So, I have spent the morning looking back through the blog, reading the most recent posts, and preparing myself to begin writing again.
It did not seem like it had been so long, but the last post was made on September 18, 2020, almost five full months ago. The post describing my cancer diagnosis is dated August 31. When I look back at my calendar, I can see that my radiation treatments started on September 9th. In retrospect, that timeline makes perfect sense.
Originally, I expected that my life would proceed pretty much as normal during the time of my treatment. I knew that I had an appointment every weekday for seven weeks, but I expected I would just be running out to the appointment and that other than this, I would be able to function as I always did.
This turned out not to be the case. Whether the doctors sugarcoated the process, or whether I did not hear them because I wanted to believe the coming trial would be painless, the side effects were not as minimal and easy to tolerate as I anticipated. As predicted in the original post, I felt normal until about the end of week three of the treatment. At that point, the damage that the radiation was doing to my body began to manifest. My throat became swollen and sore and I began to be continually tired. Swallowing food and beverages became more difficult and I began to experience accumulation of saliva in my throat, which was very irritating. As I talked to the nurses and doctor, I was told this was to be expected.
They gave me a mandate to maintain my weight and to drink 64 ounces of fluid every day. If I could accomplish those two things, then I could expect to avoid the more serious side effects of the radiation. (People who fail in this can find themselves in the hospital with a feeding tube.) This mandate, along with allowing myself all the rest my body demanded, became the center of my existence for the duration of my treatment and some time beyond.
When you can only sip beverages and it is hard to eat anything other than frozen yogurt, it takes time to ingest enough calories and fluids to maintain the status quo. I think its safe to say I did better than most. I never lost any weight and I never experienced any severe side effects. I recall one conversation about four or five weeks in when I told the nurse I had eaten a cheeseburger and she was shocked, telling me that no one does that. (It was a greasy cheeseburger from Steak ‘n Shake. It took 45 minutes to eat in miniscule bites, but I did it.)
Maintaining this mandate took all my focus. My expectations about the level of normalcy that I expected to maintain were unrealistic. All my energy had to be directed to what I was going through, and I had no time or inclination for prayer or meditation, let alone for writing about it.
Thus, the big gap in posts to the blog.
My unrealistic expectations also extended to how soon I would recover from the damage the radiation did to my body. The last day of radiation treatment was October 27th. It took three to four weeks for the pain in my throat to go away completely. I was able to eat and drink normally starting then, but my throat is still recovering now. My voice is not normal yet and, most annoying of all, I am still dealing with the accumulation of saliva in my throat. I still need to carry a bottle with me in the car when I am driving. At the end of each day, my voices falters, and the need to clear my throat increases. Some nights I sleep through, but more often I am awakened by the irritation in my throat.
But I am getting a little better every day. In the last two weeks of January, I had follow-up testing and appointments with the Oncologist and ENT doctor. I am due to see the Radiologist this week. All the tests came back clear, so if the doctors are correct, I am cured. I will continue to be monitored, but once the healing of my throat is complete (which will take another couple months), I should be able to resume life as if nothing happened.
In the original post, there was a video at the head that showed my van decked out for “drive about.” I was determined that soon after my treatment ended, I was going on a trip. In mid-November, sooner than was probably wise, I got in my van and drove to Louisiana to go fishing. Many thanks to Jim Bradford and Kent Laber for being flexible and willing to join me on this excursion. The picture at the top of this post is the biggest redfish I (or anyone else!) caught on the trip.
Post fishing lodge, I camped out of the van in Grand Isle, Louisiana, and then the panhandle of Florida for a few days. From there, I drove to North Carolina, where I was joined by Denise and Wesley for Thanksgiving with Brendan and Shelby.
Everyone was in Indiana for Christmas. Right after the New Year, it was back to North Carolina for ten days to help Brendan and Shelby find some land to build a house on. And now I have just returned from another ten days in North Carolina, where I helped them get details sorted out with the builder, architect, etc. that will allow plans for the build to proceed smoothy. The construction will not start for a couple months, but they closed on the land last Friday and the project is now real.
During this time, I have been subtly working on the healing process. The time in Louisiana on the first trip was restorative. While I was going through the radiation, I was always looking forward to this trip. It was the goal at the end of the ordeal, the reward for weathering everything successfully. I was probably not quite ready physically, but I was more than ready emotionally. I was going to do something normal no matter what, and this was it, the first step to declaring myself back.
Almost all my time was spent outside, in the beauty of God’s Creation. It was not always exactly warm, but it was warm enough, and that time out of doors after spending so much time cooped up not just because of illness, but because of the pandemic as well, was what I needed to jump start the transition away from being sick to the new and better reality of being healed.
The subsequent trips to North Carolina were equally health-giving. The kid’s lives are so busy. Brendan has his regular workload and is training to qualify for Special Forces. Shelby is going to school full time and planning a formal wedding in the Church in July. Finding time to realize their dream of owning their own home is difficult amidst those demands. It was good for me to use my wisdom and skill to be useful and to help move their dreams forward in some small way.
Beyond that, while I was in North Carolina I was spending further time outdoors. The kids wanted acreage, so I found myself spending my days walking various ten plus acre parcels covered in southern pines. I would park just off the road and walk into the woods and find myself surrounded by a quiet that you would think impossible so close to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Or, if I was not walking land for sale, I was walking these same woods in one of the beautiful state parks close to Fayetteville. By the end of the first visit, I was walking for ninety minutes or more at a time. I was tired at the end, but it was the best kind of tired you can imagine.
The kids settled on a seven-acre parcel immediately adjacent to Carvers Creek State Park, Sandhills Access. Seven acres was less than they were originally looking for, but their house will be fifty feet from the park boundary. It is like having hundreds of acres for your backyard. There is a pretty little lake that is well off the established trails only a fifteen-minute walk from what will be their back door. That same lake is a ninety-minute hike from the established parking area, so it has no footprints around it. They will have it almost entirely to themselves. On the second trip, I walked out to that lake and beyond multiple times and encountered nothing but deer and turkeys.
More long walks, more therapy, more progress down the road to feeling completely recuperated. I just need the snow at home to go away so I can continue the process.
Of course, I can never return to my old life as if nothing happened. Nor do I really want to.
Lots has happened. Too many losses that still feel too recent. My son, Aidan, barely age 17. My sister, Christy, at 42. My mother-in-law, Ginger. Others, too, who touched me in my life journey, like Mark Beeson, Rob Barniskis and Katherine Griffin, to name a couple. Then my own bout with cancer. All of this must have an impact. It must.
The post treatment time spent immersed in Creation must lead to conversion if I am to make the most of whatever time I have left. I still feel like I have all the time in the world, but I do not want to feel that way. I do not want to feel at ease and experience the procrastination that comfort can lead to. I want to remain uncomfortable so that I feel the resolve that leads to being a willing, eager, joyful, humble and productive servant.
The resolve that leads to as full and complete a “yes” as I can manage. All of this is not random, but part of His plan. I must fully commit to the role He has in mind for me.
In a strange way, I do not feel as if I ever had cancer. The diagnosis was too optimistic, the radiation too well weathered, the recovery period too easy, quick and successful. I am grateful to feel so well so soon after, but I do not want to neglect the things I have been through.
I want the loss and the trial to remain with me in the form of who I have and will become. I want my discipline and urgency to increase. I want the fragility of the life I have been blessed with to be there, sometimes at the forefront, sometimes at the edge of my awareness, always pushing me to be the best, most loving, most forgiving, most peaceful human being I can be.
I want to wholly reciprocate the Love that brought me into being and sustains me.
That is not easy given the times. Peace is fleeting in the face of a persistent pandemic. Tranquility is easily lost in the turmoil of current politics. Anger, fear, dissent, and separation surround and overwhelm us. The future could be dark and violent. Never in my lifetime has there been so much uncertainty.
How should a dedicated Franciscan react? The messages being spoken in this blog before my illness feel more needed than ever, especially the one about Franciscan Peace, which is surely indispensable to a future that hopes to avoid the worse of what could come.
It is only five months since my last post, but it feels as if I am reemerging into a world that is new and distinctly different in lamentable ways from the one I took a hiatus from.
I know that He has a role for me to play. It might be small. It might be more. It involves writing in this blog. It involves working at that craft assiduously and diligently and I pledge to do so.
It also involves trying to get the message out. In the end, He will control that. If He wants just a few impacted by what I write, so be it. If He chooses to spread my words further because it suits His purpose, so be that as well.
I know that many of you continue to pray for me. I cannot thank you enough for that. I know I have not been diligent in praying for you in return. I will try to do better going forward.
Please also pray that my work here will be what He wishes it to be.
Pray that whatever shows up will be for His Glory and Goodness alone!
The Praises to Be Said at All the Hours
All-powerful, most holy, most high, supreme God:
all good, supreme good, totally good, You Who alone are good,
may we give You all praise, all glory, all thanks, all honor, all blessing, and all good.
So be it! So be it! Amen.