Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Today (10-15-14 ) I am five years cancer free after undergoing 35 days of radiation and 2 cycles of chemotherapy for stage 4 throat cancer in the fall of 2009.  I am so grateful to be here. Though today is extraordinary to me, in reality, every day and every hour always is. Eternally. Extraordinary.  My life.  My next breath. Extraordinary.    Gasping and grasping and stumbling through this.  My soul coming into existence. What a tender intimacy there seems to me between me and my God. Extraordinary.  And then, in a few more breaths, I will be home with Him.     The depths of this Union. Extraordinary.

Tomorrow, day 1824 cancer free turns to day 1825 cancer free since that last bombardment of radiation.  For a while, I thought the title of the book of my life was going to be, “MY CANCER,” subtitled “MY SPECIAL SUFFERING.” I thought everyone should be very interested in reading along with me; I think I might have become a bit of an insufferable bore for the first 2 years of this cancer recovery.  Now, “MY CANCER” is just one chapter in the volume of my life. Soon, perhaps, it will be a footnote. Soon after, I myself will be a footnote.  But the remarkable thing to me is the tenderness I feel toward this chapter.   A tiny stretch of highway on my little journey that I reflect on with tears and smiles.  Oddly, one that I now only rarely regret, but, rather, mostly embrace.  And, oh, how delighted and grateful I am to be here to write this.  Today, just tears of joy…tears of joy!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Four years in remission - Pausing to give thanks

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.

Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a grave site
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

               Rainer Maria Rilke

Technically, my four year post treatment anniversary is not for another three weeks, but I had my four year check with my ENT doc today.  After the check, he said I was a "poster child" for stage four cancer recovery.   I pause to give thanks... to God, to family and friends who carried me through that ordeal.  

Every time I drive up to Omaha's Methodist Hospital (now down to once every six months) and walk through those doors, I am triggered/flooded with memories at a visceral level. I walk by the wheelchairs at the entrance to the oncology center and am reminded of the days I was too weak to walk from the car to the radiation room.   I walk past the restroom where I stood hunched over the toilet vomiting in weakness, nausea (and despair); I get on the elevator that carried me to the chemo induction room and I feel  the memory in my body.   My first glimpse of the ENT as he walks into the exam room where I am waiting brings me back to the day I went for my results of the PET scan after treatment and the words which were delivered like a blunt knife to the heart... "The scan showed there are still some cancer cells - we need to consider the options."  These words were NOT delivered directly to me, but overheard as the ENT left the door open (was it really an accident?)  in the exam room and walked next door to consult with his resident. By the time he came back to tell me essentially the same news in a watered-down way, I felt like I was dying right there in that room.   The heaviness of that moment will forever be carried in my being.   For the better part of those several months of treatment , it progressively felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper into an ocean of darkness, with momentary exhilarations of the Spirit in my being, feeling touched by God and the kindness of a few friends, family,  and strangers that I met in cyberspace through this blog.   I remember Diane, a cyber-friend who gave me so much encouragement, while she herself was fighting a losing battle with Leukemia - it is now three years since her passing.  Today I felt a pang of guilt for not sufficiently thanking her for faithfully commenting encouraging words on this blog and the other blog,  as I posted about my journey through treatment. 

So, about that poem above... it's perfect for what I am feeling today.  I am feeling that sense of being birthed from the graveyard of cancer to a wide and timeless place.   I am looking back on "the dark hours of my being" and thanks to Rilke, I am embracing those hours as the birthing pains of the life I now enjoy.  Oh, I am not some totally new being of joy and light, but I do have a deeper sense of joy and appreciation for everything residing in the depths.  I am still on a deepening spiritual journey, I am still discovering the longing I have to know God and the mystery of His working in my life, I am still trying to be a better husband to Kathy, and I am still working out all the insecurities and frailties of my fragile psyche.   But, I am writing with a smile deep inside my soul.  I think that's the truth. I really think that's the truth as my fingers dance across this keyboard. 

Thanks for reading!    

Monday, October 15, 2012

Living unreservedly…I shoulda gone for the three year subscription

I received a flyer in October 2009 for a subscription to New Yorker magazine - a magazine I had wanted to subscribe to for quite a long time. The rates were particularly attractive for the three year subscription option. At first, the bargain hunter in me was all over that little return card and postage paid envelope. I had some bills to mail as well, and took it with me when I was heading to run some errands. I never mailed that envelope; instead, I tossed it. The thought in my head was - Who knows if I’ll survive three years? In fact, even the two year, not-as-great-a-rate-but-still-a-pretty-good-deal check box was, I thought, too much of a stretch given my 15 days of survival post stage four cancer treatment. My dominant emotion in those days was fear; my dominant mood, dark and depressed. I was living tentatively, as if the next news broadcast on my life channel was certainly going to be bad… and it could come in the next few hours. Try as I might to put on an front of gratitude for surviving the treatment process, I felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually depleted.

Today (October 15, 2012), I am three years cancer free. Shoot…that label “cancer-free” is one I still sometimes have trouble with…the voice in my head still wants to say - “as far as I know” I am cancer free. However, today I can look three years further down the road and actually see myself still hanging around. It is remarkable to me that three years later, I often think of my cancer experience as one of the great blessings of my life. No…really, seriously…. not just cause it sounds right to say that. It’s like my own personal Beatitude…“Blessed are you, Steven, who has endured cancer, for you shall find a deeper reality.” It’s this feeling of being blessed, not just for surviving, but for the living in the whole of it as well. It was without a doubt the most frightening, painful, terrifying months (well, maybe more like a year) of my life. I have no doubt I had a year or so of PTSD and post cancer clinical depression. (After all, I am a psychologist, and I KNOW all the symptoms.) I am not sure exactly when the despair over cancer ended and my perception of being “blessed” began, but I think it has been present for several months now. I am really feeling like I am back now. I think for a while, I had doubts about being “back” that I didn’t want to acknowledge. But it is feeling genuine again. My life is back. I’ve never been a bubbly, “I freakin’ love life so let’s go celebrate” kind of person. But, generally speaking, I am in a pretty good place. I have days when my energy is poor, and my mojo just doesn’t feel right, but they are becoming less and less frequent.

 I still love October mornings and a big breakfast and a solitary walk. More than ever I appreciate these things. Three weeks ago, I found myself sharing a meal at a Benedictine monastery with a Monk and talking about God. How cool is that? I’ve traveled a long distance in my life . And this blog business… I’ve been touched and inspired by several people who have dealt honestly with their cancer journey and have dared write about it. I was brought face to face with the fragility of life when an internet “friend” and blogger Diane died of Leukemia exactly one year to the day after I finished treatment. It was through stumbling across her blog that led me to write about my own journey. Looking back, the writing about it was hands down the most therapeutic activity I engaged in. I think it saved my life, at least emotionally. Recently, I’ve been touched and inspired by a blog writer named Ellie, who also is a stage four throat cancer survivor and has just celebrated one year of being cancer free and is sharing her journey of recovery on her blog at Such an inspiration to me… Reading her posts have been like reading back my own experiences, expressed in such a transparent and eloquent way.

 So, about that New Yorker subscription. I should have checked the three year box with reckless abandon. I would today. Was I afraid of dying, or afraid of living? I think both. There is no point in being tentative with one’s life. Fear is such a thief. One of my many favorite scripture passages is “Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18) Yes, indeed, it does. It’s mysterious but I believe I experience God’s love indwelling in my spirit at the deepest core of my being. To be honest, there’s plenty ’o fear still ready to rear up, but a lot of it’s power has been broken.

This morning, I was doing 50 minutes (four miles) on the elliptical at my local gym. (There you go - how healthy am I - and I‘ve only gained back 20 of the 30 pounds I lost three years ago - I weigh a perfect (for me)150 pounds!) I was listening to a podcast from NPR (Krista Tippett’s “On Being” show). The guest was being interviewed about a film he made on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He stated this quote and I think it hit the nail on the head for how I am feeling today. Shortly before he was executed by the Nazis for his attempt to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer wrote: “I discovered… and am still discovering… that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint or a converted sinner…. By this worldliness, I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own suffering, but those of God in the world.” Thanks for reading this. I’ll be back again. In my own quiet way, I’ve come to freakin’ love my life!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Two years in remission

Today, October 15, 2011, I celebrate two years in remission from my stage four throat cancer. Yes, two years. My life is again full and busy and my energy is back. I taste food again, though perhaps a little less intensely. I've regained 15 of the 30 pounds I lost and I am now at a perfect weight for me. (All things considered, I'd have rather done weight watchers to lose that stubborn 15 pounds). I have a few lingering issues - I am hypothyroid (and on meds for that) and my salivary glands forgot to come back (I drink more water than my lawn). These are small things in the grand scheme of my life.

Here is what I want to say:

Cancer is such a hard journey. I have not the adjectives to describe the emotional, physical and spiritual difficulty of it. It leaves a hole in your body, your life. Rather, I should say, it left a hole in my body, my life. But looking back, I see that God was and is there...and in some mystical way, the ruins and ravages of cancer left more space for Him to fill and inhabit. I didn't always experience that filling in the moment... quite the contrary, in the moment of suffering, I was aware of little else but my pain and self-pity. I was so miserable (and, dare I say, cowardly) in my suffering. Nonetheless, I believe that it happened. I know it. And I believe I am on a journey home. If I am to linger here, I'm blessed. And if He makes a shortcut for me, I am blessed again. I may not always be so joyously positive; I know I was awfully depressed in the darkest days of radiation and chemotherapy... But this is where I am today.

There is much about suffering, there is much about gratitude, there is much about compassion that I have yet to understand, but I am still growing... there are vast oceans of growth yet to cross.

If anyone stumbles here and is on that hard journey, I am honored by your presence. If I can pray, encourage, listen... send me an e-mail: We are strengthened when we walk together. I am strengthened when I listen. And more than ever, I am learning to listen.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just remember this One Thing

My journey continues - 1.5 years into remission!!!

A reminder:

In sickness, in brokenness, in wholeness, in life and in death...and at all points in between...
please remember... you are loved. It can be a hard a thing to take hold of the hand of God... but it is not too hard a thing for Him to take hold of us!

I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:8

Posted by steve at 5:10 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, March 15, 2011