My Cancer, My Family, My Friends & My God
On December 14 I was diagnosed with Lymphoma, a less ominous sounding word, I suppose, for cancer. Having guarded against heart disease for more than 30 years (my father died of a heart attack at age 53), we didn't see this one coming.
Further testing confirmed the presence of stage 2 non-Hodgkin Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL). Our wonderful oncologist at Emory Hospital in Atlanta told us last week this was very treatable and curable and yesterday I began the first of six immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatments in 21-day intervals.
Three things, primarily, have carried me since that phone call of 12.14.16: my family, my friends and my God.
April my wife of nearly 30 years, and Georgia, Mookie and Madison have been spectacular, as have their spouses. Their love for me is as strong as any drug that was fed into my veins over eight hours yesterday. April and I are both blessed with amazing parents and siblings and extended families, all of whom are holding our hands in this fight.
Our son, Mookie, knows I have a love for words, and for hymns. The day before he learned of my cancer diagnosis he found a hymn written in 1681 by a Puritan churchman named Richard Baxter and decided to have the words framed for my Christmas present.
Lord, It Belongs Not to My Care
Lord, it belongs not to my care
Whether I die or live;
To love and serve Thee is my share,
And this Thy grace must give.
If life be long, I will be glad,
That I may Thee obey;
If short, yet why should I be sad
To welcome endless day?
Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God's kingdom comes
Must enter by this door.
Come, Lord, when grace hath made me meet,
Thy blessed face to see;
For if Thy work on earth be sweet,
What will Thy glory be?
Then I shall end my sad complaints,
And weary sinful days,
And join with the triumphant saints
That sing my Savior's praise.
My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But 'tis enough that Jesus knows all,
And I shall be with Him.
The following note accompanied the hymn: "This Covenant my dear wife in her former sickness subscribed with a cheerful heart." Perhaps this explains my love for words; for these have challenged, inspired and moved a new cancer patient 335 years after they were first penned. Thank you, Son.
From everywhere it seems, they have called, texted, written and visited; each one allowing me to draw energy, encouragement and hope. I have drafted on their love and they have made a difference in my condition; of that I am certain.
My pastor called me from out of the country to pray with me within hours of my diagnosis. On the eve of my first chemo treatment a pastor friend from another state called to pray with our family. Another pastor with responsibility for a huge church several states away offered to fly down to sit with me during a treatment.
One friend has a spouse who fought and survived cancer and invited me to call anytime I just needed to talk, "even if it's 3:00 in the morning." And so it has been, friends demonstrating what friendship is all about; I will not forget these heartwarming outreaches to me as I begin a new chapter of life. Thank you. I will now do my best to communicate along the way, through this blog and other means as I am able.
Throughout my life I have prayed that my response to personal crisis would give visible credence to what I have always said I believed about my God and His Word. I have offered so many Scripture verses to others in their times of crisis and each time I would tell myself how much I would hope to claim the same for me whenever my biggest trial arrived.
One of my first thoughts upon learning I had cancer was of Job of the Old Testament (though my trial pales next to his). Soon after Job had lost virtually everything but his own life, he said this to his wife: "Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10) I was immediately struck by how much good I have received from God over the past 54 years, and thanked Him for this adversity.
Cancer breeds anxiety; anxiety about the next test, the reaction to treatments, whether the disease is spreading, whether I'll be a survivor or a victim. A verse I have long loved has become an anchor for me now: "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." (Psalm 94:19) Indeed, I have welcomed every note or call from a friend, every meal with my children and their spouses, every sweet moment with April at my side, every encouraging test result or warm gesture from my oncologist as a consolation sent from God to delight my soul.
A Psalm of Asaph has long been a favorite expression of complete dependence on God: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And on earth, I desire nothing but Thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." (Psalm 73:25-26)
I'll close this inaugural blog post with a word about the verse written across the Atlanta skyline on the top of this site: Isaiah 41:10. We gathered our children and their spouses together for dinner Wednesday night, the eve of my first round of chemo treatment. At the end of a special evening, April presented each of us with a set of six rubber bracelets, each inscribed with a verse of Scripture.
We decided to each wear the same bracelet for the duration of each 21-day cycle of treatment so we would be meditating on the same thing together. I chose the first one, which reads: "Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness."
May God bless you, as He continues to bless me.