(This was written in early September 2020, but I held off posting it as others were furiously battling. Their fights are over and they are now perfectly healed.)
With these words on August 25th, 2019, we announced publicly what I had been sharing privately since the 22nd (I knew the 20th) that I was in real trouble physically. In between x-rays during July and August for my pneumonia, they noticed my lymph nodes enlarging and a tumor massively exploding across my chest. A CT scan that Wednesday showed that it was encompassing my main artery and windpipe. After Friday’s pet scan, my doctor relayed the results over the telephone to me and finally stopped after apologizing for having to deliver such bad news. As our families tried to absorb all of this, Andrea and I knew we needed an easy way to post updates to a few hundred people who would want to follow our progress. Never in my lifetime could we have prepared for the outpouring -the sustained outpouring -from so many when we launched “Pray for R & A” on social media.
At last count, over 39,000 people had read or responded to our initial disclosure. To say that we have been overwhelmed is to put it mildly. We continue to be speechless in appreciation for all of God’s people in their love for our family over this past year. Ironically, I have said, wrote, preached, and taught for years that we lack a theology of suffering and pain. Little did I know how much I would need one in my own life. In short, the time to prepare is before the opportunity comes. So, with grateful hearts to God and His people here are some of the more frequent questions, great surprises, and amazing blessings from Year One with Cancer.
What kind of cancer, treatment, radiation, etc. do/did you have?
I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage 3 with a side order of Bulky Mass Disease. I had tumors in my neck, throat, chest, spine, spinal cord, spleen, top of the right hip, all around the windpipe, superior vena cava, but not where I had pneumonia! As far as treatment, there were 200 + days of A+AVD protocol chemotherapy (4 chemos at a time) along with about 4 weeks of large field radiation on a Large Bulky Mass tumor. This one measured about eight to nine inches across my chest at its widest point while growing back toward my spine. I had to stop chemo for a while during an 8-day hospital stay at the end of November and the start of December.
In short, I took a lot of poison and became involved in recreational microwaving.
How was it? Was it painful? Were you sick?
As far as my experience with chemo, it was normal. Yes, there was pain and discomfort. I was sick. On the whole, it was exactly what they told me it was going to be–bad before it gets better.
So chemo and/or recreational microwaving was the worst part?
No, by far, no. The worst part was watching the people who loved me suffering and grieving. The treatment was a simple proposition… Do this and maybe live, don’t do this and die soon.
Did you always feel like God would keep you alive?
No. From August 20th until the end of September, I was certain I was going to die. I told Jesus every night that I would see him in the morning. As a dad, I grieved for my children and as a husband, I instructed others not to let Andrea take a date to my funeral…
Absolutely. When October rolled around, I was stunned. When Dr. Ibach told me at the end of October that the chemotherapy seemed to be working, I was floored. He had to tell me three times before I started to understand.
Weren’t you questioning “Why me?” or “Asking God Why?”
Again, suffering can come into our lives for any number of reasons. Suffering can come to us as a consequence of sin. It can be a result of living for Jesus in the form of persecution. Like Job, it could be mysterious and the reasons unknown only to God. It can just be a part of living in a fallen world in a broken body. So no, I did not need to question a lot because I have Bible answers.
So, you didn’t struggle?
If you mean, was I shocked, stunned, sad, or just overwhelmed, then yes. I thought maybe I would die at 68, but not at 48. However, I never had any illusions of immortality, I just didn’t want to be on this side of 50 when I died. I grieved over the idea of not seeing my kids grow up, walking my daughter down the aisle, or helping my son try to understand women. To say goodbye to my family was the most painful thought I had.
Is that what you mean when you say “We choose to fight?”
Yes, during the first 15 days (when our heads stopped spinning), we made three declarations:
Number One “We would fight.” Whatever the doctors said, we would do.
Number Two “We would be of good cheer.” We didn’t choose this disease, but we could choose our attitude and response. We would “Live for Jesus, Love Jesus, and Trust Jesus.” The only thing more painful than leaving my family was the thought that my kids would be bitter at God — they would not get that from me.
Number Three we began to ask everyone to pray that “We would not waste this opportunity.” There are so few times in our lives when we can really put the spotlight on Jesus and we knew this was one of them. Whatever was ahead, by life or death, Jesus should be magnified. Every day, lost people and Christ-followers get sick, experience calamity, or just receive shocking news. To want to live a bit longer is not exactly a uniquely Christian idea. It is fairly normal. We wanted and still do want to give the right opinion of Jesus to a lost and dying world. Whether it’s the next thing or the last thing we do, we don’t want to waste this moment.
So how are you?
Seriously, how are you?
We are checking the boxes and living in between scans and tests like most cancer patients. My blood work (checked every 6 weeks) is still poor due in large part to the barrels of poison that I ingested. My lungs are working through pneumonitis/inflammation and getting slowly better from the month of microwaving. My nerves are still damaged, particularly in my hands and feet. Buttons are the bane of my existence and I have embraced polos and sweatpants. Thank the Lord for elastic! In other words, lots of trauma requiring lots of healing.
Because if I could get them unbuttoned to use the restroom, I can’t get them “re-hitched.” Also, asking a stranger in a public restroom to help me with my pants seems like a good way to get arrested.
Surprises, Miracles, Amazing Things God did?
Honestly that Jesus Christ loved me enough to die for my sins and offered to make me His child is still the best surprise, the greatest miracle, and the most amazing thing the Lord has done for me (or anyone else for that matter).
We continue to be blown away by how many have expressed their love to us. Usually, you get your flowers when you die. Truly I have been able to enjoy mine this past year. We have kept every card, read every text, and cried more times than we care to admit at the perfect timing of the encouragement. So many have been so generous financially to meet all the extra needs just when we needed it.
Miraculously, we have no stories to tell of waiting on tests, fighting with insurance companies, or wondering if we should change doctors.
Providentially, we have had excellent medical care, availed of the latest treatments, and remarkable caring staff. We have been texted, messaged, call at home after hours, on holidays, prayed with and for by our doctors. Only God could arrange all of that.
Our church family stepped up in so many ways this past year -from loving our family – to overseeing many of my duties – to just allowing me to be sick. Our amazement continues at how wonderful they have been.
God blessed us so often by our ministry friends. They have called, prayed, encouraged, visited, loved on our children, and our family. The old saying that if a man has a really good friend he is truly wealthy. If that is so I am the richest man I know. We stand humbled at the multitude of churches and individuals who have intervened on our behalf. It is no exaggeration to say that we are without adequate words to convey what this means to us.
Another miracle is that I have been on quite a bit of steroids since May and my family didn’t smother me in my sleep. ‘Nuff said.
Did your eyebrows ever return?
Yes, they are full and luscious.
Why haven’t you posted more?
To publish good “news” or just be light-hearted while knowing others were suffering and receiving bad news was just not an option. Also, it became extremely difficult to write in such a way that focused on Jesus as the hero of our story. I don’t ever want my scribbles to elevate me and not the Risen Christ.
A salad, remember, I am fluffy… Oh, right, medically, there are more scans, more tests, more cautious optimism. Physically, we are hoping my hands and feet continue to improve so I can stop bothering strangers in public bathrooms. My lungs took a beating from the radiation and my body from the over 50 days total of Prednisone since May. Physically, my body would like a sabbatical. I was cleared (again) for rehab to work on rebuilding strength and balance. We hope that will go smoothly.
We continue to desire to “Live for Jesus, Love Jesus, and Trust Jesus.”