In some ways I have spent this past week trying to capture an elusive character as well. I have been pursuing my “feelings” in regard to reaching the milestone of thirty years of survival since first being diagnosed with cancer. That is the anniversary I will celebrate this Sunday, July 17, 2016.
The roller coaster of emotions during the second half of 1986 stays etched into my mind. I did not realize that those months were simply the beginning of a long journey requiring physical endurance, mental tenacity, emotional flexibility, and spiritual perseverance. Thankfully, I did not have to possess all of those characteristics at the onset. Even after thirty years I continue to pray for the grace to grow in these virtues a day at a time.
I never anticipated living this long, and I certainly never dreamed where life would take me. Getting married, having children, becoming a deacon, and working for the Church in three different states in a variety of ministries has kept life interesting. It has not always been easy, but it has been blessed.
Shortly after completing chemotherapy treatments in the fall of 1986, a chaplain at the hospital asked me to write my story while it was fresh in my mind. I made a couple of attempts and presented my completed product each time to the chaplain for her review. Her critique of my work was less than flattering. She said, “I want feelings. I don’t simply want a play-by-play commentary of what happened. I want to know what you were feeling.” Apparently, at 26 years of age I had not quite developed the art of expressing my feelings. (Before my wife decides to write in the comment section below, I will simply say that I may not be much more effective at expressing feelings now as I approach 56 years of age.)
During the last couple of months I have begun to put my thoughts in writing in a more detailed format than what I had previously attempted. After thirty years of processing the events of life it does seem to be a more complete reflection than what I was able to give while the pain and hurt was so fresh in my mind back in 1986. It is my hope to complete the manuscript by the end of the year and have it published prior to my 31st anniversary of survival next summer. I have written just over 12,000 words so far and the anticipated length of the finished manuscript is about 40,000 words. Thus, I am ¼ of the way into it. If my book is acceptable, it is my desire that the chaplain write the foreword to it. If it is as disappointing to her as it was previously in 1986 she will probably politely decline. My hope is that I have finally understood her expectations.
As I write about my journey of suffering, survival, and healing I draw more clarity about the movement of the Lord in my life. It has been amazing just to consider the number of people that have entered my life at one point or another. Some of these people have been there for years; others have been there for a season. A few of them seemed to enter the picture for a very specific purpose at a crucial time. Through it all I have come to understand how God touches us with grace through the presence and ministry of others. I have been quite fortunate to have some amazing people enter into my life during the good times and the bad.
Each time I drive by St. Joseph’s Health Center in St. Charles, Missouri I am reminded of just how far I have come. I remember sitting in the lobby of the cancer floor one day during the course of my treatments. Staring out the window and looking at the people on the sidewalk below filled me with anger and resentment toward healthy people. I simply could not understand how life could go on for everyone else while I was in the hospital with cancer at the age of 25. It just wasn’t fair.
Likewise, I remember seeing the Missouri River flowing in the background just beyond Frontier Park. In the past I had always enjoyed seeing the river. Now it had become a source of pain to me. It was symbolic of my life at that moment; it was flowing right past me and there was nothing I could do about it. After thirty years the memories are still quite vivid.
Although I was diagnosed on July 17, 1986 and had surgery the following day on the 18th, I know I had been afflicted with cancer for a while before that. I remember working on the weekend of Independence Day and was already in excruciating pain at that time. An incorrect diagnosis the first time around also delayed getting proper treatment. However, July 17, is the day of receiving that horrendous diagnosis directly from the doctor and it is the date of which I mark this milestone of survival. (I am posting this a couple of days early because I will be quietly celebrating over the weekend and will not be glued to electronic devices. There will be time for that next week when politics kicks into high gear as the national conventions begin to exacerbate the airwaves.)
To all of you who have been part of my journey both past and present—I simply say thank you. To Margaret, Maria, and Joe I ask--why didn't we book a cruise to celebrate?