Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Healthy despite being sick
Despite assurances from my surgeon, it’s taken weeks for the incision on my rear to heal. There’s still an angry welt where a metastasis the size of a gumball was cut out a month ago. Fortunately, my running has not been seriously impaired, and I’m back to about 20 miles a week. I had to back off running almost completely for several months as the iliotibial band that I injured last year slowly healed. Oddly enough, that ITB has been a bigger bother to my workouts than cancer. The three surgeries I had this winter were all simple subcutaneous procedures.
The reason I’m so healthy despite being so sick (got that?) is because I haven’t had to go through chemo (melanoma is impervious) and my cancer so far hasn’t progressed beyond the skin and sub-q tissue. I’ve managed to arrive at stage-four melanoma without a single physical symptom. Unfortunately, the cancer is not likely to stop there, so I’m enjoying this state of remission while it lasts. The typical progression in cases of metastatic melanoma like mine is for the cancer to eventually invade internal organs. If it has already, we’ll find out when I have my PET/CT on April 23. If it hasn’t, then glory be. My cancer has so far proved to be fairly indolent.
It’s interesting to me to observe how other people respond to a diagnosis of advanced cancer. That’s perhaps why some of you follow this blog. What does a person do when he has the misfortune of drawing a bad hand? Cancer is common enough you don’t have to search very hard to find people who are blogging or “vlogging “ about their experience. A friend recently directed me to a young pastor in Texas named Matt Chandler who had surgery for brain cancer and who is now receiving post-surgical chemo and radiation treatments. He talks about his on-going medical regimen and does a short devotional on his weekly video blog. I’m awed by his poise and hope for the future. When you hear the baby yelling in the background of the video you realize just how much Chandler has at stake. The horseshoe-shaped scar on his shaved head is pretty hard to miss too.
There was also an article in the last issue of George Fox Journal about a biology prof named Mark Doyle who has had 37 surgeries related to cancer in less than five years and who has twice died—and been resuscitated each time. His life is, as he describes it, a “ministry of pain.” He’s in his 40s. He still teaches.
Unless you ask, you won’t be seeing any of my surgical scars. As I wrote in February, I was scheduled to have a wide local excision on my face that I postponed and that now appears to be unnecessary. I am simultaneously delighted at not needing to go through with this (the melanoma cells apparently died) and upset with both of my oncologists for concluding that the surgery was necessary in the first place. A large scar on my face would have been the equivalent of walking around emblazoned with the scarlet letter “C.” I’m happy that I don't meet everyone's expectations of what someone with cancer is presumed to look like. I hope to keep things that way.
Matt Chandler talks about the grace of being able to “suffer well” when afflicted by disease. He takes God at his word that he is being tested and refined for a purpose. His witness of God's faithfulness gives me hope. There’s exemplary company to keep in the cancer ward.