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Glad that’s over with…

July 16, 2017

I wanted to get through the worst of it before blogging. Does it seem less like I am complaining if I wait until I am feeling better before letting the reader know what I have gone through? Well, let me just say, “Chemotherapy is not a nice guy.” There, I said it. Wow, I didn’t mince words either. Probably the only thing worse than Chemotherapy is the Cancer itself. One tries to take your life, the other only makes life more miserable.

My second treatment was Tuesday/Wednesday. Rituxan/Bendamustine on Tuesday and more Bendamustine on Wednesday. This time I tolerated both a lot better than the first time. However, the after-results were much worse. I suppose I was okay the first two days with the steroids flowing through my body, keeping me feeling up, up, up. But on Thursday I came down from the steroids and the Chemo took over. I felt like a truck had hit me. And I know what a truck hitting me really feels like too. Even worse was Friday. Remember the two possibilities of side effects with the Chemo? Constipation and Diarrhea? Well, the first side-effect makes you feel like you will never live again, and the second makes you feel like you do not even want to live again. I really did not think I was going to survive this one. I missed church service on Thursday night simply because I could not wake up enough to realize what was going on around me.

Now, I’m pretty sure this week will be a cake-walk compared to this past week. At least I am looking forward to it being better. On a sad note, I will have to preach a funeral of a dear friend and church member this Friday. He was an inspiration to me over the past twenty years I have known him and his wife. He died of Cancer also. It was Lymphoma. He had been treated for the past twenty years for this disease, beating back each time. He even had a stem-cell transplant and lived to tell about it. Knowing he is in heaven makes a world of difference. We will celebrate his life, remembering all the good times. I had the great privilege as his pastor of baptizing him in the Manistee river in accordance with his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That was a highlight of my pastorate.

Cancer, like life itself, is a series of ups and downs. Good times followed by bad times followed by good times. Seems like you go two steps forward and sometimes two steps back. It is the battle every Cancer patient tells you it is. A real battle. Each day. Every day. I may not overcome the Cancer, but I have overcome my sinful nature through the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am an overcomer, because Christ overcame the world, and I am in Christ. I made it through a rough week. Now with Christ’s help and strength I will make it through another week.

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The Pro is Gressing (Progress!)

June 26, 2017

“It’s Remarkable!” (If you are a novice and layman like me.)

“It’s Unremarkable!” (If you are an Oncologist or Pathologist who shares your own language that is totally opposite to normal meanings of words.)

The sure thing about CBCL (Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma) is that there is no guessing or CT Scans or PET Scans that need to be taken before assuring the patient that the Chemotherapy is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

It has been three weeks tomorrow since my first Rituxan/Bendamustine treatment for this Lymphoma. Yes, I went through the high of the Hydrocortisone (steroid,) the last rite of the Rituxan (Monoclonal-antibody-MAB,) and the bend of the Bendamustine (Mustard Gas derivative).  Now I am starting my “down” week where the blood counts will bottom out from the Chemotherapy. Now is the time of my feeling drained and tired. But for some reason I am UP and feeling really good about this treatment. Let me demonstrate for my 13 1/2 readers (and the rest of you who only look at the pictures). Yes, “Comparison Photos” – YAY!

Before I show what has transpired, a caveat or two. This is NOT like those hair transplant photos that have been so photoshopped that the bald spot suddenly looks like a Chia-plant covering it that has been sprayed black. And this is not like those diet pictures that show a person losing 150 pounds in five days, which includes a before picture (of the thirty-year old guy with a beer gut) and an after picture (taken twenty years earlier of the same guy in Jr. High). These are legitimate pictures taken with my iPhone 6 merely nine days apart.

Right side picture taken June 17, 2017, and four days after the Bendamustine second day treatment.

6-17-17 Right side pic

Right side picture taken June 26, 2017, this morning standing at the same place as the previous picture. Please note the differences in the tumors. You know, “We Report, You Decide.”

6-26-17 right side pic

Now the left side picture, also taken June 17, 2017, a few seconds after the picture taken above on the same day.

6-17-17 Left side pic

And this is the left side picture of the same area taken on June 26, 2017 a few seconds after the left side picture from above.

6-26-17 left side pic

So, what do you think? Any comments? Any encouraging words? Any word for me to give to Dr. Word? Needless to say, I am delighted. I was going to jump up and down, but I think I’ll just reward myself by taking a nap.

New Journey

June 13, 2017

I am sitting here in my oversized recliner in the infusion center reflecting on the new journey that has begun. Yes, I am starting my treatment for the Lymphoma which has come back just under the skin. I have about 35 tumors of various sizes growing subcutaneously (dictionary meaning – adverb,  “a cute submarine floating under the skin”).  

IMG_5823

Something Old

That would be me. I am almost 63 in a couple of weeks. All the nurses keep asking me to quote my Birthday. Secretly I think they are all going to conspire to get me a Birthday present. I started this particular journey back in July of 2000 when the first Lymphoma was found growing rapidly. I have just been given the same old stuff I had my last treatment in 2012. Rituxan is the drug now being administered. “The Miracle Drug” is what my Brilliant Former Oncologist called this drug. It is a monoclonal antibody (MAB, dictionary definition – “Two letters away from MAD”) This antibody finds the cancerous cells and attaches to them.

 

Something New

I got a new port in which the Chemotherapy can be given. It is called a Smart Port. Not quite a Smart Phone: I can’t take pictures with it or go online, but I can save all the time and discomfort with them trying to find a vein that is not already compromised by previous infusions. That is a blessing in itself. The port was put in yesterday in a procedure at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. It will last me the rest of my life. I will have to keep it clean and have it flushed out every six weeks. The saddest thing about the port was that they had to cut my chest hair first. Hopefully it will all grow back. I have named the port by several names. First, it’s the Jim Port after Jim Portekalian, a friend from Indiana. It is also referred to as the “Port-Land” or the “Port-O-Ben.”

Venous-access-port(1000x700)

Something Borrowed

This is my new partner in crime. It’s my IV. In the past I always named my IV’s. I am naming this one after President Trump’s daughter. Yes, it is “IV-ANKA” (full name IV-ANKA TR-UMP). She will hold my drugs as they enter my body. I am thankful for that.

 

Something Blue

Again, that would be me. At the start of a journey there is no way to predict where you will go or how long it will take to get there. I may get sidetracked or have to reevaluate how I got to where I am today. My blood pressure was a little high today. But that was normal for the anxiety one experiences before the first drug goes into my body. Also, there are the side effects for which one has to again be prepared. The main side effect of the Rituxan with me is just a tiredness. The Bendamustine will be infused tomorrow. This is the active drug that kills the cells.

Pathology Report

March 30, 2017

This post is for all those readers who have the ultimate goal of becoming a Pathologist in your spare time. (Pathology is a Greek term for “yucky, icky blob at which I am looking.”) Sounds like a perfect job for pre-teen boys who get into too much trouble looking at many other icky blobs for no salary. First, let me tell you that Pathology Reports are very short and have absolutely no English words in them at all. Second, Mayo Clinic also had their world-famous Pathologists chime in with their own report of the “Mass from My Neck” (also the name of a new movie from M. Night Shyamalan starring Mel Gibson as a former Catholic Priest turned rogue). The following are the reports in their entirety.

From Munson Pathology

“Diagnosis: Head and neck lesion, excision: Skin, skeletal muscle and fibroadipose tissue with an atypical lymphoid infiltrate, consultation pending from the Mayo Clinic. See Comment. Comment: The lymphoid infiltrate is diffuse within periadnexal region and underlying soft tissues and is comprised of small round lymphoid cells without an appreciable large cell component. Flow cytometry performed on this tissue at the Mayo Clinic could not be interpreted due to insufficient viable hematolymphoid cells. The lymphoid cells are positive for CD10 and CD3; only a minority of the lymphoid cells mark with CD20 and CD23. There is no significant reactivity with CD30 or cyclin D1. The differential diagnosis is between a reactive lymphoid hyperplasia versus lymphoma.”

My professional take on this Pathology Report (and you can quote me): “It doesn’t sound good!”

Before Biopsy

Before Biopsy

 

From the World Famous Mayo(naise) Clinic

“Addendum Diagnosis: Fresh tissue was sent to Mayo Medical Laboratories for the following ancillary test, with results reported as follows – Luekemia/Lymphoma Phenotype Microscopic Description: A Wright-Giemsa stained slide prepared from the flow cytometry specimen was examined for quality purposes. Final Diagnosis: Lesion, left head and neck, specimen for flow cytometric analysis: Immunophenotyping was performed on the specimen; however results cannot be interpreted due to insufficient isolated viable hemotolymphoid cells. Correlation with morphologic assessment is recommended.”

My Professional take on this Pathology Report: “I have a sneaky suspicion that the Mayo guy dropped the slide, stepped on it, and cut his foot through those thin Pathology footies, so therefore, he did not have enough left on the slide to test.”

After Biopsy

After

 

And now you know as much as I do. If any readers wish to comment and give your take on these reports, please do not hold back. I need to know what you think. And with a shout out to one of my mentors, a Florida Pathologist named Dave Barry, “Icky Blobs” would be a good name for a rock band.

A Word on Faith-Healers

March 27, 2017

Yesterday after church I had a visitor come up to the pulpit. I had just finished preaching on how we are not to “find” the will of God, but simply “do” the will of God that is already revealed in His word. One of the points was it is the will of God for us to Suffer. The Bible verse I used for this point was mainly 1 Peter 4:19, which says, “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” A supplemental verse was 1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” That was the fifth and final point to the message. It was a message of encouragement to those who are suffering from difficulties like disease or relationship challenges.

I knew this conversation was going to end up badly right from the start. This person told me how much they enjoyed the message (good start), but then told me a couple of points that he felt would have made the message “so much better.” I didn’t really get his points, and it didn’t matter because the message was over. I would not have even considered adding his points to the forty-five minute message and make it forty-eight minutes. Plus, his points made no sense to me and was not part of the main message. Anyway, I graciously accepted his critique with a smile and a thank you and thought that was it.

Then he said that he would like to pray for me. I accepted gratefully his desire to pray for this old preacher. Well, he took hold of my hand and asked that God would heal my Cancer, “binded Satan” from my disease and called upon my Cancer to be “removed” from my body. After he finished, I smiled again and thanked him for praying for me. That would have been it from my viewpoint. I mean, I have had thousands of people praying for me in my seventeen years of Cancer battle. One more, even slightly wrong in his theology, would not hurt. But it was what he said next that got me. He said, “Now, I know what I just did goes against what you Baptists believe, but I want you to know that Jesus told his disciples to go forth and heal the sick, and I have claimed that promise for today.” Suddenly, I knew he had an agenda that went way beyond his wanting my Cancer to be healed or any concern he personally had for me. My first thought was that this man is a walking heart attack by being about 200 pounds overweight. (“God, heal him from his basic problem of eating too much to fulfil his lustful desire for fatty foods! Remove demons out of those French Fries! Bind Satan from those poly-unsaturated starches!”) My second thought was to learn from my situation what the Lord would have me to learn.

So, rather than take this opportunity to rail upon the lack of Biblical knowledge this man has concerning the ways of God in Scripture (boy, am I tempted), I thought I would share with my readers this basic fact of what I have come to learn, which is this:

“I am thankful God gave me Cancer and praise Him for this most excellent gift.”

  1. I am thankful to have gotten to know that God would allow the destruction of this outward body so the inward man could be renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:6). I have learned so much about how God is toward the afflicted. (Psalm 119:67 – “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” Psalm 119:71 – “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” James 5:13 – “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray.”) God will most readily sacrifice our outward or physical body so that we can be mighty in spirit. The spiritual growth is still so much better than bodily exercise.
  2. I am thankful for the ministry God has given me directly to those who have Cancer and the doctors and nurses with which I have come in contact. In the same exact way losing my son in the car accident in 2001 helped me relate to others who have lost children (even understand God, Who lost his Son, in a more perfect way), I have had had many opportunities to be a blessing to those who are Cancer patients. A question comes to mind: “If all Christians are healed, who is going to reach those people?” Last night I had the opportunity to spend time with a dear Brother pastor, Al Knutson, who has a rare bone Cancer and is today headed to Mayo Clinic. We shared a bond that other pastors could not share. I can pray for him more affectively than most other people who are praying for him.
  3. I am thankful to be this much closer to Heaven. We have a fatal tendency as humans to forget how frail we really are. I already have my son, Jeremy, awaiting my arrival in heaven. Last weekend I attended a funeral of my very best friend in high school and college, Gary Hitchcock. His testimony for the Lord Jesus was exemplary. He influenced my young life for the Lord more than any other person I knew. He spent the last three months in the heart hospital in Indianapolis awaiting a heart transplant. His diabetes had gotten so bad that he first started losing his sight, then his feet were deformed, and then it effected his liver, kidneys and eventually his heart. His testimony to his doctors and nurses affected them for Jesus Christ. They KNEW first-hand that Gary’s relationship with the Lord was real. Yet, this so-called “Faith-Healer” who heard me preach would not have cared for those “others” in the hospital who needed a Christian’s witness, he would only have cared that this man be healed and had never seen a hospital.
  4. I am thankful I get the privilege to share in the “fellowship of His sufferings.” Philippians 3:10 states: “That I may know Him (Jesus), and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.” I am glad there wasn’t a “Faith Healer” at the cross. Pardon the sarcasm, dear reader, but a prayer while holding Jesus’ bloodied hand that goes – “God, heal Jesus of all His wounds and bind Satan from affecting his body, in Jesus name, Amen” – somehow grieves my soul. And to think that Jesus actually had Apostles who could have done just that, BUT DIDN’T! Now, my afflictions draw me to Christ’s sufferings.
  5. I am thankful for those dear, Christian friends who have shown a real concern for me by praying for God’s will to be done in my life. Again, many thousands of people have and are praying for me now. Friends have called and written me showing their love and faithfulness during my affliction. Some have cried when they heard of the Cancer coming back. I cannot express my thankfulness for those dear people, some of whom are reading this column.
  6. Lastly, I’m thankful I get to DIE! Follow – if Christians are not supposed to get sick, and sickness is what we die of, then how would we ever die. I mean, let a “Faith-Healer” follow us around all our lives so that each time we get sick we can be healed. Then, how would a person die? And if some “Faith-Healers” even claim to have risen people from the dead (not many of those around anymore, eh?), then let them snatch me back from heaven each time I die.

What I Believe

I was told by this man that he did not respect my Biblical beliefs that only Jesus and God heals, and that they do not need human means to do so. I tried to explain that those healing gifts were a “sign of an Apostle” that no other people in Scripture were given by Christ. (“Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” – 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:3-4 – “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”) There was a difference between being an Apostle and a Christian who was not an Apostle. The difference was that Apostles were given healing gifts to show that God was really in this Christian movement long before there was a Bible. If everyone could heal everyone, then why did Paul write “Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick (2 Timothy 4:20)”? Why was Paul concerned that the Philippian Christians had heard that Epaphroditus “had been sick (Philippians 2:26)”? Verse 27 – “For indeed he was sick nigh unto death (but I healed him – no, it does not say that), but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.”

Parting Shot

I have a thought. Why don’t all those Christians who believe God wants them to be “Faith-Healers” stop coming to churches that believe differently from them, and head straight to the hospital and heal all those people? If God has people who can heal others with a touch and a prayer, I believe that would convince all the gainsayers in the world if someone just started to – I gasp as I write this – HEAL THE SICK! Hey, empty the hospitals. Start your own health clinics! People can come to you when they have Cancer growing in their bodies and you can heal them. I am sure once they are healed they would slip you some money to take care of you so you can quit your day job. And while I am at it, Jesus also told those same Disciples in Matthew 10:8 to “raise the dead.” So, don’t stop just at the hospital, but go to the morgues too. Nothing like bringing all those potential Lazarus’ back from the dead to tell us what they really saw. What? You are not using the same Scriptures you use for healing people for raising the dead? Inconsistent, don’t you think?

Finishing With a Word from Jesus Himself

Jesus said in Matthew 25:36 – “Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me…” Now, when was Jesus sick? They answered in verse 39 – “When saw we thee sick… and came unto thee?” He answered them – “Insomuch as ye have do it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

New Biopsy

March 22, 2017

I had a biopsy on a bump on my neck today. It seems that the B-cell Lymphoma has returned in a brand new way. I had suspicions that something was happening as some bumps occurred on the back of my neck in the past few months. Now they are appearing on the side and front of my neck and also on the sides of my face.

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Most people want the bad news first, so I will comply. If you are one who wants good news first, skip the rest of this paragraph and go to the next one. It seems that cancerous cells can travel some. The B-cell lymphoma cells have traveled to just under the skin (cutaneous) where they start multiplying into their own tumors. I have about a dozen or more tumors just under the skin, mostly on my neck, but a few on my shoulders and back. When this happens, which is pretty rare, it is called Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma (CBCL for short).

3-22-2017 Biopsy

Biopsy off left side of neck. You can see a few tumors on the front of the neck. A large one in front measuring 3 cm, and smaller one.

 

The good news is that this Cancer is treatable. There are several treatments available. When there are a few tumors, sometimes a local radiation which does not affect the body is used. Another treatment is by a Dermatologist who treats the skin with shots, probably of chemicals right into the tumor. The most used treatment is a regular Chemotherapy regimen of modern chemicals which have little side effects. Again, the B-cell Lymphoma is very treatable and responds well to a wide range of treatments.

So, this is my third cancer in 17 years. Large B-Cell Lymphoma in 2000, which was cured. Follicular (B-Cell) Lymphoma in 2010, which was put into remission with a combination of Rituxan and Bendamustine, and now CBCL.

Well, onto another journey in this part of my life. I will keep the reader abreast of the progress along the way. Thank you for reading, and thank you for praying for me.

New Oncologist Visit with New Oncologist

August 30, 2016

I was feeling a lump growing on the side of my throat which I just new was a lymph node growing back that was cancerous. Remember, I have been through two kinds of lymphoma in the last 16 years and three kinds of Chemotherapy treatments. So, I am a genius when it comes to lymph nodes (sarcasm, denoted like this – (s). ). Actually, I suppose I am just still a good pianist, and that’s all.

I went to my NEW Oncologist, Dr. Zachary Hector-Word this morning. (Note: I still haven’t given him a title yet.) It was a visit brought on by my family doctor who felt some swollen lymph nodes on my neck that should be checked out. I was totally convinced this was it. The Cancer was back again. Well, just wait a minute there, Townsend. Don’t get the “Heart before the Course” (“Cart before the Horse;” only how a Cancer patient says it.). He diagnosed no such thing. He found a swollen lymph node behind my ear (“huh?”), but it probably was from an infection of come other kind and not the Cancer. It was pretty hard, a good indication it was not cancerous. And the swollen “lymph node” on my neck? He felt my neck a couple of times and felt where lymph nodes actually were, and didn’t count the swollen area as a lymph node. Wow, I’m smarter than I thought (s).

That’s good news. No, that’s great news. What a relief. Maybe I’ll live another year or five. Hopefully the CT Scan the first of November will show all clear again. Dr. Z wasn’t concerned too much anyway. I’ll go on his expertise and not the expertise of a pianist. Besides, EVERYTHING seems like a Cancerous Lymph Node in my body. We check everything out each day to see if the Cancer is growing back.

My Body: “Hey, Ben, I just created a sty next to your eye!”

Me: “Aaaaauuuuggggh! The Cancer is coming back!”

My Body: “Oh Benny, is that the end of a bone, or something more severe?”

Me: “OH NO! The Cancer is back!”

My Body: “See that puffiness in your throat?”

Me: “The Lymphoma is Noding again!”

My Body: “Feel that bump in your arm pit?”

Me: “The Nodes are Lymphoming again!”

My Body: “Ben, there is a hard lump under your chin.”

Me: “Oh no, the Cancer is Noding AND Lymphoming again.”

So, I feel better already. Cancer coming back or not, I feel much better. Just remember, if you know a Cancer patient in remission, they are always fearful of when it will start coming back. That means new treatment, more tired episodes, nausea, feeling unhuman again. Just a tip of you: “Don’t ever say to them, ‘Does your face feel puffy?'” Don’t even kid with them. It could put them in despair right away. They already have enough self-inflicted touchy/feely, wibbly/wobbly, Timey/wimey episodes. Please do not give them any more. I know, I know, you know someone who has Cancer and you can always find the Cancer by just looking at their face (s).

Thank you. Maybe I just saved a Cancer Patient from sleepless nights because of all us Professional Cancer Diagnosers (s). (Note: I kind of like the Sarcastic sign – (s). I will probably use it a lot.)

Signed,

A Cancer Survivor (but for how much longer?) We wonder all the time.

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