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Posts Tagged ‘lymphoma’

Cancer 3.0

Mimi and me at Tom's wedding last October

Mimi and me at Tom’s wedding last October

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Tom spent the Fourth of July posting photos from his wedding last October to Facebook. I liked a photo of Mimi and me together on that happy day, so I made it my profile photo. More than 200 people “liked” it and another 20-plus commented, all encouraging messages. Several noted that I looked good. I was tempted to note that the photo was from last October. But I got some similar comments about looking good when I posted some photos from the road that same day on the way to Houston.

I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully. I look (and feel) better than my news: I was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center last week getting my third major cancer diagnosis. This time I have pancreatic cancer.

I was honored and uplifted by how many people encouraged me during last year’s treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. If you were heartened in some way by my kicking-cancer’s-ass narrative, please know that I did kick that cancer’s ass. My lymph nodes look great, and they’ve gotten a close look the last three-plus months in a PET scan, an MRI, two CT scans, two endoscopic ultrasounds and lots of lab tests as doctors have tried to figure out what the hell was going on in my pancreas. (more…)

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My drugs have not improved, but my earworms have.

Here’s how my stem-cell-harvest drugs work (besides supposedly stimulating release of my stem cells for the next day’s harvest): I get the shot of Mozobil at 10 p.m., then head home exhausted after about 15 1/2 hours at the hospital, ready to sleep. Depending on how long it takes me to settle in and what we need to talk about, I crash hard sometime between 11 and midnight. Then about 1:30 or so, I wake up suddenly, as if someone came into the room and shook me hard. Then I try to fall back asleep. Then the earworms invade.

Sometimes I fall back asleep (and then wake up, as if startled again, at 3 or so). Sometimes I give up after 15, 20 or 30 minutes and get up to blog until I think I can get back to sleep again.

I don’t play much music myself. But I hear songs on TV or movies or when Mimi plays her iPhone as we’re driving. From one of those sources, I get my earworms, usually songs I don’t like. I can’t recall what the song was in July, the first time we tried a stem-cell harvest, but it was an annoying song and tortured me all week.  (more…)

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Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving.

Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving. Photo by Dan Buttry

Last December, when I announced my lymphoma diagnosis on this blog, I promised I would be dancing at the Oct. 10 wedding of my youngest son, Tom, and Ashley Douglass.

At that time, my hope and plan was that I would be finished with treatment by then. I needed to wait a minimum of 21 days between each of eight rounds of chemotherapy (which would damage my immune system). Then they would harvest some stem cells from me, and then I’d get them back in a stem-cell transplant that would restore my immune system. Treatment started Dec. 20 (Mimi’s birthday), so I marked all my rounds of treatment on the calendar and figured we’d finish by late June.

Well, marriage is way better than chemo (at least mine has been), so don’t take this metaphor any further than this point: In both cases, you really don’t know what’s going to unfold when you start out.

If you haven’t already read about all the delays and complications of my treatment on my CaringBridge journal, you can find details there, if you care. But they involve low platelet counts, an infection, meningitis, a weak stem-cell harvest and a brain surgery. The only thing that worked out as planned was that chemo kicked cancer’s ass. A May PET scan showed “no active disease,” so that listing of delays is not a complaint (well, not much), but an explanation that for a while we weren’t sure whether I would make it to the wedding. (more…)

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Yesterday’s post about my lymphoma diagnosis has brought a lot of messages by email and social media, assuring me that I am in people’s prayers.

The response reminds me of the first time I had cancer, in 1999, when I was religion editor at the Des Moines Register. That job, of course, entailed working with a lot of religious people. Add the fact that I’m a son of two clergy, brother of two more and other kind of kin to still more and related to many lay people of faith. Then and now, I’ve been surrounded and uplifted by people’s prayers.

I didn’t have a blog then, but I wrote a weekly column. This is my column from the Saturday after my surgery to remove colon cancer in 1999:

Before I knew I had cancer, people were praying for my recovery.

I was on the road the day we would get my biopsy results. We didn’t expect bad news, so I didn’t change plans. My wife, Mimi, got the news over the phone while she was at work: The polyp in my colon was malignant. I would need surgery to remove it and part of my colon.

Stunned, she told friends in her office at Creighton University, and the prayer campaign on my behalf began. A while later, I called her and got the shocking news.

As we told family, friends and colleagues, the word spread and more and more pleas went heavenward on my behalf, many from people I barely know, if at all.

Prayer chains at churches in at least five states took up my case. So did Jesuits at Creighton, monks at the abbey where my youngest son goes to school and teachers, staff and students at Holy Trinity School in Des Moines, where my sister-in-law is the media specialist. As I canceled interviews and changed plans, pastors, bishops and other sources said they would pray as well. Jaded journalists who, I figured, invoked the Lord’s name only in vain assured me sincerely that I was in their prayers.

I’ll be honest. When it comes to the physical healing power of prayer, I fall somewhere between enthusiast and skeptic. I’ve prayed for relatives and friends who recovered and prayed just as hard for others who died.

Keep the prayers coming, I figured, but just in case, I’d get a good doctor and get this thing sliced out.

After all, cancer killed my father and Mimi’s mother, and no one prayed more fervently than those two people. They had more people storming the heavens on their behalf than I could ever hope to muster.

I know of people who claim miraculous healing and credit it all to prayer. I also know people who tell of miraculous recoveries and don’t mention prayer at all. (When you have cancer, you hear a lot of cancer stories.)

If a cancer does or doesn’t spread, does or doesn’t return, we don’t truly know how much credit, if any, prayer should share with surgical skill, powerful chemicals, radiation, diet, quackery and other measures we invoke against this frightening disease. Heck, I gladly accepted a four-leaf clover Mimi found at a picnic.

In the past few weeks, though, I’ve learned something about the power of prayer. Regardless of what happens inside your body, prayer is a wonderful gift. A gift with healing power.

It’s too soon to say whether prayer or anything else will heal my colon, though we’re hopeful. As you read this, I’m home, recovering from surgery on Monday. The surgery was successful, and tests showed the cancer was contained to the colon.

But the cancer invaded more than my colon. It attacked my enthusiasm, my vigor, my sense of humor, my sense of hope. Fear, anger and doubt tried to shout down every encouraging word I wanted to utter, every wisecrack, each expression of hope.

For fear, anger and doubt, I can attest, prayer has miraculous healing power. Each assurance that someone was praying for me lifted my spirits, restoring a bit of hope or humor. Did the healing come from some divine power? Or was it just the soothing effect of sympathy? I don’t know. And I don’t much care.

Each prayer is a personal gift. In intimate conversations with their Lord, people are offering my burden as their own.

And with each prayer, the burden grows a little lighter.

The details are different now. But I’m as grateful now as I was then.

After posting yesterday about cancer, I was uplifted by reverent assurances of prayer, irreverent cheering that I’d kick cancer’s ass and a vulgar but touching anti-cancer hashtag (thanks, @jeffjarvis!). In phone calls and in person, in public and personal messages on Facebook and Twitter (see the sampling of tweets below), comments on my blog, comments on Caring Bridge, text messages, emails and even a couple LinkedIn messages, friends, family and strangers have provided balm that I am sure is as powerful in its own way as the chemotherapy will be.

Thank you!












Final note: Yeah, I know I said I’d do my cancer updates on my Caring Bridge page, and I will. But I’ve posted and updated old stories here quite a bit, so I decided to do this one here, too.

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I don’t engage in a lot of Twitter memes. But I gladly joined the #beatcancer meme today.

As a two-time cancer survivor (colon in 1999, basal cell in 2005), I know that cancer is not a sure death sentence. But I also visited my father three weeks before his death from prostate cancer in 1978 and visited my nephew, Patrick Devlin, four days before his death from leukemia last month. The enduring memory of Dad’s death and the fresh memory of Patrick’s underscore for me that every time someone can #beatcancer, I should join the celebration. (more…)

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