Category Archives: colon cancer

What next? Part II.

Yesterday, I described in detail the ways God worked out the timing and details of our lives around Ry’s colon cancer in such a way that a horrifyingly scary situation was given space to be our one and only concern.  Everything else was smoothed out.  I ended by saying Ry was “easily able to step out of his work to take the convalescence his body needed.”

Of course, by “easy,” I don’t mean easy.  I mean with little complication.  Because it was anything but easy for Ry to step out of the world for 6 weeks.  It was terrible for him.  It was the most difficult challenge for him, I think.  Cancer diagnosis?  Fine.  We have a problem, we talk to the people who know how to solve it.  Surgery?  Fine.  I don’t have anything to worry about:  all I have to do is sleep during it.  Catheter?  um . . . we won’t talk about that . . . Pain post surgery?  Fine.  Pain is good.  Pain means things are getting better.  I can take pain.  I inflict pain on my body all the time in the name of health and fitness.

But.  Stop doing stuff for 6 weeks?  Stop working?  Stop producing?  Stop?!  Impossible!  Inconceivable!

Enter:  Ry v. Lee:  Battle of the Wills, Round Two!

I wanted him to stay alive.  I had handed him completely over to the care of strangers.  I had waited helplessly while they cut into his body.  I had seen him unconscious and I didn’t like it.  I had seen him nearly pass out under my care–having no idea how my weak, broken body was going to catch his strong and muscular one.  I had seen the stuff–blood?  bodily fluid somethin’-er-other–oozing from his wounds stain the bedsheets.  I had returned to the hospital at 7 AM the morning after the surgery to find his bed empty, his room seemingly empty, drips of dried blood on the floor! convinced, I was, that something horrible had happened to him in the night and they weren’t able to reach me on my phone for some reason.  All of it.  I had done.  And I never, ever, ever wanted to do any of it ever again.  I wanted him well.  I wanted him alive.  And I thought the best way to do that was for him to listen to his doctor and do everything the doctor told him to do.

But Ry thought differently.  Because Ry is not Lee, and Lee is not Ry.  Ry had handed his own body over to strangers to do with what they would.  He had lain helpless in a hospital bed, bound by medical equipment that was thrust upon him while he was unconscious.  Medical equipment he had no way of removing on his own, so he was left subject to the whim and schedule of hospital staff.  He’d had things invading his body that had no business being there.  He had done helpless and out-of-control.  And he. was. finished.  He wanted to be strong and healthy and well and alive and under his own power and volition.  And he thought the best way to do that was for him to listen to his body and to do everything his body told him to do.

So, my need to feel safe collided with his need to be well.  More screaming, slamming, weeping, rending of garments.  More stoicism, courage (stupidity?) determination (donkey stubbornness?), perseverance, and compassion with strong boundaries.

But in the end?  When it was all said and done?  What we had was a healed body, a body cancer-free.  Thirteen inches of colon were removed from Ry’s body—more than we had expected, although, apparently it’s standard—along with ten lymph nodes.  His lymph nodes were clear, his margins were clear.  He was finished.  The surgery was all that was needed to rid his body of the cancer.  If ever again I see the doctor who ordered Ry’s initial colonoscopy, I think I’m going to have to kiss him.

Ry recovered remarkably quickly from the surgery—which leaves Ry saying, “See?  I told you I could listen to my body!” and me saying, “Thanks be to God his intestines didn’t end up outside his abdominal wall in spite of his stubborn need to move a belt sander out of the garage mere days after the surgery, while he was still on a 10lb. weight limit.”

And we’re both right.  And we’re both grateful that we’re both right.  There is no reason on earth Ry should have had colon cancer.  Really.  He doesn’t fit into a single risk category.  He’s 38, with no family history, in great physical condition—he exercises regularly (crazy man!) and eats healthfully.  There was no reason for it.  I Googled till my fingers were bruised and my eyes were raw and I came up empty.  Yet it happened nonetheless.  Because, apparently, stuff just happens sometimes.  And all you can do is get through it.  And we, by God’s grace, by God’s strength, by God’s knocking some humility into both of us along the way, we did indeed make it.

And we came out the other side all the more convinced that making plans makes no sense.  And all the more convinced that God has blessed us with a wonderful marriage and that he continues to bless our marriage richly.  In spite of ourselves.

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Filed under 2011, colon cancer, marriage, my husband

What next?

So, two days after Ry was diagnosed with colon cancer, his job changed.  Well, actually, he started his new job four days later.  And we were so grateful for it!  I mean, sure it made a crazy situation even crazier, but it really proved to be the best working situation under which Ry could deal with what came next in his cancer journey.

Once we got passed his initial plan, that is . . .

When we talked to our family doctor about Ry’s diagnosis, he agreed with the GI about the best course of action:  a bowel resection.  The doctors would remove a chunk of Ry’s colon, taking out all that could have been affected by the cancer, as well as lymph nodes that would be biopsied as well, to make sure the cancer had not hit those.

Our first major decision was to find a doctor to do the surgery.  We wanted to go outside of our small town and even beyond the small city nearby.  I was in full-on freak-out mode, trying to research all of the hospitals within a reasonable distance from us; trying to determine which would be the best one.  In Ry’s favor was that all of the tests in addition to the original scope, came back with promising outcomes:  his CSA, the blood test looking for markers of cancer, came back clear;  his abdominal X-ray from his initial doc visit came back clear, so it didn’t seem the cancer had grown through to the outside of his colon;  his chest X-ray ordered by the GI was clear, which was good news, given that the lungs and the liver are the first places colon cancer generally spreads.  All of this was good news.  All of this pointed to a good outcome, to limited invasion by the cancer.

But still and all, I was in full-on freak-out mode:  “GET OUT ALL THE CANCER!!!  GET IT OUT!!!  GET IT OUT NOW!!!!”

And Ry?  Well, Ry was starting a new job.  In an unusual position.  Feeling the pressure to prove he was necessary in this unusual role as a full-time battalion chaplain in the National Guard.  So, he thought it would be best to wait a while for the surgery.  To wait until he had settled in at his new job, before he took weeks off from work to have and recover from a surgery.

::insert jaw-drop emoticon here::

So, as I said, this whole thing was a very human endeavor.  A very human endeavor in which one-flesh and two-brains came to blows.  It was not always pretty.  About that I would like to be very, very clear.  Because this whole story can turn out to be another one of those pretty pretty stories where the couple love each other so deeply and their faith is so strong and the wife gazes glowingly at her husband:  her hero . . . and the husband gives gentle pats to his wife’s knee:  his humble help-meet.  And that’s the last story I want to tell.  Because that’s not our story.

Our story involves yelling and crying and screaming and slamming of doors and banging one’s own head off of walls and more screaming and crying and sobbing and weeping.  Well.  My story involves that, anyway.  Ry’s story involves rugged stoicism; a walk along the fine, fine lines between courage and stupidity, determination and donkey stubbornness, compassion and “I feel your pain, but I don’t care.”

We are not the same people.  We are awesome, awesome friends and companions, partners, lovers, one.  But we are not the same people.  Well we’re not entirely different.  We are both very strong, very persistent, very insistent, (these are all nice words for stubborn, you realize) people.  And when we have the same goal in view?  We are magic together.  But when we are at crossed-purposes?  with some passion infused for good measure?  Ug.ly.  Human.  Ever-so human.

In time, Ry decided not to put off the surgery for very long, and it was scheduled for March 29th, giving him just over a month to work at his new job.  And giving his new insurance the month it needed to kick in.  The first blessing.  We had received an estimate of the bill for surgery under our old insurance before the new insurance kicked in.  ::insert bulging eyes emoticon here.::  Oh. My.  Oh my.  I don’t know how we would have paid it off.  I mean, we would have.  Surely.  But over time.  Over some good, long time.  Under his new insurance?  It was covered.  My thanks to you and you and you and you:  all of my taxpaying friends.  Here is an example of how your tax dollars helped one family in a very profound way.  Military insurance is not perfect, but in this case?  It served us very, very well.  And for that we are grateful both to the providers and to The Provider who put Ry in his new job at just the right time for our financial needs to be provided.

Second blessing:  If Ry had to have abdominal surgery that was followed by 6-8 weeks of convalescence afterward while he was working at the church?  It would have been beyond difficult for him.  It would have been impossible.  He would have been checking in with people all the time, he would have had me driving him to visit people, he would have been going out of his mind to have to leave his beloved congregation without him for that long!  But because of the job change, his beloved congregation had a pastor serving them full-time.  And they were in good hands.  And, because his new job had just started, he didn’t have much in the way of loose ends there.  He easily was able to step out of his work to take the convalescence his body needed.

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You’re not kidding me . . .

After Ry’s colonoscopy, we knew we had to wait “a week to ten days” for the results of the biopsy.  The doctor didn’t use that word, but that’s how it functioned.  They had to test the polyp for cancer cells.

A week after the scope, on February 17th, I arrived home from picking up Ruth from pre-school to find a voice-mail message from the doctor.  Of course he didn’t give any information over the phone; he simply asked Ry to return his call.  Well.  That was the explicit message anyway.  But I could hear in his voice far more information.

I called Ry on his cell phone to make sure he had received the message.  It turns out our doctor friend had also called Ry’s cell phone and told him the news:  the polyp was indeed cancerous, and the margins were not clear.  He recommended a bowel resection.  If he could, he’d have it done in two weeks’ time.  He tried to impress upon Ry the urgency of the situation.  I felt the urgency immediately.  Ry . . . not so much.

And here begins the very, very human component of our journey.  The thing with marriage is it involves two people.  Two people.  Marriage would be much easier if it involved only one person.  Or two automatrons whose electronic doohickeys could be linked so that the two were always on the same page, always responding to things in the exact same way.  But the reality is, marriage is made up of two people.  Two different people.  Who’ve been raised in two different families where different philosophies are developed, different habits formed, different attitudes fostered.  And, well, that makes marriage difficult.  Beautiful, sure.  But difficult.

And we have a good marriage.  A really, really good marriage.  We’ve known each other since we were eleven, we’ve been friends since we were fourteen, best friends since the early nineties for pete’s sake!  We have it good.  Really good.  But when we stared down cancer together, our differences took center stage and fought for the spotlight.

And maybe, because it wasn’t my body, maybe my Different should have bowed out and left the stage and deferred entirely to his Different.  Maybe.  But there’s this thing about marriage where the two are made one flesh and my body is no longer entirely just my body, and his body is not entirely his own.  Now people do some freaky stuff with 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.  They do.  I know they do.  Freaky, freaky, need-to-be-smacked-upside-the-head stuff with it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to just throw it out.  Between the “one flesh” that Jesus talks about and this passage here in 1 Corinthians, there’s something about marriage that goes beyond just two separate individuals living together in the same house.  Something happens.  Something is there.  Paul calls it a profound mystery, and he is applying to Christ and his Church.  There is a unity in marriage that goes beyond any other human endeavor.  It’s some crazy stuff.

So, when one of your bodies is under attack by the Enemy, the other body freaks out a bit.  And I like to think it’s understandable, Biblically speaking.

We had to wend our way through the early weeks after the diagnosis negotiating need for need, priority for priority, body for body.  And it was not always good.  And it was not always pretty.

But what remained steadfast?  Our faith.  Really and truly, believing God had his hands all over it.  From the wife who had the out-of-body freakout at the mention of blood; to the initial visit being with the doctor who insisted on the scope, rather than with the one who wasn’t terribly concerned; to the sudden job change–announced three days after the diagnosis–that resulted in better insurance coverage and in preventing Oh-my-word-how-are-we-going-to-eat??!! panic . . . and more . . . we saw God’s hand all over it.  Providing for us every step of the way.

Did that ensure a good outcome?  Heck no.  Crappy, tragic stuff happens to God’s people every single day.  But it assured us that whatever the outcome, we would be carried through.  Our daily bread would be provided.  What we needed to get through each day of the journey would be provided.  Of that we were certain.  So in that we could rest.  The differences that caused all sorts of friction between the two very, very very different people were outshone, outdone–though not overcome–by the unity of our faith in our Faithful God who would take us–as a unit–through to the other side.  Without that assurance, it’s very possible one of us would have died.  And it would not have been because of the cancer. . . .  🙂 **

**Ry insisted I add the smiley face so you all know I’m only kidding.  So you know that no one is killed in this story.  And so you know that there are no murderers, attempted murders, or contemplating-murder murderers in this story.  I’d say it was overkill, but then there seems to be some sort of pun created there . . .

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Are you kidding me?!

Yesterday, I gave the quickest of summaries of what happened last February 10th.

Ry had to go for a colonoscopy!  It was laughable, really.  Because you’re not supposed to need your first colonoscopy until you’re 50.  We still had 13 years before we reached that joyous milestone!  Surely his symptoms were the result of a virus he’d had; the doctor said lots of people had been coming through the office with the same symptoms from a virus.  And he was 37.  37!  Overkill.

We laughed ourselves silly as he sat on a bed in an undersized hospital gown, in an office with no fewer than three church members–elders, even–preparing to have his nether regions scoped by one of those elders.  We laughed about how I would have driven three hours, if necessary, to undergo this procedure where no one knew me.  He was happy to be where everyone knew his name, 3 miles from our church, in an office he frequently visited, just to check in on his congregants.  We laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed.  I don’t even remember what all it was about.  But it was fun.

The doc was lighthearted, too, going into the procedure.  He listened as Ry described why the doc had ordered the scope.  He didn’t seem very concerned.  He knew Ry.  He knew his physical condition (great), heard his family history (nothing of consequence), and knew his symptoms most likely were from a virus.  He laughed along with our silliness.

I’ll admit as I waited during the procedure, I did indeed worry.  I worried that the doctor would find something.  I worried, because I knew that there are parts of your body from which blood should not emerge.  And that such bleeding could indicate bad, bad things.  I worried because I’d known too many people who’d received very, very bad news at their standard first colonoscopies at the age of 50.  I worried because that’s what I do.  I worried because that was my husband, unconscious on a table and undergoing a medical procedure.  And then I found myself worrying because the whole thing seemed to be taking longer than it should.  And because I thought I’d overheard two of the women working there talk about a procedure that was taking longer than expected and assumed they were talking about my husband.  And I worried some more.

Finally they brought my husband to me.  And he was gone goofy.  He was Ry, unplugged.  And he was funny as all get-out.  So, we laughed and laughed some more.

And then came the doctor.  The doctor who had gone into the procedure all lighthearted, came out in an entirely different mood.  And I could see it immediately.  Remember, this is a guy who is a member of our church.  I’ve known him for a while.  And his face had concern written all over it.  He informed us that he’d just removed a 5 cm polyp from my husband’s colon.  It’s the largest he’d seen in five years, he told us.  He can’t promise that it won’t be cancerous, as the more time the polyp has had to grow, the more likely the cells are to become cancerous.  But Ry’s in a low, low-risk category, so he was hopeful it would be fine.  He removed the entire thing and marked the area with a tattoo, so it can be easily identified moving forward.

Ry and I were surprised.  Shocked?  Maybe that too.  But, mostly?  We were all business.  Just getting the facts, hearing what would come next.  And the whole event was blanketed in peace.  I really, truly was aware of God’s hands all over it.  I could feel his presence with us.  We continued to laugh ourselves silly, as Ry, still under the effects of whatever sort of happy drug they gave him, proceeded to ask the same questions over and over.  He was also quite proud to declare that he finally had that tattoo he’d always wanted.  Unfortunately, he would not be able to show it off, given its location.

When we left the doctor’s office, we declared our day the best date we’d had in ages.  We had hours and hours to spend together, to laugh together, to enjoy one another’s company.  We were not in denial, we were not glossing over the serious nature of the outcome.  But we were enjoying ourselves and one another in spite of it.  And we were trusting.  Trusting God.  Trusting him in whatever was coming next.  The outcome of the biopsy was beyond our control.  Everything was beyond our control.  But not beyond God.  So we were freed up to continue to tell and re-tell and tell again the events of the day:  Ry asking me 15 times to show him where–on the anatomy poster on the wall–the polyp was located (in the sigmoid region); Ry asking me 15 times (and the nurse 6 times) if he could get a picture of the inside of his colon and of the polyp (yes); Ry’s repetition of pretty much everything as the effects of the sedative wore off and his short-term memory cleared up.

We had a ball.  We really did.  And it remains one of the funniest stories of our relationship.  And I don’t think it was just because of the drugs.  It was because in the face of a really difficult situation, we two control-freaks relinquished control, and faced the mess together, making the best of a bad situation. 

Not to worry.  This whole saga doesn’t say so pretty and neat and tidy.  It gets kind of ugly.  And not together.  And not the best of a bad situation.  In fact, the whole saga gets to look very, very human.

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Plotting it all out . . .

I’ve struggled to start a post in which I lay out all that we’ve gone through in this past year and all that we have planned for the next.  This is my fourth attempt, I think, because I’m just not sure how to start.  How to make it flow naturally from my thinkings.  But I think I’m just going to create an abrupt beginning.  I’ll just dive right in, starting with a summary of what all happened just over a year ago.

Here’s the list.  In sum:

Thursday, January 20, 2011:  first raised is the possibility of Ry’s serving full-time with the National Guard, working locally.  This looms as a large question mark for the coming weeks.

Monday, January 24, 2011:  Ry visits random doc in family doc’s practice for unusual, disconcerting symptoms accompanying an illness, which leads to abdominal X-rays and a scheduled colonoscopy.

Monday, February 7, 2011:  Ry visits family doc who hears symptoms of two weeks prior and expresses total lack of concern, but says, essentially, “Sure, keep the colonoscopy appointment anyway.  It can’t hurt, even if it’s unnecessary.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011:  Ry has seemingly overkill colonoscopy at the GI office of a church member.  “Overkill” colonoscopy reveals giant polyp that must be biopsied.

Thursday, February 17, 2011:  Biopsy comes back:  cancer.  margins not clear.  bowel resection surgery recommended.

Saturday, February 19, 2011:  Ry receives word that he will begin on active duty orders as of the following Tuesday, February 22nd.

Sunday, February 20, 2011:  Ry announces to our beloved church where we’ve been serving for 5 1/2 years that as of Tuesday he will no longer be serving full-time as their pastor, as, instead, he will be serving full-time as chaplain to his National Guard battalion.  He offers to cover Sundays until a replacement is found.

If you go back and look at the dates, you might notice that all of that happened in one month.  One. Month.  Whooosh!

And that one month had an impact on the months that followed, in fact, on this entire year that has followed.  In fact, that month pretty much sent our lives in a whole new direction.  There’s more to the story.  But it really all starts in that one month.

Well.  That’s not true.  God had been at work, preparing us for the major turn in our lives for some time.  I just spent some time looking for those blog posts where I mentioned stirrings and leadings and God-is-up-to-something’s.  I knew they were there, and I found them.  And, funnily enough, I found that they were written around the same time of the year–the same time as one another, the same time as last year’s crazy month, and the same time as this year’s reflections on all of these things.  Weird.

So, on February 14, 2009, I mark the start.  The start of the changes, the stirrings:

I’m in a stirrings zone.  I can feel God stirring me up, prompting me, poking me.  I’m on the cusp of something new, but I have no clear idea of what it is.  But my brain keeps stirring, stirring, stirring.  And while I walk around lost in my brain stirrings, the rest of the world spins right past me.  My house fell into total disarray–although we have recovered the downstairs–and my children are having more time in front of PBS than I prefer.  I’m living life as I think it.  I’m thinking and life is zooming in and out and past and all around me.  Yet I can feel Him.  Stirring, pushing, pulling, molding, calling, leading . . . and when I’m not feeling completely discomfited I’m feeling incredibly excited.

And then the following year, on March 5, 2010, I dedicated an entire post to the stirrings and leadings and what’s-going-on’s.

And I’ve already described what was going on the following February.

And this February?  This February I feel like things have come together.  The stirrings are making more sense, even if the details aren’t completely clear.

On Ry’s first day of seminary, a New Testament professor asked his class how many Gospels there are.  And one student stood up and said, “Five:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the fifth one is the one we are writing today.”  And I buy that.  I do.  Now the fifth Gospel is not authoritative, but it sure does testify to the Good News of Jesus Christ who continues to live and walk among his people.

I’d like to continue our testimony by unpacking some of those events I’ve laid out up there, as well as repercussions of each one.  Admittedly, it’s possible I want to do this for purely selfish reasons, to see how the whole year has played out, to remember, revisit, and make sense of it all.  But I do pray that my sharing our story will serve to witness to the One who wrote it, to his love, his grace, his strength, his power, and his enduring presence amongst us.

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