You’ve heard the saying “in like a lion, out like a lamb” to describe the arrival and departure of winter. Since we don’t seem to have much of a spring here anymore, I think we ought to come up with a similar phrase for summer. Something like, in like a golden retriever puppy and out like a ticked off hippopotamus, with the middle being comparable to a chimpanzee. It’s cute and all, but it can still rip off your face.
That’s how my family experienced the month of June.
Following months of anticipation, my brother and sister-in-law welcomed little Carter into the world on June 9. His arrival was rather dramatic for his mama, but other than the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn, she has recovered and is doing well. Carter is the first grandchild on both sides of his family, and every last one of us is smitten with him. Living two hours away from them means we live for texted photos and keep one eye on the calendar for the chance at sneaking away for a visit. It’s been years since there’s been a small child in our family, and we’re already looking forward to Christmas even if he’s only interested in wrapping paper and boxes. I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up on the spoiled nice list.
The end of the month wasn’t as joyous. For about a year, my dad had displayed signs that something was wrong with his digestive system. Frequent bowel movements, bloody stool, fatigue and rapid weight loss were among the symptoms that led his doctor to encourage him to have a colonoscopy. I don’t know exactly how much time elapsed between her saying it the first time and the date he actually had it done, but it was longer than it should have been. Dad has spent the majority of his life avoiding doctors, so talking him into having this kind of procedure proved to be a rather Herculean task. I’m still not sure how she did it or what she threatened, but she’d be a very wealthy woman if she could bottle and sell that kind of persuasive ability.
The colonoscopy and an endoscopy were scheduled for June 26. His specialist practices at a hospital located almost exactly at the half-way point between my hometown and where I live now, so I was there when the doctor delivered the news. Stomach ulcers, diverticulosis, multiple polyps in the colon, and a rectal tumor that he was nearly certain, even without a biopsy, was malignant.
Cancer isn’t an uncommon diagnosis. I don’t think there’s a person in this country – perhaps even the world – who hasn’t been affected by it in some way or another, whether it’s personally or through relative or friend. And although we hoped and prayed otherwise, it honestly was the diagnosis we expected to hear. Cancer has become so commonplace that we wonder if that second headache last week could be a brain tumor. It’s the reason doctors tell us to make appointments, not consult doctor Google, if we notice something amiss with our bodies. Our minds immediately go to the worst possible scenario: The Big C. It’s just how it is these days.
And so you think you’re prepared, if only just a little, when the doctor finally gives voice to that echo in your head. You find out quickly that you were wrong. And you admit that you knew you were wrong the moment you walked through the door and saw your father – the man with hands the size of baseball mitts whose voice could make you stand at full attention – looking so small and frail beneath the thin white hospital blanket. It’s hard to watch it happen to someone you love. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live it.
The 15 days between the first and second appointments were a mixed bag. When you’re worried your mind drifts to a million what ifs, and as hard as we all try to remain optimistic it’s human nature to dwell on the worst possible outcome. But there were some really wonderful moments, too. My dad’s health had prevented him from traveling when Carter was born, so the two of them got to meet each other and, from what I can tell from the pictures, instantly became best buddies. This year’s Fourth of July weekend became one of my favorite family memories, even if it did leave me feeling homesick for an entire week. Some say it’s a shame that tragedy or illness is what often brings families together, but I don’t know. I think it’s a blessing no matter the circumstances. We aren’t meant to walk alone.
I’m so proud of my family. We’ve seen our share of challenges through the years. There have been rough times. But never – not one single time – have I seen any of them break. Both of my parents possess this quiet, incredible strength that I can only hope somehow also made its way into my DNA.
That strength had to be what propelled them into the doctor’s office on July 10 to hear the results of the CT scan and biopsies. Truthfully, we were all expecting the worst — just because they’re strong doesn’t mean they aren’t realists – and we were eager to hear the doctor’s plan of attack.
The walls in that examining room had to have swelled beyond the framing, because there couldn’t have been any air left in our bodies when the doctor announced that the polyps are benign. The CT scan shows no evidence that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or any surrounding organs. The stomach issues are being corrected with medication. The tumor will be addressed with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
Nothing’s ever certain, but for this situation … you guys, he’s going to make it.
Clearly he’s not out of the woods yet. The tumor is located very low in the rectum, and the doctor is concerned about how much of the surrounding tissue will need to be removed along with it. If the chemotherapy and radiation shrink it enough, then that’s all that will need taken out. If not, there’s a chance he will lose a portion of the rectum and have to have a colostomy. Obviously, we’re praying hard for scenario one. We need that tumor to shrivel! But we’re relieved in knowing that, although not ideal, a colostomy is manageable.
We are grateful. So grateful. We’ve kept the news relatively quiet, because we wanted to better understand what we are dealing with. We thank those of you in the know for your prayers, phone calls and cards, and we ask everyone to continue praying – not only for dad as he endures treatment, but also for my mom as she keeps track of medication and appointments, and acts as nurse/cook/chauffeur/etc. Please also pray that God will see them through the financial concerns, as we all know cancer isn’t cheap. Travel expenses, medication and missed work add up quickly.
The night before the most recent appointment, I was reading through some of the Psalms. I’m certainly no Biblical expert, and perhaps this stood out to me because of the circumstances, but the theme that appeared through the passages I read was give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. And so many of the Psalms begin and/or end with the phrase “Praise the Lord.” I used to think the word praise, especially in this context, meant heaping adoration and compliments upon someone. I suppose it does – and who deserves praise more than the Most High? Doesn’t get much bigger or mightier than He.
But I think the psalmists wrapped another message into those words.
Praise the Lord.
Praise you, Lord.
Thank you, Lord.
Yes, sweet Father. Thank you.