The islands of Hawaii are phenomenally beautiful. I expected the palm trees and pristine beaches. I didn’t expect the gorgeous mountains, winding roads, and stunning waterfalls. We arrived in Honolulu, toured Oahu’s north shore, gobbled up garlicky shrimp from a shrimp truck, visited Pearl Harbor and moved on to the island of Maui for more laid back relaxation.
This morning I’m enjoying some Kona coffee while the sun’s rising over Maui’s Ka’anapali beach. We picked up a juicy, fresh pineapple, papaya, and bagels for breakfast. Later, we’ll explore the island a bit more and try some snorkeling,
One of the highlights of my sabbatical is the opportunity to spend time with my adult children Rob and Kate. Both live far from home, so time together is always precious. Since one is in Los Angeles and the other is in Texas, we planned a trip to meet in LA and travel together to Hawaii.
A night in The City of Angels gave us an opportunity to reconnect, do some sightseeing, and enjoy a nice dinner out. But by mid-afternoon, after a half day of travel for me and Rob, we were hungry and I was longing for a quick trip to In-N-Out Burger. Kate and her boyfriend Ryan know special off-the-menu items to create great meal, and we indulged heartily.
The evening dinner was planned for a new spot in Hollywood in a rooftop restaurant. We enjoyed fantastic views there with the iconic Hollywood sign in the distant hills, but the food and service were disappointing. Nevermind though, since the afternoon burgers did the trick. One other note: though the restaurant was only 8 miles from Kate’s home, we opted to take an Uber ride since the small fare was significantly less than the cost of parking. I’m learning new things from these urbanite young adults.
The past few months have brought a return to good health and strength.
Following the incidents shared here, I had a lymphectomy in the summer of 2015 showing evidence of lymphoma within the swollen lymph node removed from my neck. I was referred to a cancer specialist who said there was so few of the cancer cells present, that specific diagnosis was impossible. Admittedly, it was hard to visit the cancer center and be one more patient among the many dealing with cancer. Some were there for chemo treatment. Some had lost their hair or physical strength. Sitting in the waiting room, I counted my blessings, knowing that my problems were small as compared to those of others, and my prayers were more focused on the needs I saw around me.
Concerned about a lack of follow-up by the oncologist, I reached out to another physician for direction. Her research and connections led me to a lymphoma specialist at University Hospitals’ Seidman Cancer Center. The experience there has been amazingly supportive and positive. The oncologist and his staff made me feel understood and well cared for. A bone marrow extraction again confirmed the presence of lymphoma, but still so few bad cells that definitive typing is elusive. Rheumatological and glandular problems were ruled out. So there. I have lymphoma. It’s a non-Hodgkins variety, likely something akin to Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. As we narrowed options leading to diagnosis, I was feeling better week by week.
And then the inflammation struck again. Back pain made it nearly impossible to get off the couch. Nightsweats made it hard to sleep. Swelling of limbs and joints made climbing stairs at bedtime–and even the 3 steps leading to the pulpit–an event of Olympic proportions. My left knee swelled to the size of a small tree trunk and required an ER visit and much testing. But I pushed through with the help and support of friends and family, and my determination to fulfill duties at work gave me a sense of drive. I missed one Sunday when I could not function off the couch, and it bothered me to be away. It’s not that I couldn’t let go of the work; more like a point of personal pride. And not in a good way. The caregiver-pastor in me didn’t want others worrying or praying for him.
The extreme inflammation in my body was likely due to the lymphoma, but after a few intense weeks, the pain and swelling was subsiding. Energy was growing. The treatment plan, agreed upon with my doctor, would be “watchful waiting”; no serious medical intervention–no chemo or radiation–unless or until the inflammation symptoms return. I have regular checkups and blood tests now that are, blessedly, spaced further and further apart.
Some people live with this condition unscathed for many years. Others deal with flareups occasionally, and still others require intensive treatments. I’m happy to be back to full strength and feeling good. Every now and then I remember back to how low I felt; thankful for my current condition; grateful for the prayers and support of church, family and friends.
Meanwhile, a small spot noticed by a dermatologist on my left cheek was determined to be Squamous Cell Carcinoma, later removed from my face via Mohs surgery with minimal scarring. Doctors agree that I am more susceptible to other cancers and conditions because my immune system is weakened by lymphoma. And the lymphoma symptoms can be triggered again by anything that stirs up the immune system.
Now, in the summer of 2016, I’m back to 100%. I thank God for the many ways I’ve been strengthened through this process and I remember that I’ve got some living to do.
May 7, 2015
Yesterday my head was spinning. I was visiting a Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, following up on some health issues I’ve been having. Head-spinning was not one of them, but that’s what seemed to be happening when the doctor spoke these words: “…or possibly lymphoma”. Dr. Mahle, the ENT, had just reviewed the medical chart sent over by my regular physician. He had looked at my checklist of symptoms that have been bothering me for about two months. He had felt the lumps on my neck. He had looked up my nose and asked me questions. It’s hard to answer with someone shining a light up your nostrils.
This all started with a basketful of symptoms collected across the past two months: Fever & chills, occasional night sweats, swollen hands and feet, intense joint pain, daily morning back aches, constant tiredness, a golf-ball sized swelling under my jaw. A dosing of Prednisone helped with my early complaints. While the symptoms have come and gone over the past few weeks, the one that has been constant is a large, somewhat flat lump on the left side of my neck. Dr. Mahle believes it to be related to lymph nodes and he biopsied the area with a rather imposing needle; in my mind’s eye it was about the size of my cordless drill. It was really a fine-gauge needle and, thankfully, it didn’t hurt any more than getting a flu shot. The doctor had apologized anyway.
I’d been mulling over the prospect of cancer for a few weeks. My family doctor had cautiously used the ‘C’ word in conversation, but it was always among a list of things we were trying to rule out. Initial blood tests were inconclusive, only saying that there had been inflammation in my system recently, but I already knew that. Likewise with a CT scan of my neck; it mainly noted some lymph and gland swelling. The golf ball lump was a salivary gland gone wild and already reducing in size. And the neck scan results seemed to eliminate any thyroid involvement. I guess I was hoping it might eliminate the C word, too. But no.
I’ve read and heard from others that when “cancer” is spoken, even as a possibility, that that is all the patient can hear. The word reverberates in a patient’s head, and they can’t remember what else might have been talked about. Having worked in medical school training in the area of patient communications, I knew I had to hold tight and pay attention to any other words the doctor might be saying.
And I’m glad I did. I took a deep breath and focused on his fuller words; sometimes repeating his phrases to help remember them. But mostly what I recall is this: a fast-talking but kind doctor who seemed to be taking me on–not just my condition, but me. In the brief time we were together, we found common ground with both of us having daughters making a life in Los Angeles, and both us of anticipating a vacation in the next week. We will both be out of state when my lab results arrive.
He told me I could call in to one of his partners for biopsy results a week from Friday, but my immediate reaction was to think, “No, I’ll wait until you’re back from your trip.” I’ll still be away, but if I wait to call on Monday, he’ll be there. As if he was reading my mind, he added, “But I’m the one who has met you and examined you. I’d like to be the one who shares these results with you, whatever they are.” I felt the care right there. I want to wait. I may change my mind, but for now, I will wait over an additional weekend and talk with Dr. Mahle on his return.
I asked about what he was seeing in the biopsied material, now lingering in a test tube on the counter in front of me. He told me that thyroid-related growths–I believe this is correct–tend to look purple. That was not the case with mine. I questioned whether they looked to his eye like a tumor. He said that the look of the cells, paired with the nightsweats I’ve been having, is sometimes indicative of lymphoma. It’s the “L” version of the “C” word, cancer within the lymphatic system. OK. There it is.
I went back to work and found myself drifting into thoughts like: “If it’s lymphoma, what does the end-story look like?” “Do I need to update my will?” “When will I tell my mother, my kids, my co-workers, friends, church?” “Just how sick am I going to get?” “Will I need radiation?” “Can I exercise?” “Do I have to exercise?” “Can I justify eating ice cream instead of broccoli tonight?” The rest were so off-the-wall that I won’t even write them down. I couldn’t avoid looking up lymphoma on the web’s medical sites even though Dr. Mahle said “half the medical information the web is written by crazy people, and you can’t tell which half.” He made me laugh with that, even though I had just had a cordless drill in my neck.
All I know with any certainty is this: waiting is hard. I’ve waited about 6 weeks to get this far along toward a diagnosis. But after a night’s sleep–I won’t get into the weird dreams–my head is no longer spinning. I know this could all be benign. Or I could turn out to be a patient with cancer. But I am surrounded by loving, caring people who will stand by me either way. And my faith makes me stronger today than I was yesterday.
UPDATE: I wrote this as health events were just unfolding in 2015. Things got better, then worse. I chose not to post this at the time I wrote this, but on reviewing it now, it seems very true to my experience. I’m doing well now and I plan to post more about this soon.
I have been trying out the new camera that I will use during my sabbatical break this fall. It’s a Nikon p900–really a point and shoot camera, but known for its “superzoom” lens. For my multi-national journey in September, I need to travel very light, and I cannot handle multiple lenses. I’m hoping this camera will be an uncomplicated choice for the photo safari in Kenya but still leave me satisfied with the quality of images that I’m seeking. I’ve seen other p900 users sharing online photos of distant objects, including the moon, and thought I’d give it a try, too.
I walked out to my driveway around 11 pm and happened to have a clear view of the nearly-full moon. It was in a good position in the dark sky with no trees blocking my view, and the night was cloudless. I just popped off a few shots thinking that I would need to set up a tripod to do it justice, but it garnered a sharp and crisp image, even with the camera handheld.
I was amazed at the detail; the various dark areas, the bright spots, and even the rocky craters of the moon were visible as though I was seeing it through a telescope. And the experience opened my eyes once again to the wonders of creation. Psalm 148 calls for the universe to offer a chorus of praise to our great Creator:
Praise God, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! Praise God, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for God commanded and they were created.
My daughter Kate is an actor, student, and exceptional receptionist in Los Angeles, and has worked on several short films recently. Here’s one that I enjoyed.
My aunt Olga was our Dauphin family historian. As I was finishing high school, she invited me to her home to spend a Saturday. It was a busy time of year just before graduation, but Aunt Olga was very dear to me, so I made time to visit with her, even if it was a bit begrudgingly. On arrival at her front door, I was handed a shoe box filled with odds and ends, much like her house was cluttered with random items. In the box, she proclaimed, were “treasures”. Knowing my family had little in the way of valuables, I was skeptical of their value especially when it looked like a collection of old books, pictures and ragged-edged papers.
The treasures included a photo of my great grandmother with two of my cousins. There was a picture of my parents as teenagers, looking thin and awkward. There was a picture of several great aunts as youth in a crazy pose, sticking each of their heads through the rungs of a ladder. There was a photocopy of a marriage license for great-great grandfather John Rappell and his bride. There was a German hymnal, which didn’t quite make sense, since that side of the family was all French–or so I thought.
It turns out that each item in the shoebox came with a story relayed by Aunt Olga. And it turns out that our French ancestry was only partially accurate. There was also an Irish great-grandmother, assorted German in-laws, and a ship’s stowaway from England who was my grandfather’s great-grandfather (as best I understand it). The Englishman, Henry Stanley, was the newspaper journalist who tracked down David Livingstone in Africa. Dr. Livingstone, a well-known Scottish missionary and explorer, had not been heard from for some time. Apparently it was quite a journalistic coup to have found him, and Henry Stanley enjoyed some notariety for having done so. In fact, Wikipedia tells me that he was honored by having several varieties of freshwater snails named after him. Not many can claim that distinction!
We can learn a lot about ourselves by knowing our family history. It tells us something about who we are and to whom we belong. I know this: I was blessed with a loving (and fun loving) family who has kept the faith and persevered through some very difficult experiences, shared with my by my aunt and my mother. I’ve tried in a small way to do the same for my adult children, and family get-togethers are opportunities to remind each other of the stories that–for good or bad–define us. This article from Lifehackers gives some direction about what our children need to know about family history, when possible.
The Bible is like a family history, too…a collection of stories that tells who I am, to whom I belong, and reminds me where I’m going. I think of it like a shoebox full of treasures.
I don’t think I’ve ever tipped the wait staff for a takeout order, though lately I’ve wondered if it was expected. I should know that it’s always needed, whether expected or not. Wait staff live by our tips, and adding a small amount to a takeout order won’t hurt me.
Now that I have learned of the generous example of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, I’ll do it more often.
The 9/11 Memorial is a tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001 and the earlier terrorist attack in 1993. I thought also of the brave first responders who risked their own lives for the sake of others. I was very moved to visit there, and I look forward to the opening of the museum on that site.
Clark Howard is a consumer advocate, entrepreneurial businessman, and educator in thrift. I’ve been a follower of his work for a dozen years or more, primarily through his daily radio show, The Clark Howard Show, on the web and on my local AM station, WEOL 930 in Elyria. Clark is also a regular on HLN (Headline News) and an established author. I know he’s both a travel agent and a landlord. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has other public enterprises that extend his brand.
When I’m in the car (or, less often, at home) between noon and 3 p.m., it’s Clark I’m listening to. I keep up with consumer tips and trends through his e-newsletter. The guy is not only an effective teacher, but an interesting character as well. He gets chided for a lack of healthy eating habits and for some extreme thriftiness, but it just makes him more human. His staff adds different dimensions to his work, and when the show’s staff writer contacted me for information about premarital counseling and financial issues, I was glad to share a few words. Now I feel part of the team!
I have at times shared with loved ones and parishioners things I’ve learned from Clark such as how to pay off multiple credit cards, how to “ladder” CDs for the best interest rates, and how to save on travel. When my Dad passed away and Mom was looking for solid financial advice, I shared information from Clark’s online Investment Guide.
In premarital or individual counseling, I’m not there to give financial advice, though I’m glad to pass along resources with those looking for help. For me, there are spiritual issues involved: when one is a good steward of resources, there’s more to share with the needy of the world. John Wesley, an English pastor and founder of the Methodist movement, said, “Having, first, gained all you can, and, secondly, saved all you can, then give all you can.” When I can save on the basics of daily living, I have the ability to be more generous in my charitable giving. I’d rather give more to a mission project in India (where I have first-hand knowledge of the needs) than to give it to a big corporation’s CEO and shareholders.
These days, I’m shopping for a new cellphone plan, and listening to Clark’s advice. I’ve also been considering a newer car and heeding Clark’s guidance on hybrids v. gasoline engines. Sometimes in listening I learn something new that directly saves me money or avoids a poor decision. Other times, it simply reinforces something I already knew.
So thanks, Clark, for your work on behalf of us all. I’m happy to pass some of that knowledge along.
My heart is moved by photos like this–families struggling with harsh realities in the wake of hurricane Sandy this week. My own family endured similar circumstances following Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. The loss of home, business, belongings (and sometimes life) is devastating, and people caught in the turmoil feel overwhelmed. Helpless. Hopeless.
I want to do something to help, though I can’t get there and wouldn’t be of much use if I could. My prayers will continue for days and even months for restoration, and I believe in a God who can make all things new. So I will let my faith guide my prayers. I can contribute money, too. God works with the sacrifices we offer, and money is one of those precious sacrifices–at least for most of us. It’s not much in terms of wealth, but today I made a donation online.
I always try to donate through my church and I recommend the practice to others. Any church will do. I respect the American Red Cross and other relief agencies, and there’s nothing wrong with contributing through them, but I know my money goes farther through my church. That’s because there was already a caring network in place to help people –a network of local churches and church agencies–whose mission includes help for the helpless. That’s what churches do, day in and day out, and they don’t need to create much infrastructure to help now. Our people, fellow Christians, were already there helping and serving before any catastrophe happened.
Because of the regular mission giving of thousands of congregations, there are teams that stand ready to help all over the country, all over the world, wherever the next disaster may happen. That means there are fewer time constraints, fewer administrative fees and hurdles standing between my donation and the help it can offer someone in need.
I’ve seen this over and again following disasters in the USA or in the Caribbean or in rural India. Dollars have greater impact because of dedicated mission workers and local church volunteers. They stretch the resources. More are assisted. The network simply expands a bit.
And the best part is that the church doesn’t leave after everything gets cleaned up and after the news crews depart. The church will be there to continue the help and provide ongoing support months and years from now. That’s true in New Orleans and it will be true on the east coast.
If you want to contribute, do it through a church, any church. My denomination, The United Church of Christ, welcomes any contribution, and pledges to be a good steward of your dollars. They’re there for the long haul.