Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The "C-word": How I found out about cancer

It's not like I had been sick for a long time. Just a few symptoms - a feeling of bloating after meals that seemed like I had overeaten. Well, seeing as how much I love to eat, that doesn't seem too much out of place. Some chest pain that woke me up and sometimes kept me awake. Rare for a runner who daily logged 4-8 miles. But other than that, not much. Pretty healthy.

But the lack of sleep brought me to my doctor for some answers. And a chest x-ray result came in on Monday June 13. The doctor called me immediately. "There's some spots on your lungs." "They look like they could be lung cancer, but that doesn't make sense with you and your health. We need to repeat the tests." That's a lot for a guy to hear in one sitting and my mind raced through the possibilities exactly as I told it not to.

Wednesday, June 15 the second set of chest x-rays came in and they confirmed nodules on both my lungs - 6mm to 2 cm. The doctor is deeply disturbed and says he's getting very serious about this now. He's not the only one. My mind races again. I tell it not to again. Same result. But now my wife is scared. And frankly, my greater concern is her. How do you face your wife with the news that "they're" saying you have cancer. "I don't have cancer," I told her. "Look at me. I'm healthy! There has to be another explanation."

However, I have to consider a medical leave. At least that's what the doctor thinks. Well, my wife too. Well, my good friends and smartest advisors whose opinion I asked said the same things too. Hmmm. So with my hat in my hand I sat in front of my church leaders and asked for the thing that I wanted least of all - to stop actively serving as the pastor of the church that I love with all my heart. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

But they were gracious and they granted it. I was immediately on a medical leave. "Go home and don't come back." (in love) And it truly was in love. But I wasn't "in love" with the idea.

Being a pastor defines you. I know you're not supposed to be defined by your job. But pastoring is so much more than a job - its a calling, a lifestyle, a being "set apart", a passion (obsession) that is so deeply a part of my fabric... I love these people so deeply - I've prayed over each one. Pastorally, like a shepherd puts his hand on each sheep and lovingly pets each one. Pastorally, like when a smile breaks over your face each time you think of them. The times of laughter we've shared and the times of heartache that I've seen in their lives. Sometimes walking with them through it, sometimes praying for them through it, sometimes wishing I could have done something more as I watched them being stretched through it. Man, I love these people - this community.

You know how a father feels about his kids - he'd step in front of a bus for them! He'd work a second job to provide for them. He'd smile and tell dumb jokes to bring them smiles. He'd get up late at night to watch them sleep and pray over them as tears stream down his face. He'd think of them at work and pause to wonder what they're doing right then. He'd wonder about how they're going to face the challenges ahead and what can a father do to prepare them for those challenges. That's how a pastor thinks. You can't shut it off. You can't turn it down. It wells up inside you.

I'm not a great pastor. Don't get the wrong idea. I've made so many mistakes that there's some who wonder if I still have the ability to lead this flock any farther than here. They're not malicious. They don't have bad feelings against me. I sense love from each one. But there are doubts. Frankly, I've been praying about that as well. The church is going through a major restructuring and rebuilding crisis right now. We're all in prayer about it! And we should be. No one's "blaming". But there's some fingers that should be pointing at me. I've played too fast and loose with no structures in place and now the church is paying for it. And here at the point of crisis, I'm out of the picture. Medical leave. I hate it!

"God, what are you doing?" There has to be a purpose in this, right? There is. I don't understand it, but I know there is. Maybe that's enough for now. Maybe I can trust without explanation for a while. Just for a while.

That week we talked to the kids and told them I was on medical leave about my lungs. I never used the "c-word" with my kids. There's no way I'm going to yet without it being confirmed. I don't think I have it. There's still lots of possibilities.

On Sunday, June 19, I told the church. I managed to get it out without crying or breaking down. Again one of the most surreal moments of my life. Looking into the faces of people who love me and whom I love and telling them I could be looking at some serious medical problems. I never used the "c-word" but they all heard it.


At February 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog this day was really touching for me. In December of 2003 a friend, youth pastor, and amazing person died. Rev. Neil McCall from Westhill Park Baptist Church. Your story about how you didn't tell your family is touching. Neil had two daughters, one of which died prematurally after birth. Seeing how hard it was for myself as well as all of those who were close to him, I can vagly understand what your loved ones went throught. However, on the day of Neil's funeral his daughter was 4 at the time she was bouncing around and enjoying life because she said "I'm not sad my daddy is up there looking after Lucy." :) You couldn't help but smile as she said that. Thank you for your dedication to your work and you strength to get through everything.


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