I knew before the doctor said a word.
My cancer doc is a young man who walks around with a very matter of fact, non emotional affect. But as he walked in the room, he had a goofy ten-year-old grin and was waving a sheet of paper in the air. He was almost dancing.
The paper was my post surgical PSA test. It was as low as it could possibly be. I am cancer free. Yes, you are never fully free from cancer. There will be years of follow up tests because the kind of cancer I had was particularly virulent. But everything points to “we got it and we got it all.”
Suddenly the rehab work has more meaning. It’s not just getting stronger so I can do more treatment. Suddenly I can begin to make plans. There’s no radiation treatment ahead. Suddenly, there is an invisible weight off my shoulders. When I finally got home (My doc is three hours away), my wife said I looked a decade younger.
I felt it too. I am still feeling it as I prepare to drive down to Virginia to spend thanksgiving with my family. I’ve learned a few lessons over the past few months. I am sure they will show up here from time to time, but here are the big ones.
The power of prayer, and tribe
The most humbling part of all this was not facing my mortality. It was the love and prayers and ecouragement of my friends. I am blessed to have several “tribes”. Friends. Artists and creators. My congregations. Those of you here that I have come to know.
You have flooded me with prayer. With postive thoughts. Cards. Private notes. Emails. Hardly a day has gone by since I announced my diagnosis that was not full of your kind, encouraging words and prayers.
I have heard people say they “felt” peoples prayers. I never really got that. But I do now. I felt yours. The power of love and encouragement and appeals to God matter. I believe that. This was ugly stuff. Not your dime a dozen prostate cancer. Not the slow moving stuff. This showed up fast, grew fast, and was seriously dangerous. Your prayers and love made a difference. I felt it. I know it. And I can’t thank you enough.
Get your regular checkups. Time matters.
They found this thing when I got my (roughly) annual checkup. One year my PSA (measurement of Prostate cancer) was fine. The next year it was near the worst level if could be. Had I skipped a year, I’d likely have been facing bone cancer, and likely would not have survived. The end would be long and painful.
Don’t waste time. Get your regular checkups. Do the test. I hated the bad news, but in reality it was good news. Detection saved me.
Don’t waste time. I picked a doctor three hours away. Why? They treated this with urgency. Where the local doctors had delays for every part of the process, this guy did everything as fast and aggressively as possible and it made a difference. Even in the few weeks between detection and biopsy, and between biopsy and surgery, the cancer had aggressively grown. Much more time and it would have been much worse.
Don’t wait. Get that test, whatever it is you have been putting off. It could save your life. It saved mine.
One Day at a Time
I write often here about taking life in the moment. It is something I learned to do a decade and a half ago when I was digging out emotionally from a divorce. It changed my life, allowing me to focus on the now, on the every day graces and joys that persist, even in the worst of times.
I was always looking ahead in life, concerned about what might be, what might happen, what might….. and missing the now. It was a long journey to change for me, but it is one of the best changes in my life I have ever made.
And it really proved its worth these past through months. I’ve been able to enjoy the joys of my life, the pleasures of holding my wife’s hand, petting a cat, a good meal or a good cup of coffee, without letting the cancer swallow me alive. I have been able to live, not just make it through. Along with the mess and pain and struggle of the past few months, there has also been great joy, the savoring of the good things in my life, and that is powerful.
If you are a chronic worrier, it is worth the effort to learn to live in the moment. It might even save your sanity. It has saved mine. None of this has been easy. But it’s been easier because I could still claim the joy around me.
I am heading south for a couple of days to spend time with my family. My sisters and their families. And my kids. I’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving extra hard and extra joyfully this year.
One of the things I will be thankful for is all of you. My friends. My readers. My church families. My creative soul-mates. You have proved the power of love and caring these past few months, and I have been the beneficiary.
And I am incredibly grateful.
Be well. Travel wisely,
PS: The picture was taken from Afton Mountain, Virginia.