March is Colon Cancer Awareness month. Most of you know I am a survivor of colon cancer. I was officially diagnosed March 17, 2008. St. Patrick's Day. I'm not Irish. I wasn't wearing green. I don't believe in "luck," bad or good. So for this entire week I'm going to post snapshots of my cancer story. The entire story, along with thoughts, insights, devotionals, and all the honest-to-goodness truth about dealing with cancer can be found in my memoir, Finding My Way.
My story began in early 2008 with bleeding where it shouldn't be. Over the course of a few weeks it got heavier and heavier until I finally saw the family doctor who referred me for a colonoscopy. We were both thinking a mild case of colitis. Imagine my surprise when the gastroenterologist showed me color photos of a tumor the size of a golf ball residing in my colon. The thing looked hideous, like a monster with a will of its own. He said he took a biopsy and would notify me as soon as the results came in. A couple of days later I got the call at work.
"Michael," he said, "I'm very sorry but you have colon cancer."
I didn't know what to say so I thanked him and hung up the phone. I called my wife, Jen, and told her what he'd said then finished my work day and headed home. I was numb and thinking irrationally, assuming it was just a quick procedure to extract the tumor and be done with the little monster inside me. No more cancer. Have a nice life.
That evening there was tension between Jen and me. She couldn't understand why I wasn't more upset; I didn't understand why she was so upset.
Neither of us had any idea of the storm that was brewing just over the horizon and how much we would need each other in the next ten months.
Cancer has a way of launching a full-scale attack on a number of fronts. Physically it's pretty stealthy, laying beneath the surface, spreading its poison without detection. But in every other way it's unashamedly in-your-face. Emotionally it wears you down. Day after day the uncertainties and anxieties just keep coming with no relief. Psychologically, it capitalizes on its reputation as a ruthless killer reminding you at every turn of its deadly history and many victims. Spiritually, it tests even the strongest faith and pokes holes in long-held beliefs.
It's quite the formidable foe.
The first doctor I saw after the diagnosis was the surgeon. I don't know what I expected him to say but it certainly wasn't what he said. He began to lay out the plan of attack and the farther in he got the more it felt like someone was kicking me in the gut over and over again. He mentioned surgery, ileostomy, temporary but possibly permanent, weeks of recovery, then chemo, radiation, more surgery. The hammer of reality swung down and struck me square in the chest. I remember thinking, "This is real and it's dangerous." I left there in shock, knocked back, reeling from the gravity of what we were facing, what lay ahead.
I went home and had an anxiety attack. I remember every detail of it. I was sitting at the dining room table and Jen was there beside me. We talked about what would come next even though we knew nothing of what the future held. And then it hit me. The truth of the matter was that while we waited for the secretary to call us with an appointment for the oncologist, while we waited for test results and more appointments, this monster inside me could be spreading, reaching its scaly tentacles throughout my body, infesting other organs with its rogue cells. I wanted to see the doctor right then, get things going, extract the monster from me. I couldn't wait even one day longer. One day may be too late. Every day, hour, minute was one moment too long.
I began to shake and sweat. I wanted to holler out. I didn't want to die, not like that, not at the hand of some merciless disease.
Eventually, I calmed but that seed of doubt had already been planted. From that day forward I began to entertain thoughts of death. That was right before Easter, the day we celebrate life and the Life.
All this month my memoir, Finding My Way, is on sale. The ebook is only 99 cents and the paperback is $7.70. It's so much more than a story about cancer. It's a story about life, about trials and struggles and finding hope in the midst of ever storm.