Friday, August 28, 2009

Gideon Moments

How many times have you had a “Gideon moment?” Well, I had one last week. As you have gathered from my previous posts my prostate cancer (PCa) is tied into my faith. PCa is tied into a lot of things, but I want to focus on this “faith” thing for a bit. If you remember from your Sunday School days, this Gideon fellow wasn’t quite sure if God was on his side. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to him he responded, “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about? …(Judges 6: 13a). From there he went into this “if/then” routine with God in order to process his own faith. As you read on in the account you not only watch Gideon’s faith in action but you also see the patience of God. It is not so much “to fleece or not to fleece,” but more like “what makes faith take action?”

The way this speaks to my situation relates to how am I “fleshing out” my faith with PCa. I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we often pose Gideon’s question before God: “why then has all this happened to us?” With PCa it is one of the first questions you ask yourself and God. When you are first confronted with this diagnoses the answer is not right before you in a gift-wrapped box. It is unveiled before you through the process. It is an “answering” of the question through the ongoing experience. Since I am at the beginning of this path, I only have part of the answer: to trust God more fully and allow my faith to grow “knowing that the testing of (my) your faith produces endurance.” For now I have faced the fact of my PCa and I am on the road to doing something about it.

Before the “action” took place in the form of a decision to proceed with proton beam therapy (PBT) there was a lot of groundwork laid in research and in prayer. Here is a sampling of the types of prayer requests. “Please lead me to competent doctors who can give me good direction.” Or, “Please put people in my path to help shed some light on some of this confusion.” Those prayers were answered from the first day forward. The urologist in the clinic where my primary doctor practices did not have any openings at the time. I was referred to another urologist who is highly regarded in our community and with whom we are very comfortable. One of the first non-medical persons I discussed my PCa with is a pastor friend of mine who began his PCa journey over a year ago. He had a very enriching experience at the University of Florida Proton Institute with good results to this point. That phone call laid the foundation for my consideration of PBT as a viable option.

Just recently one of those “Gideon Moments” happened. Our family and friends have been praying with us for clear direction in our decision from the beginning. The day after one of those prayer times with our family (Thursday, August 20th), I got a call from Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) to see if I was available to move up my tentative appointment from the last part of October to the middle of September. I asked for a day to think it over which they allowed me to do. When I got that first phone call, I immediately asked God and myself who was responsible for that call … was this coincidence or providence? “Would this be a good time for a fleece?” I said to myself. When I think back, a few days prior I kind of sent one of those prayers out there in the form of “some type of sign would be nice.” “Was this call from LLUMC an answer?” When I called back to LLUMC to confirm the appointment a little problem appeared: that slot to had inadvertently been given to another patient. It must have been coincidence instead of providence. (A side note to this is I had set up the original October/November dates back on July 13th for a consultation knowing the lead times were quite a ways out at LLUMC. At the time I had this inner prompting to get things going at Loma Linda even though we were still very much undecided in our course of action.)

With that Thursday phone call I admit that I was more than a little unnerved by realizing “this could be it.” All of the sudden I had to make a decision. The timing seemed a little “too” quick with the pending arrival of our daughter’s forth child (our 8th grandchild). But we found ourselves emotionally ready to make the move after processing that initial phone call. I did not have to wait too long before LLUMC called back the following Monday with a new date of September 22nd for a consultation with treatment beginning a week later. There is both medical and personal significance to these dates. From a medical perspective, when we first presented the November scenario to my urologist on July 20th he was uncomfortable with waiting that long to begin treatment. He reminded us it would be nearly five months from my original diagnosis until treatment if we were to go with PBT at LLUMC. If we were to wait for the November treatment date he recommended starting hormone treatment to keep the cancer from growing any further. He assured us he would support us in our decision.

On the personal side, the September 22nd date gave us a little more cushion with the pending arrival of our new granddaughter; and it also put us down in SoCal for my nephew’s wedding the weekend before starting treatment. And to top it off we were able to find housing for the dates we will be down there within walking distance to the medical center. The coincidence angle was loosing its foothold here on this one. I also do not think it was coincidence that someone else has that other appointment slot. I hope I run into him during our treatments.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nobody Like You

I know this sounds a little like something you would hear from Mr. Rogers, but he was right in his song “You Are Special” …“You are the only one like you.” I have found this to be especially true with other men diagnosed with prostate cancer (PCa). Even though this is the most common form of cancer found in men, no two patients’ stories are alike. Similar, yes . . . but just alike, no. There is a common bond that connects us; there is a common destination; but the choices we make regarding our treatment path are deeply seated in the heart and soul of the individual.

On my path with prostate cancer I have been reading copious accounts and have listened to many personal testimonies of men who are at various places in their journey with PCa. In doing so I had hoped to gain some direction for my own course of action. While I have found a wealth of information and encouragement from these accounts I have yet to come across a story that jumps off the page and says, “This is you, John; this is the answer you have been looking for!” I have found that I am unique in my situation with this cancer. Unique, but not alone.

One of my favorite discoveries through my research on the Internet was finding This is a site dedicated to the support of men with prostate cancer. The acronym stands for “You Are Not Alone Now.” This has been an incredible resource for gathering information and help along the way. Within the pages of this site men tell their stories in a journal type format. I have even started email correspondence with a couple of “mentors” who have stories similar to mine. In fact one gentleman I contacted in the U.K. made the comment that we were “pushing the buttons of coincidence” with our stories. The first thing that caught my attention was that we were both diagnosed on the exact same day. We have signed on to each other’s blogs to keep up to date with each other’s progress. But even with our similarities we easily found our differences. With each individual there are medical conditions and factors that play into each scenario: relationship dynamics, personal preferences relating to “quality of life” issues, doctors’ opinions, age, PSA levels, Gleason scores, and on an on. In my journey I am finding that each man has made or is making a decision for treatment (or non-treatment) based upon his individual condition. This whole process pushes one to see where his core values lie.

Certain values rise to the surface in times like this. In my case the loving relationship I have with my wife is a prized possession. Many accounts I have read make reference to men who experience a deepening in their relationships with their spouses. Unfortunately this can go the opposite way as well. Your mettle is definitely tested when you are faced with any life threatening circumstance. There is an ongoing battle beyond the walls of the prostate gland that challenges our innermost being. It surfaces in the wake of the “w” questions we looked at earlier and how we resolve them. What can be done on your soul’s journey to guard you, especially when confronted with the harsh reality of a cancer invading your space? The answer is found through another type of loving relationship. This is what the Jesus of the Bible offers in the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11: 28-30). Notice the “rest” part is predicated by “come to me.” YANA got it right, you are not alone. We not only have each other, we have the Son of God at our beckoning. Or should I say He is already there with open arms calling us to “come … and I will give you rest.”

The need for rest is interesting in light of facing PCa. Finding a treatment path is a wearisome process to say the least. But inner rest is intimately associated with the act of trust. There are the elements of trusting our research, hopefully trusting our doctors, and trusting our instincts. There is also the need to add discernment to this equation. There are many voices capable of influencing our decision. The question is, “Which ones do we entertain?” This is where trusting Someone bigger than our dilemma brings about true rest. The promise above in the verse from Matthew’s Gospel does not say “come … you might find rest, it says you will find rest.”

But remember, there is no true rest until you come to Jesus

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The “W’s” of Prostate Cancer

There are many questions and emotions that flooded my being when I first came face to face with the reality of prostate cancer in my body. I am going to walk through four of these with you. I looked at the “who” and a little bit of the “why” parts of this process in my earlier posts. Even though these two are in the classification of “the big” "W’s," the purpose of this posting will be to work on some of the more obscure ones.

The first biggie is “woe.” Now I know this may be an obscure word to some of you, but it really hits home in this instance. For you King James folks, you are probably saying “thou hast smitten the anvil squarely with that one.” “Woe” is an old English word that means “grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.” Hearing my diagnosis for the first time was one of those “woe is me” experiences. Often at the core of this reaction is the fear of the unknown or unseen. In the case of PCa it is often both. Add in the fear of dying and you can see how this can be woeful moment. Once you pick yourself up and begin the pilgrimage down the road of knowledge and understanding for this cancer, the “woe is me” begins finding solace along the way. Notice I did not say the woe part goes away. But there is comfort and hope out there from a multitude of sources. There are those who have gone on before us and have paved the way including patients and countless people in the medical community. And others will come into our lives as we navigate through this ordeal. Then along the way hopefully you will discover “wow” factor .

As you study for this course in PC 101 you become amazed at the medical progress with not only prostate cancer management, but for all cancer treatments. This is part of the “wow” factor. This disease can and has been licked many times over thanks to the advancements in modern medicine. Even though we find disagreement in the medical community regarding the best treatment for PCa, we have excellent outcomes for most of these treatment options. This is especially true with an early diagnosis. Just think, PSA testing has only been going on since the 1980’s. It was not that long ago when “PSA” stood for an airline company rather than Prostate-specific antigen. Whether it is your urologist, your oncologist, your radiation oncologist, or your naturopath, they each have confidence in their discipline’s ability to meet the challenge of curing or managing your cancer. Even though this is confusing to the patient, we can at least sit back and say “wow, isn’t modern medicine amazing in that we have these various options available to us at this time in our lives.” Just think how much more will be accomplished by the time our sons and grandsons may have to walk down this road. More than likely there will be better options for them.

There comes a time in your pretreatment journey when you will likely be overcome with the anxiety of making a decision regarding a course of action. This is the “whatever” stage. It is riddled with questions and uncertainty. This is when the treatment you were leaning towards gets knocked around and the options you thought you eliminated jump back up on the table. I think I hit this wall last week. But I also think it marks a turning point in the decision making process. It shows you are doing your homework. The “whatever” stage is a double-edged sword. On one side is the negative, colloquial, surrendering type of “whatever.” This happens when you throw up your hands in despair and say “whatever.” On the other edge you find the more positive, growing assurance type of “whatever” that comes from knowledge and understanding. This involves processing all the factors you have deemed important for your particular situation. On this side you come to grips with knowing that “whatever” you choose (if you have done your homework well) your choice will be the best decision for you. Do you wonder if there is something beyond doing your homework? I believe there is.

The final “W” word I would like to take a look at addresses this question. It is the word “wonderful.” This is definitely not a word you associate with prostate cancer… and it should not be. This cancer is a deadly, horrible disease that impacts many men, their families and their relationships. But the word wonderful does describe how we are made. The psalmist wrote in thanksgiving to his Creator “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well” (Psalm 139: 14). For me there has been a growing sense of wonder as I have delved into the nature and complexities of the human body and soul. Do you also see the link between knowledge and thanksgiving from the verse above? In the case of King David (the writer of the psalm) it is the knowledge of his Lord’s personal involvement with his life. This is summed up early in the psalm when it is declared: “Behold O Lord, You know it all.” This has been a comfort for me as I face PCa head on. Another gem from this passage is to listen to your soul. This presupposes there is some substance within the soul to manifest this kind of response. Do you have that sense of how wonderfully made you are? Are you aware of the hand of God in your life? There is a deeper healing beyond the prostate that is available to all mankind. I would encourage you to spend some time in this psalm as part of your journey. Hopefully you will also find knowledge and meaning for your own soul as you digest its words.