The “C” Word

Doug Weaver is my longtime friend who is a professor of Baptist studies in the department of religion at Baylor University. He is the current president of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and past-president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.

In spite of the fact that I am a recovering Southern Baptist, I highly respect Doug’s opinion. Also, please note that “Southern” is nowhere listed in his credentials even though he is a Virginian.

D-Weaver-2019

It is Well

By Doug Weaver 

It is well with my soul. Is that an elusive ideal, a hauntingly compelling confession of hope, or both?

In 1983, my father died of colon cancer. In 1984, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer but thankfully survived it and was later declared cured. My older brother’s doctor once told him, “It is not if you and your younger brother get colon cancer, but when.” After more purifying colonoscopies than I can count, the cancer never came. But, I never really fasted from the fear of the possibility.

Fast forward. In 2006, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I was told that it was a good cancer to get – the cancer was just in the lining and was not invasive. My hearing is pretty bad and I see with trifocals, but trust me, I can feel with the best of them. The cancer and the side effects of my treatments constantly bent me over with knife-like pain. Depends were not dependable; no wonder I started wearing black pants to work. The doctor in Waco where I live thought the medications which turned my flow into Texas burnt orange would lessen the pain, but I told him I was burning horrifically and unless he had magical Baylor green and gold, it was not going to help. And it didn’t. The treatments, however, worked.

In 2009, the bladder cancer came back – same situation – in the lining, not invasive, burning like a Gehenna fire. I was again on the extreme end of the spectrum with bodily reactions to the condition and the medication. However, what scared me was the doctor’s suggestion that cancer cells might be in a kidney too. I visited a specialist in Dallas who said it was so rare for bladder cancer to go into the kidney that it must be a tainted test. So do not fear.

The treatments worked again, but one more time, in 2013, the C word returned. This time cancer cells were in the lining of the bladder and both kidneys. So much for fasting from fear. Even though I had been his patient for seven years, I left the Waco doctor for good since he had said if the cancer ever got to the kidneys he’d have to try voodoo medicine to treat it. To confront the fear, I headed to MD Anderson Hospital in Houston. They put two nephrostomy tubes in my back (an amazing procedure), administered the medicine, and the treatments worked. The tubes dangled, hidden under my shirt for months, but at least voodoo stayed in Waco.

I made the 185-mile trip to MD Anderson in Houston every three months from spring 2013 to fall 2016 with good checkups, but once again I received word that the cancer cells had returned to the lining of both kidneys, now my fourth time. I did the standard treatments and kept the tubes in for a few months as we awaited results. I threatened a few colleagues with a “lift-the-shirt” presentation on a couple of occasions but other than being a Baptist who couldn’t be immersed in water, I did fine. But, I wasn’t fasting from an increasing fear.

I have now reached the one-year anniversary of surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. (The good news was that one kidney and the bladder didn’t reveal cancer cells anymore.) After the surgery, my wife and I heard the line many people living with cancer hear: “You had some microscopic cancer in lymph nodes, so we need to do some chemotherapy.” So, we did.

Today, I am fine – good, actually. My hair returned, curly (and unruly) like it was when I was a teenager. Subsequent scans (yes, cancer survivors often date the calendar by their regular three-month checkups) have been good. I am feeling hopeful.

Yet, during this journey, I haven’t been one of those patients who has “conquered” fear. On rare occasions, I was able to confront the repeated news of cancer returning with a bit of confidence. Most of the time, I was forced to my knees by the demon of cancer and begged God for a miracle my dad never received. Sometimes I have been near despair.

I knew my situation wasn’t as bad as patients I saw walking alongside me in the halls of MD Anderson; yet to compare cancer cases is not fair to anybody. Along the way, I have told friends too many details. My wife has had to hear me ask questions that I either already know the answer to or know that there are no answers. I love the church, but it isn’t always the best place to fast from fear (although, in my case at our church in Waco I am gifted with the wonderful pastoral presence of Mary Alice Birdwhistell). Baptists have a few saints.

One of my favorite Holy Week phrases is from Tony Campolo’s powerful old sermon: “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.” I need to repeat that. “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” When you are sick, sometimes it is Friday. In fact, it can be months or years of mostly Fridays. It is hard and physically, emotionally and spiritually taxing. The Easter we just celebrated tells us that Sunday is now here, and that means hope amid fear. I think that is what the earliest disciples experienced.

Ah, that word “experience.” The longer I study Baptist history, the more I am confronted by that compelling word. We interpret our faith through our experience. Heretical? Ha, call me Harry Emerson Fosdick who once said that if dispensationalism is orthodoxy, then call me a heretic. The role of experience is at the core of Baptist DNA: voluntary faith, dissenting conscience as an act of faith, believer’s church and so on.

I’ve been researching in recent years the role of the Holy Spirit in Baptist identity (shameless plug: stay tuned for the book this fall). The desire for an ever increasing awareness of the Spirit – an experience of the power of the Spirit – is not absent in Baptist life. As we approach the observance of Pentecost in a few weeks, I understand standing on that promise of presence.

Fear needs the experience of hope.

I am a cancer survivor. This is the first time I have used those words in a public forum. I am still hesitant to call myself that because of others whose lives have been hit so much harder. Friday’s coming, Sunday’s here, and Pentecost promises glory. I am healthy(!), but I still can’t say hope without fear, and I refuse to say fear without hope.

It is well with my soul. I love the hymn that bears that title. It is an elusive ideal and a hauntingly compelling confession of hope.

From BaptistNews.com

High BUN

Google

Who has not looked up medical terms, test results and diagnoses Online? I do it often even when I know or think I know what something means. It never hurts to review and become better enlightened, right?

Today I wondered about a BUN value on my Metabolic Panel. I knew it meant Blood Urea Nitrogen and involved kidney function, but I googled “high BUN” anyway.

Among all the excess information I received were literally hundreds of photos similar to this one! 

 

High-Bun-Hairstyles

 

“All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Photos by Pixabay

The Ritz

Recollections of Travel 

One of my favorite places to stay during my travels was the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, VA just outside Washington, DC. It was right on the Metro (subway) line and even attached to a first rate shopping mall, not that I had much time to shop while working. I was supposed to be at this venue on 9/11/2001, but two days before I canceled my plans for reasons I do not recall. Others who attended that meeting spent several days getting home because all flights were grounded for days. One of my associates got back home to Florida via train. While I would have been in no danger, I am glad I was not so close to the horrendous disasters of that day.

Before you think I’m bragging about staying at the Ritz-Carlton, I will hasten to add I also stayed at Holiday Inns, La Quinta Suites and once at what must have been a truck stop motel in Bluefield, WV. So West Virginians don’t become offended, let me clarify it was many years ago and I know from a current Google search Bluefield has many nice hotels today. I was in Bluefield briefly to observe an eye operation at the Ophthalmic Center of Excellence. Back to the Ritz story. I was attending a conference, I believe it was sponsored by the North American Transplant Coordinators Organization (NATCO), a group to which I belonged. In the middle of the night before the conference was to begin the next day the fire alarm jolted me out of bed. I grabbed my robe and room key and followed the emergency exit lights. Down many flights of stairs, as the alarm continued to scream, I finally arrived at a door that surprisingly led me straight into the kitchen. Several people who appeared to be employees did not seem in a hurry to evacuate, but the sight that will always remain in my mind is chicken and a few other food items scattered about the floor. Pieces of fried chicken and I distinctly remember kicking a piece aside as I made my way to another door opening into the main lobby.

As I looked about the lobby I saw people looking dazed, some women were wearing fur coats, others were tightly clutching purses and a couple of men had brought their luggage down with them. I felt a bit underdressed, but I was proud of the fact I had followed emergency procedures and left valuables in the room, exiting quickly. Never mind I was wearing terry cloth, had a severely broken nail from the stair rail and no shoes. I wish I could tell you what was on fire, but I do not recall. Obviously, it was nothing significant because the firefighters soon allowed us to return to our rooms. I will never know why I did not encounter other guests on all those flights of stairs or why I ended up in the kitchen with the chicken.

Winding Up

It is time to wind up my recollections of business travel. If only I could remember more details, i.e., dates and exact locations, I don’t think I would ever run out of true stories to share. Of course some, because of confidentiality or intellectual property rights cannot be told. During those twenty-plus years, I visited over one-half of the states in the US and went to Canada three or four times.

The Transplant World

In those many cities, I worked with a diverse collection of people. There were transplant professionals, contract specialists, hospital administrators, lawyers, government and military officials and on very rare occasions a patient or family member. It was a humbling experience because each person had personal gifts, amazing intellect, and made contributions that helped to build not only a strong transplant network but a better and safer approach to life-saving procedures.

When I began my own journey in the transplant world, after a few years developing the immediate care centers, I found each day intriguing whether in the office in Louisville or in some distant city. When the first living liver donor transplant was done in the US, I was present at the hospital where the baby girl received part of her Mom’s liver. Years later, they looked me up and I was so privileged to see this young woman, healthy and ready to enter college. Her donor, (mother), was equally as healthy. Contracts were a challenge, but real people were the inspiration.

Kidney transplants from living donors were first performed in the 1950s and it was about eight years before kidneys from deceased (cadaveric) donors were viable. I became involved at the time heart transplants were first reimbursed by Medicare in the 1980s and one by one other solid organs and even double organs, e.g. heart-lung, were successful particularly after the development of anti-rejection drugs. Bone marrow and stem cell transplantation as better matching has been developed between donor and recipient have developed rapidly as well. I will always find transplantation fascinating. I was never in a clinical transplant role, my expertise in this field was administering benefits , contracting for services and third party reimbursement.

If you would like to know more about solid organ transplantation or becoming an organ donor see the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) at https://www.unos.org

Information regarding bone marrow transplants can be obtained through the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) at https://bethematch.org which matches patients and donors internationally.

And, here’s a bonus site for those who love technology. The so-called “heart in a box” is a development by TransMedics, Inc. Check it out here to see a video (<3min.) of the device with a cadaveric heart actually beating prior to being transplanted into the recipient. http://www.transmedics.com/wt/page/ocsheart-improve-tx_med

The company has also developed a similar device for lungs and livers which can allow donor organs to be transported further as well as tested and treated prior to transplantation. There is little doubt that these technologies will extend and improve life for many.    http://www.transmedics.com/wt/page/organ_care

The future is truly now. 

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Thank you for following along with me in my Recollections of Travel. 

 

Photos by Pixabay