It’s official — tomorrow, I am going “nucular.” That is, I have my first of 25 daily radiation treatments tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. I believe it was my younger brother, Nick, who jokingly told me that I would soon become a weapon of mass destruction.
My doctors agreed on a somewhat conservative treatment approach with radition — they will direct the radiation at an area roughly the size of a soda can just behind my belly button. They reasoned that this area for sure contained the cancer and because of the surgery could contain rogue cancer cells that were loosened and left behind. They decided not to radiate every lymph node in my abdomen and pelvis, because the cancer is just as likely to return somewhere else as it is in a lymph node. And they decided not to radiate everywhere the cancer could return, because quite frankly that could be just about anywhere and would mean radiating my entire abdomen at least. My radiation oncologist said this would be very risky and hard to tolerate and actually is not proven to be very effective given the side effects.
What my doctors did agree on is that this course of radiation is designed at its best to get rid of all the rest of the cancer, but at least to buy me some time before the next recurrence. The doctors are hoping I will have at least one year cancer-free before I would have to have more chemotherapy.
It was near this point in my conversation with the oncologist that I realized how easy it is to slip into worrying about the future. I started posing scenarios: what will we do if the cancer comes back in another lymph node? What about in my stomach wall? Then I stopped. “I can’t do this,” I told him. “I can’t play this game. If you guys need to discuss and plan for the future, please do. But I can’t.”
And he graciously agreed.
But then, my doctor put his hand on my knee, explained that they need to think about the future so that they don’t hurt me now or limit my options later, and then told me what I did need to know about the future. “Your take=away here,” he said, “is that we have LOTS of options. If you get the news that the cancer is back, you need to know that there are a lot of things we can do.”
It was nothing new he was telling me. My other oncologist had already explained that they are thinking about this as a chronic illness. But hearing it again almost sent me into a bad place. But the discipline of my faith keeps sending me back to today. What am I called to in this day? What do I have to be thankful for today? Jesus continues to walk closest to me as I live in this moment, not as I worry about the next.
Thanks for your prayers, friends. My doctor expects me to tolerate the next few weeks pretty well, but fatigue and nausea are fairly likely side effects. I need the courage and strength to face these days with hope.