January 30, 2005

News of My Mortality

Today at church a couple of people told Marilyn that they had heard that I had three-months to live. It was news to her and to me! I assume that someone has come to that understanding and is sharing such important information with others. The truth is that I don't know how long I may survive. My doctors don't know how long I may survive. Medical statistics just can't be applied to an individual case. I think I know where the rumor may have started. A radiologist explained to Marilyn and me that response to cancer follows the familiar bell curve. bellcurveweb.jpg On the left side of the bell curve, are grouped a small number of people with my form of cancer who may die from the disease within two or three months. On the far right side are those very few who experience a remission of their cancer. In between are the great numbers of people who will survive more that three months and less than forever. I could be in the three month category and am content with that possibility. However that is not something anyone but God knows for sure. My response is to praise my Maker for each day of life and to receive it with gratitude and joy. If my days are few or many I will be content, for each is filled with grace. When my life ends, you may be sure that it will be reported here . . . in a spirit of joy and thanksgiving.
Posted by Donel at 01:10 PM | Comments (9)

January 27, 2005

Walking the Walk

20050126_Donel_Marilyn.jpg Martin has been visiting for several days this week. He is helping with cleaning out my office at church and working to get a little more order into the stuff I have stored here. Today we took a walk to Fairhaven for breakfast, then followed the new boardwalk trestle along Bellingham Bay, skirted Boulevard Park and walked north on the walking trail to steps which take us up to our own Forest Street. It was a leisurely walk which provided hundreds of laudable views and glimpses of bird life along the way. Martin took a number of pictures including this on that morning. Our total route was about three miles and included some hills. I was ready for a smoothie and a little reading in my favorite recliner following the adventure. Walking continues to be comfortable for me and Marilyn and I strive to walk at least a mile around our neighborhood each day. Walking is the appropriate pace to enjoy the new buds in neighbor's yards, check on the progress of the four houses being built in our immediate area, and to enjoy glimpses of Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Canadian mountains above Vancouver, BC. The world is ever changing when we can slow down enough to watch it.
Posted by Donel at 12:43 PM | Comments (1)

January 23, 2005

Dancing On Sunday

Pulpit-blog.jpg This morning I had an important announcement to make at church. On Tuesday I realized that I could not continue even at half-time in February, as long as I was continuing radiation and using pain medication. I simply could not predict my energy level or my ability to perform the tasks of ministry in a reliable way. On Wednesday morning I spoke with the church officers and told them that I would be retiring at the end of January. I then told the church staff and a few others who needed to know. This morning, as worship began, my eye went to the carving on the pulpit. The three dancing figures were created by an artist in the congregation, Glen Goforth, a number of years ago as part of the stewardship campaign. They were incorporated into carvings by Doug Hudson, another member, on the pulpit. communion table, and four entrance doors to the sanctuary. I had always loved them, but realized today that they had become an icon of my dance with cancer as well as an image of community. I had decided not to preach this morning so I shared my news at the time of Concerns and Celebrations at the very beginning of the service. Later was responsible for the communion prayer and assisted in serving communion. Obviously, it was a moving experience as the community and I realized that this may be the last time I celebrate the sacrament in this congregation. I was doing pretty well serving communion, until the choir began to sing "Lord of the Dance." I'm not sure some people heard me choke out "the body of Christ for you" as the long line passed my station and I offered them the broken bread. At the annual meeting I explained a little more about what it meant for a minister of the United Church of Christ to retire. The ethics of my profession require that upon retirement I no longer provide any pastoral services: communion, baptism, pastoral calling, or the like. Nor will I comment upon the decisions made by the church or the staff after I have retired. Generally, upon retirement, a minister is asked to leave the congregation for a minimum of a year so the church can seek new leadership without concern about the former pastor. The church had graciously waived this expectation to allow Marilyn and me to have access to worship with our beloved community as my dance with cancer continues. So I will be in the pew, and as a layperson in the church, I will continue to offer my five-week Lenten class "Dancing with Cancer" The morning was somewhat exhausting simply because of the love and affection expressed by so many. Now to the monumental task of cleaning out my church office and an accumulation of twenty-two years of important stuff I set aside for a later time. I know that God accompanies me in this dance, and that even I will end up with a clean office.
Posted by Donel at 09:38 PM | Comments (17)

January 22, 2005

Radiation and Tea

This has been a quiet week in this blog world. Thank goodness for those of you who make comments! I read and am strengthened by each one. On the other hand the week has been a busy one for me and my family. Last Tuesday I was able to consult with the renal and prostate experts at the Seattle Cancer Alliance. They confirmed that the tumors in my spine were most probably renal cancer. Tuesday evening I began radiation for the spine as well as the prostate. Both treatments seem to be going very well. The spinal radiation frequently causes nausea so I take an anti nausea drug an hour before treatment. My appetite seems to be very good afterward. I am also using pain relievers since the spinal tumors press on the spinal cord and cause pain in my left back and groin. We have been balancing pain relief against side effects. Those are, as so many of you know to well, constipation. That indelicate problem occupied most of my waking thought and anxiety from Wednesday through Friday. All I can say is the line from some ad . . . "what a relief it is! " Saturday Marilyn and I walked with close friends and near in-laws Keith and Eulalah Craswell to Fairhaven for lunch at Marilyn's favorite restaurant, Abbey Garden Tea Room. Marilyn's review is here. I had an herbal tea called Monk's Prayer. It suited me. Then we returned home via the boardwalk out over Bellingham Bay and through Boulevard Park, then along the trail to s long flight of steps that ends at the end of our street. We managed about 3 miles in all. This evening I worked on some important but difficult words for an announcement at Sunday's worship service.
Posted by Donel at 08:37 PM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2005

The Dance

In my eyes it's a call to war. A fight: The Cancer has come; Gather the troops, Defend thyself! Build strength through health and knowledge and the newest discoveries, but with everything you have … FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! And yet, to Dad, ever teaching through his unique lens on the world, it is a dance. Not a chosen dance, to be sure, but a dance none the less. And each move is graceful, each new song, though not requested is greeted with fresh movement and grace. And so I back down with my call to arms. Open myself to the possibility, and dance. I dance with my husband through my fear and my hope. I dance with my children remembering how precious they are each and every day. I dance with my brother, my sister, my mom as we weave through this scary, painful and yes, even sometimes funny thing called cancer. And, now, especially now, I dance with my Father, as I continue to learn to approach life ~ and all that threatens it ~ from a new perspective, one of courage and faith, gained through grace and acceptance. Funny that I should learn this from Dad, I thought I was the dancer in the family. But learn I do. Life is much more precious as a dance than a war. It's easier to see the subtleties and appreciate the small victories… nay, the adagios. And in this new and tentative dance, I find release, and faith, and a deep welling joy. Keep Dancing…
Posted by Jeni at 09:06 AM | Comments (6)

January 14, 2005

Good News Bad News

Today I went in for a MRI of my back to see if we can find what has been causing me so much back pain. It was a restful hour on my back in a clean room with an impressive machine. I got to listen to classical music in earphones through much of the procedure. Although the noise of the Magnetic Resonator pretty well drowns out the music when it is in operation. The images were sent to a radiologist and then to my radiation oncologist. I got the report this afternoon. The good news is that they found the source of my back pain. The bad news is that it is probably a metastasis of the renal tumor in two sections of my spine. We will now consult with all the doctors including this new information to consider the best treatment plans. I anticipate radiation to the spine and perhaps some modification of the dosed to the prostate, That conversation will occur next week among the team who has taken on the daunting task of interpreting massive data into human language for Marilyn and I to consider. This news came a little earlier than I had anticipated but it is no surprise. It looks like my dance steps will have to become a little more forceful and nimble. I'll be working on them in my dreams.
Posted by Donel at 10:14 PM | Comments (6)

January 11, 2005

Loss of the Gold Standard

It has been awhile since I have updated this blog and my journey is getting ahead of the telling. This week I began radiation treatment on my prostate at Northwerst Radion Oncology Associates The center is very comfortable and staffed by the nicest people you could ever want to meet. That's important since there is little modesty possible in radiation. One of my friends gave me helpful heads-up. Women take everything off above the waist; men take everything off below the waist. Of course we get a lovely gown to tie around our exposed limbs while waiting. When I saw the radiologist I learned something new. Remember those three tiny gold markers inserted by the urologist with some effort into my prostate? They are gone, disappeared, kaput! The assumption is that they may have backed out the way they went in and are now enhancing in their tiny way the effluent of the Bellingham sewer system. Easy come, easy go, as they say. (more details in addition -- for those who want to know) No problem. The radiation beam is very accurately oriented with laser markers lined up with three tattoos on my hips and groin. They are my first body adornments but I won't be showing them off ant time soon. Next a small ballon is inserted into my anus (it feels pretty much like you imagine) and filled with 100cc of water. That expands the rectal wall and positions the prostate firmly so the beam can find it easily. Then I lie on the table and this magnificent piece of technology circles my body stopping about seven times in its rounds to deliver a dose of radiation. I relax and listen blissfully to my iPod. Lately I have been playing a compilation son, Martin gave me for Christmas: music by Radiohead, The Decmberists, The Magnetic Fields, Rilo Kiley, Band of Bees, and Iron & Wine. These are not in my usual repertoire but Martin has a gift of selecting wonderful music from very obscure bands. Frankly, I love it! My radiation sessions are at 4:30 in the afternoon so it is a pleasant way to end the work day. The staff is always happy to seem me because I am their last patient.
Posted by Donel at 09:51 PM | Comments (1)

January 04, 2005

One Day at a Time

I have called the doctor about the discomfort in my back—in fact I have called three and am counting. The office of the radiation oncologist sent me to my primary medical provider. I called and got into his office on Monday, not wanting to attempt anything during the New Year holiday. He told me that it didn't appear to be back pain and suggested that I contact doctors at SCCA (Seattle Cancer Care alliance) I have done that and we are emailing back and forth to see if we can pin down the problem. In the meantime ibuprofen and Tylenol are being rotated to lessen the discomfort. I am preparing to begin radiation on January 10th so I have a high priority appointment to add to my pocket PC -- M-F for eight weeks. I am looking forward to the process as I never fail to learn something as I dance with my cancer.
Posted by Donel at 07:38 PM | Comments (3)