Day +171: In Good Hands

“It’s like this,” he said cupping his left hand. “This is the hand of God.” Raising his right hand with the index finger extended, “This is you,” and he places the finger in the cupped palm. “Life is good. The view is great. Nothing could be better. But, when the storms of life come, and they will come, watch what happens.” He cups the right hand and places it over the left. “God covers you with his hand. You are safe and secure in the hands of God.

“But what happens if you decide you no longer need God’s help?” The speaker takes his right hand and puts two fingers down then “walks” out of the cupped hand and onto the wrist and up the arm. “Now what happens when the storms come, and they will come. You are on your own. You are battered and bruised. You are wounded and broken. You are tossed about not knowing up from down.”

He drops his hands. “Where do you want to be when the storms come, and they will come. I pray that you will put your trust in the hands of your loving heavenly Father. He will protect you and keep you safe in the center of His will.”

I’ve used this illustration many times in impromptu counseling sessions with young adults who are contemplating moving out of the protection of home and into the world. I believe 20 somethings are the most vulnerable age group. That doesn’t mean that this illustration has no meaning for the rest of us. Quite the opposite is true. Any of us at any time can think we can do it on our own. We can wander away from God’s plan and protection thinking we are ok. It’s only when the storms come that we begin to realize that we are not where we are supposed to be. Oh, we may survive a storm or two, maybe even several storms, but eventually we will weaken and falter.

If we are smart enough, we will call on God; we will cry out to Him in our distress. We may think we are unworthy of His help, but we do it out of desperation. We finally realize that, without Him, all is lost. In that moment we find that though we have wandered far, God has not left us. He has followed us waiting for that moment when we turn around and see that His palm is still there. With His other hand, He gently, lovingly lifts our broken spirits and places us back in our safe place, then He covers us with that hand and protects us from the storm while we heal in the warmth of His love.

If you are in that storm right now, stop. Turn around. God is there.

If you have never experienced God’s love and protection, now is the time to start. He has been waiting for you, too. It doesn’t make any difference what you have done, how great or how small a sin you have committed nor how unworthy you think you are. He loves you and longs to pour His love all over you. You can bask in the sunshine of His love and grace and mercy right now. All you have to do is ask.

In either case, today is a good day to begin.

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Day 161: High Hopes

High HopesRAM

Next time you’re found
With your chin on the ground
There’s a lot to be learned
So look around.

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

But he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie
In the sky hopes.

So any time you’re feelin’ low stead of lettin’ go
Just remember that ant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant
Oops there goes another rubber tree plant.

When troubles call
And your back’s to the wall
There a lots to be learned
That wall could fall.

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he’d punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin’ that dam.

‘Cause he had high hopes
He had high hopes
He had high apple pie
In the sky hopes.

So any time you’re feelin’ bad stead of feelin’ sad
Just remember that ram
Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam
Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam.

So keep those high hopes
Keep those high hopes
Keep that apple pie
In the sky hopes.

All problems just a toy balloon
They’ll be bursted soon
They’re just bound to go pop
Oops, there goes, another problem, kerplop.
Oops, there goes, another problem, kerplop…

This little ditty was first recorded back in 1959 by Frank Sinatra. I remember listening to it in the back seat of dad’s car on the way home from grandma’s house. I liked it so much that it has stuck with me for oh so many years.

The absurdity of it makes me laugh even today. Really, an ant hauling off a rubber tree? A ram knocking a hole in a dam like Hoover Dam, get real. It ain’t gonna happen. But it is the absurdity that makes the point. The ant had high hopes. The ram did too. Both overcame the impossible to achieve their goal. They persisted. They had “high apple pie in the sky hopes.”

I never dreamed that I would need a song like this to inspire me. As you know, I have faced the challenge of my life fighting CLL, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, through multiple disciplines of chemo and concluding with a Stem Cell Transplant, SCT. There have been times that I thought about throwing in the towel, but those times didn’t last long. The SCT has been the hardest struggle yet. At times I felt much like the ant and the ram. “This is impossible.” Still, if the ant could and the ram could, I could too. While the dam does not have a hole in it, yet, I can certainly see some major cracks in the formidable wall.

If you are facing the apparent impossible, I want to encourage you to never give up. If the ant could, and the ram could, and I am, so can you. Hang in there and you will see another problem go kerplop. I’m not saying it will always resolve the way we want, but it will resolve, and we will be the better for the struggle.

 

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Day 150: Life Is a Vapor

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.[1]

I was reminded this week of exactly how fragile life really is.

It happened to the wife of an extended family member. (Note: Once you are in our family; you are always in our family. It’s a long story, but this explanation will do for now.) Due to privacy concerns, I will call him Jim and her Jane. Jane has had multiple medical issues but seemed to be doing ok. Now Jane is middle aged as is Jim. Earlier this week, Jane spiked a 102 degree temp. She went to her doctor who immediately sent her to the ER (Emergency Room for my non-US readers). It seems that Jane had a severe kidney infection. Antibiotics were administered. Jane’s immune system was weakened for what ever reason. She was transferred to ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Her kidneys failed then restarted then failed again. Her blood pressure fell then climbed. She developed pneumonia. Her fever rose to at least 105 then fell to 104.5 then climbed again. She was alert then fell into a coma. Jane died Friday morning.

It appears that she had been ill for at least a week before this but didn’t know it. Her life was cut short during what should have been the prime of her life.

Because of my weakened immune system, we couldn’t do much for Jim but pray. We couldn’t comfort him in the hospital. We can’t attend the funeral which is out of town anyway. So we will continue to pray for Jim. We will pray for his children (our grandchildren). (I told you it was a long story.)

In the midst of all this, I began to think how fragile life really is. Any breath could be our last. The next time we cross the street may be the last time we cross the street. I don’t want to sound morbid, but this is a reality.

At the same time, we can live in such a way that we don’t live in fear. I live that way. Death has no hold on me because I know that after that last breath comes glorious eternal life where there is no fear, no tears, no sickness, no death. That assurance is available to all of us through Jesus Christ.

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”[2]

Sure, we can be believers in Jesus and still fear death. That is because we have too much of a hold on this life. I understand that. After all, there are the kids to think about. There’s the wife or husband. They are depending upon us. Perhaps we are even enjoying the “good life” with all of our needs met and most of our “wants” inhabiting our homes. I believe this demonstrates a serious lack of faith in Jesus. I would much prefer to believe like the Apostle Paul:

 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.[3]

Yes, life is a vapor. While this vapor covers my little part of the world, I will live it for Jesus, and Melanie and my family, and you. Should I die tomorrow or live to 100, I will live it this way. I will take every advantage offered me to help those around me. That is my calling. Then, when my time is up and my vapor vanishes, I will live with Jesus forever.

[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Jas 4:14). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (1 Co 15:54–55). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Php 1:21–24). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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Day +144: Not a Bed of Roses

This post was supposgrizzlyed to be a week 1 at home summary. Then it became a week 2 summary. It is now a week 6 summary. Have you wondered what happened to me? Well, here’s the story.

I drove home from Houston on Friday, October 24th and felt just fine. Our grandson, Colton, came to unload the car for us. He is a great blessing, especially on that day. The next day was dedicated to unpacking the many boxes we brought back from Houston. Sunday found us in church as usual. Melanie went early to visit with friends. I arrived late and sat in the balcony with the technical crew thus avoiding most curious friends who wanted to hug me and shake my hand.

So far, everything is A-OK.

It wasn’t until Monday that things took a downturn. We met our new oncologist, Dr. Cleveland, for the first time. She is very nice, though much younger than Dr. Kota, my previous provider who has since temporarily retired. After reading the results of my blood work and comparing these to the past records from MD Anderson, she announced that I would need IVIG treatments to invigorate my falling immune system. I was scheduled to receive four treatments, three at the clinic and the fourth at CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, our local hospital.

All went well until the visit at the hospital. I did a very graceful (in my opinion) face plant in the grassy knoll in the parking lot of the hospital. I really don’t know what happened. One minute I was standing, the next I was falling and hit mostly face first. It did a great job of messing up my handsome face and nose! I proceeded to the admissions office wondering why people were looking at me as though I was a strange beast. It wasn’t until later when I looked in a mirror that I knew why. Not a pretty sight. I completed the final IVIG treatment and went home. I did not go to church that Sunday.

IVIG treatments, especially that many in a row, leave me feeling rather weak.

My next visit with Dr. Cleveland was uneventful. It was the Friday visit that changed everything. “How would you like to spend a couple days in the hospital with me?” she asked. I found myself direct admitted to a room on the fourth floor at the end of a long corridor, rather isolated from all the other patients in the cancer wing. It seems I had some kind of infection, though no one at that time knew what it was.

Let me set the record straight. MD Anderson has two floors set aside for nothing but leukemia patients, one of them with pods specially designed and equipped for stem cell transplant patients. I was encouraged to walk the halls, gloved and masked of course. St. Vincent Hot Springs has no such floor or pod. I was a prisoner in this small room. It was too dangerous to leave it and roam the halls. I had no way to exercise and I had once again lost my appetite. I lost more weight. I lost more strength. I stayed a full week before I was finally diagnosed with a fungal infection , received treatment, and was released.

That puts us into week three. I came home weak and frustrated at the setback. Sometime around the middle of week four, my appetite returned. I began to regain my balance. I could walk without fear of falling (which I never did after the face plant).  All this time, I wanted to write to you all, but didn’t have enough strength or motivation.

Recovery has been slow. My strength is slowly returning. My balance has mostly returned. I am under self-quarantine since the flu shot this year is mostly ineffective against the most virulent form of the disease. I suppose you could say I have become a grizzly bear and am in hibernation.

I guess this is the life of a stem cell transplant patient with a very young immune system. We have our ups and our downs. We conquer one mountain and move on to the next because we are survivors. We will overcome all obstacles as we carefully tread our way to the ultimate goal: a cancer free life.

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My latest on Cancerwise

Here is my latest blog and video on Cancerwise. Read and watch it here:

http://www2.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/2014/11/a-stem-cell-transplant-patient-looks-to-returning-home.html

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Day +96: Out of the Cocoon

monarchImagine you are a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar. You are on a milkweed leaf munching away. Your skin is stripped yellow, black, and white to look like a part of the plant. At the same time you are aware that predators would love to eat you. At long last, you begin to change into a chrysalis. Finally, your new home turns gray. Your worries are over. You have that sense of protection you have craved. Nothing can get to you now. Nothing. Days later, your protection begins to crack releasing a built up pressure. You begin to squeeze out of your old skin. But you have changed. You are not a worm. You are a beautiful new creature.

That’s the way we have felt here at MD Anderson. Protected, like in a cocoon. We were on a special floor for transplant patients. Everyone knew the special needs for my health. Upon release from the hospital on Day +12 we were sent to Ambulatory Treatment Center (ATC) for daily visits. It was a special unit composed of nurses who know the needs of Stem Cell Transplant (STC) patients. We were safe, protected, comfortable that I had the best possible care.

The few times we were ushered off to a non-transplant area, things changed. We were not greeted with the same assurance. We were mostly in a holding pattern and anxious to get back to our little cocoon. Then our shell began to crack.

We were given days of from ATC. No visit. No blood draw. We enjoyed our freedom knowing that we would soon be back to safety. Then the days off became more numerous. Still we were comfortable. Then it happened.

Dr. Khouri came for a Tuesday visit and announced that I had graduated out of the now frequent ATC visits. We were thrust into the cold. We wouldn’t see anyone from the STC until our next visit with Dr. Khouri a week and a half later. Even at that, we still had several occasions to see the results of a blood draw – tests, you know. Then they ended.

I will not have another blood test for a week. I don’t know what is happening inside. I know how I am outside. Physically, I’m fine. Emotionally, I think it is taking a bit of a toll. I want to know, but I can’t know – not for another three days. My cocoon is shattering. I am being thrust into the great unknown.

The day after my next doctor’s visit, we will be traveling home. Freedom. Scary freedom. I will have to spread my new wings and fly. Fly? Like the monarch, it is an essential part of my new life. I will fly into the loving hands of my wonderful family and friends. I will fly into the hands of a new oncologist. One I have never met. I will fly into a scary world of potential disease and sickness. I will be flying with only a tenuous electronic connection to my MD Anderson support team.

Lord, give me a monarch’s courage. I need it to fly into my new life. Show me what to do, what to say, where to go. I’m out of the cocoon and spreading my wings.

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Day +94: Observations

At six days until our homecoming, it is time to make some observations about what we have seen and done.

Observation 1: As a recent Cancerwise poster mentioned a few days ago, we can come here expecting to see people dying of cancer. Instead, we see people living with cancer … and the expectation of healing. Sure, there are those who are obviously suffering. One gentleman had part of his nose and upper lip eaten away. He didn’t seem to be troubled by his appearance. He was surviving and undergoing treatment to improve his life.

We talked to a lady who blatantly disregarded signs of GVHD (Graft Vs Host Disease). The result is that she has been in Houston since December of last year. She wasn’t discouraged. She was glad the doctors could keep her out of the hospital again.

Observation 2: When we are waiting for appointments, we have the opportunity to people watch. We have easily come to the conclusion that MD Anderson is the best place to be if cancer is a part of a person’s life. Why? People from around the world come here for treatment. Some are easy to recognize like the ladies in black burqas. Of course those from an oriental background are relatively easy to spot, especially when they are accompanied by dialogue in their native language. We see Hispanics, European, tons of Americans, and assorted other nationalities. The world seems to know that MDA is the best place to be if a healing from cancer is desired.

Observation 3: The doctors, nurses, staff, and support people are some of the friendliest as well as the best in the world. It doesn’t make any difference who is asked, if help is needed, those with an MDA ID will stop what they are doing and help. They will even stop pause in their task to walk the patient to a place where he or she cannot help but reach the required destination.

Observation 4: It is easy to recognize first timers. They walk through the door to the main building and gawk. There is really no other word for it. At first glance and maybe the second and third, MDA Main is overwhelming. The first people they see is a University of Texas police officer who will willingly direct them to their destination or the information desk. Still confused, those of us who are “old timers” will stop and help. Just the other day, two small groups were standing confused at Elevator B. They needed Elevator C. I directed first one, then the other across the lobby to where they needed to be. Another couldn’t figure which floor they needed. I had been to their desired location. I could help.

It’s that way with all the patients. We remember our first visit. We want the new patients to be comfortable in their new surroundings. We are “paying it forward.” No one asks us to, we just do it. We become an extended part of the healing experience. We are family.

Observation 5: MDA loves to help people in any way possible. Whether the need is financial, spiritual, emotional, or many other types of need, MDA has a program. Grants are available for those who cannot meet all the expenses. Chapels for many religions are on premises. Services to help caregivers as well as patients are made available. Melanie enjoyed a free chair massage while I was doing a PET scan.

My tinnitus grew worse from all the drugs. My APN (Advance Practice Nurse) set an appointment for me with an audiologist. He confirmed what I already knew. I had hearing loss in both ears. He priced a pair of hearing aids for me. Way out of my league. He investigated my insurance and applied to a foundation for me. I now have top-of-the-line hearing aids – for free.

I’ll conclude with this. We have observed that MDA is a place of miracles. We have experienced them personally and heard of them from others. We thank God for MDA and the work being done here.

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