A strange urge

I’ve developed a strange urge this year. It hits me every time I see someone smoking. I feel like going over to them and asking them to give up – to quit. I’m seriously tempted to take off my shirt, show them the scars on my side, and let them know that lung cancer is no fun at all (even though mine isn’t from smoking). But you know what? I don’t! I just turn away and keep on going. The problem is I’m gutless!

I have another urge, a deeper urge. Every time one of my friends shows a disinterest in God or dismisses Christianity, I feel like pleading with them check it out – to reconsider. I want to point to the scars on Jesus’ hands, the wounds in his side, and let them know that God offers each of us a fresh start because of Jesus’ crucifixion. The consequences of rejecting God are serious, but I want to speak of the love of God, his offer of forgiveness, and his promise of life beyond death. But you guessed it! Too often I say nothing at all. I just ignore the issue and continue as though it doesn’t really matter. Let me apologise for being gutless! Seriously, let’s talk.

Waking up with a Harley

This morning I woke up with a Harley! To be specific, it was a 2012 Harley Davidson Road Glide Custom. It was my birthday present from Fiona – what a woman! Let me say this is an awesome machine. It’s got serious grunt with it’s V-twin 1690cc engine. It’s built for touring and has twin headlights, a fairing, saddle bags, glove boxes, cruise control, ABS brakes, radio, CD player, GPS, intercom, and even a cigarette lighter!

Fiona planned to hire me a Harley for my birthday but couldn’t find anywhere in Canberra that would do that. Not a problem though, because she discovered the Wake up with a Harley program. The local dealer would loan us a cruiser for 24 hours at no cost, unlimited mileage, no insurance premiums, and no excess! Thank you God!

I must admit I was pretty anxious before I picked up the bike. I hadn’t ridden since I don’t know when. The bike, weighing 370kg, was bigger than I’d ever ridden. And I’m not exactly in peak fitness. In fact I had a restless night, prior to picking it up, that reminded me of the night before I hired my first tinnie on the crocodile infested Mary River!

Yesterday I spent time getting the hang of it myself, before taking Fiona and the kids on various trips up and down Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie and around Lake Burley Griffin. My youngest paid me a compliment when we’d finished a loop, saying “Dad, you’re gun!” Not sure what that means, but it sounded good!

Today, after delivering the kids to school on the bike, Fiona and I went for a cruise together. Out to Bungendore for a coffee, across to Gundaroo, around past Murrumbateman, back to Canberra. You take in so much more on a motorbike than sitting behind the windscreen of a car. The wind, the bends, the scenery, the vibrations. It was exhilerating! Just me, the Harley, and my girlfriend hanging on behind! I felt very alive and I thanked God so much for this awesome opportunity. What a privilege to be alive and I’m so thankful to be well enough to enjoy such a treat. Who’d ever have thought I’d be cruising around on a massive motorcycle in August this year?!

The sad part was taking it back. But as they say, all good things… Would I get one? Probably not one of these cruisers. I felt a bit like one of those old blokes from the Ulysses Club. The one who’s motto is grow old disgracefully! But don’t you have to be 50 to join that club? Oops, I am!

Journey with cancer 15 Aug 2012 – a quick update

Dear friends and family

We received a progress report on the cancer this week and can happily report that there’s been no progress! The CT scans revealed that the cancer hasn’t grown or spread in the past 11 weeks. Given that I didn’t receive any aggressive chemo during this period, this is good news. We’re smiling! 🙂 In fact, our oncologist was smiling too – very good news! 🙂 🙂 Thank you God!

The plan is for me to go back on the Alimta/Avastin cocktail that I’d been on previously. We hope this will lead to the tumour shrinking even further. Preferably down to nothing! The dosage of Alimta will be reduced by 20% with the aim of keeping peripheral neuropathy at bay. I’ve also been prescribed some anti-depressants – not for depression – but because there is evidence that they may help prevent the development of neuropathy.

For those of you who pray, could you please ask God for these three things: 1) that the chemo will be effective in destroying the cancer; 2) that the side effects of the chemo won’t be too harsh; and 3) that I won’t get further neuropathy.

With thanks,

Dave

50 not out – thank God!

photo[1]Had my birthday on Sunday. 50 not out! To be honest, late last year I seriously doubted I’d see this day. As the news of cancer hit us like a tsunami… as we sat drawing up my will… as I talked seriously with some of my kids about life without their dad… as I collapsed in the x-ray room, unable to breathe or support my own weight… as I struggled to think about all the things Fiona would need to know… as my whole life seemingly passed before my eyes, with people travelling from everywhere to see me… I didn’t hold a lot of hope of seeing my 50th birthday.

But God has been very kind, and I not only reached my birthday, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was cool to be bombarded by facebook messages, emails, cards and greetings from friends all over the world. It was a great joy to share an afternoon in our backyard with a number of our friends. Fiona was awesome, she had gone to so much trouble to give me a special day – and it was! Our church sang Happy Birthday to me and gave me an incredible cake! It was a fun day. 🙂

In fact, this has been a special weekend in other ways as well. Saturday night was the annual Brumbies Presentation Dinner – a black tie affair! I couldn’t remember ever wearing a dinner suit before and I thank the two men who offered me all the bits and pieces I needed. It felt kind of cool to be all dressed up like James Bond for a night, with a pretty girl on my arm! The dinner is a night to celebrate the season and give awards to the best players. Over the years some of the best players I’ve ever seen have taken out the awards. Notably George Smith winning Players’ Player on 9 separate occasions!

awardThe shock of the evening was the announcement that I’d won an award – Best Left Right Out of the Team! No, I was given the Garry Quinlivan Service Award in recognition of service to the Brumbies. It’s an absolute honour to receive this award named after Quinzo. He’s a living legend at the Brumbies, having given his everything in serving the players since the club began. It’s been my privilege to serve as their chaplain for ten seasons. Most of the time my efforts are well hidden, behind the scenes. I don’t do it for money or recognition, but it was lovely to receive this show of appreciation.

Some weeks back I asked Marcus, our lead pastor, if I could preach on this Sunday. “But it’s your birthday”, he said. “What would you want to preach on your birthday for?! You’d better check with Fiona, and your oncologist!” I count it a special gift from God to have been able to preach from the Bible at church on my birthday. I debated whether I should, because I didn’t want to do it for my sake, just because I like preaching. But deep down I wanted to be able to share God’s word with those I love. It’s the greatest gift I had to offer them.

I love teaching God’s word to others and I love sharing in people’s lives, so it was a delight to look at this part of the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 especially stands out:

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

These words are an encouragement to me to make a priority of both truth and relationships. It’s hopeless to be a preacher who is doctrinaire and disinterested in people. It’s dangerous to be a people-pleaser who is cavalier with the truth. Genuine knowledge of God shows itself in real love for people. Real love for people will be shaped and guided by the truth. Real love leads to humbly making the truth known to others.

God’s love, revealed in the gift of Jesus Christ, is the truth that keeps me going. It’s a message of hope and life and a future beyond death itself. I know it will seem to some as wishful thinking or religious superstition. But I ask you to give the message about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection your serious consideration. If it’s true, then you have nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain.

I don’t know how many more birthdays I’m likely to see. I do pray there’ll be many more to come, but the message of Jesus gives me hope beyond birthdays. These words by John Newton express what I believe and where my hope lies:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Scanxiety

I discovered a new word the other day…

scanxiety
n. the tension which builds particulary amongst those who have or have had cancer as they move towards their regular check up scan, hyperscanxiety being the period as they await results!
Usage: His scanxiety, though suppressed, grew as he awaited his next scan in the certain knowledge that hyperscanxiety would cut in as soon as the scan was over as he awaited the results!

I can relate! Just returned from the hospital following another CT scan. I’m becoming well acquainted with this machine! It’s a couple of months since my last scan and we’re pretty keen to know what’s been going on in the interim. Especially as we’ve backed off the serious chemotherapy in this time.

Scans are my reality check. They provide the best evidence for what’s going on inside. The experts can compare scans to determine whether the tumours are growing, shrinking, spreading, or just staying much the same. Whatever’s going on, they provide objective information on which to base decisions about my treatment. This is so important, because the externals can give a false picture. Having had less chemo and having returned from a couple of weeks in the Queensland sun, people have been saying “You’re looking so well!” Maybe, but this doesn’t mean I’ve been getting better! That remains to be seen.

I’ve experienced my share of anxiety in the face of scans, but overall I think I look forward to them. Not totally sure, but I’m keen to know what we’re dealing with. Even though the scans remind me of the harsh reality that I have cancer, I’d prefer to deal with the facts. I don’t want to be flying blind. And I know that worrying won’t do me any good. I’m not going to get a better outcome by becoming more anxious. If anything, it’ll make things worse.

God’s word provides me with good reasons for not being anxious and a good alternative when anxiety creeps in. Jesus said these words to his followers in the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25-27)

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

These are excellent reasons not to be overcome by scanxiety or any other form of anxiety. Worrying is a normal response to fear and uncertainty, but it’s what we do with those worries that matters most. We are invited to pray – to share our worries with our Father in heaven. God knows me more precisely than any scan will reveal and he has my life in his loving hands. Rather than placing my hope in CTs and doctors and chemo and special targeted therapies, I will put my hope in God. I will hand my anxieties over to him. I will tell him my wants and desires, and trust him to meet all of my needs. I will ask him to guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus.

Carer’s brain

Appears it’s contagious! When Fiona saw my tee shirt, she immediately thought she should get one that read ‘Carer’s Brain’. We couldn’t find one online, so our daughter came to the rescue and made this one for her. I like the shirt, but I prefer what’s in it!

The reality is that the chemo experience isn’t simply for the patient. Chemo impacts the whole family. I’m very thankful for my family, for their patience, love and support. But it takes it’s toll on them too. Fiona has been juggling so many extra things this year, and often has to function as a single parent. She shares the worries and anxieties. She soldiers on through the ups and downs. She also grieves the ‘what could have beens’. This is not the year she had planned!

She might not remember everything, she forgets to finish sentences, she often misplaces items around the house, and she’s always having a fight with the computer… and I love her deeply!

Chemo brain

One of the effects of being treated for cancer is what’s known as ‘chemo brain’. It’s real, not imagined, and some reckon it could impact as many as 50% of chemotherapy patients. These are a few examples of what I’d describe as chemo brain:

  • Forgetting things that I usually have no trouble recalling (memory lapses)
  • Trouble concentrating (having a short attention span or ‘spacing out’)
  • Trouble remembering details like names or dates
  • Trouble multi-tasking (especially when it’s someone else asking me to do something I’m not keen to do)
  • Taking longer to finish things (disorganized, slower thinking and processing)
  • Trouble remembering common words (starting a sentence, but being unable to find the right words to … umm … umm … finish, that’s it!)

Personally, I’ve found it weird and occasionally a little worrying. I’ve usually prided myself in having a good memory and being able to multitask. I enjoy word games and puzzles. Leading a multi-congregational, multi-staff-church has meant being able to keep many balls in the air at once. Teaching and preaching most weeks for over two decades has required me to think quickly on my feet, especially as I only use brief notes. I’m hoping this will be a temporary symptom rather than the new normal!

photo[1]In the meantime I will keep exercising my brain, eat more vegetables (apparently it helps), keep up the crosswords, go for walks in the fresh air, drink coffee (not sure if it helps or not), read good books, use my diary, keep better notes, file things carefully, spend time talking with people, try to increase my physical exercise, make sure I get enough sleep, ask for help when I need it, have a bit of fun with friends and family, blog a little, pray that God will heal me, and try not to let a bit of mental fog here and there bother me too much!

Sorry, what was I talking about again?