September 10, 2005

After all this time, you probably think I have something amazingly profound to say, but I don't. All I can think to say to end what my husband created is that cancer really is a jerk and I want to punch it in the face. But even more than that, I want him back. Right now, I can't imagine going through life without him. Fall, Halloween, birthdays, playing with Roxy, watching the first Sunday of the NFL season, eating freshly-made chocolate chip cookies: none of these things will be the same without him. Some widows I know (older, of course) say it will get better. I don't guess they're lying, but they also weren't married to Dan Champion. It probably sounds corny, but I feel honored to have been his wife. As one of our friends shared during his funeral, he was one of the only people in the world who could tell you the truth about yourself. He could do this because he cared. And he always seemed to know what was important. He knew that life wasn't about getting to appointments on time (though he usually was) or wearing the right clothes (though he "looked pretty snazzy", according to my niece), or even being correct (though he always was). He knew that life was about relationships: with each other, with ourselves, with God. I think that's what helped him through his experiences with cancer. He knew that earthly things didn't matter in the end. All that mattered was love. And so, he loved. And he did it well.

Posted by Dan at 12:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

Here's A Little Something

The mothers and I just got back home from NY this evening, so I still don't have enough sense to post something real. In the meantime, here's Roxy, who somehow never made it onto the site before, despite being LOVED by her dad.

P1010095.JPG

And while you're here, why don't you enjoy this quotation from Thomas Merton (a fave of Dan's) that I included in his service last week?

“Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of "separation from the world" that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 13, 2005

Services for Dan

Calling hours will be Monday from 5 pm to 8 pm at Lane Funeral Home in Austintown, Ohio. A service will be held in Dan's honor on Tuesday at 11 am at West Side Baptist Church in Youngstown, Ohio. There will also be calling hours before the service at 10 am.

During the service on Tuesday, there will be a time for people to share a memory of or reflection on Dan. After reading some of the previous entries on this weblog, I think I might have someone read some of them during this time. So feel free to post your thoughts and feelings about Dan. He obviously affected many people and I want his funeral to reflect this fact.

Posted by Dan at 05:01 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

I am sad to report that your fair host and friend is no longer with us.

The doctors told us today that even if Dan did survive the pneumonia and associated problems he would not be strong enough to receive more chemotherapy for a while. The pulmonologist also said that the fluid in his lungs was probably almost gone, but the tumors were probably what was causing problems in his chest (in addition to the pneumonia). Considering that it's already been over a month since he had chemo, he decided that it was time to end his struggle. After receiving enough drugs to make him sleep and become unaware of what was going on, he was taken off the ventilator. Less than an hour later, he took his last breath. He did not struggle or have any pain. I am thankful that he was able to call the shots the entire time. It ensured that all measures taken were what he wanted, and it took a huge burden off of me. All I had to do was make sure he was asleep before the tube came out.

Dan was a blessing to many people and I would not be the person I am without him. If I could do it all over again, I would not hesitate to love him and be married to him again, even if I had to lose him again.

I will post information about his services for those of you who live around here or are just curious.

And just so you know, he received a big stack of Send-A-Smiles at the hospital today and most of them were from you guys. Thank you for your love and support.

Posted by Dan at 10:40 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

No real news, but read this anyway because my husband has cancer and I said so.

There's not much to update except that Dan's blood cell counts are a little low so he might get another blood transfusion tonight.

When we went to visit tonight, he was watching pre-season NFL starring the fabulous Green Bay Packers.

Also, if you go to www.hmpartners.org and click on send a smile at the right, you can send Dan a message. I thought I remembered that they didn't deliver messages to the intensive care units, but the web page doesn't say that, so give it a try. His location is St. Elizabeth Health Center. He would love to hear from all of you!

Posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Little More Good News

The endoscopy today showed no blockage so Dan got the feeding tube put in today with no problem. His red blood cell count was low last night so he got a blood transfusion. Also last night he had some trouble breathing for a minute and ended up coughing up quite a bit of phglem. Then he was OK. The pulmonologist said his right lung looked better in the x-ray this morning. He said that when he came in Tuesday night, Dan's lung was infected about 75% pneumonia and now it's less than 50%.

His nurse asked this morning if Dan would want his face shaved. When I asked him, he said (in writing)no because it would take too much out of him right now and because there were some "hot chicks" on the floor and he thought they were into the rugged look. I reminded him that he is married.

So, more good news. The pneumonia is still a problem, but we'll take a little good news each day. I am still waiting to hear about the cancer. The oncologist might be in this afternoon, so I may know something later today.

Thank you all again for your prayers! God must be listening to at least one of us, so don't anybody stop in case it's you!

Posted by Dan at 02:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 10, 2005

More News

Well, since I probably scared everyone earlier, I'm glad to report some good news. The x-ray Dan had this morning was better than the one he had in the ER last night. Since he is on a ventilator, they will take an x-ray every morning so we will be able to check his progress fairly well.

The drug he is on for his blood pressure has been decreased slightly over the day and his blood pressure has stayed fairly level.

They have the vent set up to give him 12 breaths every minute. While I was in the room this evening, he was taking anywhere from 17 to 26 total breaths, meaning that some of them were on his own.

He is still very aware of what is going on, and I make sure he understands everything that happens. He started to use sign language to tell me something tonight. I guess I will check the internet tonight for an ASL guide. I also gave him a sheet of paper and a pen so he could write out a reminder to me to pay the bills.

While this is good news, he is still in trouble and needs lots of prayer. The pneumonia in the right lung is still bad, even though it did get a little better.

Also, when they tried to place the feeding tube today, they couldn't get it in. They are going to do an endoscopy in the morning to see what the problem is.

Our mothers arrived safely and we are all looking forward to some sleep.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

Posted by Dan at 07:13 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Comments Seem To Be Working!

Isn't that something?

Posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Update on Your Host

This is the Mrs. I am pretty tired right now, so I'm just going to post what I e-mailed to friends and family a few minutes ago. I wish comments were working. I know that many of you would have nice things to say. I'll try to work on that some time.

I'm not one for real-life cliff-hangers, so I'll tell you up front that Dan is alive.

Now, here's the rest.

Here are the facts. Dan did not go for the x-ray Tuesday evening because he felt like he just couldn't get up and walk out of the house. As the evening progressed (between 8 pm and 10 pm), his breathing became worse and his blood pressure was very, very high, even after taking his blood pressure medication. At around 10:15, he asked me to call for an ambulance. He was taken to the ER where he was given lots of drugs, oxygen, etc. The machine he was placed on for oxygen forced air into his lungs. His pulmonologist came to review everything while he was in the ER. An x-ray showed that his pneumonia was worse in addition to the fluid around his left lung.
He said the pneumonia was very bad. He told me that he did not think Dan would make it through this episode. Dan was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit about 45 minutes later. Soon after arriving at his room, his vital signs were stable. After being on the oxygen machine (I can't remember the name of the machine), he requested to be intubated because it was becoming too difficult for him to breathe on his own. He was intubated successfully and his vital signs returned to normal. The "life-saving measures" he is currently on are the ventilator and a drug to keep his heart beating. The doctor said this morning that he was doing better than when he was in the ER last night. When I spoke to the nurse and doctors around 10:30 am today, they told me that they were in the process of weaning him off the heart drug and he was breathing, for the most part, on his own. When I asked the doctor what was actually threatening his life, he said it was the pneumonia. I'm not sure what's going on with the cancer because the oncologist has to get involved in that. However, the pulmonologist feels strongly that the cancer and fluid around the left lung are secondary to the pneumonia. He is on two antibiotics for this. Through the time I left at around 11:00 am, Dan was aware of everything going on, able to comprehend, and able to make decisions. Until this changes, he will be making decisions about his care.

Here are the things the doctors and nurses cannot tell us. It is not up to any of us whether or not Dan lives or dies. He knows that and I know that. I want him to live, but I have told him that if he feels like this is it, he needs to do what he thinks is right. He has always had a very good sense for these things, and I have no doubt that this will remain true. He has not given up, but all I can say is that what he has experienced with God transcends, I believe, what we haphazardly call "faith" and "trust" in God to know when he is being called to do something.

Please pray for Dan that his body will strengthen and the pneumonia will go away so that he can fight the horrible disease that has brought these problems on him.

Please pray for me that if a time comes to make decisions about supporting my husband's life, I will have the courage to do what I know he wants.

Please pray for those who are lovingly caring for my husband right now. They have all been wonderful. Even the housekeepers I used to work with who joined hands with my friends and I this morning to pray in the waiting room.

Please pray for my mother and Dan's mother who just landed at Cleveland-Hopkins Airport and are driving to my house.

Please pray for all of the people who love Dan as much as I do that they will be comforted that he is not in pain, is alert, and knows how to live and how to die.

I hope this doesn't sound like we have given up. We have not. But we have given in to God's grace and mercy because he has gifted us both with lots of love and happiness which we hope will continue for many, many years.

Thank you all for your prayers. You have all been sent this e-mail because you are special to Dan and to me and are a part of our lives and always will be.

Posted by Dan at 12:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 08, 2005

CT

Dan will not be getting a CT today because you have to lie down for five minutes and he can't lie down for five seconds without breathing problems. The doctor's office will call this afternoon with some kind of next step, which will hopefully involve clearing the fluid around his left lung so he can breathe.

Posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 07, 2005

Popping Culture News Flash

Dan is sleeping downstairs tonight because he's tired of messing with the stairs and he found a comfortable position in his chair that helps his breathing. So he asked me to check in and let you all know he'll be back soon.

Also, it looks like comments are not working again, so we'll have to check that out.

Also, here's a word from Francis the cat.
g hjongfuxd5trnpblwzfr m mjp

More news tomorrow.

Posted by Dan at 11:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 04, 2005

Popping Cancer Update.

Consider no news good news this time.

I'm stone tired. A full day of breathing has me wiped out and I'm off to sleep.

Just enough strength to load the normal sleepy-time graphic.

naptime.jpg

Posted by Dan at 10:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2005

Popping Cancer Update.

Saw the cancer doctor today. He said no chemotherapy for another two weeks, to give me time to get my lungs straight. I'm breathing a little easier, which indicates the pneumonia is going away, but I still can't climb the stairs without fits or even walk to the bathroom without needing to rest and catch my breath.

So the schedule from the last update remains the same so far. That's pretty much it: it was a relatively uneventful visit.

Posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 31, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: The world the way I see it.

The current schedule looks like this:

Tuesday - Visit with cancer doctor. Not much he can do until we confirm that pneumonia is gone.

Next Monday (the 8th) - CATscan to confirm that pneumonia is gone, if, you know, the pneumonia is gone.

16th - Appointment with pulmonologist, to confirm that pneumonia is gone and arrange to drain the fluid (or whatever it is) surrounding my left lung.

WHAT MIGHT REALLY HAPPEN:
I have decided that the left lung is the one causing me the actual discomfort (inability to breathe, coughing, weakness). This is confirmed in my mind by the last x-ray which showed stuff all over that particular lung.

Both doctors want me to re-start chemotherapy as soon as the pneumonia in the right lung is gone.

The issue is that life is hell right now. I can't walk across a room or sit leaning back without losing my breath. I am weak as a kitten. Mrs. Popping Culture is now babysitting me all day every day, as if I was her 99-year-old grandfather just waiting to die.

What I think will happen is that I'll somehow scuffle out this next week and take the CATscan on the 8th, then call the pulmonologist for results the next day. If the pneumonia is gone, as it should be by then, I will ask him to arrange a procedure to clear up my left lung. If he declines and wants me to wait another full week until the 16th to visit him and THEN arrange the procedure, it is very very likely that my breathing will suddenly get worse in my own mind and I'll go to the emergency room. Once I'm in the hospital, complaining of being unable to breathe and looking as weak and awful as I do now, they'll fix my left lung.

Either way, I don't think I can survive chemotherapy with my left lung now completely down. I can't climb a flight of stairs and they want to poison me? C'mon.

So that is my plan.

Any comments, congratulations or rebuttals?

Posted by Dan at 10:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 28, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: Why It's Hard To Talk About

I'm not dying and I don't plan to die any time soon. Still, I'm sick enough that this passage resonates with me.

From Patient Encounters: The Experience of Disease by James Buchanan:

"This whole business of dying is so completely misunderstood by the living. The assorted visitors, well-wishers, bereaved family members, curious doctors, distracted nurses, angry attendants, that one receives throughout the day are like travelers in a foreign country. They enter the court and kingdom of the patient but only on official business of import and export; they tarry not, nor do they adopt the local customs of the country within which they find themselves. Indeed there is an arrogance, even an insolence to these tourists which is the insulation by which they protect themselves against the contamination of death. After all, what do they know of pain, sweat and incontinence, putrefaction of rotting flesh and the sheer humiliation of not being about to control your own bladder and bowels? They measure your fever but they do not suffer it. They study your blood but they do not bleed it. They palpate your liver, your spleen, your guts; but they do not feel them. They hear your heart and yet cannot feel its weakened beat; they measure your blood pressure and yet cannot feel its intensity; they peer with curious abandon into the various interstices, holes, canyons, craters of your body and yet are never part of the great cavern you have become. They are guests, not residents, of this house of death which you inhabit. How then could they possibly understand?"

Maybe this is why these reflections have gotten more and more rare. I'm at the stage now where I just have to suffer until it's over and cured. As much as I write about how hard chemotherapy days are, or how frustrating it is not to be able to use either of my lungs right now, or how walking across the room leaves me gasping for air, I still can't communicate really and truly how it FEELS.

In a way I'm glad for it. I don't honestly want you to have to understand what it feels like. At the same time, it makes me feel like I'm not only sick, but on an island.

Cancer is a jerk and I hate it.

Posted by Dan at 10:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 25, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: More of the same.

The pneumonia is better, it's just not better. I saw it on an x-ray compared to the x-ray from last time and the area of my right lung hit by pneumonia is much smaller, but not gone.

That means 10 more days of antibiotics. I'm not sure how long I'm comfortable going without chemotherapy, but I am sure doing chemotherapy while unable to breathe would kill me good.

So... I remain in the chair, memorizing the television schedule and attached to oxygen, for another two weeks or so.

Posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 24, 2005

No Update Needed.

Nothing is too different from the last update.

I should have some piping hot news for you tonight, though - I'm meeting with the pulmonologist this afternoon. Should be x-rays, pneumonia talk and scheduling to free my left lung of stuff, presuming the pneumonia is cleared up.

Posted by Dan at 11:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 21, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: How things will go if they go my way.

Monday I will meet with the pulmonologist. He will tell me the pneumonia is cleared up. We will set up a date to clear up the fluid/whatever it is around my left lung. One minor surgery and a few days to heal later and I'll be ready to resume chemotherapy at full strength.

Also there will be chocolate.

Posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 19, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: It's what we thought it was, only different.

Turns out the spot in my right lung IS pneumonia after all. The test that came back negative from the five-day cultures was apparently for a really bad kind of pneumonia, and the nurse just told us it wasn't pneumonia at all.

So, to update: left lung still surrounded by fluid and unusable, pneumonia in the right lung still being treated by antibiotics, laying flat still untenable (I sleep at the computer desk with a pillow on top, slumped over - if my chest isn't upright I collapse in a coughing fit which frankly isn't very attractive). Oh, yeah, I also have cancer... gotta try and remember that little tidbit.

Posted by Dan at 11:54 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: This might not be good news.

We got word today that the item in my right lung is not pneumonia. The five day cultures didn't show any growth, according to the doctor.

This means there is something in my right lung that is keeping me from breathing. I don't like having unknown things in my body, because they've never turned out to be good, or even benign. Either way, we have to do something relatively quickly before my breath stops completely.

I should hear from the pulmonologist tomorrow. I have to gear up for a trip for bloodwork to the oncologist Wednesday, which right now seems an impossible task since just walking across a room leaves me gasping for air.

Posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update

I have taken 7 of 14 antibiotics for the pneumonia. This morning I'll take number 8. If I don't start to feel better soon, I'm taking a hostage.

Posted by Dan at 06:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 15, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection

Dude, I'm tired.

I'd like to write another long, romantically-written reflection on what I'm going through, but all I can think about is how tired I am.

When breathing is hard, just being awake all day is exhausting.

Posted by Dan at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

I feel sexy.

It's now 2:32 a.m.

A moment ago, I was sleeping fitfully in a chair with my head down on a desk, because if I lay flat or even lean back, I can't breathe. The pneumonia in my right lung coughed me awake, which is fortunate, because the oxygen tube I'm breathing through had started a nosebleed. My feet are swollen large enough that I couldn't fit my slippers on when I walked roughly 10 feet to the bathroom, a trip that left me gasping for air.

Step on up, ladies! Big Dan is feelin' like a hottie tonight!

Posted by Dan at 02:32 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 13, 2005

Popping Cancer Update

Just trying to breathe and rest, waiting for antibiotics to work. Until then, understandably light blogging.

Posted by Dan at 10:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

Popping Cancer Update.

It's pretty bad right now.

I'm not breathing well at all, although the oxygen helps, as you might imagine. I'm not eating, either. I don't know if I'm supposed to force myself to eat or what, but I just have no real desire to eat. Finally, sleep is a remote idea. I'm sleeping at clips of about 1/2 hour at a time when I can sleep.

The good news is that I don't have a fever. Perhaps they caught the pneumonia early enough that the antibiotics can jump all over it. Also, our mothers happened to be in town, so Mrs. Popping Culture has some helpers and doesn't have to go through what is no doubt a difficult time by herself.

I continue to search for creative ways to sleep, since I can't really lay down without launching into a coughing fit, and I've never been able to sleep in a chair. My main idea now is exhaustion: stay up until I collapse. Fortunately, exhaustion is never far away when both of your favorite lungs are out of commission. More updates as events warrant.

Posted by Dan at 06:10 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

July 11, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: "You have pneumonia in your good lung."

That's a quote from today's pulmonologist visit.

It's small, but it's in my right lung (the good lung) and it explains why my breathing has gotten worse over the weekend. I start oxygen and antibiotics tonight.

Thought you'd want to know.

ADDENDUM: The left lung seems the same. The x-ray showed either fluid or something around the left lung still, but to go after it would require another procedure in the hospital, which the pulmonologist doesn't want to try until this new stuff gets cleared up. In any case, no chemotherapy until I can get my breathe on.

Posted by Dan at 05:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: First goal, breathe.

Later this afternoon, I'm off to see the pulmonologist who has to fix my left lung. I've been unable to sleep and even the short trip up or down the stairs leaves me gasping like a fish out of water for a good 2 or 3 minutes.

I feel like I have strength and the ability to fight the cancer now, but it's all hidden by my inability to breathe. I can't lay down without coughing, so I've been improvising a bed by laying my pillow on the computer desk, which at least keeps my lung upright and keeps me from coughing.

The pulmonologist MUST FIX my lung. This and my recent stays in the hospital make me wonder how many people die of cancer compared to how many die of complications of cancer. I'm not sure I want to know.

In any case, enough depression. Don't forget that cancer is a fun thing! Be sure to send your prayers, good intentions, kind thoughts, positive mojo and whatall else you have to me (or the doctor) this afternoon. I could use a good night's sleep again.

Posted by Dan at 01:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 09, 2005

Popping Cancer Update for Sunday

I anticipate very light blogging on Sunday for a few reasons.

First of all, the joint pain shot should be kicking in and I might be in the bed most of the day. Secondly, my breathing today (Saturday) has been horrible, and if it continues it should also keep me away.

Because I might not be blogging until later in the day, I have provided you with a Sunday Ponderable and a Sunday Distraction below. Enjoy, and think of me in the bed.

naptime.jpg

Posted by Dan at 09:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

Popping Cancer Update

This, in a nutshell, is where I stand right now.

Today I started the two days of steroids which are traditional in the second week of treatment. I should breathe a little better and feel a little stronger for another day or so thanks to the little pills.

Today I also got the shot that boosts my white blood cell count but also causes horrible joint pain. That pain traditionally starts with creaky joints tomorrow evening and culminates with me in bed whimpering softly to myself all day Sunday.

Still no breath sounds from the good old left lung. I see a pulmonologist on Monday. The funny thing is, I think I've been feeling better overall lately, it's just been hidden by this inability to breathe.

No change either way in tumor size.

Any questions?

Posted by Dan at 10:36 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 06, 2005

Scary moment of the day.

Add this to the list of things you don't want to hear your cancer doctor say right before chemotherapy:

"I didn't hear any breath sounds coming from your left lung."

NOTE: Fortunately, it turns out that I am one of the lucky ones who was born with an entirely other lung over on the right. I'll be using that one for the next couple days until I can get with the pulmonologist.

Posted by Dan at 11:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 04, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: On Confronting Your Fears

Unless you discover it really late in the game, cancer is mostly a grind. Week after week of brutal treatment, followed by long afternoons where you try to stay active, try to rest, try to heal.

Cancer comes down, for me, to an effort of the will. Either I want to live and am willing to put in the effort that it takes mentally, physically and spiritually to do so, or I'm ready to die.

One of the hardest parts of the spiritual fight with cancer is naming my fears. Of course I can say "I'm scared to die," but that doesn't really tell me anything. I don't know what that means.

So what am I scared of?

Well, I'm scared that I'll live the rest of my life feeling weak and going through horrible chemotherapy treatments and never have another day where I feel GOOD before I die.

I'm scared that I will leave this earth without ever having made a difference.

I'm scared that bad things will happen to my family after I'm dead, and I won't be there to help.

Of course, there are probably lots of other things I'm scared of, too, but that's a good enough start. See, when you can name your fears, you can begin the work it takes to heal them, or overcome them. I found out that I'm not scared of death itself. I think I'm absolutely prepared for whatever comes.

I hate to bring in a cheesy example here, but I remember when Luke Skywalker had to go in that scary tree in The Empire Strikes Back at Yoda's command. The darkness showed him his greatest fear and forced him to begin confronting it.

By taking time to search out my own dark places in this battle with cancer, I can name my fears and begin to confront them. This is what it means to beat cancer, whether you live or die.

As always, somebody else said it better than I can. In The Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living, Joseph Campbell is quoted as saying:

It is only by going down into the abyss
that we recover the treasures of life.
Where you stumble,
there lies your treasure.
The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
what you were looking for.

Campbell also shared:

A bit of advice
given to a young Native American
at the time of his initiation:
"As you go the way of life,
you will see a great chasm.
Jump.
It is not as wide as you think."

Posted by Dan at 07:25 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

more news from the hospital

The pathology report showed there's nothing bad in the fluid they took from Dan's chest. The ultrasound he had yesterday showed no more fluid, so that's all taken care of for now. It is possible that it may collect again so the doctor will keep an eye on it. His blood cell counts will be checked again in the morning and he should be discharged at that time.

Posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Update on Dan

One of the doctors saw Dan this morning and told him that he will probably stay a couple more days so they can keep an eye on his blood cell counts. He had an ultrasound this morning so we're waiting now to see when the pulmonologist wants to try the thoracentesis again.

Posted by Dan at 03:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

News

Dan was admitted to the hospital this afternoon. A pulmonologist tried to remove most of the fluid from around his left lung, but not much of it came out. He's going to try again Tuesday after conducting an ultrasound to find a better spot to insert the needle.

Posted by Dan at 07:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

Some more news

Dan is still feeling yucky, but his temp has stayed just under the red zone pretty much all day. Thanks for the prayers and well-wishes.

Here's something to keep you occupied until he returns.

A chickpea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss.

Posted by Dan at 11:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Update

This is the Mrs. letting you know that Dan is not feeling too good right now. After his chemotherapy yesterday, he continues to have trouble breathing and now has a fever. We'll continue to monitor it and call the doctor if it doesn't go down.

Posted by Dan at 07:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Reflection: On Grinding.

For a while there, you will remember, I was regularly posting long reflections on my experience with cancer. For some reason, in the last month or so, that has dropped off.

I think at least part of it is because I'm in the grinding phase. At first, cancer is all excitement and worry and information learned bit-by-bit. It's new.

Now, it is clear that I'm not going to die or be cured in the next month or even three months. There's nothing really to do but grind it out. Rest, chemotherapy, rest. Stay alive. There aren't any lofty goals or motivations beyond just making it through today.

Grinding, in other words. The trick now is to have enough stamina to be able to grind it out no matter how long it takes. I sure am tired of having cancer.

Posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 22, 2005

Meow! CATscan results are in!

The tumors in my chest are once again the same size. No shrinking, but no growth either. My doctor insists this is a good thing, since cancer will always grow if left alone, so the treatment is doing something. I would much prefer shrinking tumors, but I'll take what I can get.

Also, the fluid in my left lung is increased, which explains my crappy breathing and sleeplessness. I'm taking lasix daily now. If that doesn't work, the doctor is going to cram a needle in my lung and get the fluid out that way. It doesn't sound fun at all.

Posted by Dan at 04:04 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: quick hit.

Chemotherapy and CATscan results tomorrow. The party, it seems, is over.

Posted by Dan at 09:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 06, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: The waiting is the hardest part.

Yesterday was the worst of this last treatment. "Joint pain day" is mostly over, except for a bit of leftover fatigue and stiffness. Now I have two weeks off and a fun vacation before any more treatment.

Still, I've let myself forget how important these next tests are.

The first type of chemotherapy was not only brutal, but didn't do the job. It kept the main tumor in check near my lungs, but let two more grow to the size that they suddenly appeared in CATscans.

This new chemotherapy, you'll remember from our last scans, checked the growth of all three of the main tumors (a Petscan in January showed lots of potential tumors, but if we beat the big ones, the little ones will fall too, and the little ones don't show on CATscans). That is to say, the form of chemotherapy I'm doing now kept the tumors from growing but didn't shrink them. Still, this was good news because cancer, if left alone, always grows, so the thought is that the chemo was doing SOMETHING.

Now I have another CATscan on Thursday. We leave for vacation on Friday. I would prefer not to get rotten news while on this much-needed vacation.

If we get bad news, it's really bad news, because the specialist in Cleveland indicated that there aren't really any other good treatment options for sarcomas. It may be that if this type of treatment fails, the game is over. In short, we really need this CATscan to indicate some success.

I don't know what will happen if the tumors are identical in size again. If so, I may ask for another Petscan despite the cost, because I have read that sometimes chemotherapy can kill tumors and leave dead cells. Since the CATscans only identify masses, some or all of a tumor can be dead but still show up in scans. Petscans identify living cancer cells.

The point of all this? During the six weeks of treatment all I worry about is surviving the treatment itself. It's easy to lose sight of the big picture.

Now that it's getting closer to scan time again, I'm getting nervous. After all, the big picture is more than just a course of treatment: it's my life.

Scans Thursday. I'll try to post results from vacation when I can.

Posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 04, 2005

Popping Cancer Update

Important CATscans Thursday. Last scans showed the cancer had stopped growing, but had not started shrinking.

These scans should give us a clue whether or not the type of chemotherapy I've been doing lately will do the job or not.

Scans Thursday, so I'll be getting results while on the road for my much-needed vacation, but I'll try to post results as soon as I can from an internet access site at the beach.

Posted by Dan at 07:13 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

Popping Culture Reflection: His strength made perfect in my weakness.

2 Cor 12:9-10
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.


As a pastor, my goal, first and foremost was to serve as a "midwife of Grace" to those in my congregation. They would trust me enough to let me enter their most private lives, traumas, crises and conflicts and I would hope to serve as a sort of touchable representative of God.

In many ways, even the most dedicated pastor is in danger of seeing himself as a kind of empowered emissary of God who can rely solely on his own ability. I learned to identify certain danger signs in the life of a church or in the lives of individuals, and found myself therefore in danger of losing the perception of that "still, small voice." I became able to solve many administrative problems creatively, and found myself in danger of losing sight of what God had in mind for the church. As a writer, I found myself in danger of writing pretty sermons that sounded great and got wonderful feedback, yet fell short of the mark of delivering the message that needed to get across.

Most dangerously, as a professional "midwife of Grace," I lost, or nearly lost, the ability to see the workings of Grace in my own life. After all, I tell my congregation that I am just another human on the journey like they are. I tell them that, and on the surface I believe it, but after serving in enough hospital rooms, living rooms, conference rooms and pulpits, it's easy to elevate yourself. To think that since you deliver Grace and point people to it, that you don't need it yourself.

And then you get sick. Really sick.

Now who needs Grace, tough guy?

I found these words written by Reverend William Chidester, also from Ohio, who had liver disease:

"During my hospital stay I cannot begin to tell you what kind of support I received from my friends. What has been impressed upon me in ways that I will never forget is this - as a minister I spend much of my time caring for and about others. I am affirmed in the process of doing this. So here I am working to earn people's love, trust and admiration by being the best possible minister I can. Yet I was never able to do enough. Then I find something I can't do, function with my own liver, and it is out of my weakness that the grace of God is revealed. Because of what I can't do, I have been affirmed in these people's support and love beyond anything I thought possible."

If I had never been sick, I would never have felt Grace in a way that didn't need to feel earned, somehow. The people of my church, my friends, have stepped up and forced me into a new perspective, and for that I am grateful. Because of their constant cards, calls, meals, gifts and other support, I am able finally to feel and see Grace, not just deliver it to others.

Posted by Dan at 08:06 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

Popping Cancer Updates: could it be a bug?

My temperature is back down near normal. At least part of what was going on was dehydration caused by too much Lasix and not enough complementary liquid. This is my own diagnosis.

I felt feverish, weak, headachey, and my blood pressure (usually on the high side) stayed low: all symptoms of dehydration. Once I went on a drinking binge yesterday I started to feel better.

Until the evening when I started coughing. I have a wicked cough now and decreased appetite. My temperature and blood pressure (the two things I can monitor at home) are normal. I guess they'll check my blood Wednesday before chemo, but I'd like to be on my feet before then. If I still feel bad Sunday, I'll call first thing Monday for blood work.

I feel like I've been in bed since Wednesday, but that's just because I've been in bed since Wednesday. Still, the whole pushing fluids thing helped out, so that's good news.

It's the details that kill you with cancer. It's the treatment that gets you, or the little things that crop up once they start knocking down your defensive systems.

Cancer is a jerk.

Posted by Dan at 02:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 28, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Saturday temperatures

7:50 a.m.: 99.1

This is a good sign. Anything over 100.5 is a problem. Normally every night at around 6 or 7 p.m. I get a fever, so that might have made my temperature spike higher before bed last night. I'll be posting more here later, so stay tuned.

Noon: 99.7

Creeping up there, but I don't care as long as we don't get over 100.5. I had been sleeping under a heavy comforter so that might have raised the temp. It also occurs to me that I may be dehydrated. I've been taking Lasix to get the fluid out of my lungs and maybe I should be replacing liquids better. I had some koolaid and now I'm going back to bed.

Posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Popping Culture Update: Your host takes a turn.

Well, we know why I've felt so bad the last couple days. Tonight, my temperature got as high as 101.2. If it's still that high tomorrow morning, I have to go back to the hospital.

I don't like the hospital.

Time to start again with the prayers, happy thoughts, good mojo, joyous voodoo, power crystal alignment, or whatever you can send my way. If I go in the hospital now, there's a chance that the vacation is in danger. That's a negative in my book. Although, to be honest, at this point I'd drag myself to a week off if I looked like Anakin when Obi Wan left him on the Lava Planet (alert! geek reference!).

Help me out here. For my part, I'm taking several adult doses of Nyquil and going to bed.

Posted by Dan at 10:13 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Popping Cancer reflection: On self image.

Long-term cancer is a constant battle with self-image and worth.

Recently I've been suffering from fears that I don't exist. That is to say, I sit in the same chair in front of the television or computer all day and feel miserable, simply because there's nothing else for me to do, and many days there's nothing else I CAN do.

I used to be the spiritual caretaker of a church. I would attend to my marriage, do the shopping since my schedule was more flexible, walk the dog three times a day, go to school four hours away, plan for the future, pay the bills and manage our household finances. Now, I sit and ask Mrs. Popping Culture for help with things like pouring a glass of milk or turning up the thermostat.

It's easy to get depressed, to feel less like a being of worth than a huge sucking need in that same chair every day. It's easier still when you consider the guilt I feel at watching Mrs. Popping Culture have to do all those things I used to do, as well as live her own life. It's frustrating and stupid and it makes me angry. Cancer makes me angry.

I don't think there is any real answer other than endurance. On the few days I feel well enough to get out and do, I try to get out and do. Days like this last week, where my only possible goal each morning is just to survive the day or at least endure it, all I can do is try to accept the fact that I am where I am right now. One day I'll get my life back, but for now this is how it has to be.

It's hard and unfair on Mrs. Popping Culture and it's hard and unfair on me, but isn't that a reflection on life itself? Unless you are Paris Hilton, you have things you have to do that you'd rather not. Life isn't fair and nobody, not even God in the Bible, promised life would be fair. Bad things happen and sometimes after all the prayer and charity and good will, all there is left is just to find a way to deal with it. To survive. To endure.

So today I'm going to sit in my chair and keep surviving. Today I'm not a pastor. I won't be walking the dog or running to the store or doing any homework. Today my work is to get through the day alive, to keep breathing even though my lungs are full of fluid, to keep being angry at cancer, and to try to hang on to the dreams of who I was and who I will be once again after this thing is beaten.

You can lose to cancer by dying, of course, but you can also give up your dreams. You can become a professional cancer patient (and that will last far beyond your cure from the disease itself) and you can give up your self-image and let cancer take you over body and soul. As a chaplain I learned that cancer ends the lives of more people than it kills, if you get the concept.

I've decided: not me. I still have dreams and plans for the future. Maybe today I'll feel well enough to work on them, or maybe today I'll be too sick and pained to do more than just get through the day. I have faith to believe that however it ends up, I will be in the hands of a loving God when it's over. I have strength to get through today if getting through today is the only goal life offers. I have courage to do what I can to hang on to who I am on those days when I have enough strength to choose between fighting for my life or sitting depressed in that same chair.

I can beat cancer, live or die, by simply claiming and keeping possession of that Dan Champion who is waiting to be a pastor again, to walk to dog again, to buy the groceries again. Waiting as long as it takes to endure the work I have to do right now.

Posted by Dan at 07:11 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: new drugs!

I saw the doctor today because of my trouble breathing, my chest cold and my difficulty sleeping.

This is what he came up with:

-Lasix daily. This is a water pill, which means I should be running to the bathroom fairly often, but also means that the fluid in my lungs might finally go away.

-Ambien nightly. This is a pill to help me sleep.

I have no chemotherapy until Wednesday, so the hope is that all these issues sort themselves out by then. As I've been telling folks, other than being unable to breathe, I feel fine.

Posted by Dan at 08:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 16, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: The Bad Day

Forgive me for not showing up today. Today was the bad day.

I have fluid in my left lung. This makes it hard for me to sleep and I sound like a vacuum cleaner when I try to breathe while in the bed. This in turn makes me tired from not sleeping, which of course makes me more sick, and on and on. I took a pill yesterday that was supposed to help, but the furnace kicked off last night so the cold air did me more harm than good. I'm not fond of the idea of a needle in my lungs to drain fluid.

Add to that the miracle of joint pain. The drugs they gave me Wednesday are apparently working overtime because everything hurts. I want to lay in bed and moan, but again with the breathing. So I've alternated 45 minute spurts of sleep/rest with hobbling to my chair in pain for as long as I can stand to sit there.

I could use a good night's sleep. Whatever you can do to help with that would be greatly appreciated - prayer, power crystals, good mojo, fine intentions, passing thoughts - I'll take what I can get.

Mostly, I just wanted to let you know I'm here, I'm just suffering right now, which I guess is part and parcel of having cancer sometimes. It is the work I must do, and there's not enough Advil in the world to get the job done.

Posted by Dan at 07:18 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: On coming back to life.

Paul Simon said "Half of the time we're gone, but we don't know where."

After about six months of cancer, I've noticed in the past couple days that I'm starting to return to Dan Champion.

That is, for six months, I've let cancer guide me. I've let my life be about cancer.

I guess I'm lucky. The first time it took me about six years to figure out that cancer can be a part of my life without being my life and my schedule-maker. I can still be Dan Champion.

There are signs now that I'm coming back to myself. I want to see the ocean. I want to buy movies on DVD, even if I don't live long enough to see them enough times to make it worth the cost. I am willing to plan for a time after cancer. I'm willing to tell my doctor that I'm taking a week off after the next round of treatment to go on vacation with my wife, even if he is against it.

I'm not talking about being cured. I don't know if I'm going to live or die, and the last test results weren't any help with that. I'm talking about the act of being who you are, being alive whether you live or die.

I'm Dan Champion. I have cancer, but it doesn't have me. It might beat my body, but, you know, I'm ok with that, too.

And it only took six months this time.

Posted by Dan at 09:47 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

As if you needed to hear another thing I hate about cancer.

I LOVED being a pastor. I miss it. It is who I was. There were several chaplain-related reasons for this that you have heard about here ad infinitum, but another joy of the pastorate was that it gave me an outlet for my writing.

I stumbled across this child dedication service I wrote for a Christmas Eve service in 2003 and I thought you might be interested. I put it in a jump so it wouldn't fill up the screen too far, so go on and click. CAUTION: don't praise it too highly or I might be tempted to start putting up sermons.


Leader: Naked into the world we came, naked of mind and spirit and body, waving our tiny arms in the bright confusion of this strange world and this strange life.

Helpless we come, without food or clothing, without maps or knowledge, without language to ask our way to whatever Unknown destination may lie before us.

With no armor, with no guilt, in innocence, unknowing, we trustfully set forth.

Who will take our hands and lead us? Who will make sandals for our tender feet? Who will draw forth our smiles with a smile?

Who will teach us to love with their love? Who will teach us to speak with the words of their mouth? Who will teach us right by their rightness? Who will show us the truth through their truthfulness? Who will lead us to do justly through their justice?

Congregation: We will.

Leader: To you parents is given the awesome privilege to be the givers and shapers of a growing person. And to this congregation is given the privilege and responsibility to share the concern for his/her growth and religious nurture. Before us is the challenge of a questioning mind, the unfolding wonder of selfhood and the response to the world and other persons. Can we respond to that challenge with the best that is in us, seeking not to make our children like us, but rather to help them find themselves and their own ways?

Parents: We can.

Leader: We can.

Congregation: We can.

Leader: From the beginning of time, men and women have brought their children to the houses of worship for dedication. In the presence of the congregation, the child is given a name, and the parents declare their responsibility for their child. Nicholas and John leave here with not only their given names, but now their Christian names as well.

We come to a house of worship out of reverence for the mystery of life that we have seen in the miracle of reproduction and birth. We acknowledge the mystery of the power that is in us and works through us, and we are humble before that mystery.

Parents: In this act we declare that the (Nicholas/John) is an individual, a unique and separate person with a dignity and life of his own. Our children come from us, but they are not ours. They are themselves, individuals. In giving this child a name we declare that we will respect him as himself and give him the freedom to grow. We perform this ceremony publicly to declare that we as parents, and all of us as representatives of this society, are responsible for the care and development of all children.

Congregation: It is our task to give them a world of peace and justice in which to grow. It is our task to share with them our ideals and our hopes.

Leader: By presenting your child here, today, you the parents, acknowledge that the child is more than a private possession, but is a new being in which we all have a responsibility, and whom we all welcome to the community.

And so the children come. And so they have been coming. Always in the same way they come - Born of the seed of man and woman. No angels herald their beginnings. No prophets predict their future courses; no wise men see a star to point their way to find the babe that may save humankind.

Yet each night a child is born is a holy night. Fathers and mothers - sitting beside their children's cribs - feel glory in the wondrous sight of a life beginning. They ask: "When or how will this new life end? Or will it ever end?" Each night a child is born is a holy night.

Do you, the congregation of West Side Baptist Church, dedicate yourselves to the Christian care and nurture of these children?

Congregation: We do.

Leader: Do you, Steve and Angie and Amanda, dedicate yourselves to the Christian care and nurture love of Nicholas Paynter for as long as God shall entrust him to your care?

Steve, Angie, Amanda: We do.

Leader: Do you, John and Jessica, dedicate yourselves to the Christian care and nurture and love of John Logan Chandler for as long as God shall entrust him to your care?

John, Jessica: We do.

Pastoral Dedication

Prayer of Dedication

Posted by Dan at 10:14 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 09, 2005

Cancer can make beautiful things stupid.

I guess if the first anniversary is the paper anniversary, and number 50 is the gold anniversary, then number nine is the intravenous poison anniversary.

That's right, friends, Wednesday will be the ninth anniversary of the day Mrs. Popping Culture agreed to be my wife. I intend to celebrate the occasion with nausea, cramping and a side effect to be named later.

Does it get any better than chemotherapy on your wedding anniversary? Maybe if I could be tortured on Christmas.

In all sincerity, this is another dangerous quality of cancer: if you let it, it can demoralize you not just by taking things away from you, but by twisting the things you get to keep.

Still and all, it has been the best nine years of my life. Nothing chemotherapy or even death can do about that. No matter what comes of all this cancer mess, I can look back knowing that in the end I was given more than I gave, I was loved more than I loved in return and I was the luckiest man on earth for at least nine years.

You can't beat that, even with cancer.

Posted by Dan at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 08, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: The Grind

I haven't really posted an update in a while, with good reason: nothing's really happening.

I have another chemotherapy treatment Wednesday, the second this cycle, then a week off, then the three week cycle repeats. I'm sure I'll feel horrible on Wednesday. So what else is new?

Eventually, cancer just becomes a grind, especially when tests show slow progress. The newness and fear wear off. People stop bringing you meals and sending money and cards and you just settle into a rhythm of feeling horrible and recovering. The firey passion to survive, to fight back, to beat cancer, sort of eases into the daily grind.

The enemy now is boredom. Afternoons are long - very long. It sounds funny to say to those of you who are active participants in a productive life, but video games and blogging and television and reading can only fill so many hours each day. As boredom grows, the will to fight shrinks. With each progressive three-week course of treatment, the baseline of available strength gets lower and lower.

It's easy to start to feel like a prisoner. I feel trapped in this house, yet I don't have the strength or motivation to go anywhere else. Worse, you start to wonder if you really exist - if your personality matters or if you're just a black hole of neediness to your family as you sit in the same chair day after day.

I know the days of chemotheraputic torture are coming; they are part of the rhythm now. I've been doing chemotherapy twice every three weeks since what? January? It's hardly news to tell you I'm going to feel sick on Wednesday, is it?

So the challenge - and by challenge, I mean the real-life battle for survival - becomes staying active, staying alive, making my life still mean something. If you fall into that rhythm of just existing and dragging through the afternoons, you're one step away from giving in and giving up.

So my strength goes down, but my need to be active and alive goes up. THIS is the real battle with long-term cancer. Staying active when a walk to the mailbox leaves you breathless and coughing up God-knows-what.

So what is the Popping Cancer Update for today? I'm still fighting. I'm still grinding it out. I'm bored of this place and this schedule of nothingness with the occasional torture day, but I'm still alive. I'm still angry. I still want to live.

That will have to do.

Posted by Dan at 03:08 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

The very bad news.

Cancer has one trick, but it plays it over and over. I have personally fallen for it in my lifetime at least a dozen times. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but feel free to let me know and I'll probably be able to list 15 times off the top of my head. The point is, I can't believe I fell for it again. The trick? Cancer dangles hope, then snatches it away.

Elwood the cat was breathing hard by last night. Today, after I got home from getting my own poison from the chemotherapy doctor, Mrs. Popping Culture returned Elwood to the veterinarian. A bone marrow test showed that his leukemia was active. The doctor said he would live between one and three days and that he was suffering. We had the doctor end his life so that he wouldn't suffer any more.

One of the worst parts was that I wasn't able to be there with him. While he was dying, I was in bed fighting off the umpteenth wave of nausea. While Mrs. Popping Culture and a friend buried him, I was twisting in bed from a severe series of abdomen and leg cramps. (PS prayer request: somewhere in the cramps I twisted my knee wrong and can hardly walk on it. Seems a bit trivial, all things considered.) There are very few things I wouldn't have given to be there with him and Mrs. Popping Culture. Please keep her in your thoughts.

Chemotherapy is a jerk.

Cancer is a jerk.

I miss Elwood the cat.

Posted by Dan at 09:51 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Special Mid-chemo Popping Cancer Update: scan results.

The other thing about cancer is, expect to be surprised.

I've been fretting for a couple weeks about the options concerning this CATscan. What if the tumors are bigger? What if they are smaller?

Well, the truth is a third option: everything is the same. The two smaller tumors in my left lung are exactly the same, while the larger one is less than a tenth of a centimeter longer.

This is what we in the cancer business call "mild good news." Cancer, if left alone, ALWAYS grows, and usually quickly. It never rests or reaches a size it is happy with. Remember the two new tumors in my left lung grew up suddenly out of nowhere over the course of one chemotherapy session. Therefore, this new chemo is probably making a difference, just not shrinking it yet.

So we do another two three-week cycles of the same chemotherapy, starting today. In fact, I have just gotten home from getting the drugs and I expect to start feeling it in about half an hour. I thought I'd just pop in before the fireworks begin to let you know what's going on.

Posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Popping Cancer update.

One of two things is happening, if you're reading this on Wednesday morning:

1) The CATscan results were good and I'm doing chemotherapy since the fight against cancer is progressing.

2) The CATscan results were not good and we have to go back to Cleveland to see the specialist in case he learned how to beat cancer with magic because we're pretty much out of other options.

FOR REFLECTION: How bad off do you have to be when a day of chemotherapy means things are going well?

Posted by Dan at 09:16 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

I found this. It sounds sappy, unless you have cancer.

Cancer is so limited.....
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the spirit.
It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.

-anonymous

Posted by Dan at 04:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 29, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Good News and Bad News

I have good news and bad news, and they are both the same news.

The doctor called. My CATscan is scheduled for Tuesday morning. This is bad in the sense that it will be a while before we find out if the new chemotherapy has made any difference. It is also bad because of the yucky contrast you have to drink before the scan. Tastes like chalk.

The good news is I get a weekend off. I'm getting a little strength back and if I can stay healthy it might be nice to feel good for a couple three days for a change.

So this update is a mixed bag. I know we're all anxious about these next test results, but here we are with a free weekend. We might as well enjoy it. I, for one, plan on eating Mexican food.

Posted by Dan at 11:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

Popping Cancer Update

Well, we've finished off two more three-week rounds of chemotherapy and now it's time to see if it made a difference.

My oncologist is scheduling a CATscan even as you read. I should be able to get in and get scanned in the next day or two. This is an important scan, since we're running out of options if this brand of chemo didn't work.

I'll let you know when the scan is and what the results are as soon as I know something. In the meantime, I could use all the prayer/good karma/happy thoughts/large cash settlements you can send my way. I've been having a little trouble breathing lately. Once or twice a day I have to conciously breathe in and out, which is troubling. Sometimes when I wake up at night I'm making an eerie rasping noise from somewhere in my lungs.

Still, it reminds me I'm alive, and it certainly beats the alternative, which is not breathing at all. Nyquil and Dayquil help the breathing, so maybe I just picked up a little bug.

Posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: tests coming!

Elwood seems the same so far today.

Tomorrow, I meet with the oncologist for a standard check-up following chemotherapy. This is when we'll schedule CAT scans to check out our progress. Tests will probably take place Friday or Saturday and I'll let you know as soon as I know anything.

I wish I had more of an update for you. Other than that, I'm just a bit wiped out today and anticipate napping much of the afternoon away.

Posted by Dan at 12:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 23, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection

I borrow this from Norman Cousins, written in his Anatomy of an Illness:

"My first experience in coping with a bleak medical diagnosis came at the age of ten, when I was sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium. I was terribly frail and underweight, and it seemed logical to suppose I was in the grip of a serious malady. Later it was discovered that the doctors had mistakenly interpreted normal calcification as TB markings. X-rays at the time were not yet a totally reliable basis for complex diagnosis. In any case, I spent six months at the sanitarium.

"What was most interesting to me about that early experience was that patients divided themselves into two groups: those who were confident they would beat back the disease and be able to resume normal lives, and those who resigned themselves to a prolonged and even fatal illness. Those of us who held to the optimistic view became good friends, involved ourselves in creative activities, and had little to do with the patients who had resigned themselves to the worst. When newcomers arrived at the hospital, we did our best to recruit them before the bleak brigade went to work.

"I couldn't help being impressed with the fact that the boys in my group had a far higher percentage of 'discharged as cured' outcomes than the kids in the other group. Even at the age of ten, I was being philosophically conditioned; I became aware of the power of the mind in overcoming disease. The lessons I learned about hope at that time played an important part in my complete recovery and in the feelings I have had since about the preciousness of life."

Some days (like today, when the three-day trial of untouchable joint pain has begun) it's hard to keep away from the bleak brigade, but I'm trying. It's worth the effort, and a few days in bed with pain don't compare to a chart marked "discharged as cured."

Posted by Dan at 12:54 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Popping Cancer Update (under the influence of chemo drugs, so hold on)

Maybe it's more of a reflection.

My struggle is that I'm not sure what I'm hoping for right now. Chemotherapy (which is not quite over yet, but I feel a little functional and this is in my head and I want to get it out) was its typical horrific self today, with two special additions.

One was sudden nausea, like running into a wall unexpectedly. It's like when you cough suddenly and didn't feel it coming on, except that it's the most horribly productive cough in your life. Worse, if you haven't kept nibbling all day, it might be non-productive.

The other was that, unexpectedly, everything got loud. It was as if you were listening to headphones at level 3 and someone turned them up to 10 (or 11 for Spinal Tap fans). My dog was three rooms away, and her squeaky toy sounded like a megaphone going off INSIDE MY HEAD. Then it would just go away. I would have asked Roxy (the dog, name short for Rock Star, which is in turn short for Punk Rock Star) to stop squeaking, but I doubt she would have understood. What could I expect from someone who has worms in her poop? (NOTE: yes, Mrs. Popping Culture is taking her to the vet tomorrow. We thought the chemotherapy ranked higher on the priorities list today.)

Tomorrow, I get the shot that increases white cell production and causes about three days of constant, debilitating joint agony.

I say all that to say this. My life sucks on chemo days and the days after, and I don't mean that in a hum-de-dum having-a-bad-day sense. I mean that in the "how much more of this can I take before I give up" sense.

Granted, this is coming on the day of the pain, and with a week, my spirits will rise as my health rises.

Still, I look ahead to the scans and there are three possibilities:

1 - No change and we go back to the previous type of chemo,

2 - No change and we are done. I feel better for a few months, then start the dying process.

3 - The chemo works and the tumors have started to shrink.

Option One is not good. That chemo tore me up in what I believe are permanent ways. There was clear evidence of direct damage to my bladder or kidneys. I don't want to do it and I might not have a choice.

Option two sounds nice on painful days (A few to several months of feeling strong and good sound wonderful. I don't remember the last time I woke up and felt GOOD.) but then there's the slow painful death thing.

Option three sounds wonderful. The chemo is working! Huzzah! It's naive and silly to expect that it cured me in just two treatments, but I'm allowed, as a Baptist Pastor, to expect a miracle. The problem is that likely this option means more days like today. Today sucks. Cancer is a jerk. Given the option today, I would go to Hawaii with my wife, make love on the beach and eat lobster for a few months and see what happens. This is why we don't make decisions anywhere near chemo days.

Still, tonight I will say my prayers. I don't know what I'm rooting for here, other than "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done."

Keyword: fear.

Theme of the message: not even pastors have answers sometimes.

Closing: We all have work to do. This is the work I must do and if it continues, I will do it no matter how much it hurts, even unto death. This is the work I must do right now, and fear is just fine and natural as long as I don't let it keep me from my work, yes?

Homework: Get the hell out of bed tomorrow. Don't worry about the next day. Do whatever it takes to live in the day you're in.

Posted by Dan at 07:56 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Officially worried now, heading quickly toward scared.

I'm going to bed now (9:40 p.m. Monday night). Tomorrow is Tuesday. Wednesday is the last chemotherapy treatment of this cycle. Next week I get scans done.

These scans aren't like the other ones. If these don't show some progress against these stupid tumors, there aren't any good options left on the table. What we really, really need is for next week's scans to show some tumor shrinkage or we're in rather a large bit of trouble.

It's funny how easy it has been to feel miserable during chemotherapy, telling myself I'm getting better. It's not long now until we find out for sure.

I guess we all walk a thin line between living and dying every day, but, my goodness, my thin line comes with dates attached now.

So, I'm a little concerned to hear the results of next week's scans. It's funny, but I don't think I'm scared to die (or, what can be a bigger fear for some, scared to live). I think I'm scared of the unknown. Give me something to fight against and I'll be ok. Just don't leave me alone without knowing what's going on.

Cancer is a jerk.

Posted by Dan at 09:39 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

Unprecedented combination popping cancer update and brain candy.

Today's poem comes from a writer named Michael Lidington.

It will never appear in Norton, it won't win any awards and, quite frankly, it's not all that well-written when one compares it to some of the classic poems we post here at Popping Culture.

The thing is, when he wrote the poem, Michael was a child. A child with cancer. After a doctor told Michael there was nothing more she could do for him, and left the room in tears, Michael said to his mother, "I never want to be a doctor."

"Why not, Michael?" his mother asked

"Because I never want to have to tell that to a child."

After his cancer went into remission, he wrote the following poem, called "I Won!!!":

The cancer's gone, I'm free once more;
I've decided not to walk through the door.
I'll leave this place when the time is right;
Be it during the day or late at night,
But if I'm not ready, then count on a fight!

My family and friends have helped me through;
A lot of the time, not knowing what to do.
If they only know I'd do the same for them;
They'd understand they're MY life's precious gems.

No one will ever quite understand,
The pain which feeds the pen in my hand.
I know they would,
They wish they could,
But until they do I'm alone in this land.

It's time for my life to get a move on;
To break away from the plague I've carried so long.
It's time for me to live again;
To pull my life around this bend.

Thank you those who worried so;
But I'm not going to die, (I told you so!).

To those who need it, take my hand;
I'll guide you through this savage land.

Michael wrote another poem of note, as well. He wrote it after his cancer came back some time later. It was written for his brother to read at his funeral and contains an important message.

He titled it "Dare":

Twas not there a time,
When a man could be a man?
When a woman could be a woman?
And either one could live without the world?

I see a world with disaster foretold;
I live in a fantasy from times of old
People don't care for silks or gold
No-one's evil, no-one's on parole

I came into this strange world, not knowing up from down,
It's a world of independence where people need to love.
Do what I have done, and challenge the world
Take nothing for granted, and know where you're going

Let go of all your physical restraints, don't rely on anything
This material world won't make it without the love of God.
Many people care for you or else they wouldn't be here for you
Trust me, anything is better than no-one

Wipe your tears, I'm having fun.
Do what I did and accept the challenge of your life.
You see, I beat the challenge. I won.
Soon, I'll be in a better place of no hate or disease

I'm always with you, so I don't want to see one tear on your face
You can beat the world,
So challenge it. I DARE YOU.

Michael Charles Lidington died peacefully at home. He was fifteen years old. At his funeral, he had the last word.

My point all along about this cancer thing is not that you beat it, or that you kill the tumors. It's that you live while you're alive.

(Poems quoted from How to Live Between Office Visits by Bernie Siegel, M.D.)

Posted by Dan at 09:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: The Power of Positive Thinking.

No, I'm not talking about that Robert Schuller nonsense.

Schuller was, and may still be for all I know, a popular pastor who preached a thinly-veiled prosperity gospel that said if you think positive thoughts, if you visualize what you want, the Lord will give it to you. Be good, think happy thoughts, and ask for whatever you want.

Of course, that sells to people in need (specifically, those viewers at home who are likely to mail you their life savings), but in reality it doesn't pan out.

I, for instance, am hardly a saint, but I've been through more crap in my 36 years than any of the sins I've committed could justify. No amount of positive thinking or clean living kept me from getting cancer.

Anyway, that's not the kind of positive thinking power I'm talking about.

I'm talking about HEALING once the damage has been done. People get cancer; that's how the world works. So here I am, with cancer. I have two choices: I can get gloomy and depressed and just take what comes or I can be positive and pro-active. I'm here to say that there really is a difference.

I'm here to say that my belief is that your state of mind, your thoughts and beliefs, can have a direct bearing on your course of healing.

Here I quote Bernie Siegel, M.D. from his book How to Live between Office Visits:

Laughter and joy can mean a healing, life-enhancing message going to every cell in your body, whereas shame, guilt and despair can lead to destructive messages. Your emotions are chemical. It is exciting to understand that specific thoughts can create changes in the body. When you are happy, your body knows it. When you're depressed and feeling hopeless, your body also knows that. And when I refer to your body I mean your bone marrow, the lining of your blood vessels, your liver. Every organ participates in the happiness or sadness. Consciousness and knowledge occur at the cell membrane. (Candace Pert, a neuro-physiologist, has done work with neuropeptides and in essence feels that awareness and consciousness will ultimately be located at the cell membrane.)

We know that the happy individual has a different set of neuropeptides (hormones) circulating from those of the person who is depressed, angry or anxious. Our nervous system and other organ systems through these neuropeptides are communicating with every cell in our bodies. Our gut feelings, how we deal with life, how many white blood cells we produce, how rapidly a wound heals - all of these are linked.

Or as Tim Robbins' character in The Shawshank Redemption puts it, "It comes down to a simple choice: get busy livin' or get busy dyin'"

You don't have to agree that putting away my sad movies for now or not reading depressing books or steering clear of the negative and violent and thuggish images on MTV will help with my healing, but if you do disagree, don't rain on my parade.

I believe I can beat these sarcomas, despite what doctors say. I believe that I can assist my body in healing by thinking positive thoughts and that positive imagery can help direct the poisons put in my veins to the areas that need healing. I believe that "beating" cancer doesn't have to mean going to war, but working for healing.

That's what I mean by the power of positive thinking in my life.

As always, somebody else has already said it better. I leave you with a quote from Francis Hodgson Burnett in The Secret Garden:

One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts - just mere thoughts - are as powerful as electric batteries - as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live.

This is why some people die at peace, and some die scared. Positive thinking can heal, and can re-define healing when necessary. Healing for me might mean removing the cancer from my body. Healing might mean getting over something I'm angry about or mending fences with someone I have a grudge against. One day, it might mean closing cirles and dying on my own terms. This is the power of positive thinking.

Posted by Dan at 07:31 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: The party's almost over.

The first successful week of rest is nearing an end. During my other two three-week sessions of chemotherapy, you will remember, the third week (the week without treatment wherein I was supposed to gain strength for the next round) hit me with various bugs and viruses that kept me sick and tired instead of strong like ox.

This week I've felt pretty good. Weak as always, and a mild cough, but nothing to complain about. I even went out of the house (shock!) to an Amish breakfast buffet in Columbiana County, Ohio.

I have today off (The hope is that a good nap in the afternoon means I can leave the house again for supper at a non-crowded restaurant, assuming the checkbook allows) and tomorrow off, then chemotherapy hits again on Wednesday. Oop Aak.

I hope you have your chemotherapy gifts all picked out.

Posted by Dan at 10:05 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Popping Cancer: Timing is everything.

When I was a teenager, and first diagnosed with late stage Hodgkin's Disease, it was quite a shock. We all think we're going to live forever, especially when we're kids.

I had a sore throat and some mild weakness. I didn't notice that the lymph nodes in my neck had hardened and swollen enough that I had gone up a full neck size in my shirts. I was a kid on summer vacation from college and all I ever wore were loose t-shirts.

This time around, as a man of 35 (now 36), it was the same deal. In spite of 6-month checkups, I felt good and thought I would live forever. In this case, timing was even more important.

The sarcoma started as a lump on my back in the spot where I had taken radiation treatments as a teen. I had lost 85 pounds (on purpose) and the lump was growing as I was shrinking. Finally, I noticed it when I went to bed... like I was on a rolled-up sock.

By that time the lump was very large... the incision from the surgery to remove it was about 9 inches long.

If I had found the lump a month earlier, it is very possible that it could have been removed completely and treated with a little radiation before it spread to my lungs. If I had found the lump a month later, it is very possible that I wouldn't be doing treatment right now, other than taking meds to make me comfy before I died.

Timing is everything.

Of course you think you're going to live forever. Of course, when you feel good, you can't imagine anything going wrong. You can't imagine being sick, especially not at your age.

I'm just saying that I was 17, and I was 35.

Maybe food for thought.

Posted by Dan at 01:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 31, 2005

Popping Cancer Reflection: What the caregiver needs.

You know, Mrs. Popping Culture does an awful lot. Because of my cancer, she's now the primary grocery shopper, dog walker, hunter/gatherer, pastor's liason to the church, financial officer and a hundred other jobs she never wanted, all on top of caring for a husband who suddenly has a potentially fatal disease. She's just barely in her thirties... can you imagine?

And yet I, just because I may or may not be dying, remain the center of attention. All I do is pretty much sit in a chair and watch television, or take naps, and yet websites and pretty Hallmark cards all come with messages to me.

Not too long ago I quoted Anita Tejedat and her masterful piece on how you can lose your health and still have everything as long as you are loved. I found her work in the book How to Live between Office Visits by Bernie Siegel. Her husband had cancer at the time.

She also provided this letter, which stands in defense of the caregivers who give up so much. It allows them to be angry. Pardon the language, but it's there.

"What about the person who is not the one with the illness? Yes, how about me? How am I doing? No one ever seems to ask. A selfish thought when I am not the one who has the disease. No, my pain doesn't have a medical label, my fear is abstract, there isn't any medicine that can take it away. It is the pain of sharing my life, my love, my hopes, my dreams, my future with someone whose life seems to be shattered and all those things stolen from him.

How am I doing? Well, since you asked, I'm scared shitless. I'm scared to love all the way now, because the loss is too great. I'm scared because I'm real angry and I want to scream out to God, 'Are you nuts?' Or to my beloved who is sick, 'Snap out of it and make it go away,' or to friends and family who have become distraught over trivialites, "Shut the hell up, you don't know how lucky you are.' I'm scared because my own life and love, and hopes and dreams and future are so connected to my love's that I wonder what will become of me. I'm scared because I see and live the reality of what is and still reach for the idealism I've always had and wonder if I'm fooling myself. Maybe you could say a prayer of courage for me, so I can continue on and care."

It's easy being sick. You don't have a choice.

It's hard loving someone sick.

I invite you to use the comments section to say something uplifting to Mrs. Popping Culture, who has the worst of it by far, not counting the nausea.

Posted by Dan at 09:36 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

Light blogging Wednesday.

Blogging will be light Wednesday insomuch as several grim-faced nurses will be injecting me with various poisons.

That's right: it's chemo time again!

Jealous yet?

Posted by Dan at 07:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

Popping Cancer: Reflection

Right now, I don't have any hair on my head. My facial hair is growing in patchy, smooth here, thick there. I can't speak two sentences without starting to cough and I tend to spend most of my days either napping or sitting in the same chair under the same blanket watching television. I am pale and weak and I'm losing weight.

Not exactly the description of someone you'd flirt with from across the room or strike up a conversation with on the bus, is it?

I can see how some folks would be driven to depression by these circumstances, but I know who I am. I know that being ragged and torn is not always a bad thing. I know that I am loved.

AND I own a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit. Let me share this exerpt with you.

"Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real... It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

I know that I am loved. See? There's no way cancer can win, no matter what the final result.

Just keeping it Real.

Posted by Dan at 04:15 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Did you get the number of that truck?

Chemotherapy yesterday was horrific. At least I was mostly in my own home for the side effects. By way of backstory, every night for the last month or so, my temperature has risen to about 100 degrees for no real reason other than that I have cancer. So yesterday I took a nausea drug in the late afternoon that made me kind of loopy but also gave me a general feeling of being unwell. I think once the fever hit, it was all over.

Today I feel kind of normal, but also weak and sore like I had been mugged. Same deal next Wednesday, but with another drug added. Neat.

Posted by Dan at 08:16 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Quick Hit

On Wednesday, I start a new regimen of chemotherapy.

I hope it works.

Posted by Dan at 09:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 19, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: If you don't have your health, you can still have everything.

This was written some time ago by Anita Tejedat. I share it with you now:

When someone you love is falling apart with the dreaded disease that seems to be consuming him little by little, you become steeped in fear and anger and denial and often feel helpless. What can you do? What is the purpose of all this?

"Why, dear God, why?" is the question that goes around and around in your head. You've heard it said that when you have your health you have everything. I wonder about that.

Do you really? My beloved husband is sick. I live and feel and breathe these things and live with the questions always. But I have found one of the answers. I give it to you. No it is not true that when you have your health you have everything. What is true is, if you have someone who truly cares about you, when you do not have your health, you have everything.

It is easier to buy good health than to buy good love. No amount of money can do that. Love is a free gift. It can give us all the strength we need to go on when there ain't no more to give.

Screaming out in the quiet, "I adore you. I hate this. I am here. If only my love could heal you, you would be healed instantly. Together we'll get through this. We'll beat this thing." And in my heart I know our love is better than anything else, richer than anything else, healthier than anything else, and will rise above anything else, yes, and can even heal.

No, when you have your health you do not have everything, but when you have a heart, a soul, connected to yours, be it wife, husband, child, friend, lover, parent, sister, brother, doctor, nurse, whoever, that says "I love you, I'm here," you have everything.

Posted by Dan at 09:23 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: No Update!

I'm thrilled to report I have nothing to report.

Still have the cancer, but finally I get a break from treatment. I get until Wednesday to sit around the house and gain some much-needed rest and energy. I might even be able to finally shake this annoying cough.

So, for those of you checking in on my health, I have nothing to say and it feels great!

If you're in it for the misery, check back Wednesday.

Posted by Dan at 09:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update

The way it looks now, chemotherapy will start back up on Wednesday. Seems the drugs they want to give me aren't traditionally used for sarcomas, so the doctor has to jump through a few hoops with the insurance company.

Couple extra days off is fine with me.

Posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Popping Cancer: Doctor's Report

We had a decent visit.

Since the last rounds of chemotherapy knocked out my white blood cells and crunched my bladder and kidneys like Lay's potato chips, we're going with a less stressful chemo drug for the next few rounds.

Shorter visits at the chemo room, more time at home. There are still side effects - they ARE still poisoning me, after all - but it shouldn't be as brutal as the last time. New treatments start next week.

The most interesting of the potential side effects this time is loss of feeling in my fingers and toes. Fun!

As always, I'll let you know how it's going. For now, I get the rest of the week off - huzzah! - and it's time for a nap.

Posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update

On the road again!

Back up to Cleveland this morning to meet with the special cancer doctor. More details and, presumably, chemo dates when we return this afternoon.

Posted by Dan at 06:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 12, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Getting Technical

The early news on my CAT scan was that things pretty much remained the same over two courses of chemotherapy.

Well, when we say "remained the same" we mean that the big growth remained the same, but has some friends who are now visable on CAT scan.

On 12-13-4, my CAT scan showed a single tumor, 5.5 x 2.8 cm in size.

On 3-10-5, a CAT scan showed that tumor is now 5.4 x 2.7 cm, which is actually a little bit smaller. This is good news.

The mixed bag is that two of the smaller bits that showed up on the PETscan are now big enough to be seen on the CATscan. Here I quote from the CATscan report:

There is a 2.3 x 1.6 cm left periaortic enlarged lymph node. No
other mediastinal lymphadenopathy is identified. An additional finding in the left lung is a convex late marginated nodular density contiguous with the left basal pleural effusion 2.4 cm diameter.

It's up to you to decide if this is good or bad news.

Can you tell the difference? (To be fair, scan 2 was done without contrast)

CAT scan #1:

catscan1.jpg

CAT scan #2:

catscan2.jpg

UPDATE: For fun, in the second scan, you can see the heart monitors attached at various places on my chest and in the upper right, you can see the catheter they put in. Fun.

Posted by Dan at 05:18 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 07, 2005

Time to start cursing and breaking things!

Remember week three? No? Let me refresh:

Week one is the week I receive chemotherapy treatments. Hell.
Week two is the week I sit and watch tv, weak as a kitten as recovery starts.
Week three is the week that I have some actual energy. I get to live my life and get stronger in preparation for repeating the cycle.

Except that God or whoever is pulling the strings is out to get me. Last week three I had a consuming dry cough that exhausted me all week. Now, it's Monday of the most recent week three and I have a temperature of 101.2 and a productive cough that's keeping me from sleep. Today I slept all morning and all afternoon, getting up only for Rice Chex and potty.

The thing is, when you've been sick for so many weeks in a row, you just want ONE DAY to feel good, if only to remember what it was like to have energy.

I know, whine whine whine.

Still, I'm laid up right now, so I'm counting on you, the readership of Popping Culture, to curse and break things. Begin.

Posted by Dan at 10:24 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: Test dates set.

Tomorrow at 10 is a fairly standard blood test. Just like all the rest, this will make sure my counts are up. I'll get a shot of ProCrit if they're a little low.

Friday morning is the biggie. I'm having a CAT scan (complete with two tall bottles of yummy contrast!) that should help us figure out what, if anything, the chemotherapy has been doing other than making me feel like a mugging victim.

Results here could be anything from (a) cancer completely gone, tumors dried up and left town to (b) cancer still growing at the same happy rate.

No reason to get too wound up until we have some definite results, I guess. Either way, for good or bad, it will be nice to have some real, tangible facts to work with. It's hard doing this treatment with no idea if it's making a difference.

Posted by Dan at 03:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: First round of tests coming.

At the end of next week, I'll be taking a CAT scan to determine what, if anything, the chemotherapy has been doing to the tumors.

If the tumors are significantly smaller, I jump right into another round of chemotherapy. If not, we enter discussions.

If there has been no change in the tumors, though, I at least have the comfort of knowing it hasn't been for lack of trying. This chemotherapy I've been getting is the most brutal I've ever had.

When I was younger, it was harder to get through chemo because the anti-nausea drugs weren't up to par yet, so I had to suffer through more physical side effects than I am now. However, as my doctor has indicated, this time we are being very aggressive with the treatment. The sarcoma I have now is a high grade tumor and isn't afraid to spread pretty quickly.

I have noticed little things that indicate they are hitting my body with the chemo poison pretty hard - sore kidneys, worse fatigue for longer periods of time (when I was a kid, I was usually feeling fine about a week after chemo - not now), and other less savory side effects.

Once again, the CAT scan will come at the end of next week some time. It'll be nice to know one way or the other if all this nonsense is making any difference.

Posted by Dan at 07:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Popping Cancer Movie Reviews Aborted.

I thought about doing an in-depth analysis of how cancer is used in movies, and which movies use cancer in certain ways. It all seemed so interesting up in my head.

Now? Not so much.

Suffice it to say that the two movies I've seen that most accurately portray the emotions surrounding someone suffering from cancer and his/her loved ones are My Life (people don't like that this is at least 50 percent comedy (cancer grim!) - guess what? My own life is at least that, too) and Dying Young, which shows clearly what folks can go through and how it can change their actions.

The worst (and this is not a reflection on the quality of movie, but the way in which cancer is used) are movies like Beaches and Steel Magnolias. You know what I'm talking about.

These movies may be great works of dialogue and human exploration and female bonding. They get lowest marks for use of cancer, though. Cancer to these movies (and I'm sure you can think of a couple off the top of your head) is just a plot device, a way to add some cheap emotion. Might as well have your character hit by a garbage truck.

Let's see: we have a mom-daughter or best friend bonding flick, we need some free emotion... I got it! Give someone cancer! Don't SHOW it, but have it come out of nowhere and just kill 'em dead, complete with final bonding reconciliation scene.

A plot device. For all the work these studios put into research, you'd think they'd do more than add an IV and start the crying.

So at least I spared you the long version.

Posted by Dan at 10:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

Popping Cancer reflection: It doesn't take a strong person.

I got a compliment from a friend in email this week.

After I described my most recent chemotherapy treatment, she wrote back that I was such a "strong" person.

Looking back over the treatment I've done in the course of my lifetime, I would never have thought it possible that I could have survived all that, but the survival, in my mind, isn't necessarily what strength is.

Taking acts to preserve your life when the only alternative is death is not strength. Not if you want to live.

This last course of treatment added a new horror. My kidneys decided they didn't like being poisoned once and for all. They (my kidneys) said to themselves "let's get this junk out of here ASAP." And so, without even consulting me, they started a regimen of toxic drug removal. For days, I had to go to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes while I was awake, and at night I would wake up to run (yes, run) to the bathroom every 45-60 minutes.

On top of everything else, this was physically and psychologically quite a blow to me. Take three hours and just get up every 15-20 minutes, walk to the bathroom, and return. Then imagine that against your will, already weak and exhausted and ridden with other side effects. For three days.

Sleep comes only in half-hour bites and then only if you can find a comfortable position to sleep (remember, I am recovering from surgery on Monday as well).

Added to that task was the job of having to constantly be drinking water. Otherwise, the tasks above became, well, painful on top of everything else. Who would have thought that drinking water could be such a chore?

All the old familiar side effects with this one thrown in on top. And yet, what could I do? Nothing but suffer through it until it was over. Sleep when I could, avoid accidents, go back each day for more poison, which I knew would only extend it.

Because I suffered through this week of chemotherapy (I'm still in recovery, and am very, very weak still, but the worst has passed), does that make me strong? I don't think so. Maybe if I was taking it on so someone else could get well. Maybe if it was for a cause outside myself.

The way I see it, my choices are two:

1) take whatever suffering the treatment chooses to impose.
2) die.

Pretty clear to me.

Now, here's where strength comes in: What do you do with it? I try to get out when I can when I'm healthy (last time I had a cough and was mostly homebound). I even preached one post-chemotherapy week last time and I might do so again this week coming up if I get strong in a hurry. I try when I can to make poor Mrs. Popping Culture's suddenly impossible life easier. Once last time when she was sick I walked the dog. Seems like a small thing, but given my health, it was like I had cured, well, cancer.

I think strength is the ability to keep living your life as much and as well as you can despite the nonsense you HAVE to do. And we all have our own nonsense.

We all have, to put it in Christian parlance, our crosses to bear. What we do once we have those crosses on our backs is what makes us strong.

Cancer ends the lives of many more people than it kills. This is a true statement.

Posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: day three begins

Long night. Going for treatment shortly.

Will post when I can... long day ahead.

Prayers, et. al., requested and welcomed.

Posted by Dan at 07:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

Popping Culture: the end of day two.

I think that the McDonald's story below will be the extent of my silly blogging this evening, if you don't mind. I am not feeling very well.

Tomorrow is day three, after which I will check in or have Mrs. Popping Culture do so.

Be well.

Posted by Dan at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: home from day two.

Yep.

I'm home and mostly in once piece. I'm alive, and while it feels like I'm not going to be happy about that fact for the next few days, I've made it this far. It's like my own watered-down version of being alive.

Tomorrow is day three.

Ooof.

Posted by Dan at 03:14 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: Chemo day two of three.

That about sums it up. Starts to get real today.

Health permitting, I'll post this afternoon to let you know I'm alive and stuff. If I can't post, I'll have Mrs. Popping Culture drop a note.

Be well.

Posted by Dan at 07:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Another hard day ends on a happy note.

Sure, I have intense pain with virtually any movement thanks to surgery. Yes, they poisoned me today.

But it ends on a happy note once again.

You might ask why.

Because I'm in love?

Because I know in my heart of hearts that I did my best today despite it all?

Because of my enduring faith in God?

Nope.

Vicodin. Blessed, blessed Vicodin.

Strength of spirit, personal faith and the ability to deal with pain and still keep fighting are all wonderful and necessary, but when you need to get some sleep, none of them beat the big V.

I'm tempted to write a sermon.

Posted by Dan at 09:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: My day so far.

Well, I just got home from the first of three days of chemotherapy treatments. Now, I get to choose between icing down the swollen ouchie areas from surgery yesterday and popping anti-nausea pills. So many choices.

All is well. It takes about 5-6 hours all together to put in all the pre-meds and then the chemo drugs themselves, so you can expect not to hear from me for vast stretches of tomorrow and the day after as well.

Everything is still sore from surgery, but if I have to have surgery pain and I have to have chemotherapy, might as well get them over with at the same time, yes?

I met a lady today whose husband and father are both undergoing chemotherapy at the same time. In fact, her husband was leaving from treatment just as she arrived with her father. Cancer sucks.

I don't have any real reflections today, just bringing you up to speed. Maybe after I take a couple Vicodin something will spring to mind.

Peace.

Posted by Dan at 03:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 21, 2005

Popping Culture Update: The Big Ouch

Surgery is done. I just got home. The catheter is under my skin.

Not that you can feel it through all the swelling. The pain is just phenomenal, and I've felt some pain before. Every few seconds, a little more of the drugs they used to put me under for surgery wears off and the pain gets just that much worse.

Mrs. Popping Culture is off getting blessed Vicotin. I'm going downstairs under the electric blanket to mutter and whine for the night, but I thought I'd let you savages know that I am alive and reasonably well.

Chemotherapy is scheduled for the next three days but may be pushed back a day if the swelling around this port is not down enough. That's pretty much it for now.

If you ask me, it's enough. Still, happy to be alive, every day is a gift, etc.

Posted by Dan at 06:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: Surgery, Coughing

Well, today's the big day: surgery to implant a Port-A-Cath.

I'm a little worried by this cough. It's better, but I still have coughing fits when it's cold or when I lay down. So, of course I'll be going into a cold operating room and laying flat on my back. My hope is that they can give me something to stop me coughing (or even put me under). I'd hate for the surgeon to be threading a tube into a vein near my heart when I started coughing.

I go in at about 1 p.m., roughly 4 hours from now.

My other concern is the IV. Last time we tried chemotherapy, it didn't go because my veins kept blowing out at inopportune times. That's why we're putting in the catheter. So they'll have to start an IV line in order to do surgery and here's hoping it goes well.

Finally, for those of you keeping track of things to worry or pray about, depending on which part of the Interweb you snuck in from, there's a chance of swelling around the port. We need any swelling to go down quickly so we can use the thing for chemotherapy tomorrow. Got it?

Fun, fun, fun. I have the most interesting days.

Posted by Dan at 09:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 20, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: vacation's over

Not that it has been much of a vacation. Instead of feeling stronger every day, I've been laid up by this obnoxious cough.

Still, tomorrow it's go time again. Surgery tomorrow to implant a Port-A-Cath (presuming they can give me something to stop this cough), then three days in a row of chemotherapy.

Sure it sounds rough, but you should hear the alternative.

Posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: estimated time of Complete Head Hair Loss (CHHL): 8 p.m.

P1010093.JPG

Much-coveted locks of your gentle host's hair will be going on sale in short order.

Posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update: It seems that I have cancer.

Last night I woke up at around 1:30 a.m. drenched in sweat. The sheets were drippy and so was I, head to toe. If you identified this as a sign of recurrent disease, proceed to paragraph two.

Sure enough, this morning my hair started falling out in handy clumps. It would appear, my friends, that this has not all been some elaborate practical joke at my expense.

Maybe this time around I'll go with skullcaps instead of bandanas. Then again, last time around, Bonnie's mom made me some bandanas that were pretty sweet. I think a black skullcap would be appropriate for church, though.

Hair. Everywhere.

For some folks, losing their hair is a traumatic part of the cancer experience. It is a sort of visual confirmation AND it sets them apart from others leading normal lives in an undeniable way. Again, however a cancer patient reacts to cancer is appropriate. Let them feel how they feel.

I mostly don't care about my hair. My theory is along the lines of "anything that hides a face this pretty cannot be a good thing in the long run."

What I don't like is the initial day or three of tossing out hair clumps. Stuff gets everywhere.

It could be worse, I guess. Chemotherapy could make you lose fingers, or I could be watching SportsCenter and my head could just roll off. As side effects go, this is the least important to me.

Posted by Dan at 08:18 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

From the kitchens of Popping Culture.

I have recently perfected this recipe, which should help with both my constant dry cough AND my lack of sleep.

Ingredients:
-An adult dose of Nyquil, measured out into that cute plastic cap
-Some more Nyquil

Preparation (2 minutes):
1) Pick up the carefully measured adult dose of Nyquil. Drink it.
2) Pour out some more Nyquil into the plastic cap, to taste. Don't worry if some overflows the top.
3) Drink that as well.
4) Find a place to lay down. Quickly.

Posted by Dan at 10:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Blood Test Results: OW! OW! HEY, OW!

My bloodwork came back nearly fine, except my hemoglobin was down. They gave me a shot of ProCrit, which I think I've seen on the television.

The nurse, as she was sticking the needle into my arm, said "this will burn a little bit." What an appropriate thing to say. At first, I thought she had set me on fire.

Ouch!

If it was torture, I would have told the secret plans or sold out little Timmy or revealed Mr. Wonderful's fatal weakness - whatever they wanted.

Still, it looks like we're set to go for chemo next Tuesday - Thursday, presuming all goes well with the surgery Monday.

Posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Popping Culture: Once more unto the vampires, my friends!

Yet another blood test today, this time to determine if my blood can handle surgery and another round of chemotherapy. I'm confident.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Got a bill today for almost $20,000 after insurance. Neat. It's cool though, I have until the end of February to pay it.

Posted by Dan at 09:03 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 15, 2005

Popping Cancer: Our Story So Far

I've gotten a few questions from recently-inducted readers of Popping Culture about my current health. Maybe it's time to recap:

-I'm 36 now. When I was 18, I was diagnosed with late-stage Hodgkin's Disease, which I beat over about 8 years on-and-off with chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.

-Ten years after the bone marrow transplant, in fact the week before Thanksgiving last year, I noticed a big (maybe chalkboard-eraser sized, but not as long?) lump on my upper left shoulder. This turned out to be a sarcoma (a rare cancer) caused by the radiation treatments from my first cancer experience.

-Before you could say "innumerable trips to Cleveland Clinic Hospitals in the snow," the sarcoma had spread into my chest, near my lungs. There is a big lump near my aorta and about 5-10 smaller ones throughout my chest cavity, this as per my last scan.

-Radiation is not an option because the cancer is in my blood (metastisized). Surgery is not an option. So we're doing chemotherapy. The chemo is complicated by the fact that the lead drug, adriamicin, is the drug I used primarily back in the day to defeat Hodgkin's. It damaged the muscles near my heart pretty severely (I beat out about 30-35 percent of the blood in my heart with each beat - you normal folks get up near 55 or 60 percent). Using adriamicin could make my heart, you know, stop. So we're using alternate chemo drugs.

-I just finished the first couple treatments and I'm gaining strength for the next cycle. A normal chemotherapy cycle is three days of chemo (back-to-back-to-back) followed by three weeks off. I have a relatively minor surgery Monday, Feb. 21, then my next chemo cycle hits on the 22nd-24th. At the end of the next cycle, we will re-take the scans to see if the chemo has made a difference. If not, we juggle some drugs, I guess.

That's all I can really think of right now. Feel free to post any questions you might have in the comments box and I might actually answer them.

Posted by Dan at 08:35 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

Popping Cancer: Coughing Up The Update

I have another blood test Wednesday. This one is to make sure my body can handle another round of chemotherapy next week.

Maybe we'll also get a handle on what's causing this annoying cough. It is non-productive and comes straight from my lungs.

I cough much more when one of the following conditions are met:

1 - I'm cold.
2 - I exert.
3 - Aspect changes (I sit down, lay down or stand up)

SO annoying. And it looks like it will keep me from a hoped-for visit to Rochester on Friday. I feel like I might be gaining strength, but coughing ALL DAY is exhausting, so who can say?

Posted by Dan at 03:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 13, 2005

Popping Cancer: The Dumb Just Keeps Coming

Rant button on.

On Monday, February 21, I have a relatively simple outpatient procedure to implant an under-the-skin catheter so they don't have to keep stabbing me to start IVs. Fine.

No food or drink after midnight. Also fine. The usual.

However, surgery is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. That's 2:30 in the afternoon!

Maybe I go all morning and half the afternoon without food just to suit the doctor's schedule.

Or maybe, just maybe, I eat about a dozen scrambled eggs at high noon and don't tell anyone. Who has the problem then, Mr. Surgery Man???

Not to mention that the next three days in a row are all chemo days.

It would appear that this is the world I live in now.

Ok, the rant button has been set back to "off."

Posted by Dan at 08:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

Popping Cancer: Reflection

Mailing in those stupid disability forms today got me thinking back on the entire arc of my time in ministry (although Gail would say I'm not out yet).

The time I grew the most as a pastor in the shortest period of time was definitely chaplaincy. The more I reflect on that time, the more I miss those awful and wonderful overnight shifts.

This is the best bit of writing I did during that time, and I re-present it for you now:

"And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know." - William Rose Benet

As chaplains, those of us who drew the dreaded and loved 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shifts in Richmond's downtown MCV hospital were required to conclude our tours of duty by logging the night's activity in a notebook, to be read by the day staff in case follow-ups were needed.

Normally filled with names, times, conditions and activity reports, this is the report I wrote one particular Thursday afternoon:

It started with noise, in the way that Wednesday nights are often noisy. The code beeper came to life, demanding attention, signaling to those of us who are chaplains and therefore forced to listen that somewhere in the hospital someone was dying, or dead.

There was noise as I arrived. Nurses and doctors huddled around a newborn, shouting orders, yelling for this or that medication. A mother, asking questions that had no good answers, questions like "What's wrong with him?" and "Will he be alright?" More noise as monitors sounded alarms. More noise as the father's labored breathing gave background to the shuffle of activity around the little one. Then, finally, more noise, as a deep voice cut through the cacophany, "Time of death, 1:32 A.M."

And then silence.

You call yourself a chaplain, Dan, don't you have anything to say? Where are your words of comfort now? Where is your precious faith now?

There was another chaplain with me. He was useless, too.

We quietly steered the couple, the mother and father, to a family room. I opened my mouth to start to say something, anything, to speak to their pain, but what words are there for a time like this? There is only silence. Only silence can communicate what a mother feels when she loses her 9-day old son.

We sat in silence for half an hour, then an hour. One of the other of us would sob out loud occasionally, but even that was cut short, as if in reverence for the silence, for the empty, hollow, quiet place that was now forever part of their lives. Even a hundred healthy children could never fill the empty place that was now in their hearts. Part of them would always keep silence now, even in the happiest of times.

And what was there for me to say? I was powerless in the face of such amazing grief. No words from a textbook or verse from the Bible can make a dent in a pain so big, so sudden.

Finally, I slipped out of the room, to find the nurses. They had wrapped the baby in a blanket, clean and blue. They had combed his hair. It is part of my job to bring the parents their child, to hold for the last time. Numbly, silently, I took the child that would not even see ten days in to them.

There are times when keeping silence communicates more powerfully than a million words or songs or cries. There are times when the only thing you can give to someone is your silent presence, your sharing of their pain. Sometimes silence says that there are emotions too deep for words, too primal, too much a part of who we try to hide to ever be expressed aloud.

And so I was there, with them, silent in that awful, terrible room for as long as they wanted to stay. Where could I go? Where could I run from silence? I had shared with these two souls the most terrible, most defining moment of the rest of their lives. I had been with them to watch their child die.

Later, they left. I finished my shift in silence, waiting for 8 A.M. to arrive. Tears would fall from time to time, and I never moved to dry them. If I spoke, it was only in response to questions, and even then my answers were nothing more than excuses to be silent again. Silence has that kind of power, a power I had never seen before.

Somehow, I drove myself home and got safely into the bed.

It is a terrible thing when it is too quiet to sleep. I lay awake, staring at the pillow where my wife's head would have been if she were home, should have been if there were any justice in the world. I lay awake staring, praying that she would never leave the place she holds in my heart. It is too big a place to be empty, to be silent. Funny how I never seem to tell her that. Funny how silence can teach us the things that are truly important.

Sometimes silence can be a cave to hide in, an excuse to never take risks.

After a while, physical and emotional exhaustion took over, and I fell asleep.

I almost never remember my dreams, but that morning I dreamed of a white room, and a blue blanket, and I was trying to scream or cry or yell, but all I could dream was silence.

And we all go in to them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.

- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker, 1940

Posted by Dan at 09:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

I think I almost killed a nurse.

So I was at the oncologist's office this morning, and I'm in the little bathroom holding a bottle full of urine.

I slide open the window, and there's a nurse there. She looks at me and I shove the bottle through the window, set it down, and say, brightly, "Here's some urine! Happy Valentine's Day!"

Something struck her about that. I expected a smile or a little laugh, but she went into the kind of laughter where you're afraid they're going to stop breathing. And she didn't stop laughing, even though she tried a few times to speak.

I didn't know the proper etiquette in that situation, and I WAS still, technically, in the bathroom, so I quietly slid the window closed and moved on. For all I know she's still laughing.

The moral? Some people really go for the urine humor.

Oh, and my tests came out fine, by the way. Next bloodwork is Wednesday. I'm free as a bird until then.

**HEALTH UPDATE: I get blood tests every week to monitor how my body is reacting to chemotherapy. The fact that my blood test came back fine simply means chemotherapy hasn't lowered my blood counts too severely, so I don't need supplements or transfusions. It doesn't mean I no longer have cancer. Sorry if there was any confusion.**

Posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer: Prehistory

So I was doing this bone marrow transplant. I had been in the hospital for about three weeks and I was weak as a newborn. Some days I couldn't sit up in the bed. I needed transfusions and IV nutrition.

This one particular day I heard from a nurse that the lady next door had a nosebleed. Those of you familiar with bone marrow transplants know this is a bad thing. It wouldn't stop bleeding. It had started at about 10 a.m. and continued until the present, about 6 p.m. She had been getting constant transfusions all day to make up for the steady stream.

I pulled myself out of bed with the nurse's help and shuffled my way next door, gripping my IV pole for dear life. I sat next to the poor lady's bed and just held her hand for a while. Finally, I had to get back to my own room and my own illness, but something had happened to me that day, or rather, something had started to become clear.

I was learning, after years of being a Christian, that there were other people in the world than just me, and those people suffered in ways that were just as real to them as my own suffering was to me. I started visiting the other patients on the bone marrow unit when I had the strength.

Eventually I got out of that hospital. As I recovered, it turned out that the world is full of people, and each of them has their own struggles and pains. I knew that I couldn't fix what was happening to them, but I suspected I might be able to make some kind of difference, even if only to comfort them.

When I was strong enough and wise enough, we got out of Dodge. There's a great story about Jesus when he returned to his home town and started trying to teach. "Isn't this Jesus, the son of Joseph the Carpenter?" folks asked. As if to say "We saw you grow up, and now you're trying to be some bigshot miracle teacher?"

If I had stayed, I could see the same thing happening. "Isn't this Dan Champion, that goofy guy who always makes with the jokes? Who does he think he is suddenly talking all pastoral?"

And so I worked for a while as a chaplain in a downtown Richmond Emergency Room, and in the hospital's ICUs. I wanted to be where the crisis was. People with real needs came in and I did what I could to get in the soup with them, to cry alongside them and hold their hands. Some days, I think I even made a difference.

Long story short, that became my calling. It became who I was. Over the years since, I have worked in nursing homes and churches, always trying to learn to care about those in pain better.

Today, I mailed my disability forms. When they are accepted, I will officially no longer be a pastor.

That central calling, that purpose-giving self-identity I've been working on for so long? All but over.

What do you do when you've worked so hard and long at what you truly felt was your calling from God, and you carved your life out around it, and suddenly it's taken from you?

I know, I know. Half of you think I'm being too dramatic. The other half are already typing little messages of encouragement (Hang in there, Baby!). Both groups stop it. Again, it's ok for me to be sad about this today, and I suspect I'll be fine by afternoon - I know my worth does not depend on what I can DO. I'll be fine.

But for right now, this morning, with the sun not even up yet, it really and truly feels like my life is over.

There's a blue envelope in my mailbox that says so.

Posted by Dan at 07:02 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

February 09, 2005

Popping Cancer Update

The next update of relevance will be Friday. I have blood tests to see how my body reacted to chemotherapy. This could lead to shots, transfusions or pats on the back, depending.

I am in the recovery stage where I am nearly 100 percent, and I have over a week until my next treatment. I anticipate feeling good for a little while, finally.

This is good news. It's always good news until they poison you again.

Posted by Dan at 12:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 07, 2005

Finally, a horrid day not related to cancer!

I'm proud to say I'm having a lousy day and cancer has nothing to do with it!

It's nice to have my horrible cancer-related days broken up by a horrible non-cancer related day.

Let's see, my computer got infested by something and now I get about 3 pop-ups per minute. Spybot and Ad-Aware can't do anything about it. When I turn on the computer, I can't start windows normally unless I put in a password for a place called "hot wet teens," which I'm not sure I want to visit.

Can't pay the gas or electric bills. Stupid meeting tonight at church (ok, this one is cancer-related). And I've had to delete about a dozen comments by hateful "trolls" (mean folks who get their kicks by posting vile comments on web logs). I spoke crossly to the cat.

Yes, these are all the complaints of a sit-home-all-day type with nothing better to do, but this is what my life is these days.

Enough whining for now, I promise, although I do find it interesting that about 65 percent of the pop-up spam is for programs to help eliminate pop-up spam. Effective marketing, that... like the glass replacement company which drums up business by throwing rocks at your windows. Well, Windows XP in this case.

Thank you for letting me vent. I'm going stir crazy stuck in this house all day every day. In a few days I should be well enough to get out and even just walk around the mall.

Until then, it's just me and the hot, wet teens.

**Update: I seem to have an MTV toolbar on my Internet Explorer now**

**Update update: Now the computer is shutting off randomly. Something is apparently messing with something called a BIOS. If the whole thing goes away, It'll be a while before I get back online. I got some good suggestions about McAfee and a few other programs, but the phrase "go out and buy" no longer applies to us. Hang on tight!**

**Update questions: Does anyone ever BUY anything from these pop-up ads and invasive programs? Do they actually respond? I guess a guy sitting home with nothing to do but post his experiences with cancer is an easy target. Still, I can't imagine that I'll see one of those pop-ups and say "Hey! That's just what I need!"**

Posted by Dan at 12:27 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

The little things I miss.

I never was a "spring out of bed" type of guy. I am content to roll miserably out of the bed and grudgingly start my day, waiting the hour or two until I completely gain my senses.

Still, there were days when the sun was shining in the windows and I felt just plain GOOD, like I had energy and couldn't wait to get on with the day.

It feels like it might be a long time before I have that kind of energy again.

Today I woke up and my goal was: to take a shower. You never realize how exhausting a shower can be until you have cancer, I guess. Instead, I woke up, stood up out of the bed (an act which felt like it tired me out), walked downstairs and sat. Until the early afternoon, when I took a nap. Now, that full itinerary has wiped me out: I'm about ready to call it a day.

Think I'm overstating it? For supper I had a bowl of Cheerios and I COULDN'T LIFT THE GALLON OF MILK to pour in the bowl. Mrs. Popping Culture had to help me out.

Yes, the nausea is mostly gone until the next treatment. Yes, I'm not having as many painful crampy legs or arms or back. Still, I can't believe how weak I am.

I guess this is why people, generally speaking, avoid being poisoned.

And then there's this:

2Co 12:8 And about this thing I made request to the Lord three times that it might be taken away from me.
2Co 12:9 And he said to me, My grace is enough for you, for my power is made complete in what is feeble. Most gladly, then, will I take pride in my feeble body, so that the power of Christ may be on me.
2Co 12:10 So I take pleasure in being feeble, in unkind words, in needs, in cruel attacks, in troubles, on account of Christ: for when I am feeble, then am I strong.
- Bible in Basic English Translation

I understand it now. Before, even when I had limits, I didn't feel weak. I still tried my way first.

Tonight, even through the chemo-haze, I can see how blessed a guy like me can be. I am strong because my wife is strong and takes care of me. I am strong because there are representatives from the church association making sure I will get my bills paid. I am strong because my doctors are watching out for my health. I am strong because everyone in my life has said "let me know what we can do" and they said it like they meant it, not like it was a simple good-bye.

I'm just plain wiped out and there's another treatment coming. Still, I see that I really can be ok even when my own life is out of my control. It's hard, you know, giving up control in such a real way.

For tonight, I sleep.

Who knows? Tomorrow I might even take a shower.

Posted by Dan at 07:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

On stopping treatment.

Yes, I'm stopping a type of treatment for a while. No, it's not chemotherapy.

Remember that nasty tasting Cantron stuff? Well, now that I'm actually in the soup with chemotherapy, I think it's time to put it on the shelf for a while.

I read from the Cantron materials and on their website that (1) chemotherapy prevents Cantron from working properly (and usually keeps it ineffective for up to four months after the last chemo treatment), and (2) Cantron may help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

Well, choking this stuff down every four hours IS a side effect. It adds to nausea. They seem to have some better drugs for prevention of nausea these days, so I'm going to put the Cantron on the shelf and hope chemo does the trick. If I need to take down the Cantron again, we're in big trouble.

The lady that sold me the stuff said it works best when used apart from other treatments. So I have to chose between chemo, which has worked in the past but nearly killed me, and the unknown un-approved supplement. Chemotherapy is barbaric, but it could actually work. I'm not afraid of alternative medicine, but I think I'll save it until it's the ONLY alternative, yes?

Still, it will be a nice break from the nasty stuff. When you're sick like this, every little thing you can free yourself from feels touched with Grace.

Posted by Dan at 08:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: I just got up! I think I'll go to bed.

Tired and weak today.

Less nausea, but if this is how it feels two days after two-of-three treatments, the full course must be a humdinger.

No word on treatment yet, so I am presuming for now we're skipping treatment 3-of-3 this time around and that I'll be getting that catheter placed in the next week or so.

Maybe this will give me a chance to get some rest for the next treatment.

I alternated attitudes last night, between wanting to give up and steely reserve that God isn't done with me yet. I have to tell myself I'll be sick for a while so I can be healthy later.

That will work if I can heal up reasonably well between treatments, too.

Still, you feel a different kind of sick on chemo. It's a draining, used-up kind of down. Like you can't function and you won't be able to again. It's just there. Not like the flu or like anything else I could compare it to. It's just there and it has its way with you.

The trick, again, is to let yourself know that it won't be forever. Just a few days and I'll be at least able to function again.

Adding to this is guilt. Mrs. Popping Culture is sick and still has to take care of me. Before, when I was a teenager, it was just me and the bad feeling, but now I think of her before I do myself.

Still, if I really do have 2.5 weeks before the next treatment, I should eventually take to feeling well and being able to gear up better for treatments.

More later: rest now.

Posted by Dan at 09:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Day Three Results: I gotta stop making predictions.

Day three was bad.

So bad we canceled the treatment.

They started at least four IV lines that blew out, and I was needled about 7 times. I'm definitely gonna need a port, like last time.

So I was there several hours, having to run to the bathroom every 20-30 minutes as my body continued it's policy of urgent poison removal. Meanwhile, this doctor wants more poison in, and my veins aren't cooperating and it hurts like all get-out.

Finally, as I'm about to just walk out, a nervous wreck, the doctor suggests one more try. Fine. Needle stick. This one blows immediately.

I'm about in tears from all the jabbing and pain of blown veins and just all the activity, when my doc suggests I drive to the hospital and have them carve a line into my upper arm, then I return to get the poison. No thank you. Enough is enough.

So one of two things will happen now:

1 - Surgery tomorrow to put in the catheter and then we do the treatment Friday.

2 - We skip day three and wait until the next scheduled three-day treatment (Feb 21), this time with a handy catheter in place.

Anyone care to guess which I'm hoping for? We'll know when we get the phone call.

The funny thing is, it doesn't seem to take a full three-days of poison to make you feel bad. Oddly, two days seem to be working just fine for me. The thing that would worry you most is the weakness. I almost pulled a muscle lifting an empty milk jug - an empty milk jug!

Thank you for your many thoughts and prayers. We remain on standby.

Imagine the best.

PS Patriots 38, Eagles 17

Posted by Dan at 03:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

One more day then three weeks off. One more day then three weeks off. One more day then three weeks off.

Today could suck.

I started to get nausea last night. I don't remember feeling this weak, either. It's like an effort to push the keys.

Also, my body is desperate to get this junk out of me. I've been rushing to the bathroom every half hour to hour all night.

Now, we go in and put even more of that stuff in my veins.

Again, I'll post or have Mrs. Popping Culture post when it's all over. Today I could really use the prayer, thoughts, mojo, auras - whatever you got.

Posted by Dan at 06:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 31, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Chemo Day One

Well, I'm home. And I still have my hair. No promises there, though.

Today's treatment isn't over, the stuff is still in my veins and will be for three more days, but it could have been much worse.

No violent reactions today. This could be because the new anti-nausea drugs are so good or because day one is better than days two or three. We'll find that out tomorrow.

I was there from about 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. today, but it shouldn't take as long tomorrow. It felt longer because they were pumping fluids through me to protect my kidneys, so I ended up having to pee every 20 minutes or so. It felt like a part-time job. Professional Urinator.

I feel blechy. I don't really want to eat anything. It feels like there's a war being fought in my body, if you can imagine. The closest I can relate it to is the way you feel after a high-school soccer game: you ran for an hour and a half straight, got in a few fights and now every muscle in your body is exhausted and sore.

I imagine this is how mugging victims feel afterward.

Still, I felt that way last time as par for the course, only with the violent reactions, so I'm way ahead as I see it.

Exhausted, but way ahead.

It's 4:42 now. I have medicine for nausea should the need arise. I think I'm going to hit the sack and sleep for a long, long time. I just wanted you crazy cats and kittens to know I'm still kicking over here.

Two more days and I get three weeks off! This is, and I don't think I'm blowing it out of proportion, the absolute best I could have hoped for from a chemo treatment. Good for me.

Posted by Dan at 04:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Here's how it's gonna be.

I just (Sunday night at about 7:45 p.m.) had a call from my oncologist, who was eager to fill me in on the fun we're gonna have starting tomorrow morning. I have three treatments, one each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

In addition to the side effects I'm familiar with from chemotherapy (nausea, cramping, muscle pain, fever, hair loss, yadda yadda), there are a couple new possibilities with the "medication" they're dropping in my veins tomorrow.

One is seizures. That's right, up to a couple days after each treatment, I could have seizures. Also, confusion. He didn't really explain confusion, so it might be anything from "why did I come upstairs?" to "This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife! How did I get here?"

Another fun possibility, my personal favorite, is: bleeding from my kidneys! Yes! There's a drug they'll give me for this, but no promises.

I'm getting there at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. I stay a quick and breezy SIX HOURS, then repeat for the next two days.

Jealous yet?

If not, this will put you over the edge: doc said that even if it works (and the numbers are against me, but then again, I've always beaten the odds for better and for worse in the past), it's not gonna cure anything.

That's right! Metastatic sarcoma is not curable. The best we can hope for is to knock it down and get a remission for a couple years. It's always gonna come back eventually.

This is where reputations as fighters and "strong" human beings get made. Not that we are strong, those of us who fight cancer, but that we make it day by day until something happens one way or another.

If you had told me at 18 that I would have the strength to make it through 8 years, on and off, of cancer treatments and a bone marrow transplant, I'd have thought you a fool.

But you do it one day at a time. You live today. You survive this hour. Before long, they add up.

That's the goal right now - to make it through tomorrow. If I am strong enough tomorrow evening, I'll send up a post to let you know I'm well, or at least alive. If not, I'll get the wife to do so.

Whatever you're doing Monday, be glad you're doing it.

Peace to you.

Posted by Dan at 08:54 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

Popping Cancer Job Update: It's okay to be sad.

Somehow we got this idea, and Christians are the absolute worst about this, that being sad or angry is a bad thing.

Whenever I post something to the effect that "Cancer is bumming me out today," I get a bunch of emails and comments to the effect of "Buck, up, little camper - God will provide! God loves you! Be happy! I'll pray that you stop being sad!"

Well, sad is an appropriate response to cancer sometimes. My doctors are all saying I have a great, healthy, positive attitude about my disease, but they are also aware that I have a potentially fatal illness that has spread far and rapidly and that sometimes I'll be less-than-joyous about that.

Sad is ok. Feeling the way you feel is ok, until it becomes destructive. I'd worry about me if I went around all day with a goofy grin and never looked at the negative consequences of cancer.

I say all that to say this: I'm sad right now.

My doctors have said I am forbidden to visit shut-ins, crowds and especially hospital patients. The dearest old lady in our church (this lady and her equally-dear husband "adopted" Stephanie and I) had a heart attack today.

I, as her pastor, couldn't visit her.

How in the world can I pretend to call myself a pastor and NOT visit people I love who are ill? Answer: I can't. I am filing for disability as soon as the denomination can get me the papers. Any trained monkey in a suit can preach. That's not my calling.

My calling came when I had cancer a long time ago and found myself, remarkably, pulling myself up the hallway by my IV pole to visit the other cancer patients who were in the same foxhole I was. I would sit with them through their treatments and sometimes just quietly BE with them.

Upon being healed, I found out that the world is full of people, all of whom are hurting in their own way. I didn't have any real pastor skills, but I hoped I could make a difference in their lives, and so here I am.

Except that now the center of my call has been taken from me.

So don't tell me God loves me. Don't tell me you'll pray that my spirits will be lifted. Don't tell me you're rooting for me.

Something central, and defining, in my life is gone, and I miss it. Just let me be sad.

Posted by Dan at 05:45 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Four short days until chemotherapy!

I'm giddy.

Posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: the kind of discussion that could only take place in my life.

I met with my heart doctor today.

I told him we were starting chemotherapy without adriamycin, the drug that hurt my heart last time.

Since my spiritual gift is the ability to see the absolute worst possibilities in every situation, we got to talking about what we could do if I don't respond to chemotherapy.

He said he would be willing to meet with me more regularly to monitor my heart if I decided down the line to do chemo with adriamycin.

I told him that I have been a chaplain, pastor and cancer patient for many years. I've seen more than my share of folks die in all sorts of unpleasant ways.

If it comes to it, I'd rather die of heart failure than cancer.

Plan A is for this plainer chemotherapy to work. AND I'm due some good news, so that's what I'm counting on.

But still, my choice would be painful and fast over painful and slow any day. I'd much rather my wife remember me in my right mind, too - such as THAT is.

Morbid enough for you yet?

Posted by Dan at 02:59 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

I'm starting to miss things.

Even in a successful fight with cancer, you lose things along the way. I made a long list once of things I missed in my roughly 8-year struggle (on and off) with cancer last time.

It seems I'm going to have to start a new list.

Before I've even had my first chemotherapy treatment, already...

...I miss walking the dog. I would take her on long walks at least two and sometimes three times a day. We'd go up the hill and across the ball field, into the woods. Sometimes, we'd go to the park for even longer walks. Now, I can't get a quarter-mile from the house without coughing and feeling run down.

...I miss school. One semester away from graduating. I was coming to terms with saying goodbye to everyone at graduation and moving on in life. Now, not only will I not be in school this semester, I won't have a chance to see the gang at all. No papers, no books, no lectures by Dr. Herzog, no lunchroom discussions.

...I miss being a pastor to the people in my church. Before, after over a year with my current congregation, folks were finally opening up, coming to my office and sharing their needs and concerns. We would talk and pray and I felt useful. Now, it's like there's a barrier between the congregation and me. Nobody wants to bring their problems to the pastor who has cancer. I guess it makes sense - they must be thinking their problems seem small next to cancer, or that I must be too sick to help - but it is my calling, and I miss it.

...I miss chocolate milk shakes.

...I miss my friend Robyn. You get used to having people around, and you take them for granted. Every week I drove up to school last semester, it was understood that at least one night each trip, we'd go to a restaurant or somesuch and just sit and talk. I got to at least visit everyone else I consider family over the Christmas break, when we went home to Virginia. Mostly, I miss the talks.


I'm pretty sure there are other things, but that's it for now. I'm not all depressed or anything, but it is healthy to miss those things which you care about when they are taken from you.

I guess it gives you something to fight for.

Posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: On What NOT to Say to a Cancer Patient.

Once, when I was 18 years old, I was in a hospital bed in Portsmouth, Virginia. I was told I had a late-stage form of Hodgkin's Disease and that I was in big trouble.

I was scared, alone, away from home.

On this particular day, a woman from the church came to visit me. She said a few things, then suggested that I "search my life for sin" that may have caused God to give me cancer.


I was, as I said, young and scared and alone, and she was a respected lady in the church, so I didn't have the experience or courage to say what I should have said, which is, of course, "Go to Hell. If you ever set foot in this hospital room again, I promise you I will find the strength somehow to escort you out, painfully."

How horrible! Somehow, I think she thought she was doing me, or God, a favor. I imagine she would be able to defend her statement to her church cohorts, as well. Maybe one of them would thank her for saying that to me.

Not long after, another year or so down the road, and I was again (or still, I forget which) in a hospital bed. Another lady from church came to visit. After a bit of uncomfortable discussion, she said, "What is Jesus teaching you in all this?"

What is Jesus teaching me? What is Jesus teaching me?

Maybe that chemotherapy sucks. That cancer is evil and horrible and I hate it and I can't think about anything except how much it hurts and please, please, please someone, anyone make it stop! How about, Jesus is teaching me how it feels to be scared and alone while my friends are living their lives in college, having fun, and I'm here with doctors telling me I'm dying!

Let me make this clear. God didn't GIVE me cancer. God has no desire for me to get sick and die, and it's not part of a holy plan for me to learn some valuable lesson. Shut. Up.

Anything good that ever came out of cancer came from the patient alone. Cancer is evil. If you think God would make me sick like this to teach me some valuable skills, we worship different gods. Period.

The problem is that normal, thinking humans get uncomfortable around sick people and in hospitals. They say things to patients without thinking because they think they SHOULD say SOMETHING.

Then add a layer of Christianity.

Not only do folks feel like they have to say SOMETHING, they think they have to say something hopeful and Christ-centered. This is bunk.

Sometimes, what I needed more than anything was a friend who would just sit quietly and be sorry I was sick. Someone who was just THERE and didn't need to put what can't be spoken into awkward words.

Once, a friend of mine came in to the room, held my hand, and started to cry. After a while, she gave me a hug, and a smile, and left. NOT ONE WORD the entire visit. It was perfect.

Sometimes, the patient will want to talk, need words of encouragement, desire to get things off his/her chest. Let them guide the conversation.

If you feel uncomfortable around hospitals or sick folks, don't visit me. It won't make it better and it will only serve to salve your own ego.

Ask me "is this a good time?" and "do you want to talk about it?" or, best of all, "how do you feel?" That last one will let me answer physically ("I feel tired/nauseated/much better"), emotionally ("I'm very sad/happy/scared") or even spiritually ("I feel alone. I feel abandoned by God.") I might even respond "I don't feel like talking."

And that's ok. It's all ok.

Any way a patient feels is alright.

There have been days I was so angry at God I could break things. It's ok; let me feel the way I feel.

There are days I've said aloud that I'm not sure I believe in God anymore. Don't freak out, church friends. It's ok. It's ok.

I may be dying. Just love me, ok? Love me in your words, or in your silence, or in your staying away because the visit would be more about you than me.

And there's the answer. Cancer patients don't need words. They don't need visitors. They need to be loved. Honestly loved.

Ok?

Posted by Dan at 08:02 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

No root canal!

Tomorrow's root canal has been postponed until February!

You may remember that I have cancer. That has lowered my resistances and that plus the 6 degree weather has given me a cough. A bad cough.

Tired all the time, can't go outside, can't sleep.

The dental professional decided it was a bad idea to come at me with drills when I was constantly coughing, so we postponed.

Isn't having cancer just the best?

Posted by Dan at 09:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 21, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: the most recentest news.

Because of the root canal I got going next Tuesday, they're putting off chemotherapy until Monday, January 31. Mark your calendars.

I'll be doing a treatment that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then laying around in a puddle for week or so, then gradually regaining strength over the next two weeks, then WHAM, starting the whole process again.

Fun!

I can break this down pretty quickly into good and bad news.

Bad news: They're putting poison in my veins and hoping it kills more cancer cells than healthy cells. Even then, there's no guarantee we can stop the cancer. I'll be losing my hair, my vigor (which isn't all that vigorous to begin with) and possibly my job.

Good news: The doctors office has free snacks.

You do the math.

Posted by Dan at 04:46 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 20, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: Let's Make It Hot.

It is go time, gentle reader, finally.

Biopsy results are in and, not surprisingly, the lump in my chest is a metastatic sarcoma, born of the first huge lump on my back. So, we presume, are all the little tumors popping up all over my chest cavity. It is in my blood.

That's out of the way. It's time to dance once again with my old friend chemotherapy.

The good news is that I can do the chemotherapy locally. The bad news is I'm doing chemotherapy locally. The first suggestion on the table from my Cleveland Clinic doctor is three days of chemotherapy, followed by three weeks of recovery, then repeat, then re-take the PETscan in Cleveland and hope that we've done some damage to the bad lump.

The further good news is, all things being equal (which of course they haven't been for a while), there will be no more trips to Cleveland for six weeks. Maybe by then we'll have some slightly more reasonable weather patterns.

I have to say that I'm fairly excited to actually start bringing the battle to the cancer, if by "fairly excited" you mean "scared out of my mind." I have a history of responding poorly to chemotherapy, and the fact that we're not using the central chemotherapy drug because of its ill effects on my heart means we're entering the boxing ring with one arm tied behind our backs.

Let me say this once so that it's out of the way and we don't have to bring it up again: what we are looking for here is a miracle. It's that simple. The numbers and probabilities the doctor gave me are not good, not healthy, and not worth repeating. We are coming at this thing with attitude and making our own survival percentages.

One difficult trick to master will be the art of being selfish. It is vitally important for me to put my own needs closer to the top of the list now. I've been pastoring for a while, and it is in my nature to be aware of the thoughts and feelings of others first.

Tomorrow I make the call to my local oncologist and we set up an appointment. Then the ride begins.

Now, if you'll pardon the non-pastoral language, allow me to paraphrase the prophet: I'm coming straight at chemotherapy with the intent to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I'm all out of bubblegum.

Posted by Dan at 08:12 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 19, 2005

Home!

I just got back in from the biopsy. It hurt pretty good. All went reasonably very well, considering everything that could have gone wrong with every stage of the trip, not to mention everything that DID go wrong with the last biopsy attempt.

Read all about the procedure by clicking here.

I have to avoid anything strenuous for the next 24-hours. Apparently, driving a needle deep into your chest near your spine can occasionally be harmful.

I asked the doctor what could happen if I did anything strenuous, since, you know, other than some painful swelling on my back, I feel pretty good. He said "internal bleeding."

This is me, on the couch.

I'll be posting again this evening, after some (much-deserved, in my humble opinion) rest. Just thought you should know I'm alive.

Posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 18, 2005

Popping Cancer Update: No Sleep Til Cleveland

Your humble host is on the road again.

It's snowing in Cleveland right now (10 p.m. Tuesday) and by midnight it will be snowing here. We're driving up tomorrow morning in rush hour traffic to downtown Cleveland and we expect the weather to get worse the closer we get. Then it's time for a second attempt at the needle biopsy (which, I may have forgotten to mention last time, has a 20 percent chance of collapsing a lung. Yay!). Oh yeah, then there will be a two hour wait in recovery as the snow continues to pile up on the highway. Then we head back home.

Dismal? You bet.

Still, I'm carrying along with me my old, dogeared copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so maybe there will be some laughter along with the tears.

By the way, if my blood pressure is too high or too low to do the procedure this time, I'm taking a hostage. Watch the news.

Presuming all goes well, I'll be back by late afternoon EST and I'll toss up an entry to that effect. If the lung collapses, I'm there overnight. If I die on the table, I understand they'll let me leave the hospital almost immediately, so I got that going for me.

Which is nice.

notemergancy.jpg

P.S. If you have any prayer left in you on tomorrow, toss one up for my friend Rose, who, despite being a far-right wingnut and all-around sweetheart, will be delivering a child via c-section tomorrow sometime. I knew a guy who was born by c-section once. Normal kid, but whenever he left the house he went out a window. Ba-DUM DUM!

Still, pray. Or whatever you do to get the good to go on others.

Posted by Dan at 09:55 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 17, 2005

Popping Cancer Update 1-17-5

I've reached the "tired all the time" stage. I take this as a good thing. I think it means my body is finally fighting back. When you're feeding cancer the sugars it loves, it tends to leave you alone right until near the end when it suddenly gets nasty.

I got nearly 11 hours sleep last night, and did nothing but sit around the house today. Still I feel like I've been in a prize fight. This goes along with the idea that you only feel bad from cancer when you start to treat it.

Why would my body be finally fighting back? Well, in December, when I didn't know I had cancer, I was wolfing down the candy and sweet for the Holidays. Now, I'm eating no sugars, no dairy, no red meat, no caffeine and only whole grains. This seems to have ticked the cancer off.

I'd rather feel bad and know the cancer is hungry than keep feeding it and feel great.

I'm also taking these supplements (click on the name to see more information):

*Cantron: This is the biggie. The FDA forbids supplements from making claims like "this stuff helps kill cancer," but lots and lots of testimonials from private citizens say just that. Either way, the only thing it hurts is my wallet, coming in at $190 for three months worth. It tastes horrible and I make a face and shake my head with every dose.

*Megazyme Forte': This is big with the enzymes, from what little I understand, and is used hand-in-hand with the Cantron.

*Lapacho: This also comes in tea form (pau d'arco tea). It cleans up my act, de-toxing my insides somehow. Tastes only slightly worse than Cantron. Some doctors say I shouldn't take this stuff because of possible side effects like nausea and anemia. These are the same doctors who will soon be treating me with a chemotherapy drug called "nitrogen mustard" which is made from the same stuff as the exciting mustard gas we dropped on folks to KILL them in Vietnam. So phooey on them.

*Willard's Water: More detox, better name. You just mix in a wee bit with a gallon of distilled water and drink. Easiest one yet, since you're supposed to drink water anyway.

*MGN3: This is for the immune system and has been taken off the market because, again, the distributor made claims that the FDA didn't like. No matter that the claims very well may have been true. When I use up my couple bottles that remain, I'm switching over to another similar supplement whose name escapes me just now. I'll tell you when I remember. Same deal, anyway.

Of course I am aware that some or all of these supplements might do nothing or very little. Then again, maybe they help. It's not like I'm refusing chemotherapy so I can eat my tree bark instead.

What else am I supposed to do? Sit around and take it? There are a bunch of folks out there who are upset at people who take these dubiously helpful, but certainly not harmful, supplements. These are the same people who don't have cancer. Let them live with a death sentence imposed by their own bodies and see how they feel about grasping at any straw that comes along.

Posted by Dan at 09:05 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

Popping Cancer: this week's sermon.

If you're into this kind of thing, here's the sermon I delivered today:

Rom 8:36 As it is said in the holy Writings, Because of you we are put to death every day; we are like sheep ready for destruction.
Rom 8:37 But we are able to overcome all these things and more through his love.
Rom 8:38 For I am certain that not death, or life, or angels, or rulers, or things present, or things to come, or powers,
Rom 8:39 Or things on high, or things under the earth, or anything which is made, will be able to come between us and the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


You may not remember this by now, because of the horrible weather we’ve had in the last few days, but one day this week we had Spring. Thursday morning we woke up and the sun was shining. It was 60 degrees!

There were a few wasps around my front porch, just crawling from slumber, I presume, eager to get on with the newness of Spring. I’m sure Friday was an unpleasant surprise for them, but it’s hard to get up too much sympathy for stinging insects.

The point is that Spring came on Thursday, January 13. JANUARY 13.

The calendar couldn’t stop the sunlight from falling on my face that day. My own intellect and intelligence, which told me that it simply doesn’t get to be 60 degrees and sunny in Youngstown in January, couldn’t stop the warmth. The weathermen who called for a harsh January couldn’t stop it.

Sometimes nothing can stop the goodness from coming.

We met the figure of innocent goodness in the person of Jesus. We tortured it. We killed it. But it comes after us on the other side of the grave. There is no place we can run, there is no wilderness we can hide in, there is nothing that we can do to separate us from the love of God in Christ.

If Americans wrote the gospel story, it would sound more like The Wizard of Oz. We love that story.

An innocent girl gets caught up in something arbitrary and unfair, like cancer… or a cyclone, and has to struggle to get home, bravely overcoming obstacle after obstacle. She faces real evil in the form of the Wicked Witch, but in the end, she could have tapped her shoes together and gone home any time. In the end, it’s all a dream.

We know real evil happens. We have participated in it. Indeed, collectively we have perpetrated it.

But, there is some sense in which we still don't really believe that we will actually have to suffer through it. Especially all of us gathered here… We still believe that if something really bad comes our way, we can pay or elect people to make it go away. We have earned a layer of insulation… Most all evil and tragedy we can shake off like a bad dream. Indeed, we can much of the time.

But the gospel message is not that we can shake off evil because it isn't really real.

In the last analysis, Jesus is actually abandoned by God. He is left alone to the mortal fate that we all face. He is filled with the same anxiety and dread that ordinary prisoners who are tortured are too familiar with.

We don't get around suffering. We don't get any exemption because we have faith. The message of hope is that God redeems us in the midst of this suffering, that even here God is at work, even when we least feel it. Even when we least believe it.

I’ve been thinking about suffering on a personal level lately, of course.

I’ve even looked down the list of church members in the last year who have faced death, either their own, or a loved one’s. The list is pretty extensive and I won’t wear you out with it now.

But I also remembered that in death, as in life, nothing can separate us from the love of God we have known in Christ.

We don't know what happens in death, not really. We don’t have any snapshots from the afterlife. The Bible only gives us only poetry and metaphor on the subject. Streets of Gold is a metaphor used for those who lived in poverty, trying to work each day to earn enough food for that day.

In truth, what exactly happens after death remains a mystery as it should. The Bible only assures us that God is fully in control in that realm too and that we can trust that the Almighty will take care of things.

Indeed, we can trust that God will make sense of what was senseless on this side of history, that God will redeem that which was abused, heal those who were unjustly imprisoned, that God will make right that which was so deeply and obviously wrong. That is our hope.

We cannot stop the love of God. Our scientific minds can’t stop it. Our wayward lives can’t stop it. Our own lack of faith can’t stop the love of God. Killing Jesus couldn’t stop it, and so anyone who has felt the love of Christ knows for a fact that not even death can stop the love of God.

There was a river near my home when I was a boy in Westerlo, New York. You could walk out into it a few steps, and swim against it for a little while, but eventually, you were going downstream with everything else.

This is how the experience of God’s love has existed for me, in my life. I’ve been through some real nonsense in my 36 short years, and I’ve given up on God and on love a few times.

Fortunately, God’s goodness doesn’t depend on us. Ultimately, God is consistent and sure, just like that river. THAT’S the Gospel story.

And so I face chemotherapy. I have a particularly nasty brand of cancer that’s not scared to spread. By now, though, I have learned that the pain of chemotherapy can’t stop the love of God. Even death, if it comes to that, can’t stop the love of God.

And so while it is very bad with my body, and while it is sometimes bad with my spirits and bad with my attitude, it is well with my soul. Think about the words you sang earlier with me for a second:

(Ed: You really had to be here for this. I did a sort of dramatic reading of this hymn, not keeping to the musical structure but reading it as though it were a story, complete with hand gestures and voice shifts. If you’re reading this, you’ll have to use your imagination)
(I)

When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrow like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well, with my soul".

(II)

My sin oh the bliss of this glorious thought.
My sin not in part but the whole
Is nailed to that cross and I'll bear it no more!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!!

(III)

And Lord haste the day
When my faith shall be sight.
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll.
The trump shall resound
And the Lord shall descend!
Even so, it is well with my soul.

(Chorus)

It is well (It is well)
With my soul (with my soul).
It is well, it is well with my soul.


For I am certain that not death, or life, or angels, or rulers, or things present, or things to come, or powers, or things on high, or things under the earth, or chemotherapy treatments, or surgeries, or foul-tasting medicines, or hospital bills, or tumors, or my own bad attitudes, or ANYTHING which is made, will be able to come between me and the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen and amen.

Posted by Dan at 03:34 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 15, 2005

Popping Culture is back up and snoozing!

10 P.M. now.

Just got back in from successfully getting Mrs. Popping Culture's sister hitched to a nice enough guy from Maryland.

Listened to the Steelers-Jets game on the way home. An exciting game with a favorable result. As hyperactive as the Rams-Falcons have been in the first half, I'm afraid your host is hypoactive. I need rest.

I was in pretty fair amounts of pain and couldn't really rest on the trip, but I expect that being home in my own bed will help me catch up. I'll post more updates tomorrow, and I'll probably toss the sermon up, too, like I did last week, since it's about cancer again. There's another topic?

Might be able to do a root canal Monday of this week. You know, to break up the monotony of cancer. Also, looks like last week's failed biopsy is gonna go down Wednesday, so place your bets!

Rest well, Interweb.

Posted by Dan at 10:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 13, 2005

Popping Cancer: quick hit

Saw the local doc today.

It turns out he agrees with me that the following can lead to low blood pressure:

1 - Losing 85 pounds but maintaining the high-level blood pressure meds.

2 - Adding a heart pill (Coreg) at high doses, that also trims the BP.

3 - Not eating or drinking for a late (11 a.m.) surgery.

4 - Beginning a new diet with no caffeine, after years of pop-guzzling.

So I'm taking a few days off the BP meds. Just to see. By Monday, we should be able to check the BP clearly. Another snag is that one of the BP meds helped me process potassium as well, so we'll have to keep an eye on that, too (yay! more blood tests!).

All in all, a good night's sleep, some violent blogging and a good meal have my spirits back up where they should be. I'll be hearing any time now about my rescheduled biopsy, and I'm going to Maryland tomorrow and Saturday for my sister-in-law's wedding.

I remain anxious to start chemotherapy. Silly-sounding, yes, but at least it will make me feel like I'm participating in my own health. I also apologize for continuing to postpone the supplements post, but it'll be a snoozer anyway. Suffice it to say that I'm taking a bunch of supplements and they're all expensive.

Time to walk the dog.

Posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2005

Cancer is dumb and I hate it.

Well, I guess that pretty much goes without saying.

Still, today was the most frustrating day since the diagnosis. I drove, or more specifically, Mrs. Popping Culture drove, the hour and a half to Cleveland bright and early this morning for a biopsy. Except it wasn't bright, it was a driving rain virtually the entire way up. Better than ice, I guess.

We got in and the nurse came to start the IV. Four needle sticks later and we were still mining for blood. Fine. Me strong like ox. Me take pain.

Finally (and remember this is all in hyper-decelerated hospital time) it was time for me to stand up out of my chair and walk over to the surgical room. I said, stand up out of my chair.... Mr. Champion? Are you ok?

"Pale" was the word the nurse used. "About to pass out on the cold, hard tile, teeth first." would have been more accurate. It turns out that not eating before surgery, plus losing the better part of 100 pounds in a year, plus taking piles of blood pressure meds, plus not having fluids can make you a bit woozy.

My blood pressure was 70 over 50. That's low. So was I. No biopsy. No determination of type of cancer growths in my chest, then chemotherapy.

Instead I spent the day in the emergency room. They're going to have to reschedule the biopsy.

Until then, presumably, the cancer continues to spread and grow uncontested and I get to pay another huge hospital bill. At least I had stinkin' soy milk to come home to!

Grrrrr.

Whew. That felt good. Very tired now. Thank you for your thoughts and support surrounding the biopsy. Sorry I didn't have a place to use them. I am sure the fun, lighthearted, pastoral Dan will be back after a night's sleep.

Or a series of brutal murders.

Posted by Dan at 07:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Closed for surgery.

If you're reading this at about 11 AM Eastern, I'm under the knife.

Relatively simple procedure to biopsy a naughty hunk of stuff in my chest. Still, prayers are coveted, as are good thoughts, karma, energies, mojo, auras and eternal spirits.

Back later tonight, probably woozy, so there should be some good blogging to be had.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Posted by Dan at 08:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 11, 2005

Some things stay.

When I was a kid, maybe 8 or 9, I took a hammer from my father's tools. I wasn't supposed to touch it but I took it anyway and went out into the neighborhood with it one Saturday morning.

I don't think it was a sin, mind you. I am a firm believer in the idea that a little mischief is necessary for a kid to grow up healthy. You can spot the kids that didn't get into any mischief pretty easily once they've grown to be adults.

That is beside the point.

I took the hammer and found a pile of rubbish. The men with trucks and bulldozers were building a new housing development not far from the development I lived in and, of course, they were off on Saturday.

So I hit whatever trash I could find with the hammer. Just to see what would happen, I guess.

On one particular swing, I missed badly whatever I was swinging at. The hammer carried through and I, not able to control its weight, hit myself in the shin, hard.

My leg was bleeding and pressure didn't make it stop. So I went home.

When it healed, there was a little crater-shaped indention in my leg that remains to this day. For some reason, tonight I was thinking about cancer, and some of the stories from my own life, and I found myself subconciously running my finger over that indention.

I don't know why I feel compelled to write this, or why I think it belongs with the cancer posts, but I do and it does.

I guess some things just always stay with you.

Posted by Dan at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Well, is there anything I CAN eat?

So far the diet is going along, you know, at about the pace that time passes.

Here it is:

No sugars. This is the big one. If all else failed, I'd still have to stop it with the sugars. Cancer cells LOVE sugars. The PETscan itself is based on the concept that cancer cells will absorb more sugars and in different ways than healthy cells. No more chocolate milkshakes for a while.

No caffeine. I can survive this one.

No red meat. What? WHAT? No burger? No steaks? Oh, and also no pork. Man, this sucks. If I'm gonna eat, I like for something to have to die. And I really do like red meat. It makes me aggressive. The ladies love that.

Only distilled water. No biggie, I just have to remember to keep hitting the Giant Eagle, where it's, like, 67 cents a gallon.

No dairy. Because dairy converts to sugar, which converts to rampant cancer cells. I heard Charles Atlas say once he didn't eat dairy after he became an adult because it was unnatural. Makes sense... babies get weaned off the milk once they mature. Still, I love milk and ice cream (again, specifically chocolate milk shakes).

Nothing fried. Well, it hardly matters at this point. Anything I'd want to fry is pretty much off the list anyway.

So far I've had good luck with substitutes. Soy stuff (milk, bread, whatever) is just wrong-tasting to me, but I really like rice-based foods. There's a type of "cheese" that tastes just like Kraft American, and Rice milk is a bit different, but not bad at all. On the pseudo-meat front, Boca Burgers really are tasty. Of course, nothing's as good as the high-fat diet most of us are used to, but it's really not as bad out there in healthyland as it sounds (just more expensive). There is even an all-natural sweetener called Stevia that replaces sugar and honey, and is in fact sweeter than both, but you have to just use a drop or so or else it becomes overwhelming to the point of being disgusting.

The diet is all my idea, with help gleaned from health food nuts and cancer survivors. There is no proof that any of it helps fight cancer, but if nothing else it makes me feel like I'm participating, if you know what I mean.

I'll post the supplements I'm taking tomorrow or the next day. Probably not tomorrow, because I'm off to Cleveland for a rather painful biopsy, then probably home late in the rain. Prayers, mojo, kind thoughts, warm auras, and good energies all accepted.

For now, I have to run... there's a big meal of styrofoam and grass clippings calling my name!

MMMmmmm.... grass clippings!

Posted by Dan at 07:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update

Not much of an update this morning, but since it has been a while, I thought I better throw you groupies a bone.

Biopsy tomorrow in the morning at Cleveland Clinic. Trying to write the whole sermon all at once on Thursday. Travel to sister-in-law's wedding Friday. Wedding Saturday. Presumably, by then, we'll have biopsy results and chemotherapy will start next week.

We know the initial lump was a sarcoma, but the biopsy will be on one of the new sites that has popped up in my chest, to determine the exact nature of the tumors, since types of chemotherapy drugs may be changed based on the results.

It frustrates me to sit around for another week (if you call surgery and traveling to Maryland for a wedding "sitting around"), but at least I have my new obnoxious diet to keep me busy. Later today, I'll be showing off my new diet, along with all the supplements that I've started taking.

I never guessed supplements would be so expensive. One of them cost $190 for a three-month supply. Still, my thinking is, I don't know if these things will help. I do know that they WON'T hurt and MAY OR MAY NOT help. So if I take them, I might get well and they won't hurt me, just my checkbook.

Still, I draw the line. If Aunt Mary has her favorite syrup made of tar and dirt that she claims cures halitosis, I can pass. But if a real, live, natural supplement claims to help cancer patients and there are some stats to back it up, it's worth the cost. I was just gonna spend that money on video games and theology books anyway.

Speaking of books in general, being an obsessive-compulsive book freak has finally paid off. My "to be read" shelf has over 100 books on it now, mostly books I got from Barnes and Noble, telling myself one day I'd have time for them. Well, I have some time now, presuming I keep breathing. First up from the shelf is a re-read of The Living of These Days, which is Fosdick's brilliant autobiography.

Posted by Dan at 09:39 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 10, 2005

The Work We Must Do.

It's hard to write sermons these days, but it's also cathartic. It would be kind of suspicious for me to ignore that I have an advanced cancer in my body and instead preach about tithing or discipleship or whatall other nonsense.

If you have an interest, here's the sermon I preached yesterday:

Mar 15:43 There came Joseph of Arimathaea, a responsible man in high honour, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God; and he went in to Pilate without fear, and made a request for the body of Jesus.
Mar 15:44 And Pilate was surprised that he was dead; and, sending for the captain, he put a question to see if he had been dead for long.
Mar 15:45 And when he had news of it from the captain, he let Joseph have the body.
Mar 15:46 And he got a linen cloth and, taking him down, put the linen cloth round him, and put him in a place for the dead which had been cut out of a rock; and a stone was rolled against the door.

Mar 16:1 And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, got spices, so that they might come and put them on him.
Mar 16:2 And very early after dawn on the first day of the week, they came at the time of the coming up of the sun to the place where the body had been put.
Mar 16:3 And they were saying among themselves, Who will get the stone rolled away from the door for us?
Mar 16:4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; and it was of great size.
Mar 16:5 And when they went in, they saw a young man seated on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were full of wonder.

You know, in 36 short years, I’ve been involved with WAY too many funerals. I’ve seen massive gatherings with hundreds of people, and small personal services at nursing homes with no more than 3 or 4.

After every death, however, there’s one type of person who always shows up. This is the one who has to, or chooses to, take care of the details. What is the deceased going to wear, where will he be buried, which of her family do we need to keep away from which others of her family?

How will we pay for this? Who will provide food, and transportation, and comfort as needed? What day, what time, where?

In Mark we find this person in the form of Joseph of Arimathaea, and shortly after, in the form of Mary and Mary.

Joseph of Arimathaea was a follower of Jesus. The Bible says that he was “waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

What we don’t know is how he felt following Jesus’ death. His savior was dead. There was no doubt about it because Joseph had the body himself. We don’t know if Joseph expected a resurrection, or if his faith suffered. We don’t know how strong his emotional reaction was, whether he cursed God or sobbed uncontrollably or just got back to work.

What we do know is that someone had to take care of the details, and God had provided Joseph of Arimathaea. This was the work he had to do. No doubt he would have preferred to have the time free for grieving or comforting others, but this was the work that God had for him.

So Joseph went downtown to confront Pilate. He got custody of Jesus’ body. Joseph provided a linen which he had no doubt arranged for earlier. He took upon himself the no-doubt painful task of getting the corpse of the man he thought would be his savior down from the cross where it still hung. Somebody had to do it, yes?

Having arranged for a tomb for his Lord, Joseph of Arimathaea carefully wrapped Jesus’ body. He transported it, laid it carefully inside the tomb, and saw to the sealing of the door with a huge stone.

This was the work that God had for him to do.

Two mornings later, Mary and Mary had their own work to do. No doubt with heavy hearts, they rose early, prepared spices and hiked to the tomb of the one they thought would save them.

It’s helpful that these two stories came back to back in the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes, like Joseph, our work is not rewarded… at least, not immediately, and not in ways we can see on this side of Heaven.

Sometimes, like Mary and Mary, the work is rewarded immediately and with great joy. We find our angels and we hear our good news.

In either case, the work that God calls us to is sometimes hard work, sometimes frustrating or sad. But it is work that has to be done, and it’s work that God gives us.

Mother Theresa said once, “I know that God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.”

As I’ve spent the last few weeks meeting with doctors and going through tests and getting more and more news about my disease, I’ve come to realize something I didn’t see about Jesus before.

He must have been very sad near the end of his life.

I know what I’m up against, and I know what can happen. Still, I have time. If it comes to it, I can say goodbyes and close circles. I can tell the people I love that I do love them.

Not even Jesus’ own disciples understood him when he tried to talk about his own death. Jesus was utterly alone, even when he was with the people he cared about the most. How sad to know you are going to suffer and die, but not be able to get the people you love to understand it. Even after the resurrection, they didn’t understand, not right away. It took Paul to come along years later to make sense of just what the Jesus Event really meant.

So even Jesus had work he had to do. He not only had to accept the most agonizing death known to man, but he had to do it knowing it was coming, knowing his best friends wouldn’t understand what he was going through. That, to me, is amazing.

Of course he didn’t have to do it. Of course he didn’t want to. But it was the work that God had for Jesus to do and he did it, even though it led to his own death.

So in this one flurry of verses at the end of Mark, we see three stories of people who had work to do, work from God, and they did it, even though they really would have preferred not to.

Mary and Mary saw the reward of their work immediately. Joseph of Arimathaea didn’t. Jesus died as a result of his.

And so we’re all called by God to do this work that we must do. Some of us trade it in, though.

Some of us prefer to work to make our lives more comfortable. Some of us prefer to work to make our families rich and safe. Some of us work to be entertained, or so that we can retire some time in the future and give work entirely.

Those sound like really nice goals, until you realize that it’s only the work that God has for us that matters. Whether it’s dying, or taking care of funeral arrangements, or becoming a missionary to Africa or to Youngstown Ohio, or whether it’s giving to the church or just finally sharing what you believe with your neighbor – whatever your work is, it is from God, and it’s not too hard to figure it out if you really want to know.

This last year, I have been a pastor. Given my own choice 18 years ago, I would rather have been an award-winning novelist. Or even worked at Barnes and Noble. The dream then was to be a Shakespeare professor.

This week I’m going to be a cancer patient. Given my choice… well, you know my choice there.

Biopsy, chemotherapy, percentages of survival. Is it going to work? Am I going to live?

Doesn’t matter. Not to me.

THIS is the work that God has for me. Let me suffer, let me struggle at it, let me feel pain… it is the work that God has for me.

And it is the only work that matters.

Posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 08, 2005

Popping Culture is soliciting!

Kind of.

Just thinking about nutrition right now (please save your teas, tree barks, miracle cures, majik mushrooms and potions for later), meaning the actual foods I eat, this is my dietary plan for dealing with cancer:

-less sugar (Nerds candy sugars, not apple and orange sugars)
-wheat grains only (wheat pasta and bread, especially)
-no caffeine
-no red meat (white meat is fine)

That's about it. I'm not worried about fat or carbs. In fact, the goal is to maintain my weight. It would be better to gain than lose weight at this point.

The idea is to make my body less toxic, while denying the cancer cells the stuff they like to munch on.

Anything I overlooked???

Again, we're not mentioning supplements here - I have a few things up my sleeve in that department, too, for another discussion.

Posted by Dan at 04:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2005

Popping Cancer Update 1-7-5

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a final word:

Biopsy Wednesday.

Chemotherapy soon after. LOTS of it.

Our goal is no longer to cure the disease, it is to prolong my life.*

With the loss of the key chemotherapy drug, the doc is calling for a 20-30 percent chance of significantly shrinking the larger tumor. I know from my own history and from my time working as a chaplain that the most important numbers are determined by the strength of the patient.

My cancer diet is in place. Whole wheat grains only, no caffeine, no red meat, low sugars, horrific tasting tea.

Fasten your seatbelts.

____________________________________
*Note that "prolong my life" includes the possibility of a lengthy remission or two, but a cure for metastatic cancer from a sarcoma is not possible. It's in my blood, it's mine for life.

Posted by Dan at 10:04 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Big Cancer Fun Today!

Today at 3 p.m. Eastern I'm meeting with my oncologist (in Cleveland, so the drive time will keep blogging light) to set out once and for all a course of treatment. As you can probably guess from reading below, I'm chomping metaphorically at the proverbial bit like a horse that doesn't exist but represents in the creative imagination my desire to begin treatment.

It looks like minor surgery (to biopsy one of the new growths) then chemotherapy.

Just. Bring. It.


**UPDATE: Don't forget you can check out all the cancer posts at once by clicking on the topic "cancer" in the right sidebar. I don't suggest you do this. A little cultural fun between cancer discussions is good for the soul.**

***Self-congratulatory update: Not only do we have 30 links at Popping Culture, we're also ranked #3712 in traffic at The Truth Laid Bear, which monitors these things. You are welcome to tell people you know me, since it'll add instant cred.***

Posted by Dan at 08:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2005

I'm all popular and stuff.

I have 30 links!

The most I ever had before this was around 15 at once. If I had known popularity was just a fatal illness away, I would have gotten more friendly with that monkey that was making eyes at me in Zambia.

Posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 05, 2005

Popping Cancer update: The day the local minister got pissed off.

(quotes from my own diaries and from Internet cancer resources)

I have always been a quiet, mild-mannered type of guy.

In my memory, there are two instances, both on soccer fields, where someone punched me - once dead in the face, hard - and my response was stillness. Staring and smiling.

I preach peace in my church. I believe that I am one of the gentlest souls you could ever meet. There is probably nothing you could do to my person or my possessions to cause me to respond in anger.

But if you touched my wife - if you made my wife cry - I would kill you. It's that simple. I would break you with a rage you've never seen before in your life. I expect that I would pound and pound, not until you were dead, but until you were dead and my rage was spent and I couldn't raise my hands to hit you again.

"Once men are caught up in an event, they cease to be afraid. Only the unknown frightens men."

"The time for action is now. It's never too late to do something."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Tonight I held my wife, and we both cried.

Cancer has officially pissed me off.

Your response to this is the most important factor in determining your chances for survival. Your response is more important than any medical statistic, treatment, or possible breakthrough.

-My Doctor

When I was 18 years old, I was told that my chances to live were not very good. I had late-stage Hodgkin's Disease, a type of lymphatic cancer. The lymph nodes in my neck had grown so large that my shirts were a full neck size larger. The lymph nodes above my lungs were large enough that when I went to bed at night, if I tried to lay on my back, I couldn't breathe.

I know that God will not give me anything I can't handle.
I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.

-Mother Teresa

So one afternoon I was playing tennis very poorly with my friend Scott. That night I was at an oncologist's office. The following morning I was in surgery, the first of many biopsies.

In the next six months I received all the radiation a person was supposed to receive in a lifetime. Everyone else was back in school, meeting girls, having late nights, living their lives.

That'll make you angry. Angry and sad.

My role as a surgeon is to buy people time, during which they can heal themselves.

-Bernie Siegel, MD

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

-Romans 12:2

The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his state of mind.

-William James

Then came chemotherapy. God, the horrible memories that still creep like silent spiders in the darkest corners of my mind. The long afternoons spent throwing up, then throwing up again, until I was throwing up nothing, violently. Hit in the stomach suddenly by sledgehammer cramps that would double me over, make me cry out against my will, sometimes throw me from the bed.

Fevers into the 104s. Covered in sweat and unable to think rationally, to take care of myself, to lift myself out of bed to go to the bathroom one door away. Wanting to curse and shake my fists at God, except that the poison held me down, pinned me to the sheets, or to the floor, wherever I fell first.

Coughing, choking, gasping for air, praying for strength before the next cramp hit, or the next bout of vomiting.

Never being given that strength. Not once in eight years.

Being alone. Utterly and completely alone.

The vast majority of survivors do not believe they got well by chance. Triumphant patients believe they worked for their wellness, earning it on a daily basis.

-Greg Anderson

Getting cancer can become the beginning of living. The search for one's own being, the discovery of the life one needs to live, can be one of the strongest weapons against disease.

-Lawrence Leshan

And somehow I survived each treatment. Twice - on two separate occasions - my doctors told me that scans looked clear, that I wouldn't need any more treatment.

Within six months of each such declaration, more cancer had been detected in my system.

There is a point at which one, after 8 years of cancer treatment, ceases to be afraid to die. More fatally, they become afraid to hope.

There is nothing in the world that can take the place of persistence.

-Calvin Coolidge

Society may predict but only I will determine my destiny.

-Tallmidge Griffin, Four Years Old

And so the doctor said I needed to do a painful bone marrow transplant in a hospital nearly two hours away from home. I was 25. I had been through enough.

Indeed, those were the words I used when I told my family that I didn't plan on going through the procedure. "It is enough," I said in tears. "Eight years is enough. Let's just not do any more treatment. Let's just wait and see what happens."

My family and girlfriend (now wife) had watched me suffer all along. They agreed, or at least allowed me to make that decision. How could they not?

It was my doctor, Dr. Kostinas, who saved my life. I told him I wasn't going to Richmond for the transplant. He said "You're going to do the transplant or you're going to die."

Ouch. Looking back, I believe that in that moment he may have been my only friend in the world.

My emotions changed a dozen times in about a second. First was self-pity. "It's not fair."

Next was anger. "Why is this happening to me?"

Finally, rage. Cancer was the enemy. It was evil. It was a dark force that wanted me dead and wanted to use my own body to kill me. That rage was what carried me through the transplant.

Don't let anyone tell you that anything good ever came from cancer. Cancer is evil. It is hate. Anything good, any lessons learned, came from the patient alone. DON'T EVER SAY THAT ANYTHING GOOD CAME OUT OF CANCER.

Just don't.

If you keep on doing what you've been going, you'll keep on getting what you've been getting.

-Anon

Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The individual whose hopes for his own full rich life are sufficiently high to enable him to deal with temporary setbacks appears to be most resistant to cancer.

-Lawrence Leshan

There is no way to survive a bone marrow transplant without anger. My heart stopped once in the 5 weeks I was there. I stopped breathing at least twice. I needed at least a dozen blood transfusions.

Once, a friend came to visit me. On her way to the floor, she noticed men and women rushing to the unit. Alarms were blaring and lights flashing. She made a mental note to ask me what was going on when she got to my room.

They were running to me.

Hang in there. We are so vulnerable and overwhelmed when diagnosed with cancer. The word itself is all consuming.

-from a bulletin board for breast cancer patients

My veins are filled, once a week, with a Neapolitan carpet cleaner distilled from the Adriatic and I am as bald as an egg. However I still get around and am mean to cats.

-John Cheever (1912-82), U.S. author. Letter, 10 May 1982, to Philip Roth (published in The Letters of John Cheever, 1989), concerning his cancer and its treatment.

The transplant was a success. It was ten years ago.

Last month, I was diagnosed again.

Today I am alive.

I say "today" because that is how one beats cancer. Daily. Get through today. Survive the afternoon.

Worrying about tomorrow is a common, fatal mistake.

Feel how you feel today.

And so today I am alive. Today my doctor said "there's more disease than we initially believed." But today I am alive, and now, more than that, I am angry.

My response so far has been reflection, sense-memory, a bit of fear. All that is over now.

How DARE this evil come back. How DARE cancer make my wife cry. We WILL live, do you hear that?

We will live because we will live today. Cancer can't touch my today - our today.

God, this pisses me off.

One must not forget that recovery is brought about not by the physician, but by the sick man himself. He heals himself, by his own power, exactly as he walks by means of his own power, or eats, or thinks, breathes or sleeps.

-Georg Groddeck (1866-1934), German psychoanalyst. The Book of the It, Letter 32 (1923).

Today was a pretty good day.

-the diary I kept during my first experience with cancer. Shortly after this entry, the bone marrow transplant made me too weak to write regularly.

So I can tell you a few things, even in my rage, gentle reader.

I am more alive right now than you are. I cherish everything around me with a gripping, grasping desperate love. I live to feel with all five senses again, to drink in every feeling, good and bad, that life can offer. And if I die, I will not quietly slip away, I will die like a stroke of electricity and I will miss everything SO much.

There is no shame in dying of cancer.

The only shame is in not living. Not fighting.

One day soon I might die. But I'm not dead yet.

And I'm not going easy.

And today? Today was a pretty good day.

Posted by Dan at 09:53 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer - quick hit

I just talked to my oncologist and he had a few things to say.

First of all, it's chemotherapy or nothing. He suggested a different drug to substitute for the one that damaged the muscles near my heart and I'll ask him for more information when I'm in his office Friday.

Two, he wants to do a biopsy. Whatever. Minor surgery is the least of my worries at this point.

Three, and this is the troubling bit, he called from his VACATION in JAPAN. Now, under what circumstances would a doctor call from Japan? On his vacation? To a patient he just met 3 weeks ago? I'm not saying anything is hopeless yet, but this might be a good time to look into selling those stocks of Dan Champion Will Live Forever, Inc.

Posted by Dan at 02:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Popping Cancer Update 1-5-4

To quote Arthur's butler (and shame on you if you don't get the movie reference to this brilliant character): "I have seen the doctor, and he... has seen me."

The PETscan I did Friday had results within half an hour. First, you get the little tiny amount of good news: the original growth on my back is completely clean. No more cancer there.

Nice, but less meaningful when you hear the bad news: the cancer is definitely metastatic. It has spread not only to the second larger lump we kne about behind my heart, but to at least 5, and possibly as many as 10, other locations in my chest (5 or so were "indeterminate" sites).

This means a few things. One, it means surgery is out. No sense doing deep, invasive surgery if more of the things are just gonna keep popping up all over.

Two, radiation is less likely, since you can't really radiate the entire bloodstream. Unless you're writing a B-grade horror flick.

Three, the last-ditch option, chemotherapy (which, Popping Culture fans will recall, was last-ditch because the 8 years of chemotherapy I got as a teenager damaged my heart pretty bad, making more chemotherapy a probable ticket to heart not-workingage) may be the only option open now that will get the job done.

I have a meeting Friday with my oncologist that should set a course of treatment in place. Maybe they can mix in some new chemotherapy drugs beyond the ones that hurt my heart originally. Maybe the doctor has some other idea in mind.

Maybe I'm making things up because I'm out of other options.

I've stripped this entry down to bare-bones information sharing. Emotional response coming later in the day. We now return you to your popular culture news, already in progress.

Posted by Dan at 10:00 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 02, 2005

Popping Cancer Update postponed.

I promised you a longer update on the first 8-year fight with Hodgkin's Disease, to help set the frame for my current diagnosis, but it'll have to wait.

I've had an exhausting day, physically and emotionally and I didn't really do all that much. The bloody highlight was having to stop the sermon I was delivering so that I could sit down before passing out. I was gripping the poor dear pulpit so hard my knuckles were nearly white, and my field of vision had shrunk until I couldn't see the words of my sermon notes.

I'm still on the dizzy side nearly 12 hours later and I can no longer pretend to myself or others that all is well in DanWorld.

So, that sucks.

At least it made everyone pay a LOT more attention to communion, which came after the sermon (I was able to continue after about 4-6 minutes of blurriness), especially when I served grape juice to the huddled masses.

So your update comes later, k? In the meantime, let me direct you to the specific "cancer" topic in the right sidebar, that will point you quickly to all the cancerous posts I've been tossing up lately. You know, in case culture and goofy photos aren't your cup of Earl Grey.

Posted by Dan at 09:28 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 01, 2005

Popping Cancer update: quick hit!

By the end of this week, we'll know all we need to know.

It turns out the sarcoma this time around was caused by the radiation (and chemotherapy) I got in high doses to kill the Hodgkin's Disease I had from ages 18-26. Makes sense. Radiation causes cancer - that's why we don't vacation at Three Mile Island. Radiation cured and caused.

Here's a depressing thought. If I do die from this thing after a three-year battle, I will have spent nearly a third of my life fighting cancer. Neat. I better live, or at least get my money back.

Happy thoughts.

I have an update coming in the next day or two on my tactics for surviving the first time around. In the meantime, we'll return you to the cultural part of our blog. I even have another disturbing photograph for Joel, since he loved the last. If you are new here, and want to catch up on the cancer thing, I've introduced a topic heading in the right sidebar that will take you to the cancer posts exclusively. Go team!

Oh, and forgive the uncharacteristic political post below. Respond to it, but forgive.

Posted by Dan at 10:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 30, 2004

Popping Cancer update - The Waiting Game

So far I feel just ducky. You never feel bad from cancer, really, until they start to treat you for it.

I am, however, in a word, impatient. I want to fight or scream or be sad or be hopeful, but I don't have enough information yet. I'm like a soldier who doesn't know where, or even if, he's being sent into combat yet. If I were a metaphorical horse, I'd be chomping at the proverbial bit.

Something about my life - the microwave oven that cooks my dinner in a minute and a half, the remote control to the television, the Interweb where everything you could possibly want to know is a simple click or two away, something - has made me cringe at the prospect of waiting at all anymore, for anything.

I not only want it my way, I want it now! I guess at least part of that is human nature and the frenetic pace of life around us in the U.S.

It's worse when what you're waiting for is, literally, life and death news. I won't have any more substantive information until next week. Of course, when next week hits, it'll be a doozy: Dentist Monday, PETscan Tuesday in Cleveland (an hour and a half away, sans snow), surgeon Thursday in Cleveland, oncologist Friday in Cleveland.

By the end of next week, I will know how extensive and pervasive the sarcoma is, as well as what steps (and I hate to say it but: if any) we will take to kill it.

The end of next week never seemed so far away. What am I supposed to do in the meantime? I have to write a sermon for Sunday I guess. I have job duties and chores around the house. Still, I suspect there will be a lot of staring into space and probably a fair amount of expecting the worst, combined with a liberal dose of random, stabbing emotion. All I know is there is something there, it seems to have spread and it isn't friendly.

Even as a kid, waiting was a part of life. I'd send away for something out of the back of a comic book and it might take 2-4 months to arrive in the mailbox. MONTHS. Now, if I can't get it in a day or two, deal's off.

I also remember the afternoons when I was a teenager with cancer. Afternoons were the worst. Thank God Almighty for The Dick Van Dyke Show reruns.

I was severely sick then and wasn't able or allowed to be out in public. There was very little I could do with my afternoons and less still for which I had strength or motivation.

At night, I had the television schedule memorized. In the morning was the daily parade of doctors and nurses and blood tests. But the afternoon was a desert. A long, empty space. An 8-hour blank stare. THAT'S when you're scared: in the afternoon, because you're alone in the hospital room or on your couch at home, and the only company you have is your own thoughts and a body that's trying to kill you.

I'll post some reflections on my first bout with cancer this week. No real news until the middle of next week some time.

Until then, I guess it's back to the afternoons.

Posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

So I lied: a wee cancer reflection

It's Christmas tomorrow and you have cancer.

That, to me, is permission to feel the way you feel.

So often people expect certain responses. At a funeral you are expected to be sad. At a wedding, happy.

Don't let other people's expectations give them power over you. Let yourself feel the way you feel. When I was originally diagnosed with cancer, way back at age 18, my first response was relief. Yep, relief.

I had been sick for so long, just general malaise, that I got the sense that people thought I was faking it, or wasn't as bad off as I claimed. That cancer diagnosis felt like "Wow. You guys have to shut up now. I KNEW I was sick! I'm not crazy after all!"

Of course, the stark raving terror hit later, but there it is.

So on Christmas you will feel nostalgic and happy and terrified and sad and melancholy. You'll have energy and you'll be exhausted. You'll want to touch and to hug and you'll want to be left alone and touching will make you tense.

People will look down on you for laughing at a funeral or being boisterous on Christmas when cancer patients should be glum. People will expect you to be scared for yourself but maybe you're thinking about your family instead. People will expect you to be weak, or strong. People will EXPECT. Screw them. Yep, I'm a pastor and I said it: screw them.

Feel the way you feel. It's bad enough being sick without also being a prisoner of someone else's expectations.

Life, even life with cancer, is meant to be lived freely. Let yourself feel the way you feel, whatever that is.

Oh, and have a merry Christmas!

Posted by Dan at 01:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Popping Cancer Reflection 12-23-4

Cancer may be the scariest disease going.

I mean, some diseases have scary side effects (ever see an Ebola movie? Eesh.) and some have scary final stages (AIDS is a horrific way to die, for instance) but cell-for-cell, my opinion is that cancer has them beaten.

My thoughts on the topic are two:

(1) Cancer is portrayed as hyper-scary and unstoppable in our culture. It is sold to us as a faceless, invisible killer that can strike at any time and is almost always incurable. When movies need that extra Umph! of tragedy, one of the stars can get cancer.

You feel fine and visit with the doctor on a routine basis and then WHAM! the next day you're in a fight for your life. There are very few popular culture treatments of cancer that don't horror-ify the disease. One excellent treatment of cancer is Michael Keaton's simply brilliant My Life, which resonated with me immediately. Keaton did his homework on that one. All the way through, the issues dealt with real, true-to-life struggles and triumphs and failures of cancer patients I have known and been.

Another interesting treatment of cancer is Julia Roberts' Dying Young. The movie as a whole is clearly more concerned with romance and with cashing in on Roberts (her star was rising then), but the nuanced emotions and choices of the cancer patient/love interest (two terms rarely used in concert) played by Campbell Scott are dead on. In a film that uses cancer as a plot device, the real meat is in the actions and reactions of Scott's character, Victor.

(2) Cancer is one of the few, and by far the most well-known, diseases that use your own body to kill you. With AIDS, a foreign virus attacks your body and causes systems to fail. In other diseases, organs are attacked. In car accidents, for instance, body parts are damaged or broken and need to be repaired.

Cancer (and this keeps me up nights) is an expression of your own body trying to kill you. Cancer comes from within, is created by your own body (with help sometimes, but not all the time, by outside factors - mine originally came from nowhere and this recurrence has its origins in the radiation treatments we used to kill the LAST cancer). Cancer takes over cells in your body, kills some and twists others to its own use. Think of it: your own body is trying to kill you.

And not just quietly, but aggressively. Cancer is the equivalent of a bully saying "Here I come. This is what I am. Stop me if you can." It spreads quickly, and inevitably, to important organs. Cancer never spreads to your little toe. It spreads to your lungs or liver or kidneys.

That's why chemotherapy is basically dumping poison into your system and hoping it kills more greedy cancer cells than healthy cells - you have to damage parts of the whole to remove the evil parts. It's literally a civil war.

That said, let's make this general discussion more specific: my meeting yesterday with a radiation oncologist.

Dr. Crownover (from Cleveland Clinic - finally a doctor that inspires my confidence. This guy is sharp as a really sharp tack.) met with me for over an hour.

There is a second growth near the area of the first, huge mass on my back (since removed), but this one is in the chest cavity, near my spine. It is separate, not just a part the surgeon missed when he removed the tumor on my back.

There is a chance it is fluid from surgery, or scar tissue, but since it just appeared (I do CAT scans every 6 months and to have two growths that aren't related both suddenly appear is a bit of a stretch to believe in), the doctor suspects that one of the masses is an original site and the other is the same disease spread to a new location (metastasized).

This leaves two possibilities. One, and most likely, that the huge lump they first took off my back was the source. This requires more surgery, probably, to make sure they got every little bit off my back, and radiation to kill the tumor near my spine (it is actually just behind my aorta - sarcomas like to spread toward the lungs).

If the origin tumor is the one in my chest, surgery is not an option, since it is so deep and my heart is already weakened (r.e. previous posts). So, if the source tumor is the little one in my chest, treatment becomes palliative instead of curative. Turn out the lights, party's over.

Next step? Shortly after Christmas, we set about defining the new, smaller lump in my chest, mostly with a petscan. Also, I meet with a surgery specialist up in Cleveland Clinic, then with my oncologist to put all of our findings together and create a course of treatment.

This meeting was the first one to actually establish that yes, I do still have an active form of cancer despite the most recent surgery and, yes, it has probably spread. For those of you waiting for definitive information before freaking out, now is the time. Get freaky.

My history is that, with a few exceptions, I only freak out when my cancer doesn't respond to treatment, so you'll forgive me if I wait for the formal freak-out until a few more weeks have passed.

For now, I have the ironic task of writing a hope-filled and joyous sermon for our Christmas Eve service at church. What a world.

my life.jpg

Posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2004

"And now there is merely silence, silence, silence, saying all we did not know." - William Rose Benet

I have posted this here already once before, but with the dark-but-not-gloomy mood I'm in tonight, it felt appropriate to re-post. It describes a formative event in my birthing as a caregiver. It also marks the beginning of the creation of the tools that help me pastor now, through the darkening days of my own cancer.

As chaplains, those of us who drew the dreaded and loved 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. shifts in Richmond's downtown MCV hospital were required to conclude our tours of duty by logging the night's activity in a notebook, to be read by the day staff in case follow-ups were needed.

Normally filled with names, times, conditions and activity reports, this is the report I wrote one particular Thursday afternoon about 7 years ago:

It started with noise, in the way that Wednesday nights are often noisy. The code beeper came to life, demanding attention, signaling to those of us who are chaplains and therefore forced to listen that somewhere in the hospital someone was dying, or dead.

There was noise as I arrived. Nurses and doctors huddled around a newborn, shouting orders, yelling for this or that medication. A mother, asking questions that had no good answers, questions like "What's wrong with him?" and "Will he be alright?" More noise as monitors sounded alarms. More noise as the father's labored breathing gave background to the shuffle of activity around the little one. Then, finally, more noise, as a deep voice cut through the cacophany, "Time of death, 1:32 A.M."

And then silence.

You call yourself a chaplain, Dan, don't you have anything to say? Where are your words of comfort now? Where is your precious faith now?

There was another chaplain with me. He was useless, too.

We quietly steered the couple, the mother and father, to a family room. I opened my mouth to start to say something, anything, to speak to their pain, but what words are there for a time like this? There is only silence. Only silence can communicate what a mother feels when she loses her 9-day old son.

We sat in silence for half an hour, then an hour. One of the other of us would sob out loud occasionally, but even that was cut short, as if in reverence for the silence, for the empty, hollow, quiet place that was now forever part of their lives. Even a hundred healthy children could never fill the empty place that was now in their hearts. Part of them would always keep silence now, even in the happiest of times.

And what was there for me to say? I was powerless in the face of such amazing grief. No words from a textbook or verse from the Bible can make a dent in a pain so big, so sudden.

Finally, I slipped out of the room, to find the nurses. They had wrapped the baby in a blanket, clean and blue. They had combed his hair. It is part of my job to bring the parents their child, to hold for the last time. Numbly, silently, I took the child that would not even see ten days in to them.

There are times when keeping silence communicates more powerfully than a million words or songs or cries. There are times when the only thing you can give to someone is your silent presence, your sharing of their pain. Sometimes silence says that there are emotions too deep for words, too primal, too much a part of who we try to hide to ever be expressed aloud.

And so I was there, with them, silent in that awful, terrible room for as long as they wanted to stay. Where could I go? Where could I run from silence? I had shared with these two souls the most terrible, most defining moment of the rest of their lives. I had been with them to watch their child die.

Later, they left. I finished my shift in silence, waiting for 8 A.M. to arrive. Tears would fall from time to time, and I never moved to dry them. If I spoke, it was only in response to questions, and even then my answers were nothing more than excuses to be silent again. Silence has that kind of power, a power I had never seen before.

Somehow, I drove myself home and got safely into the bed.

It is a terrible thing when it is too quiet to sleep. I lay awake, staring at the pillow where my wife's head would have been if she were home, should have been if there were any justice in the world. I lay awake staring, praying that she would never leave the place she holds in my heart. It is too big a place to be empty, to be silent. Funny how I never seem to tell her that. Funny how silence can teach us the things that are truly important.

Sometimes silence can be a cave to hide in, an excuse to never take risks.

After a while, physical and emotional exhaustion took over, and I fell asleep.

I almost never remember my dreams, but that morning I dreamed of a white room, and a blue blanket, and I was trying to scream or cry or yell, but all I could dream was silence.

And we all go in to them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.

- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker, 1940

Posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Mid-day Popping Cancer Update

There's a lot of snow in Cleveland right now. High temperature: 17 degrees.

It now appears, from the visit to the specialist, that the CAT scan was not so clear as we had thought. There seems to be a second mass, this one closer to my spine. That sucks.

Either my oncologist missed that little detail on the report or has a very different opinion of the word "clear" than I do. I'd head back to his office and start breaking thumbs if I could just stop coughing.

Of course, that's a joke. He could probably whup me, and it'd look bad on my resume under the title "pastor." Still, another growth near my spine can NOT be a good thing.

**UPDATE to the update: the specialist says he won't do chemotherapy, since it has already weakened my heart so much. He wants me to see a radiation guy and a surgery guy and talk options. Keyword from that discussion: "not many." Ok, that's two words. Geez, you guys are picky. Still, I'm not supposed to do any more radiation and surgery may be the only choice, along with prayerful hopes it doesn't return once removed.**

***UPDATE: The corn chowder at the Au Bon Pain on Interstate 80 south of Cleveland is FANtastic.***

****UPDATE: I have a meeting at about 1 p.m. tomorrow with my local oncologist. We'll see what's what then.****

Posted by Dan at 01:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 19, 2004

18 inches

Light blogging on Monday.

I live in Youngstown, and Mrs. Popping Culture and I are driving an hour and a half to Cleveland at 7 a.m. to meet with an oncology specialist at Cleveland Clinic to help set a course of treatment.

I don't want to go, which sort of goes without saying. Whatever you can bring to the table is welcome at this point: prayers, good wishes, good karma, pleasing auras, power crystals, mojo, you name it.

Did I mention that it's snowing in Cleveland now, and they expect 18 inches to two feet by the time it's all done?

Posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 18, 2004

Popping Cancer - Visual

tumor.jpg

This is a soft tissue sarcoma, just like the one your kindly host has been nurturing for God only knows how long.

Technical jibber-jabber: Increased mitotic activity in a high grade tumor (H&E, 400X). [Slides provided by AG Nascimento, MD. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA]

Well, THAT doesn't look too scary, does it?

**UPDATE: The wife says it looks like one of those old "Magic Eye" puzzles. Do you see the dinosaur in the sarcoma above? How about the huge medical bill?**

Posted by Dan at 01:31 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

It's the little details I tend to forget.

Actual conversations I've had with my oncologist this week:

Me: It's just that my throat still hurts and I've felt sick for almost two weeks. I usually get better in a week or so. What's wrong with me?
Dr. Krishnan: Remember when I told you that you have cancer?
Me: Oh, yeah.

Me: What's the appointment for on the 20th?
Dr. Krishnan: Because you have cancer.
Me: Ah.

You'd think I could remember something like that.

Posted by Dan at 11:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

Popping Cancer, prehistory

The first time I had cancer, it was bad. Very bad.

I was 18 and on summer vacation from classes at Old Dominion University (Go Blue!). I had what I thought was a simple sore throat and cold, and since my mother was a teacher changing jobs over the summer, I didn't go see the doctor because we didn't have health insurance until August.

Of course, it was Hodgkin's disease, which progressed until my neck size grew two inches because of the size of my growing lymph nodes. The lymph nodes on my chest got so large that when I tried to sleep on my back, I couldn't breathe. One memorable day, my buddy Scott and I went to play tennis and simply holding up the racquet tired me out, let alone hitting the ball back.

That same night I went, without insurance, to see the doctor. The next morning I was in a hospital bed. There are fun stories about how my family took the news, the way the over-booked hospital accidentally put me in a hospice room at first and the horrifying antics that occurred as a result, my first treatments, the lady from church who suggested I search my life for whatever sin made God give me cancer as a punishment, some practical jokes (the old "dumping apple juice in the urine specimin" joke never got old), a few near-death experiences and some of the people I met along the way (along with some of their funerals), but those can mostly wait for future posts.

I mention my treatment history only to give context to the actual danger that ANY treatment will pose for me in the coming months. From the time I was 18 until I was 25 I did the maximum "safe" amount of radiation allowable, years and years of chemotherapy and followed the whole ordeal up with a bone marrow transplant, which I just barely survived and is worth its own series of posts sometime near Halloween.

If it helps give context to the possibly unprecedented amount of treatment I have received, my doctor showed me a chart once. This doctor, Dr. Yanovich, is one of the leading cancer research doctors on the East Coast and it is partially because I survived so much treatment that he agreed to see me in the first place. The chart came about because I asked him what the standard course of treatment for people in my position was. He said there was no standard course of treatment, because everyone who had ever had as much treatment as I had was dead. Sure enough, I was off the actual chart when he showed it to me. I was somewhere about two inches off the top corner of the page, as a matter of fact.

I should have known there was something a bit unusual about me as a patient because every day on rounds, Dr. Yanovich would have with him 6-10 med students and, occasionally, visiting doctors. They would all examine me and linger over my chart.

Later, another doctor told me I was a study case simply because I was too stubborn to die. That's the only explanation they had for my continued breathing and moving. My current oncologist said they were studying me because I had "the power of faith," which he defined as an unknowable quality that gives some people the strength to live when they should be long dead. Doctors know it exists, and when they find it they want to study it, hence the parade of students.

Looking back, maybe it was faith. As a pastor, I'd love to claim it was faith. Really, it just felt like stubborn-ness. I just woke up every morning, especially in the bone marrow transplant days, and told myself I only had to make it through the one day, or in some cases, the one hour. I knew death was a real option and on more than one occasion during the high-dosage chemotherapy week of the transplant, I knew I could internally relax my fighting and die as a way out. I could have conciously given up and died, in other words.

I didn't really have any particular desire to live, just a daily stubborn-ness. My calling as a critical care chaplain started to rear its head during this time as well, as I began to see other patients around me, but that too is another post for another day. The point today is that you can do a lot of things you'd never think possible if you're just too thick-headed to give up.

The other point is that I'm scared of ANY treatment at this point. Any more radiation is even further off the chart and potentially fatal. I can't imagine they'd do more radiation as anything but a last resort. Chemotherapy might be only slightly less potentially fatal. The drug they would want to use is the one that damaged my heart (*see last cancer post) and my lungs.

Maybe this specialist I'm seeing Monday in Cleveland can come up with something else. The moral for the day, though, is that it's ok to be scared sometimes. We get this crazy idea that we have to "be strong for the family." Why? Why do we have to hide what we all feel anyway? What would happen if our family or our church or our friends saw us as a real human being who was scared to die? Who didn't want to feel pain?

And that bit about "protecting the children" is also bunk. What we're really doing when we say we're trying to protect others is trying to protect ourselves. We're scared to FEEL things, especially uncomfortable things, so we don't tell the kids, we don't share our feelings and, very often, we die in our shells. Kids know; our family knows. Hiding emotions doesn't make them go away. Nothing you hold back from loved ones makes cancer any better.

It's especially horrific when parents don't tell kids when it's the kid himself/herself that is sick. Ugh. KIDS KNOW. They know they're sick. They see the way people act differently around them. Kids are resiliant and strong and adaptable and when you say you're "protecting them," what you're doing is trying to protect yourself. All the secrecy does is add layers of anxiety to a kid's already confused thoughts.

All that is to say that whereever you are in your life, it's okay to feel what you feel. In this case, I have legitimate concerns about any potential treatment, and as I approach a meeting that will help guide our response to this latest threat, I know about myself that parts of me are afraid. This is who I am right now. I'm not a lump of horrified jelly, but parts of me are scared.

Feels better to give myself permission to feel that way.

Posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15, 2004

Popping Cancer, 12/15: Bad news still way out in front, good news gets on the board.

I am taking this to be superb news: with the exception of the area we already knew was cancerous, nothing of interest appeared my latest CAT scan.

This most likely means that the cancer itself is contained to the area on my upper left back, near my lung. Since surgery removed most of the offending lump, the issue now becomes treatment.

I did all the radiation you're supposed to do in a lifetime when I was a teenager struggling with Hodgkin's Disease. So radiation, the preferred course of treatment in the case of a soft-tissue sarcoma, is out. I also did years of chemotherapy with a drug that damaged the muscles in my heart. The tradeoff was that I got to live, but now my heart beats out about 35-40 percent of the blood in it with each beat, compared to a typical human heart at about 60-65 percent per beat. So to do more chemotherapy with that drug (the second choice of treatment) also seems like a risky venture.

For this reason, my oncologist has suggested I see another specialist (as a second opinion) to discuss treatment options. On Monday, December 20, I'll be heading to Cleveland for just that purpose. Following that meeting, my oncologist and I will hammer out what promises to be a dangerous course of action.

Until then, it's pretty much back into the holding pattern. The worst parts of cancer have always been the slow times: waiting for test results, long afternoons in the hospitals, etc. Ah, another Christmas with cancer. I'm getting up near double-figures now!

Still, it was a huge deal to have the CAT scan come back clean. If the cancer had spread, baseline survival rates would have been about 10 percent. As it is, since the disease is more localized, the survival baseline is closer to 90 percent.

I had a feeling the CAT scan would come back with good news, but you never know until you KNOW. I was due for some good news after that three-week long streak of nothing but bad.

Also on the positive front, my job approval rating is now up to about 100 percent at the church. My theory of pastoring is that there will be about 2.5 percent of the congregation who think you can do no wrong and will love you no matter what boneheaded pastoral decisions you make. Another 2.5 are against you from day one, for whatever reason, and nothing short of your dismissal will ever make them happy no matter how ideal a pastor you are. The majority, that other 95 percent, tend to drift with circumstance.

With the cancer working, my sermons are certainly better and more real, and any act of compassion I commit comes with the unspoken "He should be in bed himself and look at the good he's doing!" caveat. Even if someone out there wished me dead, they still have to give grudging props to the pastor who keeps pastoring with cancer.

My theory, and I share this with cancer patients everywhere, is take advantage of every opportunity. Take all the chocolate and flowers and sympathy and whatever else while you still can. Sure it seems selfish, but dying a slow, painful death (especially without chocolate) is no bed of roses, either.

Posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

December 14, 2004

Popping Cancer, 12/14

Latest news:

-cancer reports and reflections are now being gathered in the right sidebar under a "topic" heading all their own.

-CAT scan results (the big ones) aren't in yet, as of 9:30 this morning. Doctor said he'd call the lab again.

-A diagnosis of cancer means you automatically win every argument. Example:

Group: We would like to eat at Pizza Hut.
Dan: I would like to eat at Roadhouse, and I have cancer.
Group: We'll get the car.

It really is like the Jedi mind trick.

Wife: The cat box is full.
Dan: Cancer.
Wife: Why don't I clean it?

I win! The only possible downside I can see is the whole dying after months of intense pain thing.

Posted by Dan at 09:59 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 13, 2004

Sermon to myself

Let’s make sure we get this straight right from the beginning: cancer is your enemy.

Cancer is a dark, evil, malevolent terrorist of a disease and the only thing that will make it happy is your death. Any attempts to rationalize cancer as a self-help program, a series of instructions, God’s will or a test of some sort is the medical equivalent of negotiating with terrorists. Don’t do it.

God didn’t give you cancer. Did you get that?

Let me say it again: God didn’t give you cancer.

You got cancer because sometimes, in this world, people get sick. The world is fallen. It is sick with sin and disease and poverty and anger and hunger and greed. Humans are frail and sometimes, they get sick. Sometimes they even get cancer.

During my first course of chemotherapy I asked a lot of questions that boiled down to “why me?” After all, I had never smoked, I wasn’t a drinker, I didn’t do drugs and I didn’t run around with loose women. In most southern country churches like the one I grew up in, those are the big four. So why would I get cancer? Why me?

On this side of the disease, I don’t ask “why me?” anymore. Instead, I have found that a healthier point of view leads to the question “why not me?” I’m not Superman. Being a Christian doesn’t make me bulletproof or magically immune to disease. I am human and sometimes humans get sick.

One memorable late morning during my second round of chemotherapy, a young lady who was one of my peers from a local church group stopped to visit in my hospital room. During the course of the conversation, she asked “What is Jesus teaching you in all this?”

Do me a favor and don’t ever ask anyone that question.

My reaction was a babbled, stammered answer, followed by guilt. Should I be learning? Was my faith so weak that I couldn’t see that God had given me cancer to teach me something? Apparently, to this young woman, I had been so wrapped up in myself, in being sick and throwing up all day and fearing for my life, that I had taken my eyes off Jesus.

Here’s an important resource to remember: when you have cancer, you’re allowed to be wrapped up in yourself. You’re allowed to act in your own best interests. Sometimes, you’re even allowed to be selfish. When you’re under attack by an uncaring, non-negotiable disease, the cure of which is taking in poison on purpose, I think it’s just fine with God if you don’t start preparing Bible Studies right away.

Don’t get me wrong; I learned a great deal from my experience with cancer. I learned how to love others better. I learned that everyone has pain in their lives that is just as real to them as mine is to me, no matter how “glamorous” cancer sounds. I was compelled into ministry by my time fighting cancer. I learned a new glossary and I learned how to take control of my own treatment and my own life.

But notice that each of those sentences starts with the word “I”.

Cancer is an evil. Cancer is an enemy. It wants you dead and it is using your own body to kill you. Anything good that comes from cancer is something that you produce. All the things I take with me from my experience with cancer, I chose to take. I created the good that came from cancer. On its own, nothing good can come of it. It is evil.

God can help you learn and grow from an experience with disease, but never dare be so petty and misguided as to think that God gave someone cancer to teach them a lesson, or worse, to punish them. That’s not the God I worship and if your God sits in the sky and picks sinners to afflict with cancer while others get off scot-free, then we worship different Gods.

Part of being human is learning to live with unanswered questions. Most folks, however, especially church folks, like to have an answer pre-packaged for everything. They think that since they’re Christians that life, and God, is supposed to be completely understandable.

So well-meaning church folks see someone with cancer and, lacking a better answer, blame God. After all, everything has to have a Biblical purpose doesn’t it? The problem is that, in the process, we leave behind a trail of cancer patients who fight guilt and who come to see God as an invisible force just waiting to punish them with horrific diseases for no real reason.

Shame on the church for its obsessive-compulsive need to have an explanation for everything. Life is mystery. More than that, being a Christian means embracing mystery.

“Ah Horatio, there's more in this heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet said. There is more to God, and more to life, than we will ever understand. We just aren’t wired for it as finite humans.

It is enough, in the course of a chemotherapy treatment, to know that God loves you and wants you to be well. It is enough to know that you got sick because you’re a human and sometimes humans get sick. It is enough to know that cancer is never your friend and nothing good can come out of cancer unless you choose to take it yourself.

You are alive today, and sometimes, that's enough.

*UPDATE: My latest cancer news is two posts down. If you have a friend with cancer, maybe they'd like to read this?*

Posted by Dan at 08:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Space Between*

*With apologies to Dave Matthews Band.

Today is a seriously odd place to be.

I did a CAT scan today, which, having to choke down the barium contrast aside, went pretty well. Now the waiting begins. The time between. What James Taylor called "time spent out of time."

It comes to this: if the cancer kept to itself and remained localized then the odds of survival are a whopping 90 percent. That's good.

If, however, the cancer has metastasized (spread), then survival rates drop to less than 10 percent. That's not much.

And so what do I do while I wait for results? Post pretty paintings and Hollywood news? Live as though nothing else was going on? Do a few chores around the house? Wait, fretting and pulling hair, by the telephone? Sleep?

And so I don't know what to do with this space between the wondering and the knowing. I have good reason to suspect both results. Funny odd thing, life.

I guess we all have moments spent outside of time: the space between when you ask her to marry you and she answers, the space between when you start tearing into that present and when you know what's inside, the sensation of trying a new food and the space between when you put it in your mouth and when your brain finally registers a taste, the space between when the professor places your test face down on your desk and when you get it turned over and see your grade, the space between when you know you're going to hit the car in front of you and the time the collision actually happens.

Most of the between times are short, over quickly despite seeming to move in slow motion. My space between might be hours, even a day or two.

Isn't that crazy and scary? A 90 percent chance or a 10 percent chance. Life or death, balanced on a paper-thin, unpredictable report that could come through any time.

I don't know what I should be feeling.

I know that in the last week or so, just like the last times I was diagnosed, food tastes better. Hugs feel warmer. It's a hell of a lot easier to tell people I love them.

It feels like I honestly believe that every day is a gift and that you should always treat people like you'll never see them again, but that I usually believe it in a general day-by-day, on-paper-only sense. It feels real now. Shame on all of us for the things we say we believe but don't really live.

So the surgery and the tests and the pain and the worry all come down to one little report. Curious thing, that.

I CAN tell one thing clearly in this space between, though: even if I was sleepwalking my way through life before, I'm awake now. No matter the results, I feel alive. That healthy dose of sarcasm I carry with me is way in a back corner right now. Cynicism is a luxury for those who aren't really living, I think.

I've known people who said they were never really alive until they were given a terminal diagnosis. I'm starting to be reminded of how they felt.

Frustration, boredom, cynicism, sarcasm, laziness, never being satisfied: all come in those times when we're on the periphery, not really living at all.

Now that I'm in that strange, un-temporal space between, the time spent out of time, I sure do love being alive.

I'll post test results when I hear them.

Posted by Dan at 09:54 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 11, 2004

Popping Cancer Update

The lump they removed turned out to be a soft-tissue sarcoma, specifically a "malignant fibrous histiocytoma." Pictures of tumors similar to mine can be seen here, if you're morbidly curious or just really into tumors. Here are some googled facts about this form of cancer from Cancerbacup:

The soft tissue sarcomas are a group of cancers which develop from a number of different supportive tissues in the body including fibrous tissue, muscle, ligaments, tendons and fat.

Soft tissue sarcomas are rare. They make up less than 1% of all cancers, with only about 1200 new cases being diagnosed each year in the United Kingdom. Relatively speaking, they are actually more common in children than adults, making up about 8% of all cancers in those under the age of 15.

The majority of soft tissue sarcomas develop in the limbs and they are three times commoner in the legs than the arms.

Soft tissue sarcomas can spread to other parts of the body by sending tiny clumps of tumour cells into the blood stream. The commonest site of spread for these cancers is to the lungs.

Over the years more than 60 different types, or subtypes, of soft tissue sarcoma have been identified. As the group of tumours as a whole are quite rare this means that some forms of the condition are very very rare indeed. The large number of different types has also lead to problems in classifying the soft tissue sarcomas. Most have names based on the type of normal cell from which the cancer might have started but for some soft tissue sarcomas there does not seem to be any equivalent normal cell and so special names have been given to these tumours.

The MFH is the commonest of all the soft tissue sarcomas and can arise from fibrous supportive tissues anywhere in the body, although it is commonest in the limbs. In the past these tumours were often called fibrosarcomas. They most commonly occur between the ages of 50 to 70.

MFH usually starts as a rapidly growing, painless, swelling in the soft, non-bony, tissues. Generally the tumours cause few other symptoms but occasionally are associated with fever and weight loss.

Like most other soft tissue sarcomas the treatment of MFH is surgery, wherever possible, to remove the growth. If the sarcoma is low grade when looked at under the microscope then this may be all the treatment that is needed, but if it is higher grade than surgery is usually followed by a course of radiotherapy to reduce any chance of the cancer coming back. Occasionally a sarcoma is too large or stuck down to make an operation possible, but the surgeon feels that it might become operable if it could reduced in size. In this situation the doctors may recommend a course of radiotherapy or chemotherapy before the operation in the hope that it may shrink the sarcoma and make it more operable. If the MFH is in a part of the body where surgery is impossible or dangerous then radiotherapy is used and often combined with chemotherapy. With these measures many MFH can be cured.

Here are some additional fun facts from my doctor:

-This type of sarcoma is common in past cancer patients who have undergone radiotherapy. Since I did all the radiation treatment you're supposed to do in a lifetime over the course of 6 months or so when I was 18, I think I qualify.

-My sarcoma is very high-grade. 3/3, whatever that means.

-The CAT scan Monday should help determine if it has spread (metastasized). If it was local and hadn't spread, survival rates are up near 90 percent as a baseline. If it is metastatic, survival rates drop to below 10 percent as a baseline. Spreading bad.

-My doctor says treatment will be "tricky" since I received so much radiation and chemotherapy in the past. Ideally, they shouldn't give me more of either, since I hit the limit of radiation and I did so much chemotherapy that it damaged the muscles of my heart over the 8 years of treatment when I was younger (and the bone marrow transplant). The chemotherapy drug suggested for treatment in this case is the same drug that damaged my heart (I now beat out about 35 percent of the blood in my heart per beat. The average human beats out about 60-65 percent).

Next up is the CAT scan Monday, then a second opinion meeting with a doctor in Cleveland Clinic. This is a second opinion about treatment, since choosing an appropriate response is really picking your poison in my case.

I'm happy to answer any questions you might have. It'll take my mind off Lindsay Lohan's family problems.

Posted by Dan at 09:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

Popping Cancer

Here's the update:

I saw the doctor Thursday afternoon. He removed the drainage tube (Ouch! Hey, ouch!) and bandaged me back up, including the incision itself which comes in at a sleek and painful 8 inches long. I've never caught a fish that big outside of the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, my back looks like the loser in a fight with Wolverine.

The lump itself (which my doctor said was the size of a fist... yay!) is still under investigation. It was supposed to be a harmless lipoma, but reality happened to crash that party. The surgeon said it had characteristics of a benign tumor (clear fluid) and a malignant cancerous sarcoma (blood vessels and spreading cells). According to the surgeon, who looks about 12-years old by the way, there was so much necrosis (dead cells and whatnot) that the more local pathology folks couldn't figure it out with certainty (what they call "concensus").

So it goes up another level and the big boys of the pathology world will report back, although it might take another full week. Yay! More anxious waiting! Nothing fills those boring hours like cold, raving fear of the unknown.

So I get to preach a sermon in the meantime, trying to inspire and lead a congregation that really should be preaching a sermon to me, and pray that nobody is so happy to see me back in church that they slap me on the back.

Depending on the results:

(1) It's nothing and I just take another week to heal up and all is well except for the half dozen seminary papers now past due, or,

(2) It's something and we get to do more surgery, this time on a wider scale ("Wider than an 8-inch incision?" was my actual breathless question. The answer: yep, it would require skin grafts), since I can't do the normal treatment, which is radiation, because at 18 I got all the radiation you're allowed to do for your entire life in a 6-month life-saving span. You can't beat that amount of radiation without becoming a member of the Fantastic Four or something (mmmm... Jessica Alba as Sue Richards... turning her invisible is a crime).

Any questions?

alba.jpg

Posted by Dan at 10:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack