Monday, May 21, 2012

Yippee Revisited: The Pros and Cons of Leukemia

On June 25, 2011, just shy of 11 months ago, I wrote a post that I titled, "Yippee! I Have Leukemia!"

Now that I'm no longer going into the biggest adventure of my life, but coming out of it, I thought it would be wise to examine whether or not I could still say, "Yippee! I Had Leukemia!"

Note: I'm really not allowed to say I'm cured until at least two or three years have passed without relapse, but I'm assuming the best here.

I'm going to quote last year's post, then comment below it.

When you're a Christian and the purpose of your body is to glorify God, then there is really no difference between a clean bill of health and a diagnosis of leukemia.

Yep. I still believe this is true, and that it was better to have leukemia, chemotherapy, a heart attack, multiple blood infections, six PICC and Hickman line insertions, radiation, a stem cell transplant, and everything else than to have had a clean bill of health over this last year.

I am sorry for the emotional trauma my journey has brought to my family, both nearby and far off. I wish that could have been avoided.

The Pros

Last year I wrote:

The Scriptures say that wisdom is the principle thing. Therefore, it says, "in all your getting, get understanding" (Prov. 4:7). Along those lines, the Psalmist prays, "Teach us to number our days, so that we may obtain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). Leukemia is a quick way to number my days!

Without intervention, I'd have been dead by early August, within about 6 weeks of my diagnosis in June. I could have been kept alive a while with just units of blood, and received at least 20 units in July and August. I think closer to 30.

Chemotherapy was instantly and remarkably effective last summer. Nonetheless, I have had much opportunity to remember my own mortality, something that Proverbs says provides wisdom.

There's people to see and talk to that I would never be able to talk to without leukemia.

Here's where I have to make this pro more important. I seriously underestimated what a great thing this was. I proudly thought (well, hoped) that I would trust God, proclaiming that all things work together for good for the called of God, and treat my leukemia as a good thing and inspire many.

Well, I did. By the blog. In the hospital, however, I met dozens of people just like me, some of them in much worse straits than I was. Beautiful attitudes from people who didn't have nearly the support I did. Nurses with unending patience and even an exuberant joy, never panicking despite some awful, frightening situations. Doctors with delightful senses of humor. Former cancer patients or family members laboring tirelessly to help cancer patients. They not only raised funds, but paid attention to everything that cancer patients might need and provided housing, phone support lines, and even a gift for Christmas presents for my children.

I was able to give and help a lot of people. More people gave to and helped me.

It should be easier to display faith in Christ to these people because they're going to be expecting me to think something bad is happening to me.

I don't know how true this one was. I'm prone to thinking that being an example of faith in Christ is a spiritual thing that is as likely to happen on a sunny day at the park as on a dismal day at the hospital.

In general, any statements that I make that God can be trusted in every situation will carry more authority than they would if everything was going well for me.

This was sure true. I've had friends whose complaints got stuck in their throats when I said, "Yeah, I know something about that," in regard of some bit of trouble they were going through. Others have come to me saying, "What have I got to complain about?"

I love the verse that says, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world" (Php. 2:13-14, NAS Bible).

Living and dying are in the hands of our Father in heaven. Saints don't die because they have leukemia. Saints die because it's the will of God for them (Isa. 57:1-2; Ps. 116:15).

I still believe this.

I have a friend with cancer, and now I get to go through this with her ... consoling others with the consolation I've received.

Now I have several friends with cancer, and we get to go through all this together. Very awesome, very much one of the pros of having leukemia.

Those are the pros I listed last year. Now I'd like to add a couple more:

  • I found out my wife is even more of an incredible person than I already thought she was, though that would have hardly seemed possible last year.
  • I got much more secure as a person. I've been loved and taken care of when I had nothing to offer but a lot of work, some of that work pretty nauseating. I've talked with people in all sorts of situations, and I'm just not as shy or fearful as I was last year.
  • I have a clearer idea of the important things in life. I think I can say that I'm at least close to being delivered from the the American mindset of live to work, rather than working to live. Life and people are first.
  • I understand trust in God more than ever. I'm soon going to write a post called "Are You Listening" to talk about that. Faith isn't about reading a Bible verse, gritting your teeth, and announcing what you believe. Faith drops down from heaven like dew, and it works even when you're despairing, exhausted, and lacking even enough energy to pray.


Last year, I listed:

Distress on my family

This was truly one of the harder things about the last 11 months.

Being unable to exercise, run, be strong.

Overrated. In my case, this probably should be listed as a pro.

I am exercising pretty much every day and getting stronger. Consistent exercise over the last 40 years played a pretty major role, I'd say, in enabling me to do well through all the chemotherapy, radiation, and side effects. This all may not have been possible with a bad heart. I had a heart attack even with clear arteries and a strong heart!

There's a real danger of being focused on myself, loving attention, or taking over conversations by talking about leukemia.

I'm a pretty gabby person, and it's easy for me to get to talking about myself and the things I think about. This has been a real danger, and I regularly have to tell myself, "Don't say anything. Ask a question. Let this person talk about themselves."

PAIN: Pro or Con?

The one thing I didn't mention last year was PAIN. I don't know what I was thinking last year, but there's a lot of memory of pain over these last months. Keep in mind, I'm well aware that others have suffered much worse pain than me. I need to thank God, not complain.

James, the Lord Jesus' brother, said that we should consider it a joy when we suffer trouble because it will produce patience in us. If patience has its perfect work, we'll be made complete, lacking nothing.

I'm an American. I need some deliverance from comfort. I think PAIN needs to go on the pro side, not the con side, because the purpose is to appear before the throne of God and have him say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord."

I'm old enough to know that it will take the grace of God and help from others for me to hear that on the last day.

This last year has been both grace from God and help from others. I agree with the apostle Paul. I think that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which will be revealed in us who have entered the grace of God by becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.

I have to admit that more pain terrifies me a bit. After 10 months with a lot of pain involved, I have no confidence that I can deal with pain except by the grace of God. On the other hand, I've now experienced the amazing grace of God through pain, through bleeding, and through setbacks and disappointments.

Long ago, during the short time that I decided I was an atheist, I watched a movie called In the Presence of Mine Enemies. It was about a US military pilot who was imprisoned in Vietnam and tortured regularly for seven years.

At the end of the seven years, he was released, along with all the other prisoners at the end of the war in 1973. As they made their way into the prison yard, blinking and guarding their eyes from the bright sun that they'd seen so little of for so long, they gathered, held hands, and fell to their knees in gratefulness for their deliverance.

I was an atheist. I was enraged. Why would they give thanks to this God, who, if he existed, had allowed them to be tortured for years? If he deserved thanks for the release now, why hadn't he released them earlier? Is there more red tape in heaven than there is in Washington?

But as I lay in bed that night, an answer began to form in my mind.

Those prisoners had not lost their faith in God through their entire imprisonment. Why not?

Because God is an ever present help in time of trouble (Psalm 46:1).

It was the only answer I could come up with. Those people had experienced enough help (which is a good synonym for grace) from God to maintain their faith and strength throughout the time of their imprisonment and torture.

That movie ended up being one of the bigger influences to turn me back towards Jesus Christ.

I wasn't tortured, but I have a very clear idea of what it means for God to be an ever present help in time of trouble.

I'm glad I had leukemia. I'm glad for going through all this. It was exciting, it was an adventure, and I met great people and got closer to my wife and family.


  1. Great post. It sums up much of what you've been through and learned. All of our life is about maintaining the testimony of Christ's resurrection life conquering death. More than even the physical aspects of your recovery your testimony speaks of His life conquering the fear of death. This is a great encouragement. With much love and respect ...Noah

  2. This was awesome. I believe that God will continue to use your experience(s) to show His power and love to your family, even while they process everything that's been happening with you. It certainly is distressing and painful to not know whether a person's father is going to die or not, but now that you are home, I think they'll be able to let down a little and gain a different perspective. It will probably take a little time, especially for the kids, but I believe they will one day look back and be able to clearly see God's hand during this time. Love you all.

  3. Your journey is not over, I don't know if that is "unfortunately" or "fortunately". For me it was both. My most difficult time was yet to come after treatment, but everyone is different and responds differently to their cancer journey. My unfortunately was stepping off the precipice into a deep depression; after treatment is when I began to sort through having cancer and then after the sorting came the adjusting to and accepting that I had cancer. The fortunately is a deep, rich and dimensional growth took place in my walk and faith with Christ; for this I am ever grateful for my whole experience with cancer, from diagnose to the end of my depression. I am a not the same woman before cancer and now I can say, thank you, God, for my testing and trials through the cancer storm!
    Cyndi, Lakeside, MT