Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Shock to the System

Last November, I was very suddenly forced to reconsider everything that I value. All that I believe in came into both question and clarity for me. My cancer made me face fate, fairness and the future.
Interestingly, America is collectively facing a similar crisis in confidence. The current state of financial affairs has us doubting our beliefs, reevaluating our guiding principles and reassessing our ways. I see many parallels between my having to look at my own mortality – my personal transformation – and the grave circumstances that our country and world face.
We are all reappraising what is really important these days. I wouldn't say that I was focused on money or material gain, but much of that is even less of a factor in my decision-making these days. All of my blessings became even more precious. For many Americans, a home and a job are unexpectedly something for which to feel fortunate these days.
I had always assumed that I would enjoy the same long life that my grandparents have. That future is suddenly, obviously, very much in doubt for me. Americans also presumed that tomorrow would always be better than today, that the GDP would always grow and that our kids would be better off than we are. Doubt about the future is very unsettling – scary really.
I always considered myself young and healthy. I had never spent a day in the hospital. I was gearing up to run my sixth marathon and was feeling quite fit for a 42-year old when things began to unravel. Silly me, I thought that I was in control. Claiming to be invulnerable might be a stretch, but I was certainly very confident in my body and mind. America too has been strutting its' stuff for the entire second half of the last century. But the last few months have undermined that exceptionalism. It turns out that we are vulnerable after all. And as individuals, it certainly feels like we have little control over the layoffs, foreclosures, market losses, etc. happening to us.
The last parallel embodies a longer timeline and reflects the relationship between the fear-hope continuum and religion in my life. Religion wasn't exceedingly important to me throughout the 90s. God was there and I attended Church occasionally, but I wasn't actively interacting with either. Somehow, the despair and helplessness I felt after the disputed Presidential election of 2000 brought me back to religion. The 9-11 tragedy and our response to it furthered my longing for something that I could trust and believe in. Eight long years of fear-based living were terribly distressing for me. The hope of the last few months, even in the face of tremendous challenges – that I and we have felt - is far preferable. The parallels continue.
So…with an entire value system in question, a future in doubt, control and invulnerability undermined – me and you and all of us are understandably rattled. But thankfully, hope has replaced fear. And though I would never claim that he is on our side as a nation (implying that he is not for another), I do know that God is there for me personally. He has blessed me thus far. I thank him every day for the treatments that are helping to keep me healthy. I trust in his grace.

I am into my third week of radiation - somewhere between a third and halfway done and feeling very well so far. I can only hope and pray that my body will continue to respond as well over the next few weeks and months.
I apologize for the long lapses between entries (darn work!) and will try to do better moving forward.
Thanks as always for all of your prayers.
Happy spring! – a wonderful season of renewal and hope.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Cancer Survivor

I took a photo with about 50 pancreatic cancer survivors on Saturday (4/4). The photo was at a symposium put on by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Jacquelyn and I went down to Philly for the day – in the middle of her birthday weekend.
Appropriately enough, on the eve of Holy Week – and mirroring so much of this journey - it was a day of contrasting emotions for me. I was reminded of the dark statistics of my disease. It's a reality I recognize but try not to dwell on. Seeing and hearing the survival numbers always scares and sobers me. I have always, and still, believe that I am that 20% that will, by God's grace, survive. The prayers of my angels have been wonderfully supportive for me throughout. Thank you all.
On the other end of the spectrum, it was heartening to see so many people, of all ages and walks of life, surviving and thriving. It was uplifting to hear their stories; to see other vibrant patients; to learn instances of tumors that have been disappeared by neo-adjuvant chemotherapy; to gain exposure to the recent advances in treatment and hope for the future. To appreciate that there is an entire community living through an experience similar to ours. There is lots of hope and lots to do.
I received a terrific vote of confidence on Saturday. I had my first post-operative CAT scan this past Wednesday. It indicates that I am still cancer-free! What an incredible relief. I have been feeling super, but you never know. I reached another milestone this week in completing my third month/cycle of chemo. I am scheduled to start 5-6 weeks of radiation (in conjunction with a different chemo drug as a sensitizer) on Monday the 13th. I have been feeling particularly good lately. This is a second chemo-less week for me as my system clears out and gears up
I don't really understand what it means to be a "survivor". I appreciate that it could all change at any moment. All I know is that I am still here. I plan on being here for another 42 years. Whether or not I am is mostly up to God. I'll do my best to give him every reason to keep me around. Still…it's his plan. I thank God that we've been seeing his plan from the same angle lately. Every day is a blessing. (This weekend we celebrated Jacquelyn's 40th birthday. How blessed am I that I get to start every day with her!?! Add Ana and Noah and, in our house, every morning is truly a celebration.)
Speaking of thanks and blessings…because of the kindness of so many of you, my friends and family, my buzzed head has garnered over $3,000 for St. Baldricks. After some matching gifts, I am hoping that we will have raised $4,000 in support of children's cancer research. Thanks all. I appreciate it.
Peace and love.