2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
I want you to know, I’ve witnessed nothing in my life like the courage I’ve seen in a child battling cancer.
I’m happy about the way I look – (sort of)… I’ve heard that, in our shallow, flippant, world today, it’s all about the optics. You know, if you can’t get the optics right, if you don’t “look good” then you’re pretty much going nowhere… OMGoodness – to THAT I say, “if you can’t look in the mirror and laugh a little bit, then you’ve got bigger problems than just optics.” Anyway, I’m happy, or at least, “okay” with the way I look; and, no, it’s not because I think I’m so sporty and I’ve bought into that whole NBA look that’s going on; and, no, it’s not because bald is “in” these day, which it is, and I’m trying to be so chic, stylish, and en vogue! But, actually, it’s just because, well, I am a cancer survivor – hummmm!
When people find out that I am a cancer survivor, the first question they typically ask is always, “what kind of cancer?” Soooo, yeah, a few years back, I was diagnosed with well-differentiated papillary carcinoma thyroid cancer — it was designated stage two, but there was no recognizable distant metastasis to other parts of the body.
The next question that people often ask is, “how did you first find out, or know that you had cancer?” And, I think that’s something that quietly concerns all of us because most of us are well enough informed to be aware of the cancer risk that we all face. Most of us know someone who has faced a battle with cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute (2017), approximately 39.6% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes. Think about that, right at 40%, 4 out of every 10 Americans, will be diagnosed with cancer. The National Cancer Institute goes on to say that, in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people died from the disease – that’s more than half a million deaths each year. That’s more than 1,600 deaths each and every day. And so, yeah, we’re all kind of “on the alert” for that sort of thing and we kind of want to know, when someone we know has been diagnosed, how it was that the disease was first detected.
For me, it was while I was shaving one morning… I noticed what I thought was a lump in the front of my throat. I kind wanted to just let it go, but my wife was insistent on calling the doctor and scheduling an appointment; and when the doctor walked through the door, she immediately saw the lump and, without hesitation, she ordered up blood work and an ultrasound. Two weeks later, I’m in Honolulu undergoing an ultrasound guided needle biopsy; and just a couple of days after that my doctor called to let me know, I had already been scheduled for surgery. Within a month of the diagnosis, I had undergone two surgeries to remove my thyroid and the two tumors—a 3.5 cm. tumor in the left hemisphere of the thyroid, and a .5 cm. in the right hemisphere. That was followed by internal radiation therapy, or what is commonly referred to as an RAI – Radioactive Iodine Therapy – where they give you a dose of Iodine-131 and lock you away in a hospital room for 4 or 5 days, followed by a week or so of continued isolation.
Since then, I’ve had a several Whole Body Scans and more lab work than I can ever even begin to remember or care to recall and, of course, I’ve been put on a thyroid hormone replacement therapy regimen – medication that I’ll have to take for the rest of my life.
The next question people often ask is, so what was the outcome, what is your prognosis… to which I prefer to answer honestly and upfront, “well, I’m going to die soon!” But then my wife typically makes me go on to elaborate… “of course, I probably won’t die of the cancer, but you know, I’m getting older by the day so I’ve probably only got two, maybe three decades, at most, left to walk upon this earth – that is if a shark attack, or heart attack, or car wreck doesn’t take me out first.”
So, why are people always rolling their eyes at me?
Anyway, according to the Columbia University Medical Center (2011), for my age, stage, and type of cancer there is a 7% chance of recurrence, a 7% chance of distant recurrence, and an 89% survival rate at the 10 year mark.
Other sources state: While the prognosis for most people with thyroid cancer is very good, the rate of recurrence or persistence can be up to 30%, and recurrences can occur even decades after the initial treatment. (ThyCa, 2011)
What does all this mean for me? I don’t really know for sure. I guess it means that, initially, for every 100 people over the age of 45 who are diagnosed with this particular cancer, 89 of us will still be here in ten years, while 11 of us will have died from this disease. I’m not sure just how I should take that.
As I mention in my book, “Looking for a Rainbow”–now available at Amazon.com–(a hem) it’s kind of like being walked out into a huge parking lot and being shown a whole row of deadly buses destined to crash sooner or later. There’s the melanoma cancer bus, the breast cancer bus, the pancreatic cancer bus, the liver cancer bus, the leukemia bus, the lymphoma bus, etc., etc., on and on, and let’s not forget that damned ole Ewings sarcoma bus, chalked full of kiddos—very deadly. Oh, but then there is that bus way down near the end, one of the “good cancer” buses—the thyca (thyroid cancer) bus. I mention this because, during my first hospital stay in Honolulu, one of the little technicians said to me, “well, at least you’ve got one of the good cancers!” I’m like, “Wait… What?”
“Yes sir, if you’ve got to ride a bus, this is one of the buses you wanna ride! Sure, it will crash sooner or later and, yes, you’re going to get hurt, beat up, broken up, cut up, and poisoned. You’ll probably spend a few days or, perhaps, even weeks in the hospital by the time it’s all said and done. And, yes, your life will certainly be seriously disrupted, to say the least. But, hey, the good news—only a little more than 10% of you are gonna die from your injuries. Oh, and you should probably know that, once you’re on the bus, you’re always on the bus and, for every 100 of you that survive the initial crash, up to 30 of you may have to go through yet another crash somewhere on down the road.”
“Huuummmmmm…. and that’s the ‘good cancer,’ hunh?”
Well, anyway, back to bald being beautiful, during one of my later hospital stays I saw some children battling cancer who had lost their hair because of chemotherapy; but they were, still, sooooo beautiful. And, while wandering around the cancer wing waiting to receive my deadly radioactive iodine treatment, I was able to visit with other people who had lost their hair. But they all looked a lot better than I did, actually, with my brittle, receding hairline sticking out in all directions.
You know, concerning childhood cancer – again, according to the National Cancer Institute (2017), “In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages birth to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.” That’s more than 5 children every single day who die of cancer in America. So, every three or four hours, another child dies of cancer. But, you know, I love how so many parents and supporters often describe that, not as the child “losing their battle with cancer,” the child hasn’t “lost the battle,” but many of their loved ones these days are saying they’ve “earned their wings.”
Anyway, as I wandered the hospital hallway waiting for the poison that would turn me into a glow worm, I caught a reflection of myself as I passed by a big plate glass window and I remember thinking to myself – “I look like an alien!” Then I remembered my ole grandpapa, with his bald head, but he still had a horseshoe ring of silver hair right around the middle of his head, you know, the old man silver horseshoe ring! Thinking, “No, no… not for me, I’m not going THERE!” and, “If I’m gonna look like an alien, then at least I wanna look like a fashionable one… and these kids, even without their hair, ohhhh, they look WAY better than me, already!” And, at that very moment, it kinda hit me how that one of the universal symbols of cancer, for young and old alike really, but seems like especially for the kiddos, and one that everybody seems to notice and pick up on, is the loss of their hair. But, to me, they all still look so adorable, with their little, colorful bandana’s and their baseball caps. My heart breaks for them but, still, they inspire me.
One of those children, my little nephew, Gatlin, came to see me just a few months prior to “earning his wings.” He was battling Ewings sarcoma, and he had already been through so, so much, and had even had his leg amputated at the knee in an effort to stop the spread and save his life. But we romped and stomped and had the best time; and, even with one leg, that kid could beat me in a swim race in the ocean. I was privileged to be able to be at his bedside the last few days of his life here on earth; and, even then, I marveled at his courage, at his faith, his hope, his love – he was only 14 years old.
Sooooo, they gave me the I-131, the radioactive iodine, locked the door, through away the key, and left me there in total isolation for four days. And the first thing I did, after a few hours of quiet contemplation and prayer, was to get in the shower and shave off all my hair – in a willful and deliberate personal ceremony of solidarity with and support for Gatlin, all those other beautiful children, and everyone, really, who has ever had to battle that frightening demon we all know as cancer. And that’s why I still wear my hair, or lack thereof, the way I do these days!
No big moral to this story, I guess, except perhaps that, well, let’s not focus on the outward appearance of ANYBODY, or their alleged handicaps, or their health issues or physical condition, or their socio-economic standing, or their ethnicity, or their age (an awful lot of “agism” going on out there these days) or the way they drive (crazy Texans), or any other outward manifestations of the flesh. Rather, let’s try to really get to know and love people for WHO they are as a person–from the heart out!
And one more important thing, let’s learn to treasure every moment we have with the people God’s sends into our lives to love each day along the way because we really DO NOT KNOW just how long they are going to be a part of our lives, or how much time we’re actually going to get to have with them. I’ve lost so many friends and family in my life, and very seldom was I prepared for that loss.
As for me, for those of you who care just a little bit, and follow my blogs, I’m doing really well as of now – no sign of the cancer – so it’s looking like I may be able to call myself a “survivor” by the time I hit that ten year mark. But, please, if you will, remember to breathe a little prayer for those continuing to battle this dreaded disease… and, pray especially, for the children.
Columbia University Medical Center, Department of Surgery – Thyroid Center. (2011). Staging and prognosis. Retrieved from: http://columbiathyroidcenter.org/staging
National Cancer Institute. (2017). Cancer Statistics. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics
ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association, Inc. (2011). Thyroid cancer basics. Retrieved from: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=thyroid%20cancer%20survival%20rates%2030%25&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&sqi=2&ved=0CHMQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thyca.org%2FTCBasics.pdf&ei=8MUSUYH2M8_NqQHPkAE&usg=AFQjCNGvotxxITstosp3fAQIX1emCQxc_A
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