Life’s crossroads bring the important things into focus
On Wednesday morning, I’ll have surgery at Flagstaff Medical Center to remove the mass, which may include taking up to one-third of my tongue. Following a couple weeks of healing from that, I’ll begin an aggressive six to eight weeks of daily radiation treatment.
Obviously, this turns a lot of things upside down in my world here at age 32.
Usually my biggest concerns in a week are things like "Did I happen to get any good photos at last night’s game?" or "What are we going to eat for dinner?"
Now, it’s more like "Am I going to feel up to even taking photos for awhile?" and "Will I even be able to taste food correctly or talk intelligibly following this week’s surgery?"
But I don’t want this to be a sob-story, woe-is-me type of column. Because in reality, this whole experience has not been that at all – and I pray it never will be regardless of what the future holds.
If anything, the past few days since learning the diagnosis have been among the richest and most blessed of any I’ve had in a long time.
You see, in many ways I’ve been going through a lot of young adulthood on cruise control, taking a lot of special things for granted, focusing on me, me, me and generally keeping others at arm’s length.
But suddenly, thanks to this jolt, the important things in life – a relationship with God, my marriage, family, friends, giving to others, appreciating the beauty and joy of just being alive – have come back into much sharper focus.
And many of the time-wasting, self-serving ways I’d locked myself into for these many months have been kicked to the curb – I pray permanently.
As crazy as this sounds, the day I found out I had cancer – this past Wednesday in Flagstaff – will go down as one of the most sacred of my life.
Sure there was plenty of sorrow. I lost it the moment the doctor who gave us the diagnosis left the room. And I couldn’t make it through the first couple of phone calls to family back in North Carolina without falling to pieces.
But at the same time, I don’t think I’ve ever felt closer to my wife Pam, nor appreciated her hugs or her encouraging words or her strong-as-a-rock personality type so much.
The Bible suddenly seemed alive again after so many months of reading it with dull eyes. People in general stood out to me more.
In between scattered appointments on Wednesday, Pam and I stole away for awhile to the High Country around the San Francisco Peaks. The aspens are turning their fall colors, and we just reveled in the golden-orange that dotted the forests around Lockett Meadow. I marveled at creation’s beauty with keener eyes than maybe ever before.
Then, on our return trip down the mountain – we were running late to a hastily scheduled C-T appointment at the hospital – we stopped to take one last picture and saw a beautiful bald eagle in flight a few hundred yards in front of us.
If we ever needed a "sign" that God was with us – that as the Bible says, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles" – this was it. A picture of that eagle is now the background "wallpaper" on our computer at home.
And the sacredness doesn’t just extend to that day. People have come out of the word work to offer help, support and kind words. Pam and I joke that we’re probably setting a record for being on the most church prayers lists – from here to our home state of North Carolina and many places in between.
Even people who admittedly "never really pray anymore" have told me they are committed to praying for my wife and I now.
So here I am on the verge of this new, unexpected, chapter of life.
There are plenty of reasons to hope for a nice recovery from this. The C-T scan, for example, revealed that the cancer had not spread anywhere beyond my tongue (the lymph nodes are usually where it goes next). The tongue, a strange muscle indeed I’m learning, does regenerate a bit when a part is lost!
But there are also a lot of sobering realities – it is cancer that has a foothold in my body, it is an aggressive form and recurrence with this type is not out of the question, even after radiation. Some studies say it’s tougher on younger patients, believe it or not, even those like me who don’t smoke, chew or drink excessively.
Like so many others who have joined "my team," I’m obviously praying for a miracle – that the doctor will peek in my mouth Wednesday morning and say with absolution, "I see no cancer here anymore. Go home."
I know God can do that in a snap if He so chooses. And He has my full permission, by the way.
But maybe that’s not the real miracle that I need.
Maybe the greatest miracle of all is learning how to really live life even as cancer is trying to take it – walking humbly with my God, loving my wife and family with all my soul and strength, loving my neighbor as myself, giving to others and generally seeking to find joy in every moment.