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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I've fallen, but I can get up

Earlier I mentioned the sensation of falling down and down during the first few days in the hospital as the diagnoses came in. It felt like falling away from my past life and loss of control. As the diagnoses piled up, seemed like the hand-hold we'd found the previous day broke away.

When my life went sideways, I wanted it to stop. I didn't like it, and frankly it made me very angry at first. It also made me afraid. While at first I was also ashamed of that, I now see it as ok. I am the primary provider for my family, and I'm fiercely independent. Part of this mixed up emotion was the stripping away of the illusion of control.

The kidney stone diagnosis was not really that alarming. The following detection of a "mass" in my left kidney was a bigger blow, especially since at first we didn't know what it was. Based on its make-up, however, cancer (renal cell carcinoma) was suspected. Turns out that was true.

The final blow came on a fateful Wednesday morning when the "Multiple Myeloma" diagnosis came. This one was hard to take, not only because of the nature of MM, but also because my youngest son was with us at the time (out of school).

This was the point at which I crossed into that "C" club. It's obviously a club no-one wants to be in.

Recall that while all this was going on, I was also on hemodialysis and pheresis treatments simultaneously. The cancers were the cause of the problems, primarily with the MM being the Real Malady. However, the side effects, kidney failure, and massive amounts of "kappa light chains" proteins clogging my blood, needed to be cleaned up.

All of this gave a sensation of falling away. We found hand-holds each day, praying that this was as bad as it could get, but for a few days it just got worse and worse. Eventually the diagnoses stopped and we could focus on the carnage, the loss. We tried to define the new normal.

It would probably take a year to explain all the ins and outs of this, all the uncertainty I felt as a father, husband, son, brother; all the fear, anger, worry. The shock and disbelief as seemingly my life values were suddenly stripped away. I had the distinct feeling of being isolated, really isolated, unlike those moments of quiet solitude one might seek out. It's a sad and lonely place, somewhere I didn't want to be. I don't think it's natural for people to be or feel totally alone.

It was from this place, though, that the real changes began. Those changes in person and life perspective that can only be brought about by losing everything, or thinking that you're going to lose everything, really believing that. Yes, my body was ravaged and I had to endure a lot of unpleasant things; a single one of which I would never wish on anyone, but that's just biological processes and medical wizardry. Cancer is not just a physical battle, however. Cancer is mean and unfair and attacks a person on all fronts.

Here's where things get a little weird, or spiritual, or religious, whatever you want to call it. I don't hand out flowers at the airport, but I'm a believer. In God; Jesus Christ. It may be a surprise to some to know that about me because I don't always live up to it; I'm not in your face about it, maybe I'm a little too quiet about it. I'll talk to you frankly and openly about it, however. I wasn't always a believer, and it wasn't because of cancer I suddenly became one. My faith was kindled peacefully some years ago. It's only by this faith and his Grace I've made it through.

It was tough sledding at first. I started seeing myself as alone, just stripped down to nothing. I was connected through prayer to Him, however. It really was just Him and me in the early going, me praying for strength, healing; and at times wailing against the injustice of it all. I soon though began to see myself as connected to my family, my wife, kids, mom, dad, building my connections outward again. It may sound strange; of course I felt connected to them and loved them before. Now it was different, though. It really was one of those perspective altering experiences where my life long values were stripped away and now with great urgency those connections that matter most reveal themselves first.

Not long after, I began seeing and filling in more connections outward, many or all of them fanning out from Him or because of Him. Connections to all my family, and friends, and really out to a larger church community, including my friends' and family's churches.

I received (and still receive) so much help, relentless help, from my church pastor navigating these tough times. I see it now as fitting that the last church service I was well enough to attend the year of my illness was Easter sunrise. I returned again one year later at Easter, but with a new faith, rebuilt from the ground up, from the inside out.

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