Faith and Cancer

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

I awoke at 3:30 this morning to a dark, quiet, peaceful house.  As I lay in bed, drowsily assessing my condition, I slowly realized that for the first time in over a week I had no pain and no nausea.  I was a little thirsty and knew I should sit up and drink some water…hydration is very important right now…but chose, instead, to simply lie still for another hour.  Sitting, swallowing, even moving could easily lead to pain or nausea, and I wanted just another hour simply enjoying the peaceful pleasure of being free of both, no matter how temporary.  So, I lay peacefully still, thankfully pain free, reflecting on how recently this was my norm.

To put it in proper perspective, you have to understand how healthy I was prior to my cancer diagnosis in December.  I had so few prior health issues the nurses acted skeptical of my correct completion of the various new-patient medical forms.  The entry interview for my first CT-scan was typical.

“Mr. Pote, it looks like you skipped the current medications section.  What all medications do you take each day?”

“None.”

“None?  No blood pressure medicine?  No pain medicine?  No acid reflux medicine?”

“No, Ma’am.  No medicine.”

“You don’t ever take any medicine at all?”

“Well, sometimes I take a Tylenol or ibuprofen if I have a headache, but no daily med’s unless you count the caffeine in my coffee.”

“Hmmm!  Well that’s good.  Now, what about this prior surgery section?  You didn’t list any surgeries.”

“No, ma’am.”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never had any surgeries?  Not even a tonsillectomy?”

“Well, in my early twenties I had a wart removed from my little toe, and I’ve had a few other similar outpatient procedures for ingrown toenails and such, but I assumed the form was asking about surgeries requiring general anesthesia and I’ve not had any of those.”

“Well, that’s good!  That’s real good!  Now, what about this section on pain?  Where all are you experiencing pain?”

“No pain.  I feel great!”

“Mr. Pote, if you don’t have any pain or any complaints or medical issues, why are you even here doing a scan?”

“We’re just trying to figure out why this lymph node is swollen,” I responded touching the swollen area on the right side of my neck.

The scan showed a tumor, which led to biopsy surgery, which showed the tumor to be malignant.  A second surgery followed to remove the tumor along with the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.

A couple of weeks later, we began a rigorous seven-week treatment plan of weekly chemo treatments combined with twice-daily radiation treatments.  Having just completed my 3rd week of radiation and my 4th chemo treatment, I’m counting myself as half-way through.

The first two weeks weren’t too bad in terms of side-effects, but this last week has been a lot tougher.  Some days are harder than others.  I keep reminding myself that I’m half done…and I keep counting my many blessings…while praying for strength and wisdom.

Do you realize how much faith it requires to undergo cancer treatment based solely on a doctor’s word? Click To Tweet

Remember, prior to my diagnosis I felt great!  I was active, energetic, and pain free.  I had an excellent immune system and was rarely ill, even when the rest of my family came down with whatever bug was circulating.  Other than the apparently-minor-issue of a swollen lymph node, I was the very picture of good health!

And remember, I have never personally seen or felt the cancer.  Relying solely on the word of medical professionals and the results of medical tests and scans…the evidence of things not seen…I submitted to surgery.

And remember, the cancer was surgically removed.  The surgeon reported successfully removing all visible signs of cancer.  The post-surgery CT-scan showed no abnormalities.

However, the biopsy showed this to be a very aggressive cancer, likely to return unless all microscopic traces are eradicated through further treatment.  And this particular cancer is known to be very responsive to the combination of radiation and chemo treatment.  Medically, my prognosis is excellent…the substance of things hoped forif I complete the prescribed treatment plan.

I sought a second opinion and was told the exact same thing by an independent expert.  I argued, “You don’t understand how healthy I am.  I am in excellent health.  I have a very robust immune system.  I hardly ever get sick.  Why can’t my immune system eradicate any remaining microscopic cancer cells, if there even are any?”

“It possibly could, but this is a very aggressive cancer, and it may not.  Left untreated, you have a much higher likelihood of the cancer returning.  With the prescribed treatment plan, you have a very low probability of the cancer returning.  Yes, you are young.  You are healthy.  You have a strong immune system.  You have a high expectancy of many more years of active health.  These are the very reasons you need to follow the treatment plan, because you are strong enough to handle it well and young enough to maximize the benefits.”

Logically, that makes perfect sense.  Rationally, I know the cancer treatment plan is the right decision.  Emotionally, I still sometimes struggle with it.  On my worst days battling pain and nausea, I ask myself, “Why am I putting myself through this?  I don’t even know if there is any cancer left to kill.  For all I know, I may already be cancer free.  And until I started this treatment, I felt great!”

Then I click back through the data…the research results…the accumulated histories of patients fighting the exact same cancer I’m fighting…and I know the right decision is to keep going until it’s done.

That requires a lot of faith!  …faith that my doctors have a correct diagnosis…faith in the medical technology…faith in the medical research…faith in medical knowledge and wisdom.  It’s easy to intellectually accept these things based on scientific evidence.  It is much harder to act on that accepted knowledge when the action carries a very burdensome path of lengthy treatment.  It’s still all substance of things hoped for based on evidence of things not seen.  My only knowledge of the cancer is my doctors’ word.  I am relying completely on the medical community for both the diagnosis and the best treatment plan.

That requires a lot of faith in the medical community!

If I can have that much faith in the medical community, how much more faith can I have in my Heavenly Father?  How much more faith can I have in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who continually displays His faithfulness and lovingkindess?  How much more faith can I have in Jesus Christ, my Savior, Redeemer, and Deliverer, who, for our sake, submitted Himself to be tortured, crucified, and killed?  How much more faith can I have in the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, sent by Christ Himself, to comfort, teach, instruct, and bestow wisdom?

By faith, I choose to believe my doctor when he tells me this treatment plan is going to be very tough, but is ultimately for my own good and the best thing for me.  How much more can I believe God when he tells me:

…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

Fear not for I have redeemed thee
I have called thee by my name; thou art mine.
When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.
When thou passest through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.
When thou passest through the fires, thou shall not be burned.
Neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
For I am the Lord thy God. (Isaiah 43:1-3)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His namesake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil.
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil.
My cup runneth over.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord…forever! (Psalm 23)

Now faith…

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Healing

our family riding horses

Riding with family

When I married my Rodeo Queen, I understood horses and tack were part of the deal.  However, I had no idea as to the magnitude of cultural and language barriers to be overcome for effective communication.

On Monday, December 14, 2015, my doctor informed me the CT-scan of my neck showed a tumor-like mass.  Appointments were scheduled for PET-scan and biopsy surgery later that week.  We did not yet know whether the tumor was malignant, but my medical team was working under the assumption that it likely was.

In the course of one afternoon, Sherri and I were required to adjust our thinking from expecting my swollen lymph node to be a minor concern to realizing it was a huge concern.  It was a lot to try to wrap our minds around and emotions swirled.  We weren’t sure, yet, exactly what we were facing or how timing would play out, but we began to let employers know our work schedules would need to be flexible for a while.

Tuesday afternoon Sherri’s name popped up on my ringing phone.  I pressed the answer button with, “I love you!”  “I love you, too,” Sherri responded, “What did you think of that clinic I texted you about?”

I hadn’t received the text, but the mention of a clinic left me wanting time to process…to review, think, and pray.  Sherri had mentioned second opinions the night before.  While that sounded like a good idea, I wanted to get a diagnosis before we started soliciting more professional input.  My response to Sherri was brief, “I haven’t seen a text.”

“I sent you a text about a clinic.  I want you to look at it and tell me what you think. I’ll send it again, so you can look at it.”

“Okay, I’ll look at it.  What’s the name of the clinic?”  I assumed we were talking about a clinic within reasonable driving distance, such as UAMS in Little Rock or MD Anderson in Houston, but wondered if she was thinking something further away like Mayo Clinic.

“I don’t remember the name,” she responded, “but it’s a two-day healing clinic in mid-January.  I think it might be really good for us if you’re able to travel then.”

What?  I wasn’t sure exactly what a two-day healing clinic was…nor why Sherri was looking into it.  Sherri is very level-headed…not prone to rushing to try the latest health fad.  She also tends to have a healthy dose of skepticism toward spiritual things requiring more open-mindedness than her Baptist raising.  Of the two of us, I am the one more open to natural remedies and miraculous intervention.  Although I knew Sherri was upset about my impending diagnosis, this was totally unexpected.

And a two-day clinic?  What was supposed to happen in two days?  Was this two days of Pentecostal-style name-it-and-claim-it preaching with a five-step plan to claiming your healing in two days or less?  Or was it two days of charismatic info-mercial-style lectures proclaiming benefits of expensive herbs with an abundance of anecdotal testimonials combined with limited scientific study?  Either way, I was skeptical.

That’s what was running through my mind, but all that came out of my mouth was a stammered, “What? Two-day healing clinic!  I don’t…I don’t even know what that means.  What are you talking about? What…what is a two-day healing clinic?”

“It’s just a clinic…a two-day clinic to learn about healing.  I’ll resend the text explaining it.”

“Okay.  I’ll look at it, but we don’t even have a diagnosis yet.  I really think we need to focus on the PET-scan and tonsillectomy this week.”

Long pause…followed by a stifled giggle…

“Oh, Joe!  I’m so sorry!  It’s not a medical clinic.  It’s a team roping clinic….for Dawson.  A heeling clinic, as in roping a steer’s back legs.  It looks really good, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to travel by then.”

We both laughed out loud!  Some much needed levity in the midst of a confusing situation.

That’s life married to my Rodeo Queen!  🙂

One more small detail…

One week later I had a second surgery to remove the tumor which biopsy had shown to be cancer.  Coming out of anesthesia, my mind was focused on one thing, “I have to learn to team rope!  I want to team rope with Dawson, and I have to learn to rope!”  When Sherri came into the recovery room I greeted her with, “I have to learn to team rope!”

I’m not sure what that means.

People say some crazy things coming out of anesthesia, and maybe this was just my own craziness coming out.  Or maybe it was my subconscious giving voice to some deep seated desire.  Or maybe it was a subconscious recollection of the prior conversation with Sherri and the word play on healing and heeling.  Or maybe it was God, Himself, taking advantage of the quiet of anesthesia to get my attention.

I’m truly not sure.

But, as I’ve had time to think about it, the idea appeals to me.  I know I’ll never be competitive, but it would be pretty cool to learn to rope…and finding another activity to enjoy with an adolescent child is always a good thing.  Right now, I’m still recuperating from surgery and my right arm lacks the strength to twirl and throw a rope.  But maybe that’s exactly what I’ll need for physical therapy a few weeks from now.

Maybe I’ll find healing in heeling!

Sounds like a good goal, at any rate.  🙂

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Lineage Matters

Knockout Round

Knockout Round

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Four-Sixes Ranch in west Texas, for the Return to the Remuda Sale.  What an amazing weekend!

We visited with family and friends, met some famous horsemen, toured a well-managed ranch, watched some beautiful horses, and even acted as photographers for an expectant cousin’s baby gender reveal.

A boy!

A boy!

Then, to top it all off, we purchased a really nice horse…and won a really nice saddle!

In making plans for the sale, Sherri and I discussed spending budgets, reviewed the sales descriptions of each horse, and discussed what we were looking for.  However, I did not really expect to buy a horse.  I had been to the same sale a couple of years ago and already knew the bidding was way outside our range.  With few exceptions, the bidding was way outside our range this year too.

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

Ken Raye Custom Saddle

We were looking for a well-bred gelding with ranch work and roping experience.

So was everyone else!

The experienced geldings 7 to 15 years of age were bringing top dollar.  The participating ranches are known for well-bred horses.  The 6666 Ranch, in particular, has a world-renowned horse breeding program.  And a well-bred horse experienced in west Texas ranch work is going to be ready for almost anything a rider would want to do in the way of ranch or rodeo riding.

The bidding was also high for the young stud colts.  Although the colts lack experience, they have the ability to sire more well-bred colts.  Someone involved in American Quarter Horse breeding would have a hard time finding a stud colt with better pedigree credentials than these.

The horse we bought is a four-year-old gelding named Knockout Round.  Knockout is too young to really be called experienced, and can’t breed because he’s been gelded.  So the bidding was more in our dollar range.  Although he needs a bit more finish work, we are very pleased with our good-natured high-pedigree Four-Sixes-bred ranch horse.

horse sale adWhich got me thinking about the importance of lineage.

For every horse in that sale, pedigree was an important selling point.  Lineage is so important that a pedigree chart was provided for every single horse in the sale.  Most of these horses have a few champions in their ancestry.  Although no guarantee, performance of ancestors provides some indication of potential performance of the horse.  High performing horses with good confirmation, plenty of strength, speed and agility, who learn quickly, respond well to training, and instinctively understand cattle, tend to sire horses with similar traits.

Lineage matters.

Lineage matters not only for horses, but also for people.

According to the Bible, as descendants of Adam, we all inherit Adam’s slavery to sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:22).  We inherit Adam’s natural inclination toward sin and selfishness.  Sin is not just something we do.  Sin is part of who we are…an inherited trait.  Our pedigree naturally prevents our being godly and limits us to being sinful and selfish.  In fact, because of Adam’s sin, we all have a natural pedigree as children of Satan with a natural inclination to lie and murder as Satan does (Genesis 3:15, John 8:44).

But that’s not the end of the story.

John 1:12, speaking of Jesus, says:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Think about that.

We understand the importance of pedigree, and we know pedigree cannot be changed.  We can improve a horse’s nutrition.  We can provide training.  We can address medical concerns.  There are a lot of things we can do to help a horse achieve its full potential.  However, there is nothing we can do to improve the limitations imposed by poor lineage.

Yet, here God tells us since the limitations of our pedigree cannot be overcome, He will give us a whole new pedigree!  By receiving Christ and believing in His name, we are redeemed from that relationship with the kingdom of darkness and given a whole new lineage as children of God.  We become born of God!

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14)

That’s amazing!

Lineage matters…and we are given a choice. Click To Tweet

What lineage do you choose?  Child of satan, or child of God?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Wellspring, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Faith – Love – Joy

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This past weekend was such a precious time with family! In reflecting on the sweet memories, three themes stand out…faith, love, and joy. Usually, when our family does a weekend getaway, it’s planned weeks or months in advance. This time … Continue reading

Trust Me

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Fear Not

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Although I am not a horseman, we do own several horses and I do enjoy working with them.  Do not assume this means I know much about horses…I don’t…but I enjoy learning.  🙂 One of our horses is a little … Continue reading

Relational Idolatry

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  Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even … Continue reading

God’s Beloved Misfit

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Warm Up

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Although I am not a horseman, my wife grew up riding horses and our 12-year-old is a rodeo athlete.  My role seems to be a crazy mix of stable hand, horse groomer, cheerleader, photographer, and student. I’m learning and having a lot of … Continue reading

Alphabet Epiphany

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It’s hard to believe he’s a grown man, now.  It seems like yesterday this strong young man was a child taking in the world with wide-eyed wonder. I recall one day, when he was five years old, watching him recline … Continue reading