Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Miracle Patient

Another good report from MDA!
(& I hereby apologize for not updating here before now...I got my chops busted twice within 50 feet of walking into church for not updating my blog! *smile*)

Many are the thoughts & emotions this news evokes. (Rest easy though...I'll not be trying to capture all of them here...*smile*)

Basically, the same spot that showed up last year is still there. Right @ the end of one of the previous surgery scars. IMPORTANT BOTTOM LINE: Dr. Homsi's not worried about it; neither is the radiologist who read the scan. Next thing on the cancer list: another followup scan in early February. *smile*

We feel extremely fortunate to be where we are:
June, 08 - stage IV metastatic melanoma in both lungs...
Sept, 09 - skipping appts w/ the surgeon because of good P.E.T. results.
Amazing...simply amazing...

As long as we're heading out there for these periodic scans--which will likely be for a long time to come--we feel that it's unlikely to get a scan result that says "nothing we can do; get your affairs in order." That makes the drives out there slightly easier to bear. At least, we think so.

My overwhelming reaction to Tuesday's good results came when we got off the elevator & walked into the lobby. I was almost instantly overwhelmed with a strong desire to say in a loud voice in the lobby: "There's hope! Look @ me! God's still on his throne & still does miracles!" I didn't do that, in case you're wondering...but I choked up pretty substantially at the mere thought...

The nurse practitioner said that Dr. H. refers to me as his "miracle patient". I'll take that...Here's how good the visit went...Dr. Homsi spent a fair amount of time asking & getting a detailed response to this question: "so how's your son's pharmacy program going?" I'll take that too...

Every visit out there--as mentioned previously here--takes me deep into my theology & my beliefs about God's dealings with us "jars of clay." (1 Cor. 4:7). This particular one was no exception, in that I thought much on God's sovereignty. Especially on the ride home. If you're wondering, I haven't the vaguest clue why I got another good report, while much better men & women don't get such good reports. Sure, many were praying, which is the most humbling thing I can imagine, and for which I am most grateful. But many others are similarly prayed for who still get less-desirable results. And rest totally assured, that my results have zero to do with any innate goodness I possess that others do not! I guarantee you that this is not the case. I know some awesome servants of God & man who have not gotten such great news from a visit to MDA.

My "conclusions" (such as they are):
--We worship and serve a sovereign God, Who holds the universe and us people in the palm of His mighty hand
--His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9)
--He is UTTERLY & COMPLETELY able to work such that ALL hear "rise, take up your mat, and walk." As was said this morning in church, & has been said elsewhere, if Jesus had not said "Lazarus, come forth!" all of the graves would've emptied at His power...
--Yet sometimes, He does heal and sometimes He doesn't, except for what Wayne Watson calls "the Ultimate healing."
--What we see as earthly cause & effect...or lack somehow part of His plan
--He always answers prayers; sometimes "Yes"...sometimes "Not like that"...sometimes "Not Yet"...and sometimes "No"...
--He is always good, regardless of the desirability of a particular set of scan results!!
--I'll not understand all of this fully until I stand before Him complete, at which point all questions will fade away...

Until then, I will celebrate Him and thank Him for His grace in healing me on earth. And I will always worship...

In His Strong, Loving Grip,

p.s. - THANKS FOR YOUR PRAYERS!! We are so very humbled to be living on them...

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. Job 1:21b, 22

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Exodus 15:11

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:17-20

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Trip to Houston Looms...

Lisa & I will head out Sunday afternoon for Houston. Followup scans & bloodwork Monday. Then the latest most-important-of-my-life appointment w/ my doctor on Tuesday.

The Schedule:

Sunday, 9/20 - Drive to Houston

Monday, 9/21 - P.E.T. Scan & bloodwork beginning @ 11:00.

Tuesday, 9/22 - Appt. w/ Dr. Homsi (medical melanoma)@ 12:00 to get the scan results

Wednesday, 9/23 - Appt. w/ Dr. Mehran (thoracic surgeon) @ 12:00.

**The STRONG hope & prayer is that the Wed. appointment w/ Dr. Mehran will be moot--& cancelled--after Dr. Homsi says on Tuesday "Mr. Madaris, your scan results are clean; go home! See you in 6 months..."**

The tests themselves are no big deal in terms of pain & suffering, except that on Monday, I get no food nor coffee for 6 hours before the test. Morning coffee? Negative. Breakfast? Nope. *sigh* However, there is a coffee bar of sorts in the lobby, which means that about 4 minutes after I walk out of the P.E.T. scan area, I'll be swilling a giant cafe au lait & eating a stale donut...and seriously enjoying both! Also, there's the IV prep for the scan. I haven't ever minded getting stuck, until I was stuck something like 240 times last year. B.B. King said it best: "the thrill is gone..."

But oh my, how time C R A W L S between the end of the scan Monday...That's the worst part of the whole thing.

And then there's the crushing fear that these trips never quite overcomes me by the grace of God, but it's there just beneath the surface. Note carefully: my faith in my Lord is SOLID; better, perhaps, than ever. And I do not fear death. I completely know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day. So don't be concerned that my cancer journey is damaging my faith! Indeed, the opposite is true; these last 15 months of cancer-related stuff have strengthened my faith as God has poured out grace upon grace to us...(although I'd strongly suggest that you find other means to develop your faith than stage IV metastatic melanoma...)

So what is this fear of which I speak? You know it too, I 'spect. (Although for most of you it lies in the gloriously hypothetical; I pray it stays that way for you, & that you never...well, get to go to MDA as a patient!) It's a deep & devastating fear of what bad scan results might mean for me between now and that marvelous day when I stand in Him complete...It had been gloriously supressed by the potent combo of time, prayer, and good news at the last visit. But now it's time to get re-scanned. And to spend another loooooong night and slooooooow morning awaiting this latest most important Dr. appt. of my life...thus, the nagging fear is back.

That fear...or dread...never really will go away in this world. Perhaps that's a testimony to a small faith. But I don't think so, although my faith is surely incomplete and could be enlarged. Like most everyone's.

Whatever it is, in my fleshly humanity, here's what trips to M.D. Anderson for scans bring up in my mind:
--"Your cancer is back..."
--Chemotherapy (I have very few genuine fears & terrors on earth; here's one...)
--Radiation therapy
--Immunotherapy (this one I've fun, sir!)
--more cancer surgery (I actually fear this less than the ones above...)
--Inability to do my job
(my students & colleagues may insert their own punch line here...Perhaps a better way to say it is "inability to attempt to do my job"...)
--Inability to provide for my family
--Dreams unfulfilled
--A legacy in my kids that says "yeah, Dad was alright, but he had some huge, obvious, gaping character flaws that I wish he'd have worked on more..."
--An obituary that says "he had some potential, I suppose...too bad it was all unrealized..."

Again, I do NOT fear death. I've been present, standing beside the bed, when two people died. Not such a big thing for the one who dies. (Can be a mighty big deal for those left behind, though)

So, yeah...this upcoming trip to M.D. Anderson is taking me once again into the depths of my theology & of my relationship with my Lord & of what redemption means. More specifically, MY redemption...I thank God that I'm am so very far from what I used to be. But I am also very far from what I ought to be. And I'd sure like some more time for the Holy Spirit to continue chiseling & shaping & molding me toward that.

I suppose I'll battle these fears until I stand in Him complete in the place of what Wayne Watson call's the "ultimate healing." There will be no cancer there...and no fear...and no death...and no goodbyes. One of my personal favorite descriptions of heaven--that I'm sure I read somewhere, as it's way too good to be mine!--is the place of the eternal hello... I can't wait, although I'm also not looking to go just yet...

Sorry to have poured all of this out on you...(but then, that's what happens here @ mmbeachbum, ya know...*smile*)

If you're a praying type, please pray for us. Some suggestions:
--safe travel

--relatedly, for our car to get us there and back
(Lisa & I head out Sunday after lunch)
--peace that passes understanding from Monday afternoon through the appointment Tuesday.
--God's grace to be with us in that room @ MDA Tuesday around lunch time as Dr. Homsi walks in

Also, if you would, please be thankful to God for a few things on our behalf:
--Diane, my high school classmate who has opened her home to us multiple times
. (Her son has the swine flu, so it's unlikely that we'll be staying there this time) One of God's grace notes through this MDA journey is that we have yet to spend a dime on lodging in something like 15 trips out there! This could be the first time...
--Friends who have loaned us cars for the trip in the past
--Dr. Jade Homsi - medical melanoma & Dr. Reza J. Mehran - thoracic surgery. Got an appt. w/ Dr. Homsi Tuesday to get the P.E.T. scan results, and w/ Dr. Mehran Wed. that I HOPE becomes moot after Tuesday's appt. These guys are awesome!
--Dr. Cheryl Dale, Dean of the Wm. Carey Univ. School of Business who hired me two years ago, little realizing how very much juggling would be required to cover my trips to MDA, and who has yet to complain about it.
--My colleagues @ the Wm. Carey Univ. School of Business. They will be once again covering my office hours without complaining, and will be praying for us faithfully. What an absolute joy it is to work alongside servant- and ministry-minded friends who genuinely have my best interests at heart! (dadburn allergies...*sheepish grin*)
--Steve Blake, Manager of the Lifeway Store in Hattiesburg. Once again, he will be juggling the schedule & the workload so that his assistant manager--Lisa--can head out to Houston/MDA with her husband.

Thanks so much, my friends, for remembering us before the throne of grace. Aren't you looking forward to the day when intercessory prayer will no longer be needed? When only prayers of thanksgiving & praise will be required? When we will "bow on our knees and cry 'Holy!'" as another song says?

Until then, I'm glad you're in my world, and am humbled by your prayers.

In His Grip,

p.s. - just so you know, I cut out several parts of thankful for that, as it's already long! *smile*

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How Small a Whisper...

Charlie died last week.

To many, he was Charles Hoyle, Ph.D., Professor of Polymer Science & Engineering in USM's School of Polymers & High Performance Materials.

He researched the following, according to his webpage: Photophysical properties of polymer systems; Laser flash photolysis of polymers; Photopolymerization of thin-films based on monofunctional and multifunctional self-initiating monomers; Photochemistry and Photopolymerization of Liquid Crystalline Polymers and Monomers; Thiol-ene photopolymerizations; Kinetics and Mechanisms of Free-radical Polymerization; Mechanisms of Polymer Photodegradation; Photochemistry and Photophysics of Small Molecules in Polymer Matrices; Fluorescence of Polymer Solutions and Films.

(And no, despite many a cup of coffee & meal & chat with him, I still haven't the vaguest clue what any of the above means. Sorry Charlie...I tried to understand all those times you tried to explain it to me...)

Charlie's students are researching & working in Polymer Chemistry all over the world. The ones I knew...know...remember Charlie as one of the good guys who was a trusted friend & mentor.

He was absolutely brilliant. Bachelor's & Ph.D. from Northwestern. (I don't think I'm smart enough to drive past that school, let alone get in...and let's not discuss my probability of getting out...especially in polymer chemistry!)

But to Abby & Austin, he wasn't "Dr. Hoyle" or "Professor Hoyle" or even "Charlie." He was DAD. I know every time I spoke with Charlie or shared a cup of coffee or whatever, I would get the Abby/Austin update. He was proud of his kids, as he should've been. Abby teaches English in the south Pacific, & Austin & wife live in Vicksburg. Abby & Austin, never doubt that your Dad loved you. I've been in your shoes of losing a Dad suddenly to a heart attack well before we thought such an even should happen...I know. I have no magic words, for there are none. Except for the oh-so-trite sounding "press on"...

And he was Karen's husband. I have NOT been in her shoes of losing a spouse suddenly. I cannot imagine the depths of that darkness. Again, I have no magic words, for there are none. Just know, Karen, that I always loved the quiet, solid cherishing of you that Charlie did. And know that, somehow, in ways that will be made plain when we join Charlie in glory, in the presence of the One before whom all of our questions fade away into one glorious answer, we'll understand fully that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15)

That's how I knew Charlie best. As a saint. He was one of the 2 or 3 most brilliant professors I've ever met anywhere in any field. An amazingly productive scholar & teacher with an awesome mind. But he also possessed a rock-solid faith that affected the totality of his life. Charlie was a key part of our Christian Faculty Forum at USM when I was there as a professor and as a staffer with Campus Crusade working with professors. Despite his prodigious scholarly output, I always found him humble and eager to listen to invited speakers...or to uninvited Campus Crusade staffers who dropped into his office without a prior appointment. (that'd be me)

And yeah...I did pick his amazing mind & scientific training regarding origins & design & evolution & such. As a bit of a hobby, he was fairly well-read in that. His take--one for the ages!--was this: "Mike, that evolution & creation stuff is fascinating to read, but IT'S NOT SCIENCE!!" (emphasis his). Meaning essentially that origins & evolution are not replicable & not repeatable, so whichever side of the argument one arrives on is philosophy & not science. He would get rather intense when someone like, say, Richard Dawkins would make the claim of scientific superiority of his atheistic, evolutionary beliefs over Christian creationist beliefs.

And what I always loved about Charlie was his enthusiastic encouragement of the Christian Faculty Forum's activities. But more, his enthusiastic encouragement of me. Here was one of the most impressive scholars I'll ever meet, and he always had time for me and always encouraged me, professionally as a Business School professor, and then as a Campus Crusade staffer, and personally as a brother in Christ.

That is why, since I heard Friday night of his passing, I've been unable to stop remembering. And pondering the awesome, wonderful, majestic, sometimes-inexplicable providence of God. It's also why I'm up at 3:41 a.m. Saturday morning capturing these thoughts and remembering Charlie.

USM is now short one incredible scholar & professor & mentor to many. Karen is short a husband who cherished her. Abby & Austin are short a dad who loved them & never shied away from talking about them. My church is short a quietly faithful member. And I am short an encouraging friend.

And this world is all the more lonely, making me feel all the more like the stranger & sojourner that I really am...that we all really are...

RIP, Charlie. Thanks for being my friend, and for going out straining toward the finish line. Your life & work mattered. Matter. See you on the other side. Perhaps there, in a place unstained by sin, I'll finally be able to understand what your areas of research actually were...*smile*

Your friend,

"Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Job 26:14