Saturday, June 28, 2008


Daniel's feeding tube placement went well. He posted Wednesday that this is a "simple procedure," but seeing him in recovery made me realize that his idea of simple is from a nurse practitioner's point of view! He was in recovery for about six hours as we waited for a room. One of the nurses explained to me that patients who will be staying in the hospital for longer periods of time receive first priority and that PEG tube patients just have to wait. Of course, I wasn't happy about that, and the nurse explained that she and her supervisor are working on getting that policy changed. During one of Daniel's cognizant moments, I told him what the nurse had said, and in typical Daniel fashion, he said, "That's fair." Unbelievable!

We were taken to an observation room for the night, and when Daniel feels better, maybe he'll share some of the humor about our meager accommodations. I must say, though, that he could not have received better treatment or had a more caring, competent staff. Never one to miss an opportunity, Daniel talked with several of his nurses and doctors about the Lord. Three nurses said they were Christians, and their faith certainly brought joy to me, and he was blessed by it as well.

As planned, Daniel was discharged on Friday around 11:00 a.m., and then we went to radiation for his fifth treatment. He is beginning to experience some side-effects such as skin irritation and pain in his mouth. The trade-off is that his pain from the cancer has diminished a little, which we're thankful for.

Daniel has rested for most of the day, which is another blessing. Hopefully, he will feel better soon and be able to inspire us again with his words.

We covet your continued prayers for his healing and for his side-effects to be minimal. All of you are a gift not only to Daniel but to his whole family.

God bless,


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Male stubbornness

So much can happen in 3 days when you have cancer. I apologize for not writing to you sooner, but these last few days have been some of my most challenging.

As you know, Monday afternoon was my first radiation treatment. Most of you are probably wondering exactly what that entails. The treatment is given in a room much like a normal x-ray suite. I lie down flat on a table. Then, the custom-fitted mask that I described before is put in place over my head, neck, and shoulders and fastened to the table. Then, an x-ray-like machine rotates around my head and neck delivering the radiation. It is not painful other than the fact that I have to lie flat. Lying flat, which you may recall me saying, increases the pain in my tongue. I used a local numbing agent to help with that today.

Thankfully, I am not claustrophobic. Certainly, it would be much more difficult if that were the case. Still, though I'm not claustrophobic and have never been an anxious person, there is something about these treatments that is unnerving. I think most of it revolves around the uncertainty of how my body will react to the treatments. I have heard so many horror stories about radiation - terrible mouth sores, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, stiff neck, skin burns, dental decay and more. So, each day, before going in for the treatment, it is almost impossible to remove these uncertainties from the mind. They have a way of looming over the entire process. Thankfully, it only lasts about 20 minutes. While I am lying on the table, I try to remember the verses I have shared with you about fear and all the encouragement and verses you have shared with me, as well. As I've said before, He knew this day would come long before I was born, and He is ready to supply my needs with precision. As one of my favorite songs reminds me, He is mighty to save. As a couple of you have reminded me, while I am receiving radiation beams for my cancer, He is also busy radiating His loving-kindness toward me. Three down - only 30 to go.

My first round of the more potent chemo was administered yesterday. The infusion went well. Unfortunately, today has brought some of my worst nausea. I have not actually vomited, though, which is a blessing, as it greatly increases my tongue pain. I am taking various anti-nausea medications and expect it to get better soon, especially with all your prayers. My next infusion is scheduled for 21 days from yesterday.

This brings us to the latest news, which I know Doug has already shared with some of you. Yesterday, Dr. Gilbert decided that it was time to place a temporary PEG tube. PEG tubes are placed directly into the stomach through the abdominal wall and allow for adequate nutritional and caloric intake when a patient is unable to maintain weight through oral consumption. Because of my intermittent nausea and often excruciating mouth pain, I have lost about 16 pounds in the last 2 months. Click on the link below for a very good explanation of PEG tube insertion and use. I think it will help to calm any anxiety this news might cause you.

As you will learn from this article, placement of the tube is very simple and quick and not regarded as dangerous. Actually, I am relieved to be undergoing this procedure. Of course, I had hoped to make it through this process without a feeding tube, but that just stemmed from male stubbornness more than anything. At this point, I have embraced the fact that having the tube in place will greatly decrease the stress I experience surrounding eating on a daily basis. It is very difficult to plan meals around my pain, because it can be so unpredictable. Also, even when the pain is controlled, my appetite just isn't what it needs to be to maintain my weight much less gain any weight. The tube will be placed during a very short, one-night hospital stay. The procedure itself is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:00 p.m. following my radiation treatment at 11:00 a.m. I will be released around midday on Friday and will have my last radiation treatment of the week before coming home.

Some of you are probably wondering if this would be a good time to visit. I cannot express to you how much gratitude I have for every single one of you - for your prayers, your emails, your voice mails, your cards, your letters, your gifts, and your desire to help in any way you can. In light of that, I want to reassure you that you ARE helping me. You have no idea what it means to know that while I try to sleep or eat or just keep my chin up, that so many of you, in several countries, are praying for me! Given that I have felt so poorly this week, I don't think it is the best time for a visit. I would rather see you when I can actually spend time talking with you or at least writing you notes, and I don't anticipate feeling like doing much of that right now. I hate to be dramatic, but it has taken me hours to type this post tonight. I do look forward to seeing each and every one one of you once I am feeling better.

Since I mentioned pain quite a bit in this post, I wanted to try to be a bit more clear about my situation with you. It has been suggested to me by some of you that perhaps in an attempt to stay really positive and with many of my earlier posts centering around topics other than my cancer, I might not have given you a completely accurate picture. There is such a fine line between being accurate, being overly dramatic, and conveying my faith in God to deliver. Yes, at times, the pain is excruciating indeed. There have been days when the best I could do was sit as still as possible in my chair and pray for it to pass. What I want you to know is that I do get relief - my gracious Heavenly Father provides it as He hears your prayers and mine. Also, we are continually adjusting my pain medication regimen to try to find the optimum combination, but, of course, all of those possibilities come from Him, as well. So, if I have not portrayed the situation as precisely as I could have, it is only because I want us all to focus on Him and all the miracles of which He is capable. I realize, however, that for us to appreciate truly what He accomplishes, we will need a clear understanding of where he has brought us from. I will try, therefore, to be as clear as possible going forward.

There are so many things on my heart that I would like to share with you right now - thoughts that have been brought on by the cancer, but not necessarily about the cancer itself. Unfortunately, today I just do not have the creative energy to convey those thoughts in a way I would find acceptable. I trust they will keep for later.

I love all of you so very, very much and am truly grateful for you. Whenever you fret about something to do to help, just take a few moments on your knees. That is doing so much, and I will always be grateful.

"What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee." -Psalm 56:3

Monday, June 23, 2008

I was sick

I'm sorry it has been so many days since I posted anything new. I intended to get up early enough today to compose a substantial entry, but my days are still very unpredictable. I have to leave very soon for my first radiation treatment (2:30 appointment), but hopefully I will have the energy to write tonight.

I did want to share a passage of scripture with you before I leave.

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me ... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. -Matthew 25:35, 36, & 40

From deep within ... thank you for looking after me.

May you be captivated by Him today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poor Pluto

I think something lighthearted is in order this morning.

I'm not very diligent at keeping up with world events, but I did know that Pluto had lost its status as a planet some time ago. Then, a few days ago as I opened my homepage, I was informed that it would have to undergo a name change, as well. Isn't losing planet status enough? Apparently, it will now be referred to as "a plutoid." Not even a proper name. These people don't know when to stop. Poor Pluto.

There isn't a lot of news on the medical front today. Here are the highlights:

1. Radiation, as previously posted, begins Monday, June 23rd. I am scheduled for 33 treatments total. They will last about 25 minutes each.
2. A new chemotherapy regimen, which will be administered at least twice during the course of my radiation treatments, begins on Tuesday. On that day, I will have radiation and a six hour chemotherapy infusion.

Pray for:
God's glorification - may His grace be experienced by many as a result of my struggle.
Healing - He is able to restore me completely.
Courage - that I would abandon myself to Him anew each morning.

I love you all and thank you for walking with me during these hard times. I cherish every ounce of encouragement you offer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

On Fear

We have been studying Nehemiah at church. With the wall of Jerusalem in ruins, the people live in fear of attack. Nehemiah courageously responds to God's call to lead his people in the rebuilding process. As they begin rebuilding, the Israelites are constantly surrounded by their enemy and the looming threat of being attacked in the exposed places of their fledgling wall. They are afraid! Nehemiah reminds them:

"Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight ..." -Nehemiah 4:14

"Our God will fight for us!" -Nehemiah 4:20

Taking these promises on as shields, great progress is made so that only the doors are left to be set in the gates. The enemy, therefore, quickly begins taunting the Israelites that their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will be left incomplete. Nehemiah responds with this simple prayer:

"Now strengthen my hands." -Nehemiah 6:9

Indeed, God did, and the wall was completed in just 52 days.

We started this study on Nehemiah in January, long before my cancer diagnosis. Of course, I had no idea the life application it would soon afford. I remember my pastor stating that feeling fear is okay, but you cannot separate fear from God's presence. He pointed out that the command to fear not is usually followed by a command to remember God. We are human, so we will feel fear. As quickly as we feel it, though, we must remember our awesome God, who is capable of rescuing us from any fire.

Fire reminds me of the first Daniel, whose friends were rescued from it by the same God who rescues us today and who himself was rescued from a den of lions. It was after this miraculous rescue that King Darius issued this decree:

"In every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions." -Daniel 6:26-27

This passage from Daniel first brought me strength while I was working as a summer missionary in Estes Park, Colorado, during college. On Sundays, I led worship services in the Rocky Mountain National Park for travelers, but during the week, I worked at one of the attractions in Estes Park, which included go-karts, bumper boats, bumper cars, and miniature golf. The ministry looked for jobs that would help us make money for our upcoming school year, but also put us in a place where there was ample opportunity to share our faith. My job was a perfect combination. Indeed, I worked many hours and was able to save for school, but most importanly, I worked with about 30 other young people ranging from about 13 to 21. (I was 19 at the time.)

That area of Colorado had a certain spirituality about it, so the concept of God or at least a god, was not foreign. Jesus, however, as God and Saviour was definitely a new concept to many of those kids. A few of them seemed hungry to hear the truth about Jesus and how he had changed my life and most of the rest were at least tolerant of it casually being woven into daily discussions. (Jesus isn't something to be forced on others. He doesn't need us for that. If He wanted to force Himself on creation, He could have done that long ago. We are meant to testify of the difference He has made in our lives and let others know that He invites them into relationship with Him - an authentic relationship that breathes new life into every moment of every day.) One coworker, however, seemed to loathe me from the beginning. Granted, I think he loathed a lot of people and just life in general at times, but it was evident he had a special loathing for me. It became clear quickly that in attempting to show him the love of Christ, I would experience persecution. Indeed, he seized any opportunity to embarrass me, to make me feel out of place, to make me feel ... small.

Specifics aren't important. You need know only that he persecuted with skill. I feared having to work with him. It was never a fear of physical danger, though he was much bigger than I. His angle was purely psychological and every moment in his presence was dreaded. Then, God led me to this passage from Daniel. When I read that he had rescued Daniel from the power of the lions, I took it personally! I became Daniel (how handy that I had been given his name), and my coworker became my lion. I read this passage as God's promise to me that not only would he rescue me from the power of the lions, He had already done so! In my desire to honor Him, He would guard my way. My fear was harnessed every time I remembered God's promise to me.

Now, 14 years later, these verses are alive again. The lion has a different face, but the same God will deliver.

Because I know that feeling the fear is inevitable, I have sought out more ammunition against it in scipture. I'll share several of those findings with you later, but I wanted to share one more interesting thing I read regarding fear elsewhere first. It came from The Shack by William P. Young. Now, I know people either love this book or think it blashphemous, and I don't intend to endorse it or dog it. In fact, I haven't even finished it. I did find wisdom in this comment, though, and I think it's worth sharing no matter what you think of the book as a whole. In the book, Jesus poses this important question on fear: "Do you realize that your imagination of the future, which is almost always dictated by fear of some kind, rarely, if ever, pictures me there with you?" When I read this question, I realized that my fears surrounding radiation had indeed pictured me lying solo on the treatment table, heaving solo over the commode, and struggling solo to force food over mouth ulcerations. I was guilty of picturing my fear without the company of my best friend!

That brings me back to the ammunition I found in scripture, which never disconnects the Great Comforter from the fear.

"But Jesus came and touched them. Get up, he said. Don't be afraid. When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus." -Matthew 17:7

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." -Joshua 1:9

The examples are endless and this post could go on forever. Bottom line: My fear is real, but my Jesus is here.

He is there with you, as well.

Today's lowdown:
1. Radiation begins Monday morning. I am scheduled for 33 treatments to be given Monday through Friday lasting through the first week of August.
2. My new chemo regimen will likely start on Tuesday and be given in 3 six-hour sessions spread over the course of the radiation therapy.
3. It was a good day - I ate well again, had no bad side effects, and my pain is controlled with my current medication regimen.
4. Your encouragment means the world.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I'm not sure where to begin today. My heart and mind are so full. I know you probably want more details about yesterday's visit, so I will begin there, but there is much I want to share.

As brother said yesterday, Dr. Gilbert did think the tumor had responded, if only a small amount, to last week's treatment. She was forthright that it did not show a drastic response, but still, there was a response, which is finally a move in the right direction. We have to keep in mind that until yesterday, this thing has been moving rapidly in the wrong direction with that relentless quality of which Dr. Sinard spoke. This week, it appears there has been some relenting, and I am so grateful to God for that news!

Let me change directions for a second here to mention that I am not surprised, and I don't think you will be either. God wouldn't tell us to pray without ceasing if it were a fruitless activity. Granted, our desires may not always be in line with his great plans, but it sure is nice when they are! Thank you for praying for this response - thank God, giving Him all the glory, for providing it!

As you'll recall, we were hoping for this news yesterday. Otherwise, I was looking at starting radiation therapy this coming Monday along with a more aggressive 2-drug chemo cocktail. Here is the new plan and the reason for its selection. Radiation has been in my future since almost the beginning. The only way I could have avoided radiation would have been if the tumor had been small enough to remove surgically and there were no positive lymph nodes. Since there was a positive lymph node in my neck from the beginning of testing, I was at least looking at radiation on my neck. After the tumor exploded, it became clear that I would need chemotherapy along with radiation on both the oral cavity and neck. When Dr. Gilbert first took over, she envisioned doing a 9 week round of my current chemo regimen, which would hopefully get a dramatic response from the tumor and also create a fertile ground for radiation to follow. Since I have not responded quite as dramatically to my current regimen as expected, Dr. Gilbert thinks it best to change directions. While she does not believe the really aggressive plan discussed last week is necessary, she does want to get more aggressive than originally planned. She cites my youth and healthfulness along with the "unkind" nature of my tumor as good reasons to do so. Besides, since radiation is down my road anyway and we haven't seen the typical response to chemo alone thus far, she wants to get radiation on board more quickly.

The good news here is that I do not have to start radiation on Monday. I will start it soon, though - probably Monday after next. Also, my chemo regimen will be changed from the current regimen to one stronger drug instead of two stronger drugs. (For my medical friends who are just dying to know which one, send me an email. I don't like cluttering up my blog with the names of chemotherapy drugs.) I will receive infusions of the new drug once every 3 weeks in addition to radiation treatments. These particular chemo sessions will still be outpatient, but will take about 6 hours due to some extra monitoring that must be done. Radiation treatments will last for about 25 minutes (actual treatment time) each and occur every day for 33 treatments. Once these are finished, I will be reassessed. Hopefully, no surgical intervention will be necessary. It is possible, though, that a less extensive procedure might be recommended. There could also be additional chemo in my future, but more than likely, there would be a break from treatment to monitor my progress with serial imaging. Bottom line is they won't stop until they think they have done everything possible to increase my cure rate percentage.

I'm sure you're wondering how I feel about all of this, and I want to assure you that I feel very pleased with yesterday's visit. I am thankful that I have another week or so before radiation begins, but also glad that Dr. Gilbert wants to get a little more aggressive. I am grateful that it doesn't have to start this Monday, which will give me another week to gain some more strength since I am now responding somewhat to chemo. I continue to feel like God has me in the palm of His hand. He has great plans, and He will accomplish them all. He already has revealed so much of his greatness throughout all of this, and I am confident He will continue to do so.

I do not walk blindly into the dark days ahead. Instead, I go with the command in Joshua 1:9 ... "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

One more short, encouraging note from yesterday - Dr. Gilbert gave me yet another anti-nausea medication. This is the big daddy of them all. I took it yesterday before treatment, today, and will take another tomorrow. She hopes this will completely eliminate the post chemo vomiting. Please add that to your prayers, as well.

I do have so much more I want to share outside of yesterday's visit, but I will save it for a later post - perhaps later tonight or tomorrow.

Hope you are all having a great weekend. Again, thank you for your amazing support!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Today's visit . . .

Daniel wanted me to write a quick note about today's appointment since he is, in his words, "in good spirits but wiped out." (The appointment was at 1:15 p.m., and we finished chemo at about 6:30 p.m.) Overall, today's news was good. The chemo oncologist thinks the tumor is better/smaller than it was last week - answered prayer - but she also said she sees radiation therapy in Daniel's near future. Her main reason is this: since the tumor isn't exactly melting away with chemo alone, a combination of radiation and chemotherapy is expected to work better; she said that Daniel is young and strong, and she believes his body can handle the two. Daniel will give more details tomorrow when he's had time to rest. Thanks to everyone for your fervent prayers.

Blessings to you all,

Doug (Sasquatch)

Thank you!

Just wanted to thank all of you for praying so hard this week! I will update the blog as soon as I can with today's outcome. I hope you all have a wonderful day. May God bless you richly.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Get the wood ready

Today's adventure:

I am scheduled to see the dentist this morning at 11:00 for removal of a couple of crowns that contain metal. If these were present during radiation, they could greatly increase the severity of my mouth soreness.

Of course, we have all prayed that radiation will not have to start on this rapid timetable, and I do not believe it will, but as my mother eloquently reminded me this morning ... even Abraham had to get the wood ready.

I hope you all have a great day today.

Trust Him with your lives - every little part.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'm thankful to report that today has been a very quiet day. I don't have a lot to say, but wanted to at least type a short note to let you know how moved I was by all the prayers offered on my behalf last evening. You have no idea how comforting it was to know that so many of you were petitioning the Father simultaneously. There is no way I can adequately convey my gratitude. Of course, it is also comforting to know that the prayers did not stop after last night's meetings. I know you are continuing to pray - there is much rest there.

I am glad that we can all find rest in Him.

I do have some great news to report. I asked for prayer for my friend Bryan Larson when I started this blog. Some of you might have visited his site via my links. He was moved to a rehabilitation hospital this week and is doing extremely well with therapy. Praise God for His presence throughout every phase of Bryan's battle. Continue to pray for him as the rehabilitation process will probably be about 2 months long.

Also, I wanted to request prayer for the friend of a friend. Dr. Karen Barefoot is the dear friend of our practice administrator, Mischelle Ferrell, at Cumberland Family Care where I work. Recently, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had emergency surgery, which went really well. I have just learned today that she has arrived safely at Cookeville Regional Rehabilitation. We thank God for providing for Karen during this terrifying time as only He can do. I ask you to pray that He continue to comfort her during the long road of rehab.

One thing is for sure, no one is ever the only person facing daunting challenges. Sometimes, though, it is easy to get so tangled in our own experiences that we forget the plights of others. When I am ill, I pray that my heart would still beat hard for the needs of others. When I am well, may it beat even harder.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." -Matthew 11:28

May we continue coming to Him - not just for ourselves, but for all those who need His touch.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prayer meetings

This is a message I prepared to be read at the prayer meetings taking place tonight. Some of you may not see it until the meeting is over - I apologize for not posting sooner. Thank you all once again and may God richly bless you for your sacrifice on my behalf!

First, I want to thank all of you for taking precious moments from your busy lives to pray for me. One thing an illness like this makes clear – all moments truly are precious. So, I thank you for taking time away from those things most important in your own lives to be here for me tonight. It is truly moving.

Next, as you meet, I want to remind you of something I discussed in my first announcement. It is so tempting to ask “Why?” That simple question can branch out onto many fruitless paths. Ultimately, the question has already been answered. We are taught in scripture that our purpose on earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Instead of spending time asking why this happened to me, let’s spend our time praying that God will be glorified to the fullest degree through my illness.

I want to be healed, and I do pray that you will ask the Father boldly for complete healing, but most of all, I want His will to be accomplished. I want lives to be changed. I ask you to pray boldly that many, who are without a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be drawn into such a relationship as a result of my earthly struggle. Do you realize that if one soul is saved from eternal separation from God – hell - that it is worth all the cancer treatment that can be thrown my way?! It most certainly is. I pray for healing, yes, but I also pray that God makes a difference in His kingdom as He reveals His glory in my trials. I pray that many will come to experience the balm of relationship with the creator of the universe as they watch Him soothe me during these days.

There may even be some in attendance here tonight who have not begun a relationship with Jesus Christ, our perfect Redeemer. If not, don’t waste another precious moment. Seal your eternal destiny tonight!

For those of you here who have already given your lives to Jesus, who have already accepted His healing grace – make sure you aren’t wasting moments either. Remember, for you, eternal life does not begin when you die. Indeed, it has begun already! It began the moment you invited Jesus Christ to live inside you and direct your path. Start enjoying eternal life today! You get to be with the loving-kind creator of the universe for the remainder of your existence on earth and forever and ever and ever! Your time with Him will never cease – don’t let the joy of this truth escape you until Heaven. Start relishing it today – eternal life has begun! You have a Father who loves you and is with you wherever you go and whatever you face. So, go about your day glorifying Him with your decisions and enjoying his unfathomable goodness – it truly is everywhere even in the midst of earthly confusion, especially in the midst of earthly confusion!

May His Word strengthen us tonight and always …

“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” – Job 13:15
“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” – Joel 2:25
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” –Job 42:2
“The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.” –Job 37:23

Monday, June 9, 2008

My perfect Jesus

Several quick things to report:

1. My family has organized a special prayer service tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 10th, at the First Freewill Baptist Church in Livingston, TN. I may not be able to attend but will do so if I am feeling able. Everyone is invited. We know that all of you are praying continually, but my family thought it would be a good idea if there was a corporate meeting. Obviously, many of you will not be able to attend, but, if possible, we ask that you join us at 7:00 p.m. wherever you are.

2. For those of you in the Nashville area, some dear friends are hosting a satellite service in their home. It will be at Randy Smith's home at 7:00 p.m. His address is 6324 Murray Lane, Brentwood, TN 37027. Again, everyone is invited.

3. We are believing God for great things, one being that the current chemo regimen is working this week, and I believe that it is. Dr. Cmelak (radiation oncologist) and Dr. Gilbert (chemo oncologist), however, want me to come in tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. to start the process of mapping my radiation. Like I posted earlier, a special mask has to be made for my treatments to guide the beams. This takes time, of course. So, if I go in on Friday and Dr. Gilbert does not see improvement (join us in asking God boldly that this will not be the case), my chemotherapy regimen would be changed to a more potent cocktail, and I would begin radiation next week.

I believe in my perfect Jesus. Nothing is too big for Him. As I've said before, nothing ever catches him by surprise. I also believe in being real with people. So, I want you to know that this is very difficult on the body, mind, and spirit. When you pray for me, you go to battle for me. Please keep fighting hard. I know the Savior is listening. He will deliver perfect provisions in perfect timing.

Meanwhile, I must embrace the exhortation of James.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." -James 1:2-4

When He is finished with me, I will not lack a thing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The myth of invincibility

No one ever really believes it will happen to them. Sure, almost everyone has had fleeting thoughts of being diagnosed with cancer, suffering a heart attack or becoming paralyzed. In those moments, some of us even sincerely try to imagine what it would be like, but we are simply incapable. It's like we have an invincibility chip in our brains constantly feeding us this line that we are above the fray. "There's no way that will ever happen to you." So, we have another fleeting thought of pity on those to whom these things have happened, and then we are on with our day, content living in the myth of invincibility.

Then, like a hurricane in a pond, you are told you have tongue cancer at the age of 33 even though your past medical history is as clean a 10-year-old's, you don't smoke, you don't dip, and you're not nursing the bottle. Suddenly, myth moves out and emotion moves in. Myth was a quiet, neat, and predictable roommate. Emotion is loud, messy, and has multiple personalities. Unwelcome are shock, denial, anger, sadness, loneliness, and fear. Welcome, however, are courage, determination, faith, hope, trust, and gratitude. Thank God for the welcome ones.

I'd like to share a little of my gratitude. I was diagnosed with cancer on April 18, almost 2 months ago now. Month to month, week to week, day to day, hour to hour, and sometimes even minute to minute, I am receiving encouragement from loads of people ranging from immediate family to many that I don't even know.

This is a photo of a luminary created in my honor for a relay for life vigil in Michigan by my friend Scott Moran's in-laws. Scott and I became really good friends at Vanderbilt. His wife, Kathy, is very special, too. She is now attending Vanderbilt herself - soon, they will be quite the medical team. Kathy's family, who lives in Michigan, created the luminary for me after hearing of my struggle, and I've never even met them! They still, however, took the time to make this for me and even personalized it with musical notes.

Below is a picture of a beautiful piece of art some of my dearest friends, Terrah, Randy, Lizzy, Brad, Rebecca and children (Connor, Davis, Griffin, Samantha, and Lee boy-to-be) bought me. It has a really cool story behind it. My church, Fellowship Bible in Brentwood, has a lot of artistic members. Every May, the church has a festival called Express, which seeks to glorify God by showcasing a variety of artistic talents, including music, dance, and visual arts. Terrah and I saw the original at the festival. I believe the artist, Meg Miller, called it Faith. I hope I'm not butchering her meaning, but I believe she commented that just like you have to have faith that a chair will hold you up when you sit, you have to have faith that God will hold you up during tumultuous times. Terrah and I were both struck by the chair and I commented that I needed one like it in my room to remind me that I have to sit still in faith and let God move.

Terrah didn't forget what I said, so when the gang wondered what to get me, she had the perfect idea. She tracked down Meg who agreed to make another one just for me. Meg commented that it was nice getting to pray specifically for me as she was working. That was very touching, of course. The gang gave this to me on Friday before my second chemotherapy session, and they all signed the back.

This is a photo of a prayer shawl made for me by more people that
I have never met. This was given to me by a friend of mine from my old job at Aspect Communications, Jennifer Gearhart McClure. This is a ministry of her mother's church. As they knit these shawls, they pray especially for the people who will be receiving them. It is meant to be worn while praying. The idea is that the prayers of those who made the shawl are covering you as you pray yourself. Jennifer wanted me to have this in the midst of making tough decisions about my treatment.

This gift was picked out especially for me by Terrah's little nephew Benjamin, who is about 2 years old. I've got a little Sprite in my Goofy cup right now!
This is a music box given to me by Debbie Cagle, Terrah's sister-in-law Brooke's mother. It plays How Great Thou Art. Debbie doesn't know this, but that is my favorite song to hear my brother sing. Now, I can hear it anytime I want.

Terrah gave me a book called Courage before my first chemotherapy session, and Brooke and Darren gave me Tony Dungy's autobiography.
This is a beautiful quilt made for me by Rebecca's mother Donna (who treats me like I'm one of her own), her friend Debbie (who lost her daughter to leukemia and has encouraged me like a long-time friend even though we just met), and Rebecca. The section with the heart has an inscription that tells me to wrap myself in the quilt and know that I am loved by many.

Of course, this isn't all the encouragement I have received. I couldn't begin to count the phone calls, texts, emails, cards, letters, prayer-grams, and well-wishes I have received. I have received many while typing this very post!

There's no way I could remember every kind gesture for mention in this post, but I hope all of you know the immense gratitude that I feel toward you.

I must not forget to give thanks to the Father, as well.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Join me in being joyful over salvation, praying for healing, and giving thanks for His perfect love.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Outlandishly gracious

Today, I saw my oncologist, Dr. Gilbert, and her nurse, Beverly, before going to my chemotherapy session. Dr. Gilbert was disappointed that my pain level had not decreased and the tumor had not shrunk at all after last week's infusion. Most patients who are chemotherapy naive see a quick response where both pain levels and tumor size are concerned. It is disheartening that my body did not respond as most do; however, it is still possible that I will begin to respond to my current regimen. Another treatment, therefore, was given as scheduled today.

I will see Dr. Gilbert again next Friday before my third scheduled chemo infusion. If, on exam, the tumor seems to have begun responding, we will continue the same regimen of chemo for a total of 9 weeks and then proceed to radiation and lower doses of concurrent chemo. If the tumor does not appear smaller next week, my chemo regimen will be changed to a much more potent cocktail. Of course, a more potent cocktail means a better chance of killing cancer cells, but also means more attack on healthy cells and increased side effects. Hair loss, which doesn't bother me, is one. The other is intense nausea and vomiting. For this reason, Dr. Gilbert would hospitalize me for about 4 days for the first round of the new cocktail so that she can administer drugs intravenously to help prevent the nausea and vomiting.

If we have to go with the new cocktail, I will also begin preparation for radiation therapy as soon as possible. A special mask has to be created, which I will wear during the treatments to help target the beams appropriately. Of course, the goal is to kill all the bad tissue and protect as much of the good tissue as possible. Radiation will be very rough since it involves the side of my tongue primarily. It is thought to be more tolerable when it only involves the back of the tongue or the very tip.

I want all of you to know that I remain positive and continue to place my trust in our outlandishly gracious and loving Father. He did, however, give me a very black and white, analytical mind. Because of that, I want to be straight with you. I can't expect you to pray as fervently as I would like if I fail to level with you. I know I posted recently that I have heard cure rates ranging from 40-80%, but realistically, my cure rate where earthly medical knowledge is concerned is probably more like 40%. I say that not to scare you or be dramatic, but to help you grasp the gravity of my illness, and in doing so, spark passionate prayers. See, I know the Father can heal me if He so chooses, but I do believe that He wants us to cry out to Him. I must confess, there are days when getting through hygiene details and meals and some communication on this blog take all my energy. So, while I am still praying and will be, I need you to pray in my stead. I know you have been, and my gratitude just continues to grow.

I really believe that God will hear us, and I will begin to respond to this current regimen. In fact, I am feeling better or as good tonight as I have at any point during this week. I believe God has already started making a difference through today's treatment, because of your bold requests on my behalf.

My brother reminded me today that God doesn't care about cure rate percentages. A dear friend reminded me that "really ugly cancer + infinite, relentlessly loving God = big miracle." They're both correct, of course.

There are many fun and positive things to share today, as well, but even though I feel better, my mind is tired and needs rest. I'll write about the good stuff tomorrow, God willing.

I love you all, but more importantly, Jesus Christ, the Creator and Savior of the world loves you. How 'bout that?

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." -Ephesians 3:17-19

Thursday, June 5, 2008

God-given names

The skinny:

1) Next oncology appointment and chemotherapy treatment tomorrow at 12:15 p.m.

2) Still not talking, but hoping this will change after a couple more chemo infusions.

3) Pain level still intense. Mostly controlled with medication, but remains a significant source of stress - your prayers are greatly appreciated! Hoping a couple more chemo infusions will work wonders here as well.

4) Significant sleep again last night!

5) Continually grateful for all the love shown by family, friends and strangers during the biggest challenge of my life.

Not so skinny ...

Have you noticed how it seems almost trendy to denounce television? I know you've experienced it - at work, at a party, at dinner with friends. Some guy begins talking about his favorite show and others chime in quickly. Before you know it, the room is a flurry of excitement over what just happened on last night's it show. Inevitably, though, there's always one who speaks up without being asked and announces, "I don't really watch television." Somehow, his tone suggests that by shunning television he is not only guarding his mind, but also waving a banner against poverty, war, and environmental degradation. I'm not sure how television makes all that possible, but you know the tone of which I speak. You've heard it.

Well, I'm all for protecting the mind from the "vast wasteland," but am here to tell you that I don't intend to do it while I'm couped up at home with cancer. Right now, I am very thankful for television. It is so hard to shut off your brain when going through something like this, but television makes it possible for at least brief moments here and there. In my second week of this homebound experience, I sense an increased savvy developing where my viewing schedule is concerned. I have rediscovered my love of the episodic western. My favorites - Big Valley and Gunsmoke. Encore Western brings me Big Valley at 5:00 p.m. every evening (did I just refer to 5:00 p.m. as evening?!). I was excited when I remembered this yesterday before 5:00 p.m. had passed. This morning, I have done some research and discovered that Gunsmoke is available on TV Land at 2:00 p.m. daily. Most excellent news. Even with cancer, Festus will be funny, and Ms. Kitty always knows what to say.

Of course, Encore Western is also a good place to find film classics. Last night, I watched Dances With Wolves, which brings me to the meat of this post. There's a part where Kevin Costner's character wonders if his given name ever really meant anything. Of course, in Native American culture and many others throughout history, there is deep meaning in a name. I think we miss out on the power of that in our culture. For instance, let's say your parents gave you a name that meant mighty warrior. Don't you think it would make you feel a bit like a mighty warrior? The honor in the name might inspire you to live a life worthy of the moniker.

Do you ever wonder, like Costner's character, what your name means? I'm not talking about the canned meaning listed on the card in the souvenir shop. I'm talking about what your name really means. Most of us were just given a name because the sound of it pleased our parents. What if real meaning is ascribed to our names by the way we live our lives - in our relationship with God, our love for others, in our response to adversity, our readiness to give thanks? If this is true, then we are living meaning into our names every day. I wonder what people think when they hear the name Pat Daniel Smith? What do they think when they hear your name?

I believe God has a name in mind for each of us. May we live lives worthy of those God-given names.

"You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow." -Isaiah 62:2

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Life happens in the little things

The lowdown:

1) I feel like an olympic athlete today compared to how I felt on Sunday - you know, in one of the less physical events, like curling or something.

2) Beverly, one of my wonderful nurses, thinks my pain medication might have been responsible for the nausea and vomiting more than the chemo regimen. We are going to do some adjusting to cover both possibilities so that hopefully it won't happen again.

3) I was able to eat quite a bit more yesterday afternoon and evening and have already had substantial nourishment today, as well.

4) I even went for a walk yesterday evening.

5) My PET scan revealed no surprises where the tongue and neck are concerned. It did show a 1.2 cm lymph node in the lungs that might or might not be cancerous. If it is smaller on my next scan, it will be considered cancerous. If it is the same size, it will be considered insignificant. Even if it were known to be cancerous now, it would not alter my treatment plan. The abdomen and pelvis were clear.

6) Still not talking due to the pain, but some of you might consider that a positive.

On to more important matters ...

*** Before reading this section, please understand that I do not think I am going to die - just trying to make a point!

People with life-threatening illnesses are so annoying, aren't they? I mean, just because there is a chance they could die, they all of sudden think they know everything about how everyone else should live! What a drag. Of course, they aren't the only ones preaching. Even people who aren't dying now and have never done so are telling us how we should live. Everywhere we turn - young, old, sick or well - someone is telling us to live like we're dying.

What does that mean exactly? Just what does it look like to live like you're dying? Does it really mean "Rocky Mountain climbing and skydiving?" (I like the song, too - just bear with me.) Does it mean finally going on that big trip you've always dreamed of, but thought you couldn't afford? Does it mean bungee jumping? Does it mean quitting your job and starting that business of your own? Does living like you're dying just mean doing big crazy things that you probably wouldn't do if you were going to go on living? Perhaps that is part of what it means, but I would say it's only a very small part.

(This is the part where the person with the life-threatening illness steps up to the podium pontificating till heart's content, and his audience, though probably annoyed, politely listens because there is a chance he could die and that somehow qualifies him as an instant sage.)

Think about your life. Does it really happen in the big things? I mean, how many moments are taken up by big, spectacular events? Not that many, right? Right. That's because life isn't about the big things. Life happens in the little things. That brings us back to our question. What does it mean to live like you're dying? I think it means savoring the little things. Little things like ...

waking up warm, O.J. and toast, making someone laugh, laughing at yourself, driving to work, getting home safely, talking to someone who really listens, listening to someone who really needs to talk, going for a run, napping when it rains, taking a hot shower, listening to your favorite song, ice cream cones ...

the list could go on forever, but I'll stop there. Some of my more jaded friends are way past nauseated by now. Hear me out, though. Lists of little things like these create the real substance of our lives. Real life isn't found in just-before-death adventures. Real life is found in real life. So, if we are going to live like we're dying, we need to learn to savor the little things that make our real lives so sweet.

You might be thinking I have a point, but you're probably also thinking that no one can maintain such a grounded perspective all the time. Would it hurt to try?

"Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." -Ephesians 5:19-20

Monday, June 2, 2008

Beautiful timing

Saturday night was very difficult in the sleep department. Intense pain woke me frequently, and it seemed impossible to get relief. Sunday, after being up only a few short minutes, I was introduced to chemo's gastroinstestinal personality. This was particularly difficult for a few reasons. First, until yesterday morning, I only remember vomiting twice in my entire life, both as a young child. Therefore, it was a new, scary experience for me. Second, that fear was exacerbated by the knowledge that the experience could be chemo-induced and might only be the first of many, many episodes. Finally, with every violent regurgitation, the pain in my tongue increased tremendously.

This set Sunday off to the creeping start that it would never quite overcome. The combination of nausea and pain medication without significant nutrition left me groggy most of the day. Eventually, I managed to eat some Jello, but that was as substantial as it would get. Thank the Father, I did find a position that I can rest in without getting choked, which allowed me to get about 6 hours of broken, but quality sleep last night. Today is going better. The nausea is somewhat improved. I have eaten some soup already, and I understand a popsicle is on its way shortly.

I will try to share more later, but for now I just wanted to get the details of these last couple of days posted. I am way too sleepy to wax spiritual or philosophical right now - maybe tonight.

Until then, know that I am so grateful for all of you. One thought that keeps returning to me is how desperate it would be to have to suffer this alone. I cannot imagine being without you. Keep your comments on the blog, your messages to family, your voicemails and your emails coming. They mean so much more than I will ever be able to articulate, and they come with such beautiful timing.

May our gracious Father bless all of you today as you have blessed me.