Daniel 3:17-18

Daniel 3:17-18 "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Love Chain

One of my many childhood Christmas memories is making a paper chain consisting of 25 alternating red and green links. Each year me and my siblings would hang our chains somewhere in our bedrooms and tear off one link a day beginning the first day of December. This handcrafted chain became our countdown to Christmas. It helped us hang on until the big day arrived.

I remembered this Christmas chain as I was pondering how to handle 28 days of chemo and radiation over a six week period. My wife took this thought and turned it into a family project. Carla cut 28 strips of construction paper and divvied them out to herself and our five children. She chose one color for each of the five weeks plus red for the last three days representing the final three booster doses of radiation.

On a Sunday night we sat down as a family to construct Dad's countdown chain. Each person wrote words of encouragement on their individual strips and handed them to me. Without reading a word I stapled each link into a long chain which we then hung on a hook in our kitchen. Amazingly, it reached from the top of my head down to the floor. It was as tall as me!

During those six increasingly difficult weeks I would open the links day by day as the family watched. They wanted to know what the others had written and how I would react, especially when it was one of their own links. It made for a fun morning ritual. Most often we laughed at their silliness.

One of Andrew's links said, "3.14159—I thought you would like some pie!" Abigail wrote on one of hers, "Please don't be grumpy, but if you have to then don't be 'Nathan grumpy'!" Nathan's links were mostly variations of "another one bites the dust." It was Michael who wrote, "You have a big heart. Let's hope it lasts!"

Sometimes the messages were more uplifting. Carla took all of hers from our church hymnal. She knows how I love the hymns and how God often talks to me through them. When facing the adversity of cancer, these words can be quite comforting: "For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless. And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

And finally, it was Rachel who impressed me time and again with her ability to find just the right scripture or quote to boost my spirits. From one of our church leaders, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, she quoted this, "God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face."

As I count down to surgery just four days away, I am grateful for a God who never leaves us alone or unaided, and for a family who created a chain of love to help me hold on. I placed each link on our kitchen cabinets after it was read and they remain there still. This fight isn't over yet.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Four Inch Heels

This story bookends the same first visit with Dr. Anker described in the previous post. On arrival at the Radiation Oncology clinic, a medical assistant takes my stats and leaves me and Carla in the exam room to await Dr. Anker. "He'll be along in a few minutes," she says. So Carla and I take seats beside the exam table and I stare out the open door back into the hallway.

I observe there is minimal traffic first thing in the morning. Only the occasional medical looking person walks by. White lab coats appear to be standard issue for the staff. All of a sudden I notice that one of the lab coats drifting by has naught but bare legs and a pair of four inch heels protruding down to the floor.

What? Who wears four inch heels to work? Especially when you work on your feet all day. Could she be a doctor, I wonder? A few of the men passing by are wearing slacks and ties, after all. Maybe being dressed to the nines is no big deal around here. I am explaining my conundrum to Carla when who should pass back by but this staff member on stilts. Now we are both scratching our heads asking, "Where is the cocktail party?"

Then Dr. Anker shows up. During his visit we are told that part of preparing for my radiation treatment includes another CT scan with a barium enema. "The contrast fluid in your rectum gives us the best x-ray images of your tumor," he explains. Can I come back for this in an hour? Oh, and don't forget to change into a hospital gown making sure that the opening is to the back.

An hour later I find myself face down on a CT scanner table with my hospital gown open for business behind me. A radiation therapist enters the room and places a narrow plastic tube into my rectum thereby admitting the barium contrast solution. "Please hold still and keep your head to the side during the procedure," she instructs. I comply. My view is now restricted to mostly a counter top and the floor.

As the radiation therapist crosses the room to run my scan I see the bottom of her lab coat, bare legs, and a pair of four inch heels.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anybody else?

First of all, I feel the need to thank everybody for all of the amazing support given to me and my family during this adventure. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers, your calls and cards, your emails and blog comments, your cancer questions and stories, your delicious dinners and desserts, your hugs and kind words, your friendship and love. If you're gonna fight cancer, there's nothing like a superlative support group in your corner. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Now then, on finding myself in a waiting state between phases of treatment, I thought it was time for a few olio acts here on the blog. An olio act is like a musical number performed in front of the curtain to keep the audience engaged between acts in a theatrical show. There are several tales in this turbulant trip that have yet to be told. So let's start the music.

Story participants:
    Attending doctor , Dr. Anker.
    Resident, Dr. Chen.
    Medical student, Brian?
    Patient, Steve (that's me).

Story observer:
    Spouse, Carla.

I am meeting Dr. Anker for the first time to set up my radiation treatments. Carla is along for moral support, taking notes as needed. This being a university hospital, Dr. Anker introduces me to his resident, Dr. Chen, and some random medical student, Brian. Brian will wish he stayed home before this visit is over.

It is a small exam room occupied by five adults. Kinda crowded. After exchanging a few pleasantries and noting my medical history, Dr. Anker explains that he would now like to touch my tumor to determine its exact position for radiation. Would this be alright with me? Sure, I say. Come on in.

Dr. Anker finishes the digital rectal exam, and as I hear him removing his rubber glove he politely asks me if it would be alright if Dr. Chen could touch my tumor? Let's see... My pants and skivvies are down around my ankles and I am still leaning over the exam table. Sure, I say. Come on in.

Moments later, as Dr. Chen is removing his rubber glove, I hear Dr. Anker politely ask if it would be alright if Brian could touch my tumor? Let's see... We need good doctors in order to beat cancer and all good doctors were once students. Sure, I say. Come on in.

Poor Brian. He gloves up and determines to make a good go of it. I feel the difference immediately. His touch is both hesitant and heavy. What doctors Chen and Anker accomplish gracefully in mere seconds takes Brian about sixty. I find myself praying for him the whole time.

Finally, I hear Brian removing his rubber glove. This time Dr. Ankor hands me a box of tissues and invites me to get dressed as he politely turns his back. I see Carla out of the corner of my eye and wonder why she didn't get to touch my tumor.

Anybody else?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just a quick shout out...

to my professors and classmates at Westminster College. Hi, guys! Thanks for finding my blog, Mark. As you can see I took the semester off to fight cancer. Coming back in January is still up in the air. So much for graduating in May. Yet again my college degree eludes me. But no worries. I'll be back!

Go! Fight! Win!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rainy Days and Mondays

I love the sound of rain in the morning. I am lying here in bed during that contemplative part of dawn and it starts to rain. Love it! In fact I love fall as the weather changes. It's definitely my favorite season. Give me a good book and some hot chocolate and... never mind, it's Monday morning and I've got to get to work soon. Maybe tonight?

So speaking of good books, I recently finished listening to Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike. (Thanks, Rod.) Wow. What a story. If you didn't know, Lance survived stage four testicular cancer before going on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times! Makes me wonder what cancer can do for my marathon times...

And speaking of marathons, yesterday was the New York City Marathon. It's been on my wish list for a long time. I mention the marathon because a perfect stranger to me just ran it while raising money for the American Cancer Society. Very cool. Her name is Michelle Czech. I'll bet you're wondering how I know this.

First I discovered Angela Clarno. She's been surviving stage four rectal cancer since May, 2007. I spent the last three days reading her blog, Ang's Journey—powerful, emotional, inspiring stuff. She's a tough fighter, just like Lance. Michelle is Angie's friend. Angie has an absolutely amazing support group. Now I have three more heros in my awesome support group.

Ahhh... can you hear that? The rain just started up again. Thank you rainy days, thank you Lance Armstrong, thank you Michelle and Angie. I think I am ready to take on Monday now.