Monday, June 11, 2007
Last Saturday the girls and I attended a cancer survivors celebration at Bobby's hospital. Bobby was worn out from our family outing on Friday (movie, mall, and dinner) so he and Eric stayed home. I had been asked to speak at the celebration along with one of Bobby's doctors, a cancer dietician, and two cancer survivors. It turns out that Dr. Frankel is also a cancer survivor--kidney cancer 10 years ago! It was a nice time--many breast cancer survivors as well as lymphoma, leukemia, and other types. Here is the full text of what I spoke on--now, I used an outline on notecards, so this is not word-for-word, exactly what I said. But I came pretty close :)
"Eric and I had often discussed cancer before this year, but always in terms of ourselves, not our children. My husband has quite a family history of prostate cancer--both grandfathers, his dad, and three uncles, and my mom has had breast cancer. So we have often talked about cancer as it relates to us. But it hadn't touched our immediate family. February 13th was a day that changed my family’s life forever. We were living overseas, and I was in the middle of a language lesson when my eight-year-old son Bobby walked into the room and sat down at the table next to me. I turned to look at him, and noticed that his neck seemed bulged out strangely on the left hand side. I didn’t know it then, but that little lump would change everything.
The story sounds familiar, I’m sure. A routine diagnostic test that shows something suspicious; a lump where there shouldn’t be one; a strange patch of discoloration on the skin; pain that remains unexplained until….Until you get that diagnosis…CANCER! For Bobby, that meant diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and it was aggressively growing in his body as two tumors, one on the side of his neck and one in his throat. We couldn’t believe it. Our jolly, funny, smart little boy had CANCER!!! All of you who have gotten that diagnosis know that sick feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach, and the sense of unreality that envelops your life for a few days, until the reality sinks in and you have to go into pro-active "survival" mode.
We returned to the US within two weeks, and sought treatment here at Backus Children’s Hospital under the care of Drs. Frankel and Gonzalez and the outstanding staff at the Outpatient Clinic and on the Hematology/Oncology Unit in the hospital itself. After five week-long inpatient rounds of chemo in just two and a half months, Bobby had a clear PET scan on May 30th. He is currently cancer-free and we are in the follow-up phase.
Now, you all know that that was the very short version of what has been a long, life-changing experience which will continue to affect our lives for years, particularly my son’s life. But what I really want to speak to you about today in terms of Celebrating Survival and Mind, Body, and Spirit, is what is getting us through this experience: our hope and trust in a loving God who is in control of our lives, and does all things according to His purpose. My husband and I are Bible-believing Christians, by which I mean that we believe that people can be saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, and live a full, abundant life through a restored relationship with the God of the Universe. Throughout the course of our lives we have had to learn to trust God, with the knowledge that He is good and loving, and that He is in control. This faith has proven to be the mainstay that has given us peace during each difficult phase of Bobby’s cancer so far.
One of the first things we realized when Bobby started his chemo treatments is that we had very little control over what was happening to his body. We could not control the cancer, we could not control the chemo treatments—the “roadmap” was laid out for us, and we had little control over the side effects. Although let me say that I’m amazed at the advances that have been made in side-effect control, and thank God for Zofran! Loss of appetite, mouth sores, fatigue—these are all hard for an eight-year-old boy, and he had to learn quickly that they were beyond Dad and Mom’s control. So what could we do? We could trust. We simply had to trust the doctors to be using the best treatments they know for our son. We had to trust the nurses and techs to give him the best possible care day-to-day. We entrusted Bobby to them, and these professionals did not disappoint us. We trusted God to be in control of every aspect of Bobby’s care, and He did not disappoint us.
We do not understand why some people get cancer and others don’t. We, like you, have many unanswered questions about the whys and wherefores of human suffering. Interestingly enough, my husband and I had begun to study the concept of suffering while we were overseas, seeing a lot of human suffering first-hand. My husband even preached on the topic back in January. Then Bobby was given a preliminary diagnosis of lymphoma. It’s a little different when you are the one doing the suffering. While we were still overseas, one of our friends there read us this verse from the Old Testament, found in the writings of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 41, verse 10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” We also looked to the words of Christ in the gospel of John chapter 14, verse 27: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” These verses gave us hope and faith so that no matter what the outcome, we would trust God
So how do we handle this on a practical level? I’ve already discussed Bobby’s body and what little control we had over what happened to it. But I also believe that physical well-being is intrinsically linked to mental and spiritual well-being. What about his Mind? With the help of the Child Life specialists we were able to keep him occupied and entertained—reading aloud to him for hours, playing video games, and watching the History Channel. That part was easy. Keeping his spirits up was a little harder. Our family has always liked to laugh and joke, and during cancer treatment keeping your sense of humor is paramount. But there were times when our attempts at humor fell flat, and all that would sustain Bobby’s spirits was comfort and love, and a lot of patience. One huge factor in keeping our spirits up has been the love and support of our friends and family. We have been continually blessed: phone calls, cards, meals, e-mails, gifts for Bobby and the girls, and lots of prayer. Our support network is phenomenal, and I don’t know how anyone goes through something like this without such support.
With a lot of laughter, some dogged perseverance, support of family and friends, and faith in God, we have come through this trial and out the other side. Bobby is regaining physical strength that he lost, and slowly returning to his previous cheerful self after several months of high stress and, quite frankly, some major spoiling by many friends and family. Our family is enjoying our time together, treasuring it like never before.
I celebrate survival today with all of you, whether you have reached a point where doctors are using the word “cure” or whether you are still in chemo treatments. Cancer does not have to rule us, cancer does not have to define us, but we should not waste this experience; we should learn from it and be stronger because of it. We should be determined to help others who are going through the same thing, and we should all be willing to help raise funds for cancer research! One of the most important outcomes for our family is that it has strengthened our faith in our loving God, and brought us closer to Him, and I praise Him for that. I pray God’s blessings on each of you as we celebrate survival."
My talk seemed to be pretty well-received, except by one couple who rolled their eyes at my first mention of God, and pretty much tuned me out after that. How do I know? Well, the fact that they talked to each other out loud across their table kind of clued me in...
Several people there who are Christians came up and thanked me for being so vocal about it. Several others came up and thanked me for my "spiritual" discussion and said they were glad my "faith" had seen me through. I told them that it was faith in God that saw me through, not just faith. It was a great opportunity to witness and share with others. If even just one person is brought a step closer to the Lord through all of this it will be worth it. I'm praying that we'll have many more such opportunities in the next few months.