I was headed into the urologist's office this week for my annual follow-up (prostate cancer) when I got a phone call from a colleague who wanted to pick my brain for a few minutes: he had just been diagnosed by
his doctor with prostate cancer. We talked for about 20 minutes, but I couldn't give him the latest expertise as it has been almost nine years now since I received the same diagnosis. Nine years in the medical world puts us somewhere back in the dark ages. In the 40s and 50s, almost no one survived cancer once it was diagnosed. Today, 65% of all people who are diagnosed with a specific cancer will not die from it. Various cancers, of course, have widely different survival rates.
When I was first diagnosed with the malady, it didn't frighten me as much as I thought it would. True, I was queasy when the doctor first informed me that I would need a biopsy. But several weeks later, when he gave me the news that the biopsy was malignant, instead of fear, I mostly felt myself being swept up in a fighting mood. My first response to the diagnosis (from a Carle hospital doctor) was to as for a second opinion at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, the leading prostate cancer hospital in the world at that time. They had three options for me at that point: 1) surgery, 2) radiation, or 3) keep an eye on it and see what happens. I decided on option 3, with attention to improving my diet and lowering my stress. (Nowadays, advancements have been made in prevention, early detection, ultra-sound treatments, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, precision, genomic profiling, and diet.)
It is a weird feeling to have an enemy named "cancer" living inside one's body. For nine years now, I've just been keeping a wary eye on it, and all this time it has done nothing more than hibernate. If I had faced any other kind of cancer, I probably would have fought it more aggressively. But when dealing with health threats, the two most important starting places are "Know thyself" and "know thine enemy." Even though prostate malignancy is the second deadliest cancer for males, it is more often non-fatal, a slow moving, dull, and uneventful antagonist. Over 70% of men over 70 have some prostate cancer cells in their bodies: most just don't know it. So, I stay awake and watchful, and grateful that I've been able to spend my energy on other matters, so far. If the day comes when I need to make more sacrifices in the battle, I will.
I am among over fifteen million cancer survivors in this country. Other health problems in my life have been much more frightening, painful, and dramatic than the cancer. But not everyone who battles cancer has had such an easy run of it. I have over 200 friends and current parishioners (that I know of) who are battling and surviving cancer, so far. I personally have known hundreds of others who have fought the good fight and are no longer with us. And all of these folks are my heroes.
The first inspirational cancer story that comes to my mind is of Audrey Hiles (from my Glen Carbon church). When her doctor told her that she had two forms of breast cancer and that she would not live more than two more years, she jumped out of her chair, stuck her finger in the doctor's nose, and snarled, "You're not God, mister. And you're not me. And it will be up to God...and me, NOT YOU!" I don't exactly know how it was that Audrey and God worked it out, but she survived 10 years, not two, and outlived the doctor.
Cancer has united the human race in ways that no diplomat has ever accomplished. As we support and encourage each other, lobby to increase funds for cancer research, and pray vigorous prayers to God, we are one human family.
To my friend who just got his diagnosis, to my church members who are in the midst of valiant battles against this awful disease, to all who are living with the shadows of cancer, to all who have led the way and shown the rest of us how to fight, and live, and sometimes die...thank you. And may God pour out his Holy Spirit and give victory in every battle. --Mike