Sunday, July 15, 2012

CANCER SAVED MY MARRIAGE -- a personal journey with Verne Strickland.

CANCER WALk . . . Cancer Saved My Marriage
Posted by Verne Strickland July 15, 2012 on USA DOT COM

Wooden Wheelchair

Romans 8:28  (KJV)   

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are  called according to his purpose.

I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma about six months ago, and guided by God to Dr. William McNulty, a gifted, board-certified oncologist at Hanover Hematology/Oncology in Wilmington, NC. 

The cancer struck in my hips and pelvic region, rendering me almost unable to walk. Multiple Myeloma is a form of bone cancer. If detected early, it has the reputation of being treatable. If not, it can be a stealthy marauder, ravaging skeletal systems, and threatening life and limb. 

I turned 75 this year, but have enjoyed very good health most of my life. Tried to watch my diet, curb cholesterol, do light weight training, and stay off the smokes, which I quit over thirty years ago.

But then this "thing" happened. Quite suddenly I had to curtail all my activities. I was grounded. My energy plummeted. I had no appetite, and my weight dropped markedly. Before I knew it, I was down to within five pounds of what I scaled in at when I was in boot camp at Fort Jackson fifty years ago.

I dropped out of sight. Could not function. Early onset of Alzheimer's worsened, and I was often confused and inarticulate. I couldn't think. To my family the change was evident, and alarming. We were all concerned. I didn't announce to friends until later what was going on. I didn't know what was happening -- only that it was serious.

The effects of multiple myeloma on the body and immune system can be catastrophic. The disease is progressive, and causes excessively high numbers of abnormal plasma cells to form in the bone marrow. As these abnormal cells continue to multiply, healthy plasma cells are crowded and overwhelmed. Multiple myeloma cells do not properly activate the body's immune system in response to harmful invaders. 

All of the added plasma cells in the bone marrow also cause pain in the bones. Bone tissue may be destroyed, and the bones may break more easily. Calcium from destroyed bone can build up in the blood. This condition, called hypercalcemia, can hurt the kidneys, brain, heart, and digestive tract. The damage to these organs can cause serious health problems. Collapsed bones in the spine may press on the spinal cord and nerves, causing numbness or paralysis. If it is not treated, multiple myeloma can spread throughout your body and quickly be fatal.

But we didn't give the problem a chance to run rampant. Signing on with Dr. McNulty, I submitted to bone biopsies, scans, MRIs, and a barrage of other tests to identify the problem which had invaded my body. Once we had a name for the disease, and a description and recommended treatment, we poured all our energies and prayers into fighting this dread invader.

Cancer? It was a sobering realization. This wanton destroyer respects neither wealth, privilege, rank, relationships nor good intentions. Nearly every family has been touched by it. It leaves a bitter legacy wherever it goes.

But in our case, Durrene and I sought and found something else. Tenderness. Reflection. Respect. Patience. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Joy. A closer walk with God.

We traded cancer for that. The cancer remained, of course. We knew it might. But it didn't seem to matter. 

Through chemotherapy, radiation, heavy pain-killers, mounting fatigue, disturbing weight loss, mental and emotional confusion, we prayed, not only for the obvious -- healing, cessation of pain, revival of hope -- but increasingly for the others, my brothers and sisters I met and befriended in the chemo ward. I was touched by their stories -- most worse than my own. Their courage and prayerful acceptance of their burdens sometimes made my eyes well up with emotion. I will never forget them.

The most heartbreaking thing I believe I experienced during this "cancer walk" was to understand that Durrene, my beloved wife of 51 years, was viewing all this in a markedly different way from me. It can be hard to look your mortality in the eye, but I had truly cast myself into the arms of my Lord Jesus, whom I had come to know all over again, after arrogantly declaring to myself that I had no need of God anymore. I am ashamed of that callous declaration of independence, and grateful that Jesus Christ did not wash His hands of me. 

Durrene is a sweet, strong woman, but here she found a new threat -- and one hard to deal with -- a husband and mate whose well-being was eroding before her eyes. Her vulnerability hurt me more than anything else about this dark, malevolent visitor who had come into our lives. 

I could love her, encourage her, pray with her and for her, but alone I could not protect from the cancer that was attacking me. That would be up to God.

He did bless me, sending me a penance that changed what was left of my life. Moments became more precious. Love became more tender. Bickering and hurtful words were cast aside. We came to realize that Durrene is in the Autumn of her days, while I am in the Winter of mine. 

All of these feelings came together in our hearts and  rekindled a tender love for one another. We were each smitten anew by the soul mate whom God had brought to us. It was treasure lost, then found again. 

This is surely happening all around us -- in the other lives which have touched ours in the cancer wards, the oncology waiting rooms, the doctor's offices, the operating rooms where cancer often meets its match.

This experience toward life's end has brought me closer to the Lord, closer to my wife, closer to my family. I am grateful for it. It is a blessing. Cancer has saved my marriage.