Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Home Stretch

Last night, friends at a Bible study prayed for me to be healed.

I wasn't completely sure what to make of such a prayer, though they prayed with my permission and gratitude. You see, there's no proof I actually have leukemia right now, and I've had no leukemia symptoms since the end of July, just one month after I was diagnosed!

What about all those things that have happened to me? Due to low blood and an infectious fever, I had a possible heart attack 8 weeks ago. Even now, my red blood cells are 75% of what they ought to be and my white blood cells are less than half of what they're supposed to be.

Aren't those symptoms of leukemia?

Actually, no, they're not.

They are symptoms of the treatment for leukemia.

And right now the doctors are not treating leukemia; they are treating the possibility of a relapse of leukemia.

We know nothing about the specific type of leukemia I have. What we know of similar leukemias, though, is that they almost always relapse. We are relatively certain that somewhere in my body where we can't see them, there are a few leukemia cells waiting to come roaring back sometime in the next year. If they do, barring a miracle, I'll die a few months later.

So on Monday they'll begin their final assault on those hidden, permanently immature, rapidly proliferating blood cells—the leukemia cells—that they can't find and, thus, for which there is no evidence they exist.

Here's the plan of attack:

  • They will radiate my brain on six consecutive workdays in case those cells are hiding there.
  • They will radiate my entire body six times over three days, which will both assault my bone marrow and hopefully expose any other leukemia hiding places.
  • They will give me high-dose chemo over three days to finish off my bone marrow. One of the chemotherapies can cross the "brain-blood barrier" and go after any leukemia cells the brain radiation missed.
  • They will give me stem cells from two donated umbilical cords to replace my bone marrow. The new bone marrow will produce an entirely new immune system which will hopefully hunt down and destroy those hidden leukemia cells for the rest of my life.

That treatment has proven to be highly effective on the people who survive it.

Thus, when friends pray for me to be healed, they need to realize that they're primarily praying for me to survive the leukemia treatment, not the leukemia itself. I've already been healed of leukemia for five months. I've simply been suffering the effects of some potent poisons that they've put in my body to hunt down the hidden remnant of my cancer.

Monday they begin the strongest assault on my body of all. Even if it works, and the leukemia never comes back, it usually takes well over a year for blood counts to return to normal, and fatigue—the product of treatment and not leukemia—often lasts the rest of the patient's life.

I can't wait.

What are you going to do for the next four months?

I'm going to meet people I've never met before, and they're going to have in-depth conversations with me because they want to. They're going to talk to me about the deep and important things of life even though some of them will be complete strangers prior to our discussion.

If treatment goes as hoped, I'm going to write a book that I hope to have finished before summer is out. Even if it doesn't, I'm going to blog and have email exchanges with people on every continent except Antarctica.

I'm going to go through an experience that my family and friends will share with me emotionally, and we're all going to get closer as a result. If God will give me grace, then my life will provoke them to be a touch more diligent, a little more joyful, somewhat more grateful, and to live their lives with a greater sense of purpose.

Isn't that great!

I think it's great. I think it is far greater than the risk of filling the rest of my days in a lazy comfort. Hopefully, I wouldn't have done that anyway, but now I know I won't do that ... because I can't.

Is that worth a little pain now and some inconvenience for the rest of my life?

Of course it is!

How can it not be? The pros and cons here cannot really be compared.

Don't think that's unusual or that this is the product of some great character on my part. I know a 15-year-old girl who has spent most of the last year paralyzed from the neck down. Her attitude has been great, and I understand from those who know her a lot better than I do that she never complains, even when she's been in pain. (I can't say that, but I don't really feel like apologizing. I've not had very much pain in my life before, so I haven't had any practice.)

That 15-year-old girl is supposed to recover, and she's already gaining movement in her fingers. Feel free to pray for her. Things look real positive.

There are lots of people like that. I've had two friends wind up in wheelchairs. They'll be in those for the rest of their life. I'm not facing anything as difficult as they are.

So, anyway. Here we go. The home stretch starts day after tomorrow.

As an aside, on my Rest of the Old, Old Story blog, I am going to start a day by day commentary on chapters of the Bible as part of a "read through the Bible in a year" program. The purpose of the commentary is to explain enough to make the Bible easy to understand (at its most basic level) and to introduce a solid foundation of faith—a sort of catechism—based on the basics of the faith as taught in the apostles' churches of the second century.

There's a lot of people back home in Selmer, Tennessee who are interested in such a thing from me. You may not be, but it's free if you want to check it out.

Here's a picture for you. One of the rest-of-my-life effects is that I can't get any sun on my skin. It quickly leads to Graft-vs-Host disease (where the new immune system attacks my skin). I don't really want to live my life slathered in sunblock (if I don't have to), so I have begun working on getting comfortable clothing that will keep me out of the sun.

I start this new no-sun policy on January 17, less than three weeks from now. So here's the hat we bought at Dick's Sporting Goods. My wife is researching other sun-protective clothing for me today as well:

Finally, for no good reason at all except I just saw this picture: This is my daughter's elbow. The double-jointedness came from me. My youngest daughter is even worse, and you probably wouldn't want to see my son Caleb show you his shoulder stretch.



  2. It appears that my lovely daughter Janelle, who is sitting across the living from me right now, feels that I should have gotten permission before posting that picture. The other nine relatives that are in the room are all on my side.

    Apparently, though, I told her last year, when she saw the photo on my phone, that I wouldn't ever use it.

    I forgot.