And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwork, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
I had followed the Jabberwock’s trail through the wood and knew I was reaching some resolution. As I paused uffishly I thought back over some of the lessons and spiritual perspectives I had gained in the past year. Each was neat and useful by itself, but I also saw how those lessons had prepared me for this test. Last February, for example, I watched 18″ of snow fall on the Minneapolis airport while hoping my flight to Phoenix, and to the conference I’d been organizing for eight months, would be able to take off. Actually, I was doing more than hoping, I was praying. I even had some specific ideas of what kind of miracles needed to take place. Ultimately, rather than stress out as each hour brought a few more inches of snow, I left it in God’s hands, focusing on the objective — getting to Phoenix — and leaving the rest to Him. It turned out that my plane was the last one to take off before the airport was closed, and that we also picked up a huge tailwind en route that cut nearly an hour off of the flying time.
I thought I’d learned a great lesson back then about trusting outcomes to God, but it turned out that February was just a practice test for November of this year as I weighed options for dealing with my cancer. I won’t go into all the possible treatments and their respective drawbacks here as this information already fills several medical journals and dedicated websites. I did seek out medical opinions, though. My original urologist was all in favor of doing open surgery. Oddly enough, he happened to be a surgeon. I also wanted to see a radiation oncologist, however, because I’d heard some good things about radiation treatment, especially the newer, focused-beam radiation that didn’t require as many treatments.
One of the services my company offers to our health-plan clients is up-to-date data on centers of excellence for various treatments. According to our team, the U of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic are the premiere facilities for prostate cancer treatment in this area, and since the Mayo isn’t part of my insurance company’s network, I went to see a radiation oncologist at the U. He looked over my charts and talked to me about some options. “Your problem,” he said, “and it’s a good problem, is that you have too many options to choose from because of your relatively young age, overall health and your longer life expectancy. Too many men when we see them have other health issues besides the cancer and we are limited in the kinds of treatment we can do that won’t be a greater risk to them than the cancer itself.” I asked him, if he were me, what treatment he would have, expecting him to recommend his own specialty.
“If it were me,” he said, “I’d have the Da Vinci robotic surgery.”
“Would you go to the Mayo for the procedure? I see where they are pretty proud of their state-of-the-art robotic technology.”
“If it were me,” he said, “I’d be more interested in WHO was doing the cutting, rather than the tool he was using.”
“So, who would you have do it?”
“The Chair of our Urology Department is one of the best there is at this, and he’s done thousands of the procedure. ”
So, a day later, I was meeting with Dr. Konety and various members of his team to go over the procedure in greater detail. Not only were they both professional and friendly (not that easy to find), they had room in the schedule to operate on me before the year was out, saving me from having to incur another large deductible when paying for this. I was very interested in everything they had to say, but I also wanted to leave room for a miraculous outcome. I said I would likely have the surgery, but I would like another PSA test first to further confirm my condition. Unfortunately, it turned out that you have to allow a couple of months after a biopsy before you can get an accurate PSA since the biopsy “angries up” the prostate and distorts the test results. It wouldn’t be possible to get this done yet this year.
On the other hand, however, the U is participating with the Mayo Clinic in a trial of a pre-surgery Magnetic Resonance Spectography technique using a 3 Tesla magnetic probe that is twice as powerful as what is typically used. This version of the MRS delivers high-resolution images that, along with a dye injected into my body, would give them a precise picture of where the cancer was, how much there was and if it had spread before they even began the surgery.
I thought back to when my oldest daughter was five and broke her arm. When we came back to the doctor for a check-up 10 days after her soft cast had been placed on her they ended up x-raying her arm two more times because they couldn’t find any sign of a break. That is, not only was there no break, but there was no sign of the callusing that typically accompanies a healed bone.
“Hmmm,” I said to my present-day care team.
“There will be no cost to you if you participate in the study,” they said.
“Sign me up,” I said. The peace I had been holding out for settled around me. My thought was that I’d have the MRS, and if it should turn out that they could no longer see any cancer, then great! If the cancer was still there, I’d go through with the robotic procedure and eradicate the tumor sooner rather than later. The scan was scheduled for Dec. 6, and the surgery for Dec. 8, which meant we wouldn’t get the results of the scan until right before the surgery. The hardest part of the scan was spending an hour and a half in the MRI machine. I’m not claustrophobic, but I was glad that they didn’t need to put my head in the tube for the scanning. Another fun thing is that you have to stay absolutely still when the scanner is passing over you since movement blurs the images. This wasn’t a problem with the first battery of scans, but then it came time to inject the dye into my system. The dye went in through an IV in my right arm, and I could feel the warm sensation as it moved up my arm, then into my neck and face on its way to other parts. When it got to my lips, the warm sensation turned into a strong tingle…and then it got to my nose and I suddenly had a strong urge to sneeze. I resisted as long as I could but ultimately gave in to three, racking sneezes. Fortunately this was only a minor disruption for the scanner.
The day of the surgery arrived quickly and I started that morning by going out for coffee with the Reverend Mother and Tiger Lilly. Somehow or another, coffee counts as a clear liquid which was all I was permitted to have prior to the surgery. After coffee we went home and I checked some emails and Facebook to kill time until leaving for the hospital. Despite the impending surgery and the enforced fasting, I was still at peace, even looking forward to either receiving a miracle or getting the surgery over with. While on Facebook I came across a status report from my brother alerting everyone that I was undergoing cancer surgery and requesting prayers. It was a welcome request that touched my heart — but also my funnybone, which is part calcium but mostly Monty Python.
I quickly added a comment to my brother’s update: “I feel happy! I think I’ll go for a walk!”
To which my two daughters, located in two different states, responded nearly simultaneously with virtually the same retort: “You’re not fooling anyone, you’ll be stone dead in a minute.”
Ah, the innumerable joys of raising one’s children properly, though it may have caused a few people who didn’t have the proper context to raise their eyebrows and perhaps their concern.
Once at the hospital they put me in the pre-op area in a room with a big curtain across the front. I was told to undress and put on the hospital gown (equipped with a heat source, I kid you not) and pull the curtain back when I was ready. When I did so there were four people in scrubs and caps standing just outside, talking. The sound of the curtain caused them to turn at look at me. I looked back at them. We stayed that way for a couple of moments. “Elvis has left the building,” I said. They moved on.
I climbed up on the gurney and got myself situated as a nurse hooked up the heater to my gown. The Reverend Mother came in about then and we talked a bit while we waited for the surgeon to come in for his pre-op visit. My wife wanted to know if I needed anything, so I asked her to pull my iPad out of my briefcase next to my clothes and read Psalm 139 to me (they’d already tucked my glasses away). She did, slowly, and in the process we both got a little misty. Not because we were sad or afraid but because we were moved by the compassion God shows to us.
Dr. Konety arrived with the scans from the MRS taken two days before. The cancer was there, occupying about 10% of my prostate. We reviewed the images (very clear!) and he told us that it appeared that the cancer was completely contained and hadn’t spread to neighboring areas. He discussed the procedure and I signed the final authorization to go through with the surgery. My wife stepped away and the anesthesiologist came in and told me what he was going to do throughout the surgery, which would take about four hours. He started a little drip to help me relax (I already had a couple of IVs in me) and then my wife returned. I looked at the anesthesiolgist and said, “Are you sure you’re doing this right? I think I just saw an angel.”
One, two! One, two! And through and through!
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack
He left it dead and with its head
He went galumphing back.
After that I remember nothing until I opened my eyes and did, indeed, see angels: Tiger Lilly and the Reverend Mother hovering over me. I was in the recovery area and they were only allowed a few moments in which to see me because it was nearly 10 p.m. and the area was about to close. My wife told me that Dr. Konety had already talked to them to say the procedure had gone very well and everything was exactly how it looked in the scans once they got inside. They were all but certain they had found all the cancer and gotten it out, along with the prostate, lymph nodes and seminal vesicles while completely sparing the nerves. That was great news, but I was finding it a little hard to believe that I had been unconscious; I knew why I was there and what was supposed to have happened, but it bothered me that I couldn’t remember going into the OR. Apparently, though, I can be rather amusing when coming out from under general anesthetic.
I passed a relatively uneventful night back in my double room. I was comfortable and restful though of course the nurse kept coming in regularly to check my signs and take me for short walks around the all but deserted nurses station. I even scored a couple of popsicles, which tasted fabulous. They ended up keeping me in the hospital until early evening, meaning I spent about 32 hours there from the time I checked in until I checked out. The Da Vinci robotic process calls for only a handful of small incisions in order to insert the various cameras, vorpal blades, lights and other necessities. I also had a new, three-inch scar running vertically from above my navel, from which they had removed the Jabberwock’s head as well as the rest of it’s ugly parts, along with some things that I had been using but wouldn’t be anymore.
12 days after the surgery I went in for a post-op exam. My recovery had been going very well; I hadn’t needed the Percocet they sent me home with (Tylenol worked fine) and I’d even made it out of the house for a couple of events, including serving about 30 pounds of ham at our Inside Outfitters Christmas breakfast. (It was a good thing I’d passed on the opportunityto deliver the message that morning, though!). On December 20th I met with a new doctor who examined me and told me that the post-op pathology report completely confirmed that there was no cancer in any of the other tissues they took out of me which means there is virtually no chance (they’ll never bring themselves to say “no chance”) of prostate cancer still being inside me. I’ll go through a series of quarterly, extra-sensitive PSA tests to confirm this over the next year but I’m galumphing around, convinced the beast is dead and I’ve made it out of the tulgey wood.
Since then I have been making steady progress in my recovery. I’m having to relearn some things but it looks as if it is all coming back to me. Not that I was that concerned once I had found my peace. In fact, I’ve heard over and over from the staff, my nurse consultant from my insurance company and from folks involved in my physical therapy about how well I’m doing and how remarkable my attitude has been.
Certainly, though, there are thoughts that go through your head when you hear you have cancer, and foremost among these is that this might be the end of the line. I knew the statistics said 33,000 men a year die from prostate cancer, but I also knew that a huge multiple of that number die with prostate cancer every year. That is, the cancer is typically slow-growing and when you reach a certain age something else is likely to get you before the cancer does. Still, the word is definitely a mortal knock on the door marked “Exit.” Once I got out of my brief fear/pity experience I had little room or time for negative thoughts, but I did allow myself a little time one afternoon to think about whether I felt cheated — or felt that I had cheated — in my life. I was a little surprised to discover that, in fact, I was pretty content. Oh, there are things that I still want to do, and some of them are rather big, but I also knew I had loved well and been well-loved. When I considered my legacy — my daughters — I knew that if I had accomplished nothing other than playing my part in setting them on a path of faith and accomplishment then my life was an unqualified success, and I believe that is indeed the case. Once I had settled it for myself that I could, indeed, die happy then I was able to set morbid thoughts of mortality aside.
Granted, at some point I will die, and I’ve spent no little amount of time thinking about the process I went through and how my faith manifested itself. I know I was blessed, but I also know many people feel themselves cursed or abandoned as they go through something like this. I know there are those with faith who endure endless complications and pain, and even die from this. Does God love me and not them?
I can’t accept that. I don’t believe that the plans God has for me are any more special than what He has in mind for anyone else. It has been my good luck, if you want to call it that, that I have been able to pick up a few extra glimmers of revelation that have helped me, but even these little flashes only show me how much I still have to comprehend. There are things in the natural, such as getting cancer, that still seem almost unreal to me. At the same time, elements of the supernatural have never seemed more real to me than they do now. I know that I still get in my own way too much of the time when trying to get a handle on some of these things, but I have seen that even when I trip myself up, someone is there to catch me.
“And has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 1 – ’twas brillig
Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 2 – jubjubs and frumious bandersnatches
Vorpal blades and manxome foes, Part 3 – Tumtums and other trees