No one likes receiving bad news, even those of us who are unnaturally accustomed to it. I remember sitting with my dad when we met with his oncologist back in 2007. My dad had been battling lung cancer for about a year and already had major surgery to remove a lobe of his lung. We knew his cancer had returned, but not to what degree. When we discussed life expectancy, the doctor told us “we’re talking in terms of months.” As hard as it was to take, we kind of expected it. I put my arm around my father, unsure what to say, as he stoically took the news.
So when my doctor told me on Wednesday that I’ve relapsed and have just months to live, I couldn’t help but notice the irony. As heartbreaking as it was to lose my dad, it’s an entirely different set of emotions when you’re the subject of the unwelcome prognosis.
A War on Three Fronts
Since my transplant in January 2014, we’ve been fighting a pitched battle against three different enemies: leukemia, infections from a weakened immune system, and graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which is brought on by donor cells. It’s like playing whack-a-mole. As we get one under control, another enemy outflanks us.
You cannot fight all three aggressively at the same time as the treatments work against each other. For instance, the GVHD has made a mess of my lungs. To treat it, my new immune system is suppressed, making me susceptible to infections. Meanwhile, the leukemia is left mostly unchecked since chemo further suppresses my immune system. It’s a vicious cycle with my body used as the battleground.
We’ve known all along that the odds of surviving acute myeloid leukemia (AML) were not in my favor, but we still chose to fight it tooth-and-nail. First with intense chemotherapy, then a stem-cell (bone marrow) transplant, and then even more chemo. I’ve done clinical trials and endured 17 bone marrow biopsies and 18 spinal taps, other biopsies and procedures –you name it—to try to defeat this enemy. The enemy has used his entire arsenal and seems to have the upper hand.
Better to Have Loved…
You can imagine conversations Christi and I have had during the last few days. The emotions have been overwhelming at times. We’re heartbroken, angry, and devastated. I’m confused by how many earnest people have told me that I’ll be healed over the last couple years. Were they all wrong? Or just overly hopeful? Why does my family have to suffer? Why can’t it just be me?
We’ve reminisced a lot. See, we’ve had a fairy tale marriage, but it doesn’t look like it will end happily ever after, at least on this earth. We’ve talked about when we met (on a blind date), our travels, and the mundane things like cooking dinner together and sipping wine while listening to Norah Jones (before kids, of course; it was Veggie Tales after Emmy was born). But, despite the agony and sorrow, I would choose her every time, leukemia or not.
It’s heartbreaking to think of my girls growing up without a father. I know God can be a better Father than me. I’ve asked other trusted men to help be a positive role model for them, but that’s supposed to be my responsibility. They’re going to need their daddy’s love, his touch, his reassurance, and I’m not going to be there to give it. My heart breaks continuously. And my Mom and brother…who’s going to take care of them as they get older?
Despite the news, we’re not giving up hope. I’m continuing physical therapy, tube feedings, and trying to eat. In fact, I gained some weight and a up to 110 lbs., though still far from my fighting weight of 155 lbs. My body really isn’t strong enough for more chemo, which would further suppress my immune system and put me at increased risk for infection. I’d rather spend whatever time I do have at home with those I love.
All is not lost. If it were, then Jesus died for nothing. He still heals and works miracles. Whether my Lord decides to heal me or not, my hope is that my life has been an honor to Him. I wouldn’t have chosen this, but I choose Him because he first chose me.
“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.”
Philippians 1:20 NLT