strong aversion to bodily injury creates a bit of a conundrum when tracking the efficacy of nutritional therapies I am employing to fight cancer. Establishing a means by which the progress of the protocols can be measured allows us to make adjustments as needed.  The most common method is to undergo a scan prescribed by a doctor. A trip through the CT scan tube, however, is accompanied by massive amounts of radiation and a discussion with an oncologist. Fortunately there are many alternatives which include the pain-free urinalysis and vampire-like blood tests. I incorporate several of them in order to gain a better picture of the healing occurring in my body.

All of these tests are imperfect indicators, providing an educated clue at what is happening beneath the skin. While professionals trained in the analysis of the results guide the interpretation of test results, outside of cutting a person open and taking a peek inside, there are no completely accurate methods to tell with one-hundred-percent certainty whether or not cancer is present or how aggressively it is spreading.

I recently willingly subjected myself to another blood syphoning for a test which measures a protein found in the blood called thymidine kinase (TK). The body creates TK when cells go through the process of division and then eliminates it from the body. High levels of TK are associated with rapid cell division and correlate, in the instance of someone diagnosed with cancer to the aggressiveness of cancer. This test doesn’t reveal whether or not cancer is present (a separate test has indicated cancer cells are still present), rather the rate at which it might be spreading. This is really the most important thing to know. The presence of a tumor is unsettling, but a person can live for decades with a growth that doesn’t grow. Tumors become deadly when they grow and impair the function of vital organs. Results of the TK test are expressed in a number which correspond to a range that gives insight as to the fierceness and growth rate of cancer. A number lower than twenty is in the range of low risk while a number between seventy-seven and one-hundred-twenty is considered high risk.  It is common for aggressive and fast spreading cancers such as mine, stage four metastatic melanoma, to fall into the range of 130 and above.

TK Reference Levels_001

The phlebotomist tapped my vein then shipped the crimson specimen in a box packed with ice to Utah where the sample was recorded and tested then flown to Sweden for additional testing.

I waited.

Fear and doubt taunted me daily. Has enough time passed to effect change? To heal the body? To stop the spread of cancer? To make any impact at all? Melanoma is belligerent and it’s not uncommon for healing to occur gradually over many years. What a thrill, I thought, it would have been to receive a number and not be in the high risk category.

I waited for three long weeks for the results until the resolve of my wife’s patience was broken and she contacted the lab for the results.

I was at the office when I received her phone call.

“Are you sitting down?” she asked.

“Well, I don’t normally work at my desk while standing, so yes, I’m sitting down.”

“I talked to the lab and they gave me your number.”

A wave of stress swept over me, my hands were instantly sweaty and my stomach tensed. “What is it?”

“Four.”

I screamed like an adolescent girl.

*****

To find out more about the TK test and determine if it can help you assess your cancer risk factors visit their website:  www.reddrop.com


Unexpected Side-Effects

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.

“What?”

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.

“What? Why?”

“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.

 


When the Vows Kick In

Beads of sweat perched on my forehead threatened to trickle down my cheeks as I waited for her entrance. Music swelled to crescendo as the doors opened. Every person in the room rose in anticipation. She walked gracefully down the aisle escorted by her father. Nerves swirling in my stomach fled at the sight of her and I was overcome with joy. She was gorgeous in her wedding dress and I looked moderately handsome despite a funny looking haircut and a tuxedo coat with tails. The ceremony was traditional and, in the grand scheme of weddings, memorable probably only to ourselves and our mothers. A personal touch was added when I interrupted the brief service, a complete surprise to Teri, and performed a song I had written. The song, which hasn’t been sung since, was terribly cheesy but sincere. There are moments when sincerity carries more weight than quality.

Our wedding was laced with traditional symbolism and fancy terminology.  A church sanctuary filled with family and friends watched as we vowed to love and cherish, have and hold despite whatever the future holds, regardless of whether or not that future includes poverty or wealth, sickness or health. These are fine words and we shared them with sincerity, but I doubt either of us truly grasped the meaning.  At the invincible age twenty-one vowing to love each other through times of sickness equated to making a bowl of soup and tucking the other into bed when we had the sniffles.

On the surface vows are merely words written on a piece of paper then spoken and carried on the breath until they dissipate into the air. The factual record of our exchange of vows is embedded on the black ribbon of a VHS tape, tucked into a box to be watched at some point in the future when our children become curious about our wedding day.

Just below the surface it is discovered that vows are poetry. An interplay of lyrics shared between two unique individuals whose lives converged and are convinced that the uncertain future is meaningless unless it is shared with the other.

Dig deeper still and it is revealed that vows rise from the rumblings of the soul as the audible expression of hope.

Our vows have never been tested like they have been this past year, our thirteenth, when I was diagnosed with stage-four melanoma. I spent two weeks in the hospital and even before I was released Teri was leading the fight to keep me alive. She snuck fresh vegetable juice into my room so I wouldn’t have to compound my suffering with cafeteria food. Upon my arrival home she launched into caring for me with complete abandon.  Untold hours were spent researching nutritional therapies, she filled my diet with nutritious vegetables that are healing my body, she shed buckets of tears praying and lost hours of sleep by my side. Nursing a recovering cancer patient is not part of her God-given skill set but she has relentlessly persevered. For the past nine months she has spent an enormous amount of time hunkered over the kitchen counter preparing salads, juicing vegetables and embracing a vegan diet.

All of the cancer therapies we employ share this aim: to overdose the body on nutrition. One of the most efficient ways to accomplish this is to drink lots of freshly made vegetable juice. Vegetables reduced to liquid contain far a greater concentration of nutrients than a person is able physically able to eat in a single sitting. The juice skips the digestion process and nutrients enter the bloodstream as quickly as alcohol and begin the work of replenishing nutritional deficiencies in the body. Having taken in the right fuel, the immune system begins to function correctly which is then able heal the body of disease. One of the foundational cancer healing juice recipes involves carrots.  I don’t claim to understand all of the science, but there the carrot juice attacks the cancer cells, breaking down the outer cell wall so that the immune system can then go in an destroy what is left.

Carrots don’t juice themselves. Teri wakes early each morning to start the process of juicing more than five pounds of carrots (and other vegetables) each morning. In nine months of daily grinding between fifty to sixty ounces of juices I’ve not heard a single complaint. Not one.

When the vows kick in, you don’t even blink. You just do.

Today is our fourteenth anniversary and my wife is still gorgeous and I still have a goofy haircut. Our vows kick in each morning and I am only able to write these words because she saves my life every single day. Were we standing on a stage in a sanctuary in front of family and friends today I wonder what our vows would sound like. Perhaps something like this:

Teri, Repeat after me:

                             I, Teri, take you Bruce,

                             To be my lawfully wedded husband.

                              I will do everything in my power to keep you alive,

                              When everything else is in this world is trying to kill you.

                               I will grind more carrot juice than water in the Mississppi

                                I will pack your lunches full of healing food,

                                Because even under the shadow of cancer,

                                Life spent with you is still better than any other alternative.

 

                Bruce, repeat after me:

                                I, Bruce, take you Teri

                                To be my lawfully wedded wife

                                Knowing full well

                                You have been, and will forever be

                                Way out of my league.

                                I love you and your carrot juice.

 

I think I can still fit into my tuxedo!

I think I can still fit into my tuxedo!

 

Maddox loves to help make the juice

Maddox loves to help make the juice

 


The Object of the Game

Thrilled to be surrounded by balls

Thrilled to be surrounded by balls

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.

Paws off the vegan chocolate birthday truffles!

Paws off the vegan chocolate birthday truffles!