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A Cancer Story: The Gross Stuff

Because of the surgery I had where they removed the tumor and part of my colon I was left with a temporary ileostomy. For those who don’t know, a colostomy has to do with the large intestine, an ileostomy with the small intestine. Part of my small intestine was now on the outside of my body (not where it was intended to be), and a bag attached to the skin around it caught everything that came out. Note: the bag adhered with adhesive which, yes, sometimes failed. Not good.

Pretty gross stuff, really.

The protruding intestine is called a stoma, or more sentimentally referred to as a “rosebud” because someone somewhere thought it resembled one. It doesn’t. If it did no one would ever stop to smell the roses.

Let it be clear, I hated the ileostomy and everything about it. The bag was a nuisance, it was difficult to conceal under my clothes, the odor was anything but rosey, and it needed to be emptied at the most inconvenient times and places. The stoma was gross, it, too, didn’t exactly smell pleasant, it was sensitive to touch and developed a nasty rash around it from the adhesive. Did I mention I hated it?

But. BUT . . . that ileostomy gave my damaged and traumatized colon the time to heal that it needed. It served a purpose and one that was ultimately for the good. And because of that nuisance I learned to deal better with the discomforts of life.

This taught me that the most important lessons in life aren’t learned on the mountain tops, but rather in the valley.

If we’re paying attention, we can learn something from hardships and trials. But we have to go through the darkness with our eyes open so we can see the pinpoints of light that show us the way through. To cover our eyes and hold them shut in an attempt to block out the shadows and obstacles that surround us is only to prolong our stay and set us up for certain misery.

So what about you? Share with us one nugget of wisdom you learned while journeying through life’s valleys.

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A Cancer Story: Feeling Vulnerable

I came home from the hospital forty pounds lighter than when I was diagnosed. Mind you, I was never a big guy to start with. My weight loss was all too obvious. I was a sliver of my former self. And weak. So weak. I could barely walk from the car into the house.

The word for the next several months would be VULNERABLE. Suddenly, I had been removed from the safety of the hospital. I was sent home with this ileostomy that needed to be cared for, a bag that needed to be emptied several times a day. I still had terrible stomach cramps and wobbly legs. And there was still the fear (though not a very realistic one) that my incision would bust open and my intestines would unwind like a spring and decorate the floor.

But the most vulnerability had to do with my inability to protect my family. I was helpless and would kid with my wife about being a pencil-necked weakling. If anything happened, an emergency, a break-in, whatever, I would be as helpful as a bag of sand. Correction, a half-full bag of sand. That scared me. As a man, I’m my family’s protector, but now the protector was the one needing the protecting. A tough pill to swallow for sure.

I was forced to put my total trust in God to be my family’s protector. He was all we had. For most of our life the trust we put in God is volitional, we choose to rely on Him or not to. It’s our call. But then there are those times when we really don’t have a choice. We’re backed into a corner and there’s no where to turn but toward Him. He’s it.

And you know what? That’s not a bad place to be. In fact, it’s the way it should be. All the time.

Was there a time when you were backed in to a corner and felt totally helpless? How did you react?

A Cancer Story: The Deepest, Darkest Valley

Anyone who has ever gone through cancer is no stranger to life’s valleys. Cancer is a geography full of deep caverns and lightless places. But of all the highs and lows I experienced, the five days in the hospital following my colon resection and ileostomy surgery were by far the worst of my life. No doubt about it. The landscape of that week was pitted with craggy, shadowed places, pitfalls, caves that burrowed to unknown depths and led to nowhere.

When I was coherent enough to see and understand what state my body was in I found tubes coming out of almost every orifice, an ostomy bag, a drain bag, a Foley bag, and multiple IV bags. I had an incision that ran from just below my sternum to my pubic area. My biggest fear when I stood up was that the incision was going to burst open and my guts would be strewn all over the floor. I was assured that wouldn’t happen.

Eventually they let me eat but the food had no flavor and caused severe stomach discomfort. I was encouraged to walk but my right leg kept spasming and cramping (the surgeon said it was due to the way they position the leg during the surgery). Nothing seemed to be going smoothly.

But worst of all was the depression. I missed my family. Jen would come to visit then she’d either get the girls or my parents would bring them by. They’d keep their distance and stare at this man in the bed who they knew to be their daddy but didn’t look like the guy they called Daddy. When they’d leave I’d open the dams and let the tears come. I wanted to go home so badly. I wanted our life together back. I wanted to go to work and come home and eat dinner as a family and read together or watch a TV show together. Instead, they were going home and I was stuck in that blasted hospital bed, alone, scared, battling more depression.

Interestingly, during that time I didn’t have a single revelatory moment. I didn’t hear God’s words in my ear; I didn’t feel His breath on my face or His arm around my shoulders. All those experiences would come later. But still I knew He was there. I just knew it. Did I question Him? Yes. Did I cry out to Him? Daily. Was I brutally honest with Him? Of course. But He never answered me, didn’t write on any walls, didn’t miraculously bring healing.

All the hours I’d put in over the years studying His word, listening to sound teaching, exploring different doctrines to better understand Him had paid off. This was the moment they kicked in like never before. And they all focused on one truth: No matter how alone I felt, I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. He was there, trudging through that valley with me step for step.

What was your deepest valley? Did you sense God’s presence there?

A Cancer Story: From Cussing to Trusting

**Just a reminder . . . To celebrate Colon Cancer Awareness Month and my six-year anniversary being cancer-free I’m giving away a book a week this month. To enter to win, just leave a comment on any of my “Cancer Story” posts.

We spent the night before the big surgery at my parents’ home. They live twenty minutes from the hospital and since we had to be there so early it allowed the kids to go back to bed once we left in the morning. When I said my goodbyes to my darling daughters and my parents I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever see them again. The surgery, which would consist of removing a portion of my colon and giving me an ileostomy, is something the surgeon had done many, many times but it was still major surgery and anything can go wrong.

I was also told they wouldn’t know the true extent of the cancer until after the surgery when they biopsied the lymph nodes around the site. I had no idea what kind of news I’d wake up to.

I still have very vivid memories of the hour leading up to surgery but they’re sporadic. I remember the nurse shaving the surgical site and being careful to maintain my modesty. I remember her getting me a blanket from the warmer. The anesthesiologist came in, explained everything, and asked me if I had any questions. I told him to make sure I stayed asleep; I didn’t want to wake up with my guts all hanging out. He assured me he’d put me way under and keep me there.

But the most vivid memory I have is when they rolled me down the hallway to the operating room. Jen walked beside the gurney and held my hand. I remember them wheeling me into the room and watching Jen in the hallway, staring at her, wanting to take in all I could. She forced a smile but I could see the fear in her eyes. Then the double doors swung shut and she was gone. Less than a minute later I was asleep.

And fortunately I didn’t wake up and see my guts all over the bed.

I woke up less a man than when I went in. Over a foot of my colon had been removed and I think I lost several pounds just in those few hours in the operating room. Jen said I was gray, emaciated, and cold and limp as a dead fish. She stroked my hair and asked me how I felt. I said I felt like s**t. It was one of the only times in my life that I’ve cussed in public and I’m not ashamed of it because that’s exactly how I did feel. I felt like someone dragged me to the edge of death, cut me open, fiddled with my guts, sewed me up, and brought me back to the land of the living.

But little did I know at that moment that my hospital stay would push me to the limits of my faith, that I would cry out to God like I never had before. It would be my moment of truth, where I decided if I trust Him or not, where I run from Him or turn and fall into His arms.

What was your moment of truth? That moment where you had to make a decision: do I trust God or don’t I?

Week Two Winner Announced

All this month I’m celebrating Colon Cancer Awareness Week by recounting my own battle with cancer and giving away a book a week. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of my book A Thousand Sleepless Nights is leave a comment on one of the posts. It’s that easy!

Sooooo . . . the winner of the second giveaway is Kate.Congratulations, Kate! You’re book will be in the mail soon.

Please visit the posts and leave your own comment. And please consider sharing the posts on your favorite social media sites.

This is stuff we all need to talk about.

A Cancer Story: Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

**To celebrate Colon Cancer Awareness Month and my six-year anniversary being cancer-free I’m giving away a book a week this month. To enter to win, just leave a comment on any of my “Cancer Story” posts.

Immediately after seeing the surgeon I was sent for a CAT scan. This would show if the cancer had metastasized to any other organs. The scan was no big deal, a lot of “hold your breath, now breathe, hold your breathe, breathe.” The hard part was waiting for the results.

And waiting.

And waiting.

It seemed like an eternity. The results would determine the final course we would take for treatment. They would also be the messengers of hope or doom.

A couple of days later I got the results and they showed there was no visible metastasis.

But it was only the beginning. More tests would follow–x-rays, ultrasounds, internal ultrasounds, scopes, blood work–and more waiting for results. Waiting for the hammer to fall.

By the time I was diagnosed I’d worked in the medical field for ten years and now I knew what it was like to be the person whose life revolved around the next test, the next result. The waiting became almost unbearable, one day ran into another, but each test brought the surgery that much closer.

Through that jungle of tests and results and interpretations and explanations one truth pointed the way and guided my course.

Be still and know that I am God.

I’d repeat it to myself constantly. Frankly, the being still part was difficult. That peace that surpasses all understanding was hard to find. My worry meter was stuck on maximum. But the know that I am God part? Ah, now there was something tangible I could grab onto.

I knew that no matter how I felt about the situation, how I worried, how I fretted, how I impatiently waited for the next result, God was still God, He was still on the throne, He was still calling the shots, He still had me in the palm of his hand.

That was a truth emotions couldn’t manipulate. It was a lighthouse upon a solid rock in the midst of the storm beating against me.

What was the one truth you clung to when the waves swelled and the rain fell?

Week One Winner Announced

All this week I’m celebrating Colon Cancer Awareness Week by recounting my own battle with cancer and giving away a book a week. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of my book A Thousand Sleepless Nights is leave a comment on one of the posts. It’s that easy!

Okay, without further delay . . . the winner of the first giveaway is Paula Mayer. Congratulations, Paula! You’re book will be in the mail soon.

Please visit the posts and leave your own comment. And please consider sharing the posts on your favorite social media sites. This is stuff we all need to talk about.

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: 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) . . .

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