Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Looking Cancer in the Eye with Faith

You don't like to hear that one of your friends has cancer. So when I got the letter below in an email from Lynn, I wasn't expecting to be encouraged! I asked him for permission to share this publicly. I have shortened it some just for space and privacy reasons. He also recommends Prayer Power Ministries.

Dear Family and Friends:

If you are receiving this email it is because (1) you don’t know about my recent cancer diagnosis and I felt that you would want to be informed; or (2) you have expressed concern after hearing of my cancer; and/or (3) you have been praying for me.

A couple of months ago I noticed a small walnut size lump that had appeared on my lymph gland area on the lower left side of my neck. Initially I wasn’t very concerned but I did what any prudent man would do, I asked my barber for his opinion. Being the wise man that he is, he suggested that I get an opinion from a medical professional.

I had an upcoming dermatologist appointment so I decided to wait and consult him. His examination resulted in his insistence that he make an appointment with an ENT specialist before I left his office. The ENT physician ordered a CAT-Scan which led to a biopsy from which he could not get a specific diagnosis. On Wednesday, he decided to surgically remove those specific lymph nodes and have the pathologist render a diagnosis.

While waiting for the diagnosis (a slow process in my opinion), it became apparent to me that this was one of those “life trials”. James 1:2 says “. . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” – not “if you face trials” – because everyone is either going into, coming out of, or in the middle of a trial. Trials of “many kinds” come in varied types: loss of a loved one, loss of a job, poor health, etc, etc., etc. My present trial just happens to be a health one. Cheryl and I made a decision that regardless of the results of the diagnosis – good or bad – we were going to praise the Lord for His goodness.

On Monday following surgery Dr. Moore called and said, “I don’t have a specific diagnosis yet, but I have some good news - it is not lymphoma.” Well, it was really easy to praise God when the news was good.

On Tuesday, Dr. Moore’s call was a little more somber. “We have the diagnosis, but my news today isn’t as good as the news was yesterday. You have Squamous Cell Carcinoma, broadly categorized as “head and neck cancer”! Well, that wasn’t the news I wanted to hear, but as a Christian, I knew I was to still praise God – not for the cancer – but for Who He is and what He is going to do in my life through this journey called Cancer.

Dr. Moore recommended Dr. Greenberg, an oncologist. After our initial consultation, I was measured for a mask to wear during radiation treatments. My first thought was that this could be a try-out for “Phantom of the Opera”, and then I remembered that I can’t carry a tune. Besides that, the mask looked more like Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in “Silence of the Lambs”.

Dr. Greenberg ordered a PETScan which revealed that the “seed” causing the problem was a cancerous tumor at the base of my tongue, and while that might not sound like “good news”, it was because the exact location of the tumor and the fact that it is contained in one specific area, makes it easier to destroy with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.

My treatments are going well but I continually remind myself that it is early yet in the race and the tougher miles lie ahead. As of this time I have completed 10 radiation sessions (10 of 35, but who’s counting?), which I receive every weekday at 11:30 a.m. This has become my new lunch hour routine. I have also completed the first of 6 weekly chemo treatments which lasts 3.5 hours each (but who is watching the clock?). I have purposefully scheduled the chemo treatments on Friday afternoons, allowing me to rest on the weekend, and hopefully return to work on Mondays.

Career Transition Ministries Network, the non-profit 501 c(3) parachurch ministry formed several years ago), continues to meet weekly in a local church in West Plano, Texas, ministering to job seekers. We are a 5-member team, each one able to teach on each topic, so the ministry can continue when any of us are unavailable to participate due to business travel, health situations, or whatever. The ministry team also conducts Saturday workshops – “The Faith Journey called Job Search” in local churches at the invitation of that church. So, ministry work goes on.

My wife, Cheryl, is being a wonderful caregiver including doing everything to fatten me up (as per doctor’s instructions to eat food with plenty of calories) because the time is quickly approaching when the radiation will have effectively damaged my taste buds and salivary glands, making it difficult to swallow solid food. The good news is that I am still on a steady diet of Blue Bell ice cream (recently described as God’s common blessing to all Texans). You won’t understand this if you live out-of-state or have never eaten Blue Bell ice cream. She also has me eating healthy, whole grain dinner rolls (“400 calories” each) from Whole Foods. A friend told her about a brand of “pure” vitamins, so I get large handfuls every morning and evening, whether I want them or not. I am also walking 1.5 to 2.0 miles each morning, which helps my energy level during the day and it’s a great time to pray and reflect on all the many blessings I am grateful for.

So that about sums up the physical side of this experience for now; but more importantly, let me share with you what I am learning from the emotional and spiritual side. I am well aware of the natural temptation to ask “Why cancer?” “Why me?” “Why now?” The “why” questions become endless pages of unanswered questions . . . so I know not to go there. As a Christian I know that God does not owe me an explanation for anything that He allows into my life. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay . . .” (Romans 9:20-21). So, knowing that I am not to entertain in my mind “why” questions, I quickly move to the “what” questions. “What is God doing in my life through this?” “What is it that God wants to teach me at this time?” Thus far I have been reminded clearly that no circumstance, no trouble, no testing can ever touch me without first coming through the Father and His Son to me; and if it has come that far, it has come with great purpose. And God’s Word clarifies that purpose: “And we know (with certainty) that all (not some) things work together for good (1) to those who love God, (2) to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29) (words in parenthesis added by me). God’s good purpose in all things, including this illness, is to conform my character to that of His Son’s, and there is no one I would rather look more like than Jesus.

My daily time with my Heavenly Father has never been sweeter and my study of His Word has never been richer! In summary, I have never felt closer to Him than now.



Monday, August 6, 2007

Text Messaging

Just today, motoring on the Interstate, my husband and I saw not one, but two, drivers text messaging WHILE they were steering their vehicles!

Text messaging had already been on my mind, because I happened to see blogs written by young people using lots of IM (instant messaging) acronymns. One that annoys me and probably bugs lots of Christians is "OMG." I hope they're meaning "Oh My Gosh," but the skeptical side of me guesses that they're using the Lord's name in vain.

So I have a solution! Let's start a new acronym: TYG. That's right, "Thank You, God!" It's a good one since we all have so much to be thankful for.

It's even easy to type on the keyboard--all three letters form a tiny triangle right next to each other. So if a driver must multi-task, he or she could say TYG for not crashing!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

More Than Hairspray

Have you seen the new version of Hairspray? If you like musicals, you'll like it. If you like John Travolta, you'll like it--his acting reaches new heights, er, heft. It's a cute, feel-good movie with a great message: no matter what we look like on the outside, we count. That message is found in the Bible, too. Check out Galatians 3:28.

The heroine of Hairspray is a teenager named Tracy. She leads a march for integration because it's the right thing to do, even though she may lose her boyfriend and her dream spot on the movie's version of American Bandstand.

It reminded me of a time when someone in my family stood up and did the right thing, even though she was criticized for it. I'm going to be vague with the details, because this happened less than 18 years ago, and there might still be some uncomfortable feelings among people who read this. The story starts when my relative decided to host a baby shower for an unwed mother at her church. People called my relative and accused of her condoning premarital sex and setting a bad example. One person even asked her to cancel the shower.

It may have been the bravest thing my relative ever did--kind of like Tracy walking in that protest march. My relative told the people who complained that they didn't have to come to the party, but the young mother needed help, support, and to see the love of Jesus. The shower was held and by all accounts, was a success. Interestingly, the mother and the baby's father soon got married, had more children and are now active in that church.

As for the outcome of Hairspray, you'll have to see the movie.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Firm Foundation

The Minneapolis bridge collapse and my own near-miss into a mudslick while jogging yesterday remind me that only God provides a firm foundation.

We like to take comfort and encouragement in our modern technology. But a misstep, an accident, a crime, or aging infrastructure can destroy our worldly confidence in an instant. This passage from the Old Testament could be written today:

Habakkuk's Complaint

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

The Lord's Answer

Look at the nations and watch- and be utterly amazed.

For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.

Habakkuk 1:2-5 (NIV)

Like Habakkuk, we cry out to the Lord and all these generations later, he still amazes. Friends, he holds us in the palm of his hand. I'm so thankful that more people were not lost on that bridge. I'm so grateful I did not land in the mud. I'm so comforted that God's promises are built to last.