Unexplored Territory

Yesterday I went down to the Juravinski Cancer Centre for the first check-up since the end of my radiation treatments. My radiation oncologist Dr. Wright and his resident poked, prodded, peered and perused every corner of my throat, inside and out. The tissues are healing nicely, slightly ahead of the average curve apparently, there’s no swelling anywhere there shouldn’t be, and everything is returning to a colour vaguely resembling the colour it was before it all began. The conclusion: he is willing to go out on the proverbial limb and declare me to be 100% cancer free – with 95% certainty.  The 5% is reserved until after I have a high-contrast CT scan performed in the next few weeks in case it reveals something completely unexpected. Failing that though, I’m done. To quote the good doctor, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you in six weeks”. In two weeks we’ll see if my surgeon is willing to make the same bold declaration.

If he does, it’s a declaration that has me facing some previously unexplored territory – the future.

Let me explain…

I was 14 in 1967 when my Dad decided to explore the family genealogy as part of the whole ‘Centennial Year’ thing. What we discovered was that the males in the Gray family are pretty short-lived. On average we tend to kick off in the mid-Fifties, with the overall average being a ripe old 56. In the dozen or so generations he was able to track down nobody survived past the age of 60. My father did not buck the trend, passing away from colon cancer at that very same Gray family average.

So over the next few years I thought about that from time to time and by the time I reached my twenties I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that 55-60 years was the best I could hope for. Planning for retirement was pretty much set aside and I started living life with little more than your basic 5-year plan.

But now, it looks like I have to re-jig my thinking. It would seem that there is a new paradigm on the horizon; for the first time in my life I have to seriously consider the prospect of growing old!

I know, to you it sounds strange, but the reality is that I truly had fully resigned myself to dying of cancer sometime in my Fifties. In fact, in some respects I was actually looking forward to it; you know, seeing Jesus and all. When Dr. Wellman revealed that cancer had been found in my cyst back in November there was no shock, no dismay, no fear, because I had been expecting it all along. The diagnosis arrived exactly on schedule just as it did with my father. There were no surprises at all.

However, one thing has changed – medical science. Unlike all the preceding generations, when the inevitable struck me, no one was saying, “This is it I’m afraid. You have x months to live.”  No, instead, there was a very confident team of specialists saying, “Here’s how we’re going to get you out of this.” They laid out a very convincing plan of action and all that they planned has gone exactly as planned, maybe even a little bit better.

There was another difference as well. While my family has always been of the church going variety, faith in God to change the future was never a part of the religious dynamic. Faith was something that carried you through the hard times and gave you the strength to face certain doom with the traditional British stiff upper lip. Disease, misfortune and death were not things to pray your way out of, they were part of God’s mysterious ways and no one seriously expected anything to change.

I however, have been blessed to be part of a praying and more importantly believing faith community. Dozens of people have contacted me to tell me they are praying for my successful recovery; there have been dinners brought to the door, rides to treatment offered and a variety of other expressions of love and support that have, quite frankly, left Roberta and I feeling slightly over-whelmed. And it would seem that all that prayerful support have borne fruit. The cancer has come and gone and I’m still here. Praise God!

Now, before I get a minor flood of emails taking exception to my crediting God in this I will answer your objection right now. I have absolutely no idea why everyone who is prayed for as I was doesn’t get healed. I have no doctorate in theology, no inside track on the details of God’s plans for the Universe, and no pretensions for being anything other than the simple believer that I am. However, I am a believer, and I believe that the prayers of my friends at Kortright and elsewhere have had just as much a bearing on this outcome as the ministrations of the doctors, nurses and technicians at the Juravinski and St. Joseph’s in Hamilton.

And I am immensely grateful to each and every one of those who prayed, cooked, drove, hugged, filled in for, and gave of their time and resources to support Roberta and I over the last 5 months.  You people are amazing!  God bless each and every one of you!

However, that still leaves me facing a future I never thought I’d face.  And though the prospect is actually a little scary, I’m looking forward to it. I now have to actually ponder what I might do with my twilight years. Any suggestions?

Till next time… Shalom.

What’s Up Doc?

Monday was the first of 5 Review Clinic sessions I’ll have with Dr. James Wright, my radiation oncologist. Every Monday for the next 5 weeks (the last 5 weeks of my treatment cycle) I’ll meet with the good doctor and one of the nurses in the Review Clinic to take a look at how my regimen is progressing.

We started off yesterday with a look the CT pictures they took as part of the planing session. They are a series of cross sections of my head inside the mask used in the linear accelerator. Imposed on this in a number of colours, are bands that define which areas of my head will receive what levels of radiation exposure.

The hot zone, not surprisingly, is the location of my former right tonsil, where they found the tumour. They did cut the tumour out when they took my tonsil, but there are an unknown number of microscopic “roots” that are left behind and need to be destroyed by the radiation. This area of my anatomy is a bright yellow colour in all the various scans.

In the red and blue zones are the various lymph nodes located in and around my throat; down each side of the neck, along the upper edge of the clavicle. Since the cyst that disclosed the presence of P16 was in a lymph node, radiating the lymph system makes sense and gets the next highest does based on distance from “ground zero.”

There’s a green line (I think – I have colour blindness issues) that delineates the outer most reach of the treatment. No radiation above the level of my nostrils. Don’t want to irradiate the grey cells at this point. But then in my case, every cell is a Gray cell! lol… (All right. I’ll be good.)

The clavicle forms the lower border. No radiation below that level. Everything in the middle will receive one of about 11 varying degrees of exposure that were detailed on the CT scans.  I was impressed that they could discern all the exposure levels in such detail. Gives you a real feeling that they truly knew what they were doing. That is, until Dr. James Robert Wright made this encouraging, and inspirational statement.

“Yeah…    So…  there it is.  We’ll keep fartin’ around like this for the next five weeks and when it’s all over hopefully we’ll get the results we were looking for.”

Excuse me! You describe this supposedly high-tech, targeted procedure on which I am betting my continued future existence as “farting around” ?? Nice choice of vernacular Doc!

Flatulence references aside however, the good doctor is mostly correct in his assessment. The fact remains that as far as we have come and as much as survival rates have increased, cancer therapy still remains, to varying degrees, something of a crap shoot.

They can take a guy like me, mid-fifties, slightly over-weight, average health, clean removal of the tumour, a ‘species’ of cancer that has the best response rate there is to radiation therapy, and 8 or 9 times everything will work well and you get the results you were hoping for. Then there’s the 10 or 11th guy in the list; all the same parameters, all the same drugs and treatments, and for reasons you and your $100 million cancer clinic have yet to work out, it all goes to hell, the cancer remains firmly entrenched, and the guy dies.

I don’t know if Jim Wright had one of those days last week or not (I was his first appointment on Monday), but I can imagine that after a man like him, who has invested his life in this work, has a case go sour on him it can feel like all he’s doing is “farting around.” We are all prone to feeling ‘useless’ when we do everything right and it still doesn’t work.

However, focusing on the 10th or 11th guy isn’t going to help any unless you’re a research pathologist. For the rest of us we… I need to focus on the other 8 or 9 guys who make it. It’s like Paul says in Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

So we continue on. Supported by Dr. Wright (whom I still have complete confidence in) and his amazing medical staff and volunteers at the Juravinski Centre, and by the many of you who are out there praying for Roberta and I. If you are inclined to do so add Dr. James  Robert Wright and his staff to your prayers; they work hard, care much, and need all the support they can get. Besides, he gave me these lovely lorazepam tables that make sleeping through this a hundred times easier.

I know, but before all you amateur pharmacists (and professionals for that matter – Joan) start emailing me the Wikipedia entries, telling me how highly addictive a drug it is, and regale me with all the side effects associated with benzodiazepines (I can Google it too), I am taking it under my doctor’s care and I’m real good at following instructions. So Chill!

But pondering the doctor’s choice of words aside, I seem to be in good shape; tat is, the treatments seem to be progressing as expected. The sore throat, treated with liquid pain killers, the sleeping aids, the general lack of energy and loss of appetite are all textbook symptoms and appear to be right on schedule. So I am hopeful.

Actually today, I am more concerned for my friend Darby than for me. At 10am today (Wed. Dec. 12) she goes in for a hysterectomy to remove a large fibroid she’s been carrying around for some time now. If you’re praying for me, pray for her too, please!

Till next time … Shalom.

PLease Don’t Confuse Me with Facts!

I subscribe to a number of daily & weekly blogs via Google Reader. It saves me a lot of time and ensures that I don’t miss anything from my favorite writers. This morning I got this from geeksaresexy.com

Why are some Christians so afraid of science.

Why are some Christians so ignorant & afraid of science.

I will never understand why some Christians are A) so incredibly ignorant of basic science and logic, B) so afraid of science they really don’t want to know anything.

Take the above example. First of all let’s look at the original statement of so-called fact.

“Fact – if the earth was 10 ft closer to the sun we would all burn up and if it was 10 ft further we would freeze to death… God is amazing!!”

Yes God is amazing – I’m amazed he doesn’t hurl more thunderbolts when his followers come up with this kind of drivel. Seriously! TEN FEET!!! How can anyone actually believe this? It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to realize that is this were actually true then life on earth would have died off before Adam and Eve got themselves kicked out of The Garden.  Or at best life could not exists outside a narrow band between  10 ft. above and 10 ft. below sea-level.

The first thing they taught us in grade 6 science was the difference between mean distance and average distance and just how much wobbling there is out there when it comes to things like planets and moons and stars and such. One really has to wonder how any educational system more than 10% functional could produce this kind of scientific ignorance.

But the real problem here is not that God-is-awesome-guy can’t comprehend basic physics; it’s his reaction when someone points out the flaw in his logic.

“Okay, thats cool and alll but dont ever comment on my status telling me that i am wrong everrr again. I didnt ask you did i? Answer: NO” [sic]

This is what really bugs me about this post and the entire God vs Science debate (as if God and science have nothing to do with each other). What has happened to the church in the last century to make such a large portion of it so afraid of science? And why is it so many of those who claim to follow one of the gentlest, kindest, most polite people ever (Jesus wasn’t even rude when talking to those who were out to kill him) are such blatantly rude ignoramuses.

This isn’t the first time I have encountered this among God’s people. Back in the Eighties I had a pastor once try to tell me that human beings never, ever under any circumstances lived in caves. That the whole cave-dweller idea was part of the conspiratorial lie that is “evilution” (Yeah – he actually pronounced it that way every single time he said the word).

When I asked him to explain the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that indicated large numbers of human communities lived in caves all over the world, his response was, “Even if it is true, I don’t want to know about it. I prefer my own reality, the facts be damned.” (Exact quote folks. It was so absurd a statement I will never forget it.)

I’ve heard other pastors, elders, evangelists and everyday Christians make similar declarations. “I don’t want to hear the facts. If I’m wrong, I don’t want to know it.” What worries me most is I can only think of one place where this attitude can possibly have come from – insecurity.

That’s right – insecurity! You see, while a number of these people will tell you they hold fast to this position because they are strong in their faith and refuse to buckle under to the lies of science; I think the exact opposite is true.  If your faith is so strong then why must it run away from the facts.

Okay, I know that right now there are a large number of you screaming, “But evolution isn’t a fact – it’s a lie.” First of all – calm down. I’m not talking evolution here – I’m talking science in general. The above example has nothing to do with evolution – it’s a simple matter of math & physics. But even if it was about evolution, why run away from the debate with ridiculous statements like these?

Why can the church not engage in reasonable, intelligent debate instead of meaningless rhetoric that accomplishes nothing other than to shore up the argument that religion is the last retreat of the ignorant and uneducated. It just adds fuel to the fire; it doesn’t solve anything.

I’m really at a loss to understand where this recent fear of science comes from and belive me, it is recent.  As I’ve pointed out in earlier post regarding science fiction, such was not always the case. In previous centuries when science revealed new information about how the earth was made and how nature functions the response of many of these believing scientists was to marvel at the intricacy of God’s creation. In their journals and letters they revel in what they regarded as proof of an intellegence far beyond imagining being at the heart of the universe.

Their faith was not challenged. They didn’t cease to believe. They instead looked at the facts before them, looked at the Word revealed to them and studied to understand how the two come together. When they failed to be able to reconcile them it was not an indication that either science or faith were wrong, but rather an admission that we still need to study harder before understanding could be realized.

When did we stop doing this? When did it become acceptible to check your brain at the door before entering the church?  That’s not to say that there isn’t a good deal of dogmatic ignorance on the side of science as well, there is.  But I not being a scientist I can’t speak to that.

But I feel I can speak to the church, and once again I come back to the question of insecurity. I believe my faith is strong because there is nothing science can reveal to me about how the universe works that will shake it. And I don’t need to run away from it. I want to know how the universe spins. I want to know the world that God created because it all reveals to me something about who God is.

Sometimes it does challenge my understanding of exactly who God is, but never my firm belief that God exists. I harbour no pretentions that I fully understand all there is to know about God or the universe He created. My theology, like everything else about me is a work in progress, a constant state of being and becoming that will never be a stagnant pool but always a flowing river. The shape of it will change with each new turn, each eddy and tributary along the way. Some of the changes will happen because of what I read in the Word, some because of what I read in the earth, but through it all God remains the same.

If your faith avoids rather than faces the challenges that come along, how can growth ever happen?