Category Archives: Life in General

What My Oncologist Taught Me That Has Nothing To Do With Cancer

Last Friday I saw my oncologist for my six year follow-up and my final visit with him. I graduated.

My oncologist is not only a brilliant doctor but a wonderful man as well. I admire him in many ways. He’s a sixty-something Irish grandfather with a thick salt and pepper beard, wool jacket, and argyle socks. Over the past six years he’s spent many hours discussing with me not only cancer but life and living.

This time, we talked about the journey I’d taken and how far I’d come. He answered some questions I had, we mused about what the future may hold, then he hugged me and gave me very fatherly kiss on the cheek and told me to take care of myself.

I won’t be seeing him again, at least that’s part of the plan we discussed.

Here’s what I learned from my doctor: With every interaction we have with others we make a choice either to invest in their life or not to. And as I can see it, when we choose to invest three things happen.

One, they are blessed. We show them that they are important, that they have value, that their life matters. We inject into their life a spark of hope that can kindle a fire that may burn for a very long time.

Two, we are blessed. We give a little of ourselves away and that’s a good thing. Addition by subtraction. The more we give the more we’re filled.

Three, we start a chain reaction of giving and sharing and caring and loving. We may be the genesis of the reaction or another link in the chain but either way we produce something wonderful, something that as a whole is much more powerful and influential than the sum of any of its parts.

So what do you choose? Will you pass by others and barely make contact or will you choose to invest and make a difference in another life?

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A Cancer Story: A Moment of Clarity

Cancer does a lot of things to you. It’s a formidable foe that deserves respect. From the beginning my oncologist told us we needed to respect this disease and not treat it lightly. It’s truly the stuff of life and death.

And that has a profound effect on you. On the way you see life, the way you see yourself, your accomplishments, your goals, your family, your purpose for being here.

I remember early on being so overwhelmed with all the information we were being fed that I just wanted to get away from it all. I wanted to seclude myself away, deal with this ordeal, then get back to living when it was all said and done.

But God is more powerful than cancer and He, too, does a lot of things to you. During those occasional moments of clarity and, yes, maybe even sanity I heard God’s voice through all the clutter of appointments and tests and results. And what he told me really made me think.

During one of those reprieves from the stress and fear and clouded outlook I had such a certainty about the whole thing that I told my wife something I would never forget, a truth that I clung to throughout the duration of the battle (and still cling to).

I said that two things would be accomplished through this trial we were about to enter.

  • One, we would surely emerge on the other side better and stronger people.
  • And two, when this was all said and done we would have gone through an experience we could share with others and possibly be an encouragement to folks going through the same or similar trials.

Knowing the frame of mind I was in at the time, I don’t know where that came from. Well, actually, I do know where it came from and it wasn’t from me . . . it had to be of God.

So what was your moment of clarity in the midst of the storm?

A Cancer Story: The First Time I Cried

The first time I cried about the cancer was about a week after diagnosis. I had already seen the surgeon and the oncologist. I’d gotten the news, the plan, and the prognosis. I knew what the next year would look like . . . or so I thought.

But it was one morning on my way to work when the weight of the entire ordeal broke loose from its moorings and landed on my shoulders. I remember it like it just happened last week. I was doing forty-five down Lehman Road and those pesky thoughts of death wormed their way into my mind. I wasn’t afraid of dying, though. No, I know where I’m going, that’s not the problem. There’s no fear there. I was afraid for my family. I didn’t want my wife being a widow at 31 years old; I didn’t want my three daughters, just 9, 7, and 6, to grow up fatherless. I couldn’t stand even the idea of it. And the more those thoughts bounced around in my head the more the tears pressed on the back of my eyes.

Finally, the dam let loose and the tears surged. And there I was, blurry-eyed, all sniffles and sobs, praying, “God, let this thing be as uncomfortable as it has to be but please spare my life.”

It was the first time in my life I had ever stared death in the face. It’s ugly, let me tell you. Like I said, I wasn’t afraid of that beast either, I was afraid of the destruction it would leave in its wake.

I needed that cry too, needed it to cleanse my worries and push me to the point of throwing the ordeal at God’s feet. I wouldn’t cry again until chemotherapy did its dark magic on my emotions.

I learned during that trip to work that suffering serves as a reminder of our own mortality. It forces us to the realization that we’re not as in control as we’d like to think we are . . . and we’re not as strong as we imagine ourselves to be.

So how about you. What trial have you endured that reminded you of your own weakness and insufficiency? That pushed you toward a deeper reliance on God?

A Cancer Story: Battling Seeds of Doubt

All this month I’m sharing some of my own cancer story. I’d love to hear about your story too. I bet there are a lot of similarities.

Cancer has a way of launching a full-scale attack on a number of fronts. Physically it’s pretty stealthy, laying beneath the surface, spreading its poison without detection. But in every other way it’s unashamedly in-your-face. Emotionally it wears you down. Day after day the uncertainties and anxieties just keep coming with no relief. Psychologically, it capitalizes on its reputation as a ruthless killer reminding you at every turn of its deadly history and many victims. Spiritually, it tests even the strongest faith and pokes holes in long-held beliefs.

It’s quite the formidable foe.

The first doctor I saw after the diagnosis was the surgeon. I don’t know what I expected him to say but it certainly wasn’t what he said. He began to lay out the plan of attack and the farther in he got the more it felt like someone was kicking me in the gut over and over again. He mentioned surgery, ileostomy, temporary but possibly permanent, weeks of recovery, then chemo, radiation, more surgery. The hammer of reality swung down and struck me square in the chest. I remember thinking, “This is real and it’s dangerous.” I left there in shock, knocked back, reeling from the gravity of what we were facing, what lay ahead.

I went home and had an anxiety attack. I remember every detail of it. I was sitting at the dining room table and Jen was there beside me. We talked about what would come next even though we knew nothing of what the future held. And then it hit me. The truth of the matter was that while we waited for the secretary to call us with an appointment for the oncologist, while we waited for test results and more appointments, this monster inside me could be spreading, reaching its scaly tentacles throughout my body, infesting other organs with its rogue cells. I wanted to see the doctor right then, get things going, extract the monster from me. I couldn’t wait even one day longer. One day may be too late. Every day, hour, minute was one moment too long.

I began to shake and sweat. I wanted to holler out. I didn’t want to die, not like that, not at the hand of some merciless disease.

Eventually, I calmed but that seed of doubt had already been planted. From that day forward I began to entertain thoughts of death. That was right before Easter, the day we celebrate life and the Life.

Have you ever entertained thoughts of death? Battled seeds of doubt? I’d love to hear your story.

At the end of the week I’ll pick someone who has left a comment on any of these “Cancer Story” posts to win a copy of my novel, A Thousand Sleepless Nights. Join the discussion to enter.

A Cancer Story: Beginnings

March is Colon Cancer Awareness month. Most of you know I am a survivor of colon cancer. I was officially diagnosed March 17, 2008. St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish. I wasn’t wearing green. I don’t believe in “luck.”

Over the next few weeks I’m going to recount some of the highlights of my own story and encourage those who have gone through cancer or watched a loved one battle cancer to join in the discussion. (Just a note: these posts all appeared on my Michael King blog two years ago so if you’ve been following me all along they may be familiar).

**ALSO . . . every week I’m going to pick a winner from those who comment to receive a free copy of my book A THOUSAND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, written under my pseudonym, Michael King.

My story began in early 2008 with bleeding where it shouldn’t be. Over the course of a few weeks it got heavier and heavier until I finally saw the family doctor who referred me for a colonoscopy. We were both thinking a mild case of colitis. Imagine my surprise when the gastroenterologist showed me color photos of a tumor the size of a golf ball residing in my colon. The thing looked hideous, like a monster with a will of its own. He said he took a biopsy and would notify me as soon as the results came in. A couple of days later I got the call at work.

“Michael,” he said, “I’m very sorry but you have colon cancer.”

I didn’t know what to say so I thanked him and hung up the phone. I called my wife, Jen, and told her what he’d said then finished my work day and headed home. I was numb and thinking irrationally, assuming it was just a quick procedure to extract the tumor and be done with the little monster inside me. No more cancer. Have a nice life.

That evening there was tension between Jen and me. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more upset; I didn’t understand why she was so upset.

Neither of us had any idea of the storm that was brewing just over the horizon and how much we would need each other in the next ten months.

You’re invited to share your own experience with diagnosis here, whether you’re a survivor or know a survivor. Please share these posts. I’d love to get a small community of survivors and caregivers/friends/loved ones involved in this discussion.

Question: How did you or your loved one discover cancer? What were the signs? (This is great for those who haven’t had cancer to learn what some of the warning signs are) . . .

Be Unstoppable: Ignoring the Voices

I hear voices.

And my guess is that you hear them too.

It’s okay. Relax. We’re not all taking a swan dive into the deep end of insanity. Voices are all around us, whispering, taunting, mocking, questioning, scolding.

They are the voices of doubt, of fear, of anxiety and worry and apprehension. They are the voices of concern, of timidity, of embarrassment and cowardliness.

They are the voices that hinder us and paralyze us, that keep us from being all that we were meant to be, that keep us from fulfilling our purpose and realizing our dreams.

These voices are weights around our neck, dragging us down, deeper and deeper into the murky waters, closer to the bottom where weeds entangle and drown us.

Do you hear them? The voices of those who doubt us, those who offer insincere apologies, those who feign support?

I hear the voices. They tell me I can’t, I’m not equipped, I don’t have the skills, I don’t have the connections, I don’t have the resolve. They tell me the mountain is too high, the river too wide and water too rough. They tell me my foe is too big, too strong, too skilled.

I used to listen to them (maybe you still do). I thought they spoke truth, reality. I thought they had my best interest in mind and were only there to protect me, to keep me from falling, from making a terrible mistake.

Until another voice showed up, stronger, gentler, deeper. It was the voice of the Creator, the one who made me, formed my inward and outward parts. Sculpted me in His image. His voice spoke real truth.

I made you with my own hands. You are so precious. You are mine. I created you for greatness.

I stutter. I used to stutter terribly, couldn’t string together five words to form a coherent sentence. The voices told me I would never amount to anything because I couldn’t talk. No one would respect me. No one would take a chance on me. No one would want to listen to me blabber on.

And I listened to them. Talk about low expectations. I allowed those twisted voices to penetrate my mind and weave their depressive web around my soul. And a fog overcame me, thick, dense,  oppressive.

But that other voice was there, too. You are mine. Reminding me that I was made for more. You are so precious. It led me to a career where I interact with people every day, to a calling where I can express myself like I never dreamed possible.

I still hear the voices, the negative ones, reminding me of the thorn in my flesh, reminding me of the pain and embarrassment that it brings. The voices still whisper, taunt, mock, they still feign concern and offer those insincere apologies. They tell me I can’t, that I’ll fail, I’ll make a fool of myself; they assure me that they’re only looking out for me, protecting me, warning me.

And you hear them too. I know you do.

But we can choose not to listen to them. We can choose to ignore those voices and focus on the only one that matters. The voice of our Creator, the one who formed us and placed every cell and molecule and atom and strand of DNA exactly where He wanted it. His voice tells us we can, that we were made for more, for a specific reason, for greatness. That through Him and in Him we can climb the mountain, cross the river, conquer the foe. We can stand before a crowd of hundreds, even thousands, and speak with confidence and conviction. We can write words that will move and stir and inspire. We can be all that He made us to be.

We can be unstoppable.

Be Unstoppable: Leave it All On The Track

Ask any group of runners worth their salt how much they put into their race, into every race, and they’ll all tell you the same thing. “I left it all on the track. I held nothing back.”

Runners train hard for every race and their training is not just running. They do lots of that, but there’s more of a science to the sport than just slipping on some expensive sneakers and going for a run. There’s strategy involved. Whether to start fast and get ahead of the pack, set a pace no one will be able to sustain, or to hang back, let the leaders exhaust themselves, then make a move for the lead at the end.

Which plan they go with depends on numerous factors like where the race is taking place, if it’s a qualifying heat or the finals, who the competition is and what his or her strengths are. How the runner is feeling. Weather conditions. What race is next, if any. Each runner will come to the race with his own strategy, a mental plan of how he wants to run, what kind of time he’s shooting for, and where he wants to place.

But if it’s a race that matters, and most of them do, every runner shares one strategy: give it all you got.

With the exception of some of the elite runners in the qualifying heats, any athlete who doesn’t pour himself onto the track and leave 100 percent of himself there won’t last very long.

In high school I participated in track and field and at times had to fill in and run a leg of the mile relay. That’s 400 meters per runner, once around the track. I wasn’t a strong runner (jumping was my thing) but was at least able to hold my own. I loved the start, the moment that baton hit my hand and my legs began to churn. I felt like I was as near weightless as I could be. I’d take the first turn with ease, leaning into it, my arms pumping, breathing so naturally. By the second turn my lungs were beginning to tighten, my legs beginning to feel heavy. But still I pressed on. Coming out of the third turn it felt as though someone had played a cruel trick on me and filled my shoes with concrete. My lungs heaved, hands tingled. I had to will my legs to move, my feet to find the ground. And by the time I handed the baton off to the next runner I was spent, entirely. I’d done my job and left everything I had on that track.

In so many ways, life is like that race. The longer it goes on the harder it gets. Responsibilities pile up. Challenges get more complicated. Illnesses drop in for a visit. Finances fluctuate, spit and sputter. We deal with family issues, friend issues, work issues. So much competes for our time and the distractions are plenty.

But you know what? That desire to run hard and leave everything I had, every last ounce of effort I could muster, wasn’t decided going into turn three. No, it was determined long before I felt that baton slap into my palm, long before the race even began. That kind of effort comes from somewhere special, somewhere deep in the soul.

I wasn’t the fastest runner but I can honestly say I never finished a race wishing I would have run harder, wondering what would have happened if I’d only given it my all. There was plenty of sweat and panting and cramping but there were no regrets.

That’s how I want to live my life. With no regrets. With no wishing I would have given more. With no wondering how differently things would have turned out if I’d only pushed harder. When I finish this life, I want to be satisfied that I left it all on the track.

Run this race with me. Pour yourself into life. Empy every last ounce of your being as you run this race. It’s the only way you’ll be unstoppable. Challenges may slow you but they won’t stop you. Disappointments may cause you to steal a glance at those around you but you won’t quit. Failures will come and you’ll run through them.

But don’t expect to find that kind of resolve on the fly. Determine it now. Resolve it today. Promise yourself and everyone around you that you will not stop. No matter what. The finish line awaits. You may not run the best race; you may not run the fastest race; but you will run the hardest fought race. And you will finish.

Be unstoppable.

Be Unstoppable: Scott Hamilton

I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Hamilton. Nothing personal. I’ve never been a big fan of figure skating.

Until now.

I’m still not a fan of figure skating . . . but boy am I a fan of Scott Hamilton.

The term hero gets thrown around lightly these days and too many people get credited as being one. Only some truly deserve it and in my opinion Scott Hamilton is one of them.

At least, he’s now one of my heroes.

Check out the link below to hear what incredible challenges he’s overcome in life and the faith that has sustained him.

http://www.iamsecond.com/seconds/scott-hamilton/

I’m currently doing a mini series of posts called “Be Unstoppable” and Hamilton’s story fits perfectly. He’s seen the darker side of life; he’s met challenges head on; he’s kept a proper perspective; he’s suffered and lived in the valley . . . and he’s ultimately found his strength and courage and ability to press on in God and God alone.

Be inspired by his story . . . and be unstoppable.

Be Unstoppable: A Matter of Perspective

It’s all about perspective.

Runners focus on the finish line, at least the serious ones do. They know that no matter how much discomfort they experience during the race–the burning lungs, the aching muscles, the cramps, the fatigue–it will all melt away at the finish line. There is rest. There is acceptance. There is freedom. Spectators cheer, coaches and family rejoice and comfort and welcome. Hugs await, congratulations, claps on the back, water, rest.

The suffering is temporary. Relief awaits. And so the runner presses on through the pain, through the exhaustion, through the mental battles.

It’s about perspective. It’s about realizing this life is temporary, that all the pain experienced here, all the suffering, all the heartache and troubles and misery will end.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been through cancer. As most, if not all, survivors will tell you, it wasn’t pleasant. There were lots of tears, depression, discomfort, nagging nausea for months, fatigue, more depression. It was a year I’d choose not to relive. But during that journey there were times (when I was lucid and of sound mind and thinking) when I reminded myself that no matter how intense the suffering got it was only temporary. There was an end. There was relief, comfort, rest.

According to the Center for Disease Control, life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. That may seem like a long time, and if you have a disease or illness or debilitating condition it’s an even longer time, but looked at from the proper perspective, against the backdrop of eternity, it’s a mere blip, a single beat, a blink.

It’s about perspective.

Any runner, even those of the longest, most grueling ultramarathons, will tell you that to keep your mind alert and your will alive you have to focus on the finish line. They endure what they endure because they realize there is an end, there is a release. Their suffering is temporary. Without that knowledge the race would be futile, the suffering meaningless, every step would be one step deeper into hopelessness.

But with the proper perspective there is always hope.

The apostle Paul had it right when he wrote: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Read that again if you need to. That’s a right perspective, focusing on the rest to come, the freedom from pain and heartache and sufferings of any kind.

It’s easy to lost sight of that, though, isn’t it? To focus on the pains of life. The burning lungs. The cramping muscles. The aching feet. It’s easy to get distracted by each step and the hardship it brings. To lose sight of the finish line and become preoccupied with challenge of the run.

Then discouragement sets in. That voice in our head, the little man without a heart and no faith begins to whisper. It’s not worth it. You didn’t sign up for this. This isn’t how your life was supposed to turn out. This is more than you can handle.

And we want to give up; we want to stop running, throw in the towel. After all, what’s the use? Misery is all around us. Every turn we take invites another obstacle, another challenge, another adversary. There is no relief.

We quit.

But it’s so avoidable. Not the challenges, not the pain, not the trials. No, they’re part of life. They come with the territory; it’s a package deal. What’s avoidable is the quitting.

Because it’s a matter of perspective. The finish line holds the promise. There is where rest is. There is the reason for our hope. If we look past the fog, through the darkness, and find the light we will realize that there is more than our present circumstance. And we will press on. We will run. We will conquer. We will finish.

We will be unstoppable.

Be Unstoppable: A New Look at Suffering

Normally, we recoil from suffering. I know I do, and I’m not sure I know anyone who actually welcomes pain, outside a few exercise fanatics who live by the creed of no pain, no gain.

At best, suffering slows us down; it’s a hindrance, a hurdle to climb over, a speed bump to bring us to a crawl. At worst, suffering is debilitating. It knocks us to our knees, maybe even pushes us to our bellies, and holds us there, the bully with a knee in our back.

No one likes real suffering. We avoid it, run from it, hide from it, try to escape its awful clutches any way we can. And when we see it coming, stalking us like some creep stranger in a dark alley we either pretend we don’t see it and hope it goes away or start praying it somehow overlooks us.

We tell ourselves that suffering is not our friend, in fact, it’s our enemy, our foe, our greatest villain. It’s a great big, blistered and bleeding, bug-eyed, greasy-haired, stench-emanating monster that wants to shred our happiness and make our life as difficult as possible.

But what if we’re wrong? That’s right, I just asked that. What if we’re wrong about suffering? What if it’s not so much a monster as it is a blessing? Or at the very least a conduit through which blessings may pass . . . if we allow them passage, that is.

I’ve been through cancer, a monster in its own right. And that monster brought with it a hefty helping of suffering. Surgeries, chemotherapy and its awful side-effects, illness, depression, you name it, cancer was good for it. And one thing I learned is that while suffering is not man’s best friend, it’s not a jolly neighbor who brings laughter and happiness, and it’s no where near roses and lollipops, it is useful and can serve a very important purpose.

During my year of cancer battling I experienced God in ways I honestly didn’t think were possible, in ways I certainly had never experienced him before and most likely never would have. Suffering did that. It introduced a new room in my relationship with God, opened my eyes to see him in a different light.

See, during suffering we are most vulnerable, our emotions are closest to the surface, and we see the contrast most distinctly between our own fragility and God’s omnipotence, between our humanity and his holiness, between our weakness and his strength.

And it is during those times that we are driven to him, to his arms, his comfort, his love, his security. We see him as that loving father who tenderly cares for his child and protects her and comforts her and, while not taking the pain away, holds her in the midst of it.

Suffering does that. It opens our eyes and shows us our Father in his true light. It shows us the intricacies of his love, the dependability of his watchfulness, the gentleness of his care.

When we are sick, he is our physician. When we are depressed, he is our counselor. When we are lost, he is our shepherd. When we are frightened, he is our protector. When we are weak, he is our strength. When we are lame, he is our support. When we are bombarded from every side, he is our fortress. We we are burdened, he is our help. When we are lonely, he is our true friend.

Suffering does that. And without it we may never see God as he desires to be seen, or experience him as he should be experienced, or trust him as he deserves to be trusted.

Suffering does not need to be an obstacle. It doesn’t have to be something to elicit our repulsion. Suffering can be a blessing. A strange, odd, rarely understood blessing.

Be unstoppable.

And hey, if you’re new or even relatively new to this blog, check out my other “Be Unstoppable” posts. Be Unstoppable: Fail Forward; Be Unstoppable: Nothing to Fear; Be Unstoppable: The Story of YOU

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