Monthly Archives: July 2005

THE EPIC: WEEKS 9-10

This one’s a seat-warmer for sure. You may have to get up and stretch once or twice, or break for lunch, and dinner…

If you don’t mind me playing the bad news/good news game for a moment (the dangling carrot that keeps you reading through one more paragraph) then let me assure you, I’ve got some very good news to divulge with this update. But you may have to slosh through some chemo muck-muck first to get there.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Quite likely one of the hardest weeks of my life. My heart took a hit with the trip out to FLY falling flat. It started with that, but it hasn’t been mere disappointment that’s made my heart so sick these days.

We managed to make it home without incident. And I spent my 29th birthday and the weekend following in a hospital bed – a new bed, mind you – but a bed in a hospital, nonetheless. I was there for a spinal headache, and one of the tried and true methods of dealing with a headache of such proportions is to infuse the patient with high doses of caffeine via an IV.

I’m not kidding. I realize it’s the kind of thing college dorm-buddies only joke about, but…

I was pretty jacked up for a few hours Saturday afternoon (imagine that after 18 hours of morphine), and the headache slowly began to clear. Let me emphasize slowly. I did go home Sunday night the 10th, but remained on my back for a good portion of the next three days – with the exception of a few hours Tuesday, while at the Cancer Care Center for blood tests and such (Eli gives a great foot massage).

The combination of the chemo, the pain-meds, and the inactivity shut down the lower half of my GI tract for seven days. That’s pretty bad news for anybody. But for a Crohn’s patient with a flare-up at the top end of things it’s particularly painful. I ended up back in the hospital Thursday afternoon for what might be called an overnight evacuation. Enough said.

Brief and as jocund as I now may be, this last week was a trial for my heart I would hope to have never to take again. In addition to the discomfort and pain, my mind began to entertain the notion that I was to be sick like this for the rest of my life. I began to sorely miss my playtime with Aedan and my ability to help Jenny with various tasks around the house. I began to miss the routines of being a dad and a husband. Wednesday night, there was a moment Aedan stood in the hall outside our bathroom while I was throwing-up. He watched me. My heart broke that he should see his daddy so sick.

I began to think myself alone. I began to believe my friends had abandoned me – and if they hadn’t, that there was really no way they could meet me in my pain. I began to think the church had forgotten about my plight – or worse, remembered, but didn’t care.

I couldn’t remember the “good times.” I tried, but couldn’t conjure up good feelings from the memories of yesteryear, as it seemed I had no memory to recall. All that I knew was the restlessness and the pain of the moment. My sickness (chemotherapy) WAS my reality. None other could exist. No pleasant place to escape to. No sleep to whisk it all away.

“We despaired even of life itself.” The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:8

In my mind and in my heart, life itself became drudgery for all humanity, as the thought of many masses of people suffering as I was became very real to me – and how in the midst of the masses, how each of us feels so alone. In the deepest places of torment, camaraderie is a mist. Even those so very necessary acts of compassion come like drops of water to a warmed skillet, evaporating just as they begin to bring relief.

Worst of all, I seemed so terribly far from my God. The distance was crippling. My faith has never undergone such trial. My heart broke. It just broke. Withered up and cracked. I sobbed this last week like I’ve never sobbed before. I know I’m a poet and prone to speaking in extremes and all, but I’m saying even physically, I can’t remember ever making the sounds I made while crying these last few days.

But I wouldn’t be writing all this from that place. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing at all. There’s little that can be said while under such a cloud. And if there was something to say, I wonder whether I would’ve had the strength to say it. Like a journalist with a human heart still beating in his breast trying to report the casualties of war from the trenches, as mortars take his family or his limbs, it is impossible to create in the deepest pits of suffering. All light goes out. All life dies.

Then there’s Jesus. He’s different. He does things differently.

Jen and I cried real hard together Friday night. And we prayed. We prayed with sobs and tears, and with words any three year old could mutter. The disappointments of the previous week had caused me to wander from my Father’s presence. I had passively embraced the damned assumption that whatever’s going to happen will happen, as God’s already determined, and we’re fools to approach Him with our requests in one direction or another.

Indeed I believe in the full sovereignty of God, and in the pre-determined course of history and even our lives (Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup), but the Bible makes equally clear the desire God has for us to come to Him as children to our Father, bearing the desires of our hearts unashamedly. It’s not at all that He needs our counsel, or needs us to tell Him what we desire so that He might know for certain. Rather, the emphasis in scripture is on the relationship He desires with His people – a people whose hearts are captivated by the heart of God – a relationship that grows and changes us as we encounter the Living God in our times of prayer and worship; in the Word and with the Body; in service; and even in our times of silence.

The turn around began with the compassionate acts of a good and newfound friend. Jerome is a friend of mine. He’s also a doctor. More specifically, he’s a doctor on 8 East at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul. I needed to be at the hospital right now. Forget Urgent Care. Forget ER. Call Jerome. Before Jen, Ade, and I were out the door, there was a bed waiting for me at 8 East, compliments of my good friend Jerome.

To understand the depth of his care, I must mention both that this was his day off and that he met me at the hospital. It was midday and the doctor on duty (another very good man) was particularly busy. Jerome ordered the necessary procedures, then sat at my side as I told him how completely my heart was breaking with this pain.

As a nurse arrived to draw my blood, Jerome left the room without a word. He returned five minutes later carrying a red Gideon’s Bible. Then he sat again at my bedside and began to read to me from Second Corinthians chapter four. Most every physician knows how to tend the body – here was one who knew how to tend the soul.

In that moment, I was reminded again that we of faith are to set our eyes (these are the eyes of our hearts) not on what is seen (i.e. our present circumstances), but on what is unseen (the sure provision and promises of God). I was reminded later that this does not mean we don’t see the trial – the thing we can’t see past – we just don’t set our eyes on it. We set our eyes – we gaze – on God (thank you Dave Johnson, Dave Busby…).

Coming home from the hospital wasn’t altogether the end of it. In fact, it was later that day that Jen and I cried like we did. But this compassionate act was the first hint at the clearing about to come.

I am very fortunate to have more than a handful of some very good friends. And on numerous occasions each of them has served as a godsend in someway or another. But this particular incident, as an essential piece of the story God is telling with my life, I felt must be told.

I began to pray again for healing, for protection from malicious attacks on my spirit by the darker powers of this world, and for the restoration of my faith – so deeply wounded by my obstinate refusal to “approach the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find help in our time of need.”

Early Saturday morning, as the day began to warm, I sat with my family in our backyard. While browsing the Internet (thank you Scott Westlake), I stumbled across something worship artist Matt Patrick said during a Good Friday service at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove.

“Perhaps the hardest part of this life is feeling disconnected with God”.

In the context of a Good Friday service, this disconnectedness is identified with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before suffering greatly in his death. The Bible tells us the Son of God cried and sweat drops of blood as he confronted the will of His Father taking Him someplace He did not want to go. And within the day, He’s crying out to this same Father, “Why have you abandoned me?”

The reality of Christ’s sufferings and most specifically, the distance He felt between Himself and His Father, reminded me that I belong to a God who understands the depth of my sorrow when I no longer feel His nearness. The awareness of that understanding began to restore my heart to peace.

Throughout the weekend, my heart slowly recovered, as did my insides from the physical trauma of the previous week. It seemed even hour-by-hour that I was able to enjoy more, and to feel more beyond the devastation of the wreck that had become of my heart.

Yet how fragile I’ve found my heart to be in the wake of last week. Just today I began what I assumed to be the second half of Round 2, only to learn that Round 2 is twice as long as I expected it to be. Once I complete what I thought to be the end of this round, I’m to immediately do the whole thing over again – including the spinal tap and the injections that made me so sick these last few weeks.

And we were making plans to go see my family.

In addition, my blood counts showed me to be neutropenic again – susceptible to infections with little to no defenses to hold them off.

And I was so tired.

Good grief. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I called Jen and cried on the phone. I couldn’t pray. Who prays without hope? Hope, however small, is what moves us to pray. Without hope, my lips are stilled, and my heart begins to die.

But things changed. Already. People pray, and my heart is lifted. There is reason to hope. A friend reminded me this afternoon (the kind of reminder you know is necessary and right, but still makes you want to kick a wall) this is a temporary affliction.

So I would ask you reading this now, regardless how long it’s been since I wrote it, please pray for me. Pray that my body would be spared the nasty effects of these drugs (the chemo regimen for my particular cancer is classified “intense,” and will last for me through the new year). Pray that my digestive system would do what it’s supposed to. Pray that I wouldn’t be deceived into thinking my identity is rooted somehow in this sickness. Pray that my heart would find its hiding place in God.

And pray for my family. For Aedan, Jen, and the little one growing inside her.

So there’s the good news. We’re having another baby. For those of you who see us from week to week, I realize this isn’t news at all. But there are just as many of you watching (or reading) from a distance. The story is one to tell, and I’ve been meaning to tell it for a long while now, as Jen is already 20 weeks along.

That obviously means we found out we were having a baby before we found out I had cancer. It was a bit of a surprise, I’ll say that much. I was on a mild chemo-drug for Crohn’s Disease at the time. We weren’t supposed to conceive.

Well, we did. And a good thing – I mean, a God-thing, too. When we first found out, we were a bit scared. Three weeks later, we found out I had cancer, and a tumor demanding I start a two-year chemotherapy regime right away. For those of us less familiar with the consequences of chemotherapy, I’ll point out that chemo most often leaves its patients sterile, with no chance of conception during treatment and very little thereafter.

So, our miracle baby is coming along quite nicely. And we’re happier about it now than we thought we could be.

That’s it, for now. I started writing this five days ago with the intention of actually saying much more, believe it or not. Like more about the albums recently released from my studio (RESCUE: Worship from FLY 2005 is really good!), the new music available to sample on the website, and how deeply I appreciate the short notes and emails from each of you letting us know you’re out there and tuned in – with your eyes to these updates and your prayers to our God. But this short note will just have to do for this time.

And we may soon be changing the way we go about writing and posting these updates – less of an article format and more of a blog. We’re hoping such a setup might encourage shorter and more frequent postings. No more of these 10-day 5-pagers.

Thank you so much for the time you’ve given to read this. I’d ask once again that you go just one minute further and say a prayer for my family and me. Many of you have referred to the stoutness of our faith and our spirits during this time. May this update remind you how deeply dependant we are upon our God and your prayers.

May Jesus be near and have mercy on us all. He alone knows how badly we need it.

Blessings,
Jeremy

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Categories: Cancer | Leave a comment

7/11/2005

Just spent another three days in the hospital. Glad to have been there though, and not curled up on a concrete curb outside Denver International Airport.

I realize it’s again been a long time since I’ve posted any news here. And once again, I apologize. Such seasons of silence could mean a variety of things, good or bad. It’s been a bit of both here. I’ll tell as much as I can tonight, but expect this may be one of my shorter entries in awhile. I’ve a headache bad enough I can only sit up for very short periods of time – each attempt bookmarked by an hour or two on my back.

It’s been a rough week. Just prior to that, however, things were so good I felt I must exploit my wellbeing for activities other than writing blog at a computer keyboard. These “windows of wellbeing” are unpredictable and most often short-lived at this stage in chemotherapy. We’d been advised to make the most out of every opportunity we were given, and were doing exactly that. Having been granted an extra week or more before my next round of chemo (due to a rather benign line infection) Jen & I had spent a good deal of time together – making some great memories and making up for lost time – and so a few weeks ago, after praying about it, she gave me the green light on a project which would hide me for some time.

While in the hospital the first month, fresh under the diagnosis of cancer, there were so many scripture passages brought to our attention that more or less became our “manna” from day to day – sustenance for our spirits both essential and satisfying. Most were chunks of verses scribbled into cards or typed into the postscript of emails. Most came from close friends. One gift in particular was from our friend Tom Anderson. He had used his project studio at home to record himself and his guitar on several mellower worship songs. In addition, he had recorded several tracks of himself reading extensive scripture passages over gently played guitar. This disc became a staple in my daily routine, if even only for a few tracks at a time. I decided then that I wanted to produce something like that – something that would mirror the hope and comfort I found in the Word of God during my time down as it was brought to me by those closest to me.

So with the much-needed help of some of my closest friends (and the necessary blessing and good grace of my wife) I produced “My Portion & My Cup.” Twelve tracks of acoustic worship – several songs my own – and scripture passages being read over a variety of musical backdrops. The disc tells a part of the story God is telling with my life – and has told with others, as the scripture passages were written by the likes of King David and the Apostle Paul, and some of the worship tunes were penned by worshippers elsewhere today. The production was hastily made, as were the two hundred discs that made it out to the Free Lutheran Youth convention in Estes Park, Colorado. The discs made it, but I didn’t. I tried, though. Boy, did I.

I started Round 2 of Chemo last Tuesday, July 5th. Every round for me begins with a spinal tap (crazy fun). Apparently I have a rather difficult spine to tap. All tapped patients are told to rest a good deal after the procedure, including 2-5 hours of bed rest (which I did). After a successful first day of chemo, and adequate training on giving myself shots for the rest of the week, Jen & I packed late in the day Tuesday, and boarded a plane early in the day Wednesday bound for Denver, Colorado. With a team of nearly half-a-dozen doctors fully aware of what we were trying to do, everyone was hopeful. I had been so healthy for weeks, and my first round of chemo (not to mention my first spinal tap) launched with relatively little incident. So we were expecting – at least hoping for – the same this time around.

I was sick before we left the ground. By the time we landed in Colorado, I had filled a sick bag, and had slipped another two unused into my backpack. There were some fine people who helped Jen and I along on the plane, in the airport, and at the car-rental hub. I, for my part, did what I could to lighten our load – using two unused United Airline sick bags as safety deposit boxes for whatever dignity a vomiting, bald, cancer patient can have while being ferried through masses of public onlookers. The morning became to me a blur of wheelchairs, cold sweats, images of Jenny with four bags over her shoulders and a guitar to her side, and this incredible headache…

We made it to a Holiday Inn seven miles from Denver International Airport where a bed and a pitcher of water nursed me out of delirium and back to sanity. But that’s as far as I got. After a few conversations with my oncologist, a revised medicine regime, and a good night’s sleep, we tried the drive an hour and a half up the mountain to the convention center, but didn’t make it more than two miles before turning around and checking back into the hotel – my pillow still warm where my head had been less than ten minutes before.

Incredibly disappointing.

My good night’s sleep the night before was interrupted only by moments of giddy anticipation as I considered what good things God might have me share with these 1500 kids gathered in the Rockies (I get really excited about the good things). My good friends Josh & Ben drove a dilapidated van down from the mountain to film a fifteen minute greeting to be played at the convention later that night, and it was really good to see them, but I was sick, tired, and disappointed – not to mention, scheduled to fly back to Minneapolis in the morning. This “highlight” of our summer had turned into this struggle for wellbeing – and now not only in my body, but for my heart, as well.

I can’t say yet that I’m fully recovered from what more or less became a bummer of a week. We did manage to make it home without incident (unless you consider being laid out flat on a concrete curb outside DIA an incident), but upon arrival checked into Regions Hospital for a two-night stay before finally coming home-home late in the day Sunday. We were mysteriously given a DVD of the students at the convention – all 1500 of them – screaming “God Bless You, Jeremy!” It was really loud (came as close as I’ll ever come to blowing my laptop speakers) AND really necessary. I think I probably needed that more than I’d like to.

So I’m still processing here. Still flat on my back with a headache. Still one week deep in Round 2 of Chemo. Still wishing I could’ve spent a day up the mountain with my friends and family, encouraging the church – one of the few remaining doable activities that provide me with such joy and purpose as what I need these days. Ah, but things don’t always go the way we want them to, do they? And sometimes (often) we don’t understand why. So I’m going to take the counsel I’ve given (seems quite recently, really), and affirm that when we don’t have answers, it’s enough to know the Answer Giver. (Seems kind of goofy that I’d be struggling more with this than I did with getting cancer, doesn’t it? Everyday life is where the tough stuff happens, where we struggle most with Who God is and what He’s doing. At least that’s the case for me…)

So I’ll keep writing when I can, and what I can. At times like this, for me, it’s nice to have outlets of ministry that keep on ministering even when I’m not really up to it. At first, of course, I think of my CDs, the songs I’ve written, and this website. But the Kingdom isn’t built of such things, and while they may contribute to the building, it’s ultimately the lives and hearts of people that become the dwelling place of God. And by His grace, we can all pray and live in such a way so as to store up treasures like that.

Glad you’re praying for me,

Categories: Cancer | Leave a comment

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