Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Watching while reading the river Styx

Update on matters concerning cancer and its treatment.

Cancer, the unwanted visitor, showed up for me last August. By September, when I started being poked and prodded as a treatment plan was worked out, I had started this blog, "Reading the River Styx" as a way of reflecting on what was happening to me and around me. If you have read this far it is because you know I have been doing this.

The thought was (following the suggestion of the Greeks) that we all sit by the river across which we travel to the place of the dead and we read the signs in the river and in our lives that have to do with this uncharted trip. And, of course, with the diagnosis of cancer of the tongue, came the question, "is this the signal that the final trip is underway?" 

Well, apparently not. On Monday, March 13th, I got the results of the PET and CT Scans taken on Friday the 10th.  The PET Scan came back negative - no signs of any cancer anywhere. The CT Scan report contained a cautionary note, namely that one of the lymph nodes in which there were cancer cells is still somewhat enlarged. 

The medical team at Dana Farber recommend either close monitoring (watching) or surgery to remove the lymph node. Either way, the basic good news is that nothing "lit up" with the PET Scan radioactive markers and that the CT Scan does not show any growth in the lymph node. The strong probability is that the lymph node has been radiated completely and consists of dead tissue with no cancer. But the cautionary note is there, since other nodes did reduce in size.

So, I will see the surgeon in two weeks an she and I will explore the options and unless she has a convincing argument for immediate action we will watch for six weeks and do a further CT Scan and see if the node has shrunk. If it is stable or reduced in size we will probably just continue to watch, if not we will operate. Either way the medical team is very confident that "that will be that." Cancer gone.

The news then is very good. There is high confidence that this particular cancer is not the sign of the beginning of the last trip across the river Styx.

And yet things are changed. I am now numbered among cancer survivors, meaning a survivor day by day while living with a new reality. The visitor could return. And most certainly I now know that some visitor (cancer or some other death dealing thing) will come and ask for me to be companion on the trip out onto the river of death and to the far shore.  I now look for members of this club, people who know the near presence of the visitor who will one day come. Perhaps not as cancer, but in some other guise. We have lots to talk about.

And we laugh, and tell jokes: One of the jokes in Cancer land is this: The doctors were glad to report that the cancer had been beaten back and the patient was "clear." Their closing advice? "Be careful in crossing the street. It's deadly out there." We know something will visit us at the end.

Meanwhile: I'm still in recovery from the "aggressive" treatment plan - radiation and chemotherapy together. Taste is returning, as is swallowing. I still get tired rather quickly. I have very dry mouth. I still augment regular foods with some protein drinks. I've got some residual problems from the radiation: fragile teeth, lymphedmia, lack of saliva. But the over all report is things are on the mend.

People who have gone through this stuff report out that the old self  (Self 1.0) is replaced by a new and different self (Self 2.0). Things will not be the same.

Unfortunately there is no guarantee that self 2.0 is an improvement, much less the hoped for self who is born again. Spiritual wholeness and / or perfection is not an expected outcome of sitting by the river Styx and reading the waters. (Sigh)

Which leads, of course, to the observation that all this stuff is about salvation, but is not itself salvation. There is no salvation by way of suffering, with or without grumbling, nor by escaping death one more time by running as fast as possible.

It turns out salvation involves loving God and particularly God present in the stranger, the visitor, and even the unwelcome ones. In the end the death bringing visitor belongs also to life abundant.

I know this friends, because in all the difficulties, traumas and fears of these pasts months I have been washed in the loving-kindness of so many of you who have written words of encouragement. And I know this because in a wonderfully simple way I continue to live within God's love known in the presence of friend Jesus, who is the welcomed visitor and a sign of life even in the midst of death.

More later.