All this week I’m celebrating Colon Cancer Awareness Week by recounting my own battle with cancer and giving away a book a week. All you have to do to enter to win a copy of my book A Thousand Sleepless Nights is leave a comment on one of the posts. It’s that easy!
Okay, without further delay . . . the winner of the first giveaway is Paula Mayer. Congratulations, Paula! You’re book will be in the mail soon.
Please visit the posts and leave your own comment. And please consider sharing the posts on your favorite social media sites. This is stuff we all need to talk about.
The first time I cried about the cancer was about a week after diagnosis. I had already seen the surgeon and the oncologist. I’d gotten the news, the plan, and the prognosis. I knew what the next year would look like . . . or so I thought.
But it was one morning on my way to work when the weight of the entire ordeal broke loose from its moorings and landed on my shoulders. I remember it like it just happened last week. I was doing forty-five down Lehman Road and those pesky thoughts of death wormed their way into my mind. I wasn’t afraid of dying, though. No, I know where I’m going, that’s not the problem. There’s no fear there. I was afraid for my family. I didn’t want my wife being a widow at 31 years old; I didn’t want my three daughters, just 9, 7, and 6, to grow up fatherless. I couldn’t stand even the idea of it. And the more those thoughts bounced around in my head the more the tears pressed on the back of my eyes.
Finally, the dam let loose and the tears surged. And there I was, blurry-eyed, all sniffles and sobs, praying, “God, let this thing be as uncomfortable as it has to be but please spare my life.”
It was the first time in my life I had ever stared death in the face. It’s ugly, let me tell you. Like I said, I wasn’t afraid of that beast either, I was afraid of the destruction it would leave in its wake.
I needed that cry too, needed it to cleanse my worries and push me to the point of throwing the ordeal at God’s feet. I wouldn’t cry again until chemotherapy did its dark magic on my emotions.
I learned during that trip to work that suffering serves as a reminder of our own mortality. It forces us to the realization that we’re not as in control as we’d like to think we are . . . and we’re not as strong as we imagine ourselves to be.
So how about you. What trial have you endured that reminded you of your own weakness and insufficiency? That pushed you toward a deeper reliance on God?
All this month I’m sharing some of my own cancer story. I’d love to hear about your story too. I bet there are a lot of similarities.
Cancer has a way of launching a full-scale attack on a number of fronts. Physically it’s pretty stealthy, laying beneath the surface, spreading its poison without detection. But in every other way it’s unashamedly in-your-face. Emotionally it wears you down. Day after day the uncertainties and anxieties just keep coming with no relief. Psychologically, it capitalizes on its reputation as a ruthless killer reminding you at every turn of its deadly history and many victims. Spiritually, it tests even the strongest faith and pokes holes in long-held beliefs.
It’s quite the formidable foe.
The first doctor I saw after the diagnosis was the surgeon. I don’t know what I expected him to say but it certainly wasn’t what he said. He began to lay out the plan of attack and the farther in he got the more it felt like someone was kicking me in the gut over and over again. He mentioned surgery, ileostomy, temporary but possibly permanent, weeks of recovery, then chemo, radiation, more surgery. The hammer of reality swung down and struck me square in the chest. I remember thinking, “This is real and it’s dangerous.” I left there in shock, knocked back, reeling from the gravity of what we were facing, what lay ahead.
I went home and had an anxiety attack. I remember every detail of it. I was sitting at the dining room table and Jen was there beside me. We talked about what would come next even though we knew nothing of what the future held. And then it hit me. The truth of the matter was that while we waited for the secretary to call us with an appointment for the oncologist, while we waited for test results and more appointments, this monster inside me could be spreading, reaching its scaly tentacles throughout my body, infesting other organs with its rogue cells. I wanted to see the doctor right then, get things going, extract the monster from me. I couldn’t wait even one day longer. One day may be too late. Every day, hour, minute was one moment too long.
I began to shake and sweat. I wanted to holler out. I didn’t want to die, not like that, not at the hand of some merciless disease.
Eventually, I calmed but that seed of doubt had already been planted. From that day forward I began to entertain thoughts of death. That was right before Easter, the day we celebrate life and the Life.
Have you ever entertained thoughts of death? Battled seeds of doubt? I’d love to hear your story.
At the end of the week I’ll pick someone who has left a comment on any of these “Cancer Story” posts to win a copy of my novel, A Thousand Sleepless Nights. Join the discussion to enter.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness month. Most of you know I am a survivor of colon cancer. I was officially diagnosed March 17, 2008. St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish. I wasn’t wearing green. I don’t believe in “luck.”
Over the next few weeks I’m going to recount some of the highlights of my own story and encourage those who have gone through cancer or watched a loved one battle cancer to join in the discussion. (Just a note: these posts all appeared on my Michael King blog two years ago so if you’ve been following me all along they may be familiar).
**ALSO . . . every week I’m going to pick a winner from those who comment to receive a free copy of my book A THOUSAND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS, written under my pseudonym, Michael King.
My story began in early 2008 with bleeding where it shouldn’t be. Over the course of a few weeks it got heavier and heavier until I finally saw the family doctor who referred me for a colonoscopy. We were both thinking a mild case of colitis. Imagine my surprise when the gastroenterologist showed me color photos of a tumor the size of a golf ball residing in my colon. The thing looked hideous, like a monster with a will of its own. He said he took a biopsy and would notify me as soon as the results came in. A couple of days later I got the call at work.
“Michael,” he said, “I’m very sorry but you have colon cancer.”
I didn’t know what to say so I thanked him and hung up the phone. I called my wife, Jen, and told her what he’d said then finished my work day and headed home. I was numb and thinking irrationally, assuming it was just a quick procedure to extract the tumor and be done with the little monster inside me. No more cancer. Have a nice life.
That evening there was tension between Jen and me. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more upset; I didn’t understand why she was so upset.
Neither of us had any idea of the storm that was brewing just over the horizon and how much we would need each other in the next ten months.
You’re invited to share your own experience with diagnosis here, whether you’re a survivor or know a survivor. Please share these posts. I’d love to get a small community of survivors and caregivers/friends/loved ones involved in this discussion.
Question: How did you or your loved one discover cancer? What were the signs? (This is great for those who haven’t had cancer to learn what some of the warning signs are) . . .
I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Hamilton. Nothing personal. I’ve never been a big fan of figure skating.
I’m still not a fan of figure skating . . . but boy am I a fan of Scott Hamilton.
The term hero gets thrown around lightly these days and too many people get credited as being one. Only some truly deserve it and in my opinion Scott Hamilton is one of them.
At least, he’s now one of my heroes.
Check out the link below to hear what incredible challenges he’s overcome in life and the faith that has sustained him.
I’m currently doing a mini series of posts called “Be Unstoppable” and Hamilton’s story fits perfectly. He’s seen the darker side of life; he’s met challenges head on; he’s kept a proper perspective; he’s suffered and lived in the valley . . . and he’s ultimately found his strength and courage and ability to press on in God and God alone.
Be inspired by his story . . . and be unstoppable.
Normally, we recoil from suffering. I know I do, and I’m not sure I know anyone who actually welcomes pain, outside a few exercise fanatics who live by the creed of no pain, no gain.
At best, suffering slows us down; it’s a hindrance, a hurdle to climb over, a speed bump to bring us to a crawl. At worst, suffering is debilitating. It knocks us to our knees, maybe even pushes us to our bellies, and holds us there, the bully with a knee in our back.
No one likes real suffering. We avoid it, run from it, hide from it, try to escape its awful clutches any way we can. And when we see it coming, stalking us like some creep stranger in a dark alley we either pretend we don’t see it and hope it goes away or start praying it somehow overlooks us.
We tell ourselves that suffering is not our friend, in fact, it’s our enemy, our foe, our greatest villain. It’s a great big, blistered and bleeding, bug-eyed, greasy-haired, stench-emanating monster that wants to shred our happiness and make our life as difficult as possible.
But what if we’re wrong? That’s right, I just asked that. What if we’re wrong about suffering? What if it’s not so much a monster as it is a blessing? Or at the very least a conduit through which blessings may pass . . . if we allow them passage, that is.
I’ve been through cancer, a monster in its own right. And that monster brought with it a hefty helping of suffering. Surgeries, chemotherapy and its awful side-effects, illness, depression, you name it, cancer was good for it. And one thing I learned is that while suffering is not man’s best friend, it’s not a jolly neighbor who brings laughter and happiness, and it’s no where near roses and lollipops, it is useful and can serve a very important purpose.
During my year of cancer battling I experienced God in ways I honestly didn’t think were possible, in ways I certainly had never experienced him before and most likely never would have. Suffering did that. It introduced a new room in my relationship with God, opened my eyes to see him in a different light.
See, during suffering we are most vulnerable, our emotions are closest to the surface, and we see the contrast most distinctly between our own fragility and God’s omnipotence, between our humanity and his holiness, between our weakness and his strength.
And it is during those times that we are driven to him, to his arms, his comfort, his love, his security. We see him as that loving father who tenderly cares for his child and protects her and comforts her and, while not taking the pain away, holds her in the midst of it.
Suffering does that. It opens our eyes and shows us our Father in his true light. It shows us the intricacies of his love, the dependability of his watchfulness, the gentleness of his care.
When we are sick, he is our physician. When we are depressed, he is our counselor. When we are lost, he is our shepherd. When we are frightened, he is our protector. When we are weak, he is our strength. When we are lame, he is our support. When we are bombarded from every side, he is our fortress. We we are burdened, he is our help. When we are lonely, he is our true friend.
Suffering does that. And without it we may never see God as he desires to be seen, or experience him as he should be experienced, or trust him as he deserves to be trusted.
Suffering does not need to be an obstacle. It doesn’t have to be something to elicit our repulsion. Suffering can be a blessing. A strange, odd, rarely understood blessing.
Sometimes, events happen in life that change you. I don’t mean they change the way you feel about something or the way you look at something. I’m not talking about some trite change in point-of-view or attitude. I’m talking change. Total, radical, change. As in, the person you were is now dead, gone, never to be resurrected, and a new person who has established a new normal has taken over.
These are usually terrific events (terrific used in the sense of terror-inducing). The loss of a child or spouse. A battle with a major illness, like cancer. Witnessing the decline and death of a loved one. Loss of a limb or the use of limbs. Combat.
Something happens inside you. Whether it be some altering of the dna or rearranging of cells or reconstruction of the psyche at the deepest levels, a change occurs. Actually, more than a change, a metamorphosis.
I speak from experience. I will forever refer to my life as B.C. and A.C. Before cancer; after cancer.
I’m not the same person I was before my year-long battle with colon cancer. That Mike Dellosso is dead. On the outside, the new Mike is no different, albeit a little grayer and little, um, weightier. It’s the inside that’s morphed. No, I didn’t suddenly become a Time Lord and grow another heart (Dr. Who fans will get that one); my blood didn’t turn green; my bones aren’t made of iron. Physically, I’m the same, minus about sixteen inches of my colon and plus a few scars I didn’t have before. But who I am, the core of the person, is not the same.
I like to say I’ve been regenerated twice, once spiritually and once emotionally (now for you Whovians, if I was a Time Lord how many regenerations would I have left?).
So what does this metamorphosis look like? Speak to anyone who has encountered the terrific (again, terror-inducing) and you’ll probably hear similar testimonies. I see life differently, it’s more precious, shorter. There is a sense of urgency to do more meaningful things, to make an impact, to inspire change in others. I see people differently, not as just bodies taking up space, sharing air with me, but as people, real people with lives to live and dreams to achieve. People who hurt and suffer and fear and struggle with what life throws at them on a daily basis. Lost people. Confused. Lonely. Angry.
Is this metamorphosis a good thing? Most will tell you . . . mostly. It does bring with it some baggage. Stress of its own. Burdens. But as I’ve said before and will say a thousand times more: if I had the opportunity to go back in time and avoid the whole cancer thing, I wouldn’t. I’m thankful for my experience; I’m thankful for the death of the old Mike Dellosso; and while this new Mike is severely flawed and needs a ton of work, I think he’s on the right track.
So how about you? Have you undergone a metamorphosis? Has there been one event in your life that so radically changed you that you’re not the same person you were?
P.S. Next time I’ll tell you about the first time I died.
I recently discovered the group Finding Favour and their song “Slip on By.” Now, I listen to it every morning to get myself ready for the day. The song is all about the preciousness of life, of each moment of life. It’s about cherishing every minute of every day and not letting one moment slip by.
I need this reminder to begin each day.
You can listen to the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YtWeUEgFkQ
This month I’m celebrating five years as a cancer survivor. Cancer also reminds me of the frailty and preciousness of life. When you sit at death’s door you acquire a whole new appreciation for life.
So here’s my declaration: I want to live life to its fullest; I want to cherish each moment, make the most of every opportunity, invest in the lives of others; and I want to let every one I ever come in contact with know the same thing and make the same declaration.
I know I won’t always get it right, not all the time, but for goodness sake I can try.
And trying is better than not trying.
A lot of you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been through the valley, walked in the shadow of death, lost loved ones, battled regrets. Please, join me; spread the word. Testify. Get the message out to others. Tell them how precious life is, how important it is not to let another moment slip by. People need to hear that, they need to understand.
Question for you: What do you do to remind yourself not to take life for granted, not to miss another opportunity, not to waste a moment? How do you keep life precious and cherish every day?
Five years ago I sat at my desk at work, phone to my ear, while my doctor told me the biopsy was positive, he was very sorry but I had colon cancer. That was a little after lunch. I called my wife, told her, and finished my work day. When I arrived home our pastor was already there, ready to pray with us and offer some words of encouragement and support.
I have many memories of that battle, the surgery, the chemo, the doctor visits, ER visits, the depression, the fear. Most are bad, some are good. I lived through much I’d never want to revisit but I experienced many blessings as well.
It’s funny how time affects your memory. Some of it I relive as if it just happened last week. Some of it is fading, becoming fuzzy and harder to dig out of the recesses of my mind.
But even now, five years later, I think about it every day. Several times a day. They tell me five years is the magic number, that I’m cured now, but I still worry about it returning, still glance over my shoulder wondering if, when it will sneak up on me again.
I know I shouldn’t, that I should focus on living the life I’ve been given. And I do. Cancer teaches you a lot of lessons and one of the most important is that life is precious, that each moment of life is precious, and that not one should be allowed to slip by. Life should be celebrated, enjoyed, lived to the fullest. Sometimes that makes for some tough decisions but if kept in perspective regrets will be far and few between.
Three months after I finished my chemo and just two months after having my ileostomy reversed I ran a 5K in Philadelphia. After the run we walked over to the Museum of Art and my daughters accompanied me as we ran the same steps that Rocky Balboa climbed. I raised my hands above my head, Rocky-esque, and in my heart stuck my finger in cancer’s face.
I’m still relishing that victory, enjoying every day, and praying God gives me many more.
I want to squeeze everything I can out of life, make the most of it. I don’t always succeed at that but I’m sure trying. And I’m trying to inspire others to do the same.
Many of you know I’m a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in March of 2008.
Cancer is the kind of thing that changes your life, changes the way you see everything, the way you respond to hardships and trials, the way you relate to God and others.
I wanted to share this list of “famous” people who have also battled colon cancer. In my book they’re no more worthy of recognition than every day folk I know who have also taken on cancer–folk like Tom or Jim or Janice or Dan–but because of their lives in the spotlight their names might be more recognizable.
•Milton Berle, American comedian, died March 27, 2002 at the age of 93
•Dick Dale, surf guitarist whose cancer has recurred as of 2008
•Babe Didrikson Zaharias, American athlete
•Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice
•Audrey Hepburn, actress, died January 20, 1993
•Pope John Paul II
•Carolyn Jones, actress, known for playing Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family”. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1982, died one year later in 1983.
•Eartha Kitt, American singer and actress, died December 25, 2008
•Jack Lemmon, American actor, died of colon and bladder cancer on June 27, 2001, aged 76
•Vince Lombardi, coach of the Green Bay Packers, died of metastatic colon cancer
•H.P. Lovecraft, horror writer
•Walter Matthau, American actor, had metastatic colon cancer, but died of heart disease on July 1, 2000, aged 79
•Tammy Faye Messner, American Christian singer, evangelist, died July 20, 2007
•Elizabeth Montgomery, American actress, died at age 62, 8 weeks after diagnosis
•Jeff Moss, co-founder of Sesame Street
•Sharon Osbourne, British reality TV star and talent show judge, diagnosed with colon cancer in July 2002, aged 49. She has recovered.
•Ronald Reagan, U.S. President
•Rod Roddy, previous announcer for “The Price Is Right,” died at age 66, 2 years after diagnosis
•Charles Schulz, creator of ‘Peanuts,’ died at age 77, 60 days after diagnosis
•Joel Siegel, movie critic and host of “Good Morning America,” died at age 64, 10 years after diagnosis
•Tony Snow, White House press secretary under George W. Bush died July 12, 2008 at the age of 53
•Darryl Strawberry, baseball player
(This is a partial list taken from the Colon Cancer Resource page)