One of the great advantages of the technology-driven world we live in is that it has expanded our capacity to initiate and sustain relationships regardless of physical distance. Much has been written about the good and the bad of this, and there is definitely plenty of both. But this is our reality. There’s no getting the toothpaste back in the tube at this point. In this past week I faced a tension and a question I hadn’t wrestled with before related to this new power – how do you communicate really important personal news in a personal and appropriate way when your social and relational network has exceeded your capacity to do so well?
My answer to that question was to leverage the power of the network. I used the tried-and-true approach of calling a few people and empowering them to pass the news. It worked great. Suddenly I was getting texts and calls from friends who found out second and sometimes third hand. But now that things have calmed a bit, I’m realizing that there are still lots of people who don’t know what’s going on in my life. And sometimes, people just need to know even if it’s not as personal as you’d like. So here’s what’s going on…
About six weeks ago while talking to my mom, she mentioned that my dad had been experiencing double vision, and they weren’t sure why. A trip to an optometrist yielded the hypothesis that a blood vessel in his eye had burst leading to the blurred vision, and it would probably pass. Then a couple weeks later he got choked while eating and said that he was having a hard time swallowing food. The double vision was persisting as well, but my dad resisted going to the doctor again which is pretty typical for him. He has always been stubborn and reluctant to see doctors until absolutely necessary. That point of necessity came when his right leg became weak and collapsed a week or so later, and he fell. My mom had had enough and took him to the ER.
At the ER they ordered an MRI of his brain to discover what was happening. Nothing in our world would be the same from that point on. The MRI revealed two spots, “lesions” (aka “tumors”) in his brain. Subsequent scans were ordered, and he was admitted to the hospital. That was ten days ago. I will not cover all the details, but as the days unfolded, the news became progressively worse. Dad has an aggressive stage 4 non-small cell carcinoma (sorry medical friends, can’t recall the name). They’re not sure where it started, but it has metastasized in his brain, spinal fluid, spine, lymph nodes, and one lung. Not good.
The doctors are most concerned with the cancer in his brain and in the fluid around his brain, because this is creating the most problems right now. His double vision persists, his right leg is still weak and unresponsive, and he is unable to eat or drink anything, forcing the insertion of a feeding tube. The treatment plan is to use radiation to reduce the cancer in his brain and spine and hopefully reverse the side effects. Once they finish that, they’ll begin chemotherapy to try and slow the advance of the cancer to other parts of his body. They tell us that at this point, there is no cure; only managing the cancer’s advance.
My brother was able to be here with my mom the first few days, and I got here 5 days ago. Thanks to an incredibly supportive team of staff and friends at New Denver Church, I’m going to be able to be here for at least another 7-10 days to help dad get through his first round of radiation treatments. After that, we’ll re-evaluate. Though difficult physically and emotionally, it has been an incredible blessing to serve my parents in this way. It has given me some insight into the promise wrapped up in God’s commandment to honor your father and mother:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12 NIV)
Part of the reason I write is just to share. If you’re taking the time to read this, thanks for caring enough to do so. The other reason I’m writing is to ask for prayer. In the midst of so much bad news, God’s presence, mercy, wisdom and grace have been so evident in many many ways. I believe that is due in no small measure to the prayers that have been offered by friends and family. Specifically I’m asking that you pray for God’s mercy – whatever that looks like. I’m grateful that I picked up my friend Robert Gelinas’ new book The Mercy Prayer this week. It has been a comforting companion during long nights at the hospital, and we’ve seen many ways that God is already answering this prayer for his mercy. If you’re someone who prays, please join us in praying for God’s mercy – for my dad, for my mom, and for all those who love them.
Finally, I apologize if you’re hearing this for the first time. It seems somehow wrong to communicate personal news in such an impersonal way. But it was more important to me that you knew. Because only a friend would read this far, and as a friend, I wanted you to know.