Friday, October 3, 2014

CANCER WALK -- A LONG AND WINDING ROAD



We gave God the reins of our lives.

Verne Strickland




By Verne Strickland  October 3, 2014

Chemo suite. I've been there many times now. I'll continue to visit every few months, at least, for the rest of my life.

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My cancer is multiple myeloma. I had never heard of it until I got it. It's a blood and bone disease. There is no cure. It will take your life if it's not managed. I've lost at least one friend to this cancer.

My oncologist, Dr. William McNulty at Cape Fear Cancer Specialists, has skillfully steered me toward recovery. It has been a long and winding road. I have much respect and admiration for him.

My walk with cancer actually began when I found that I was losing the ability to walk. This was about three years ago. Pain froze my hips, hobbled my legs, and forced me to shuffle along, barely lifting my feet. I was suddenly old and infirm.

I was 75 at the time, but had enjoyed very good health most of my life. I 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. 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 in 1960.

I dropped out of sight. Could not function. Early onset of Dementia 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.



Foolishly, I cut down on and then stopped altogether the 20 or so prescription meds which glued me together, regulating my heart, breathing, digestive and circulatory systems -- and my brain. As a result, I crashed, and dove into a depression so deep I didn't think I would get out. I honestly questioned how long I could tolerate it. It was a desperate time.

I didn't know I would talk about this, but it's a part of the story. I entered a recommended mental rehab facility, which helped me get emotionally stable again. I needed that. While there for a brief period, I lived with unfortunates more desperately ill than I.

There is no shame in this for me. Quite the contrary. It was a priceless and touching opportunity to see the other side. Even to be on the other side for a time. It broadened my horizons. I can even liken the experience in a way to the crushing emotional burden and depression that many combat veterans feel, although to compare my own sickness to theirs would be disrespectful.

But my fleeting passage through that dark world fed the kinship I feel with our soldiers and Marines like my dear friend Ilario Pantano, whose campaign I take pride in having supported. He has talked about the horrors of PTSD, which has beset so many veterans, and talks frankly about his own bout with these demons. I think perhaps I may understand that a bit better now.

Mine was a profound experience. At the rehab facility, we had nothing but the staff and each other. They helped me. I helped them. They were all good people with bad problems. I'm sure many of them are still there. I will never forget them.


With the VA scandal now unfolding, it is clear that our damaged heroes, who had sought refuge and help at what we believed was a safe harbor, have been deceived and neglected.

This makes us double over in anger and regret. President Obama, who has let his Nation down in so many ways, may have committed the unpardonable sin here -- turning his head as our valiant warriors are thrown on the trash heap in what appears to be an effort to dispose of them quietly, secretly, by denying them access to an appointment with a doctor.

Ours is an American holocaust more sinister than Hitler's "final solution". But if my writing can gain a wider audience, that unspeakable horror in Germany will not be allowed to drag on here. God grant that this will be the case.

In my own personal jouney, I undertook the next step -- to find out what was physically wrong with me. My loving, caring family gathered around me. This was so important. We prayed for direction, courage and resolve. It all came, of course. Faith is wonderful when you have it, and a lifesaver when you need it.

We gave God the reins of our lives. He guided us to the man who took charge of our medical dilemma -- Dr. William McNulty, at New Hanover Cancer Specialists. He is a board-certified Wilmington oncologist and internist of national reputation, a brilliant and cheerful physician who changed my life and gave me a new sense of hope.

I surrendered myself to a procession of tests and probes -- biopsies, CT scans, MRIs. The problems seemed to have originated in my pelvic structure, which seemed reasonable, because my ability to walk had been most seriously compromised.

Dr. McNulty early on suspected multiple myeloma (blood and bone cancer)  a type of cancer which starts in plasma cells. It's the most common type of plasma cell cancer -- intimidating, but treatable with what my oncologist described as "modern medicine" -- radiation, and chemotherapy -- utilizing an "old" drug enjoying a resurgence in popularity due to new creative techniques in IV usage.

  I was helped in many ways by many different procedures, but the Terminator -- the  most important weapon at this time in battling cancer was chemotherapy.

Initially I was given a cocktail of drugs to kill the cancer cells while making certain the drugs didn't wipe me out as well. I tolerated them better than most, and experienced steady improvement.

While at first I was somewhat depressed by visits to the chemo suite, where as many as twenty or more patients receive life-saving infusions, through God I was encouraged to reach out to others who were there.

Since we shared a unique community -- we all were threatened by cancer -- my questions didn't seem intrusive to them. What type of cancer has attacked you? How do you deal with this unsettling reality? Where do you look for hope?

I invariably introduced myself as a Christian, and this seemed to melt any misgivings they might have had about me. My visits evolved into a very important ministering experience for me. I prayed with them, encouraged them, and we fast became friends.

As a result I began to look forward to going there and being able to raise the spirits of those I met-- many of whom dealt with more devastating illnesses than I had experienced. I have met courageous people with brain cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma, leukemia.

I was blessed by each encounter, and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit hovering over us in that place. Typically, we chatted about their lives, their families, the things that made life good for them -- and their struggles.

My most recent consultation with Dr. McNulty brought good news. My blood tests were positive. No new cancer cells. Organ functions were normal -- heart, kidneys and liver. I was advised to continue exercising. "This will keep you alive. It's that important," the good doctor noted.

During my session in the chemo suite this week, I talked with a gentleman of perhaps seventy who has lung cancer. His career was in the U.S. Air Force. He talked about his service, in war and in peace. He said he is very concerned with America's national leadership. "But I'm too troubled by it to talk about it now." We agreed that we would communicate via email. I will enjoy that.

Also, I visited with a cancer patient whose demeanor was especially dire. He has leukemia. I ventured, "I'd like to pray for you." He said, "Don't bother." I responded, "Prayers are cheap, sir. I'll send them up anyway. They may help."

I believe that they will. God works miracles.