Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Every day, I go on

From The Daily Post

By Dave Nelson, 53, of Longview (WA)

Prostate cancer has no symptoms, and for the most part, its victims have no clue.

When I was diagnosed on Valentines Day, 2007, I was shocked to learn that an agent of death had been growing inside me for years.

The instant the urologist said my name and “cancer” in the same sentence, I took on a new, unwanted identity defined by “victim,” “survivor” “remission” and “recurrence.”

My head was suddenly filled with numbers and scores —- PSA (9.74), Gleason (9) and ‘T’ scores. And I was faced with several treatment options that two days earlier I had never heard of.

Now, within four weeks I had to choose between the radical slice and dice, brachial mini nuke, external macro nuke, freeze it or wait. Except for wait, they all have the same unacceptable side effects: incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

And so began a journey I did not choose but nonetheless must travel. Almost immediately I was surrounded by cards, and friends, and prayer and fear. In the U.S. every year, 200,000 guys are diagnosed with prostate cancer. I felt the need to convince my kids, my friends, anyone, not to blame God, but to let God help us through.

The diagnosis brought into focus how temporal my life was. I realized that if I remained my easy-going wait-and-see self, I would never live the life I wanted. I began to feel the need, even the urge, to make changes —- and that urge continues today.

Some cancer victims lose their hair and their weight. I gained a scar and the ability to wet my pants at inopportune times. Every time I sneeze, cough, or wake up, I am reminded that my life has been invaded by an unwelcomed guest. And every day I silently, though sometimes awkwardly, go on.

I am sure that to my family and friends, my life over the last 18 months has appeared erratic and selfish. But cancer tore away my identity and I am still trying to find a new one. The truth is, my cancer tore away their identity also, as everyone who knows me tries to make sense out of the senseless.

But what I, my family and friends share, is courage. Courage to face life’s uncertainty. The same courage shared by every cancer victim, and everyone who has known and loved a cancer victim, as we all try to make sense out of the senseless.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Night I was Almost Eaten by the Wasilla Bear"

Things have been quiet with my cancer treatment for the past month. This afternoon, they kick back into high gear as I go for my radiology "preparation visit". As I understand it, they will take a CT scan of the "prostatic bed" (where my prostate once lived) and place some tattoos on my abdomen for them to line up the radiation machine for my 35 treatments which begin two weeks from today.

I am allergic to CT and MRI machines, because I am CLAUSTROPHOBIC! But by the grace of God, and your prayers, my dear friends, I will get through it.

I'll just remind myself of the night I was almost eaten by a bear in Wasilla, Alaska. (I kid you cannot make this stuff up!) Would you like to hear the story? Ok, if you insist. And yes, this is the same Wasilla, Alaska where Gov. Sarah Palin lives and served as mayor. (Now that the election is over, I feel free to tell the story.)

You ask, "What was a guy from Yazoo City, Mississippi doing in Wasilla, Alaska messing with bears in the first place?" Good question; I'm glad you asked.

It has long been the tradition in the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church that clergy who are ordained go on a mission trip. In 1995, when I was ordained an elder, a group of about 25 of my fellow ordinands and I were assigned to go to Wasilla and Willow (about ten miles away) to help build the Willow United Methodist Church. When I say build, I mean build (Jimmy Carter style, hammer, nails and all).

We were there ten days, sleeping in tents in a screened in pavilion. I recall taking two showers during those ten days in a shower stall in which I had to jump around to try to get wet enough to wash the soap lather off my body. Thought I was back on Graball Hill back in Yazoo City: outdoor toilet and primitive plumbing.

To make a long story even longer, one night my fellow church carpenters decided to go salmon fishing, as it was salmon season, and the sun was up past midnight. Being the oldest person in the group (and the tiredest) I elected to go to sleep while they fished.

I crawled in my sleeping bag in my tent inside the screened-in pavilion. As I was just about to fall asleep, I heard the screen door to the pavilion open and slap shut. "Wow, they are back early" I thought. As I listened for voices, I heard none. What I did hear were grunts, sniffing, and finally the roar of a GREAT WASILLA ALASKAN BLACK BEAR! Let's call him LUCIFER, The Wasilla Bear, because he scared the DEVIL out of me! Now he was trapped inside the pavilion WITH ME; unable to open the inside-swinging screen door by himself...and I surely wasn't going to escort him out. I was too busy trying to make myself INVISIBLE, no make that NON-EXISTENT, as I hid inside my tent.

I had zipped my small tent shut, but could tell when the bear got next to my tent, walking all the way around sniffing. I wondered if I smelled (well, of course I smelled...only two showers in ten days) like his next meal. I recalled the verses of scripture where the apostles were fed to the wild beasts, and wondered if that was to be my sacrifice and lasting legacy. I could see the Yazoo Herald headlines: "Yazoo Native Pastor Eaten by Alaskan Bear". Probably would sell a few more Heralds: You don't see a headline like that every week.

Finally my colleagues returned from their great Alaskan salmon adventure to play a heroic role in my great Alaskan Bear adventure, and chased the bear out the back screen door. I took my first real breath in almost TWO HOURS and finally felt free to let my heart start beating again.

So this afternoon, as I try to get through the CT Scan, I will remind myself that it is not quite as bad as almost being eaten by Lucifer, the Wasilla bear.

What a life. What a ministry.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Still here...

These daily updates have been more like weekly updates lately. Take that as good news, becuase if there was anything to say, I would be saying it here.

The healing is continuing to go well. I have full mobility, and easily go up the stairs at work and home. The biggest problem continues to be fatigue. I read an article yesterday that said fatigue for cancer patients is not being extra tired. It is more like not being able to walk across the room, or carry on a conversation. It hits at random times. Sometimes, I can take a nap at lunch...but sleep does not always work with fatigue. Not to worry, it is manageable.

I'm marking time until my radiation treatments start. Anita and I will stretch this weekend into five days (our "flex Friday" all the way through Veterans Day). I plan to rest up big time and get ready for the initial radiation setup on November 17. Then the 35 treatments begin two weeks later.

I read an article online that says a study of men who have radiation treatment after a prostatectomy have an incread risk of developing bladder and rectral cancer.

Oh well, what choice does a person have?

God is good, and in control!