If my health records were still on paper, the stack would resemble what you might find in the office of a professor grading term papers. I won’t begin to list all the stuff this old body’s been through. Of course, the biggest deal was my lung transplant in November 2015, which restored my vitality and extended my life.
But the downside of an organ transplant is the suppression of your immune system. It has to be “faked out,” so as not to reject the foreign item being placed in it . . . in my case, a left lung. Unfortunately, the drugs required for this process turn down your defenses against disease, including cancer. Your body’s self-healing system gets one hand tied behind it’s back, even though it still has to do its whole job. In the three and a half years since my transplant, I’ve had more than thirty skin cancers. Thankfully, my son Ross is a skin cancer surgeon. He’s removed these rascals, sometimes on the very day they’ve been identified.
But in December 2017, a small place appeared on my forehead . . . a tiny spot with a purple hue. It was biopsied immediately, but much to everyone’s surprise and chagrin, it turned out to be Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare but virulent cancer. The spot was removed, radioactive scans were done, and lymph nodes were removed and found to be benign. Still, the folks at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute decided it would be wise to radiate the area around the spot. Five and a half weeks of daily radiation later, and we were done.
Or so we thought . . .
About two months ago, I began to notice a little pain shooting down the left side of my neck. It was inconsistent and very subtle. After a few days, I detected a small knot under my left ear. Long story short, the biopsy from Emory showed the Merkel cell carcinoma was back and far bigger than the first time. Merkel is three times more virulent than melanoma and very rare . . . only about 3,000 cases in the U.S. each year. On June 14th, Dr. Lowe, a surgical oncologist at Emory, removed the tumor and all the lymph nodes in the surrounding area. The disease was evident in only one lymph node and isn’t believed to have spread anywhere else.
So . . . I’ve begun another regimen of daily radiation therapy treatments going through August 28th. I’ve been told to expect dysfunction in my jaw, mouth ulcers, and difficulty in swallowing. After that, I’ll go on a three-month PET scan routine to monitor for recurrence (which we’re told, almost always happens with Merkel).
We are in our Father’s hands. He is always good, and He loves us immeasurably. We are asking Him (not demanding) that the side effects from the radiation treatments be minimal or at least manageable. We’re asking that the disease be eradicated and not return, at least for a long time. Most importantly, we’re asking for the courage and faith to bend what we want to align with what He wants.
So, if you would, please pray for Miriam and all my family . . . for them to experience God’s presence in this season. And please pray that I would have the peace of Christ as I go through this . . . a peace that surpasses all understanding.
For those who want to follow along on our journey, check out our CaringBridge page.
And lastly, while you’re praying, ask that our 270 churches and 1,400 mentors would keep leading Radical Mentoring groups!
Thanks for being in this with us,