Saturday, April 30, 2016

I Am Eustace

I've been reading a classic by C.S. Lewis, which I've read a few times before, but not for several years. The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, from The Chronicles Of Narnia. It wasn't a great movie, but the book is amazing.

I have two new books by favorite authors of mine waiting to be read, but I wanted to read this story again as soon as I finished my friend Kim Bryan's book, Hope For The Hormonal. I was inspired to read Dawn Treader again by my friend Lisa Belisle Smith.

Lisa has been a great encouragement to me. I've been honored by her comments on and shares of this blog. She commented on my Facebook timeline after she read my post, See More, that my journey reminded her of how the character of Eustace in that book was freed of his dragon skin by Aslan. I thought this was a beautiful and fitting analogy. I read that chapter of the book again yesterday morning, for perhaps the fourth or fifth time in my life. But this time, it came alive to me in a new way.

If you've only seen the Narnia movies, or are unfamiliar with them, I highly recommend the books. They're intended for children, but they have incredible depth for all of us. Especially for Christians.

For those who don't know the story, without getting into too much detail, it tells of three English children who are drawn by magic to a land where Christ is represented by a huge, sentient lion named Aslan. Two of the three children had been there before, and love being there. The other, Eustace, was a miserable sort who only complains about being there. It's the story of their voyage on a ship called The Dawn Treader. Hence the title.

Eustace hates being on the ship, and makes life difficult for everyone on board. At one point, the ship encounters a storm that causes damage, forcing them to stop at the next island for repairs. Eustace is not interested in helping, so he sneaks off on his own to find a spot to rest. He finds a pool near a cave, where he encounters an old dragon, which dies without noticing him. Eustace then finds the dragon's hoard of treasure. (If you know anything about dragons, you know that they always have a hoard of treasure.) Eustace starts gathering up as much loot as he can carry, but then falls asleep on a pile of gold coins.

When he wakes up, he discovers that he himself has become a dragon! At once, he becomes very lonely. He longs for the company of the people he despised only one day earlier. He flies off in search of them, and somehow manages to communicate with them who he really is. He is sorry for the trouble he's caused, and sets about finding food and a tree trunk that they can use to replace the mast that was lost in the storm. But he's still a dragon.

One night, he encounters Aslan, who tells him that he must shed his dragon skin. Eustace manages to do this, but he finds that, underneath, he has another dragon skin. He tries again and again, but can't shed the dragon completely. He has to let Aslan cut deeper than he thought possible. Only then could the boy emerge. Once the boy emerges, he is reconciled with his friends, and his relationships with them are transformed.

This story has great resonance for me. I'm sure you can see why. Lisa has seen it in my posts. While I hope that I was never as big a jerk as Eustace, I often was a complainer. More often than not, I was only interested in my own concerns. I wasn't one of those who stayed to help rebuild the ship. Instead, I went off on my own. I wanted that pile of gold. Even if it turned me into a dragon.

Then, I was diagnosed with cancer. I got hit by God's 2 By 4. It changed my perspective, but didn't peel away the dragon skin. Like Eustace, I began to long for human connection like I hadn't before. The step that Eustace took to contact his shipmates was difficult for him. My decision to go public with my diagnosis was difficult for me. But it began the process of healing. Eustace discovered that, in spite of everything, he was loved. I discovered the same thing.

Like Eustace, I tried to peel the dragon skin off, but to no avail. I couldn't do it on my own. The love I received from others carried me for a while, but it took God cutting deep into me to bring the boy out. When this happens for Eustace, he is not the perfect boy on the first day, or week, or month. It's the beginning of a process.

Likewise, I have had many relapses, which I am as transparent about in this blog as I can be. But now that the dragon skin has been discarded, I am different. Not as different as I want to be, or as different as I will be, but definitely different. People comment on it frequently.

For instance, I have never been one to attend weeknight prayer meetings as an adult. Decades of weeknight music rehearsals burned me out on weeknight church events. And I'm ashamed to say that prayer was not a big priority for me. That has changed. Now I pray every day, and made sure to attend a prayer meeting last Wednesday night in the home of my new pastor. I'm no longer able to be up front running the show on Sunday mornings, but I want to support the church in any way I can. This is not the old me. It's not the dragon. The boy has finally emerged.

I've made some new friends online who have shared their difficult cancer journey with me, and I find myself praying for them throughout the day. This also is not the old Mark. The old Mark would be busy trying to find a gig. He would be looking to "do church" rather than wanting to simply be the church.

The anger, while still there, is fading. If I can just learn to let it go, and extend grace to others the way it's been extended to me, (not by them, but by God) then I'll really be able to make progress. Those feelings, when I allow them to, bring the dragon back. I can't keep putting the dragon back on. I have to leave the dead dragon skin on the ground, like Eustace. And only God can cut deep enough to remove it completely.

I have good days and bad days, like we all do. Thursday was a good day. After coffee with my pastor on Tuesday, my therapy appointment on Wednesday afternoon, which went very well, and the prayer meeting Wednesday night, (not to mention writing The Right Side Of The Dirt in about 75 minutes; it came out whole cloth that fast. That never happens.) I felt very good on Thursday. So good that I got my song back again, and was able to write another original song for the musical I'm trying to get finished.

I'm trying the supplement that I ordered. I'm very much hoping that it helps me keep my moods in check. I did sleep better Thursday night after having taken the first capsule, but I thought that may have been because I had had such a good day. I took it again yesterday, and my moods were more even keel than they have been recently. I slept well again last night. So far, so good with 5-HTP. My oncologist's office knows of no problems taking it with Lupron. If this supplement keeps me from having to take an antidepressant, I'll consider that a victory.

In case you're wondering, my weight is good. I'm still maintaining at around 128. I will be taking some of my world famous homemade dark chocolate ice cream to my nutritionist next week. Is it Eustace-ish to brag on my ice cream? If so, too bad. That's an area of pride that I'll never get over, I'm afraid. It just that good.

I know that I'm still not the man that God wants me to be. I know that I have relationships that need to be put right. I have no desire to run the show anymore, but I still have the urge to promote myself. Not as a singer, but as a writer. But I think my motivation is better than it was before. Before, it was about gigs and CD sales. Now it's about helping others with this blog. Mostly. I admit that when my stats say that lots of people have read a post, I'm glad that many people may be helped by it, but I also feel good about myself.

Sometimes I feel like I trumpet my spiritual progress more than I live it out. But then someone wants me to pray, and I dive into it, when I used to promise to pray for people, but rarely did.

I need to remind myself again that Eustace didn't have Lupron in his system. Some of this is chemically induced, maybe most of it. But since God started working on me so intensely these past few months, I think some of these issues were brought to the surface by him, rather than hormone treatment.

So while I'm trying to give myself a break because of what I'm going through, I also want to pay attention to what God's teaching me through all of this. He's using my difficulty to bring me closer to him. I want him to cut as deeply as he needs to cut. I want all of my relationships to be transformed, not just some of them. I want to shed the dragon forever. Because I am Eustace.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Right Side Of The Dirt

I'm having a much better day today than I've had for about a week. That in spite of the fact that I didn't sleep much last night due to foot cramps. That's a first. When I don't sleep well, I usually am not in a great mood the next day, but today I feel pretty good. Tired, but good.

I think I have a handle on where my anger is coming from, and how to get to where I need to be with all of that. I had coffee with my pastor yesterday, and it helped just to talk things out with him. I had my second therapy appointment today, and that went very well also. I'm not over the hump yet, but I think I can see the top of the hump from here, and how to get there.

Someone in my support group said something today that made an impression on me. He said it's good to be on the right side of the dirt. Or words to that effect. I like that. The right side of the dirt. We all know what he meant, of course. He meant it's good to be alive, which is a no brainer. We can all agree with that. When you have cancer, every day is a bonus. Actually, every day is a bonus whether you have cancer or not. But I didn't always have that attitude until I got hit by God's 2 By 4.

But with the stuff I've been dealing with lately, being on the right side of the dirt has other meanings. I've got some spiritual dirt I need to get on the right side of. Emotional dirt, too.

Lupron in my system makes that more difficult. It seems to create more dirt. Or maybe it wets it down and makes it heavier. Or maybe my analogies are ridiculous. Probably, but you get the idea. It's hard to clear away dirt when your emotions are all messed up. It's hard to do anything when I'm in that state. Anything except write this blog. For me, writing about what I'm going through is the perfect tonic. It's good for what ails me. I'm so thankful to have this outlet, and even more thankful that anyone wants to read it.

I've gotten a lot of good advice and input from friends in the last two days. Very practical stuff. And I am starting to be able to feel God's presence again. It's not like it was, because of all the dirt that's been stirred up lately, but I'll get there.

Many guys on Lupron are also prescribed an antidepressant to help regulate their emotional state. But I don't want to go that route if I can avoid it. I don't really believe in taking a second drug to counteract side effects of a drug you're on. That feels like a trap to me. My wife and I are not "pharmaceutical" types. We prefer the more natural route, emphasizing diet and supplements.

But my mood swings and anger have been so bad lately, I thought I should ask the support group what they are taking, and how it affects them. I thought I should at least ask. So I asked the group that question. I was getting answers and responding to them, when I was messaged by a good friend who knows nutrition, and takes a supplement to help with similar hormonal issues. She sent me a link to a site where I had to take a quiz about my emotions, moods, and compulsions. I got a high score in the same category that she does, so she recommended the supplement that she is taking. It helps increase serotonin levels.

I feel a lot better about trying that than an antidepressant. I ordered a bottle on Amazon, and it should arrive tomorrow. I hope it helps. And yes, I will inform my oncologist that I'm taking it.

But that whole episode felt like God working to me. I'm looking into answers that I'm not comfortable with, and while I'm doing it, a woman who I consider a saint feels motivated to message me on the subject at that exact moment. After a little research, her solution feels right to me. In my world, we call that a God Thing.

I'd tell you who she is, but I should probably stop tagging friends so much in this blog. But she's made many appearances here. I'm sure she'll make many more. She's like that.

I hope that helps me clear away some of the dirt. I hope it helps me control my moods. I hope it helps me sleep through the night.

I have a prayer meeting to go to tonight. Between my therapy appointment today, writing this post, and an hour of prayer with fellow believers, this will have been a very therapeutic day. The kind of day that makes me feel glad to be on the right side of the dirt.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Ugly, The Bad, and The Good

I know, I have those backwards. It's supposed to be The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly. But I'm not giving a review of an old Clint Eastwood movie. It's a review of my life as a cancer patient. And the reviews are mixed.

One of my fellow cancer patients suggested The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly as the title of a post because our lives tend to comprise all three in increasing measure. Those closest to us get to see all of it up close.  Most of it isn't pretty. In fact, some of it's pretty ugly. But a lot of it's good.

I'm reversing the order because I'd rather end on the positive. Let's get the ugly stuff out of the way first.

Since my last post, Progress/Regress Report, I've gotten feedback from other cancer patients, some of whom are new to me, and a few who are good friends. Many could relate to my anger issues. I found out after the post that Lupron may be to blame for more of this than I realized. Many suffer from anger, mood swings, depression, and loss of focus from Lupron. It makes you crazy, as it turns out.

I don't know if that's supposed to make me feel better or worse. If it really is just the Lupron in my system that's making me feel and act this way, I suppose I shouldn't beat myself up about my emotional ups and downs so much. But it also means that I have more of this to look forward to. My last shot is good until September, and then I expect to get another one. I don't know how my wife and I are going to navigate this.

I do think I've identified the source of my anger. There is one person in particular that I'm angry at, and it's causing problems, not just for me, but for some close friends. I've put them in the position of having to choose between me and the person I'm angry at, because I can't stand to be around that person right now. It's wrong of me to ask that of my friends. It's like a divorce. If I can let go of my anger and get to the point where my friends can invite both of us to the same occasion, lots of things will get better. I'll get there, eventually. Please be patient with me.

If I try to force it with this person, who is oblivious to my pain, it could get ugly, and things between us could become irreparable. That's the ugly I want to avoid. In identifying what's good, bad, and ugly for me right now, I put damaged and broken relationships in the ugly category. There's lots that's bad, but if I allow what's bad to come between us, then I've allowed things to get ugly. If the wrong thing gets said to me by the wrong person at the wrong time, an ugly scene is all too likely, especially under the influence of Lupron.

This is especially difficult for someone like me, since I've been in ministry for so long. I've been involved in music ministry for most of my life, and I consider this blog a ministry. When you presume to teach others, I've always believed that you need to be held to a higher standard. So ugly public scenes are to be avoided at all costs. Even online. Maybe especially there.

I reacted emotionally to a friend on Facebook who I thought used the wrong word this week. I was offended by what he said, but I shouldn't have come down on him in public the way I did. That was ugly, and I'm sorry, Gary.

That's enough of the ugly. Here's what's bad. There are things that my wife and I need that seem out of reach. With summer coming, there are lots of jobs for me to do in the yard that I just don't have the physical strength and stamina to do. Lupron is making me weak. But we also can't afford to pay anyone to do them for me.

We've gotten a lot of help over the last several months, and we're very grateful for all of it. But that makes us feel like we can't ask for more. And our needs don't stop. They keep coming. That's not good. That goes in the bad category.

I'm still finding it almost impossible to concentrate on music work. That's not good. I got my song back for one day about a month ago, but now I'm having trouble finding it again. That also goes in the bad category.

I still have this ball of anger, or disappointment, or something that's robbing me of the peace I had, and making it hard for me to sleep through the night. Bad.

Of course, the mere fact that I have cancer is bad.  I'm sure you've noticed that I leave that out when I consider what might be bothering me. I really don't think that's what it is. When I thought I had cancer in my bones, and my future was completely out my hands, I had peace. I was grateful for the positive changes in my life that would never have happened if it weren't for the cancer. I've never been upset about having cancer, the way so many are about their cancer, and the way my loved ones are about mine.

I don't like what treatment is doing to me, but the cancer itself has caused me no discomfort, and I'm perfectly fine with the idea of a shortened life span. I know that my cancer is probably what's bothering you, but it isn't what's bothering me. None of us are permanent residents here on this planet. We're all renting, and the lease comes up for all of us sooner or later. I'm at peace with that.

But in the midst of all that's ugly and bad, there's a whole lot of good. That's what I'd like to focus on.

While I have a very few strained, damaged, or even broken relationships, I've gained many more good ones. Relationships that had gone dormant for years are now vital and alive. My relationships with the close friends I had are, for the most part, better than ever. Expressions of love come much more easily now. That's a very good thing.

This afternoon my wife and I celebrate the one year anniversary of our friendship with Derek Donnell and Amber Berry. We met on the patio at the place I can't seem to stop talking about, Wahoo's Fish Taco on East Hampden in Denver, last April. That's where we'll be today, with our dogs, just like the day we met. There are very few things in life more precious than a new friendship, especially when you know that it was meant to be, and that it will last a lifetime. This is beyond good. It's amazing, and it was completely unexpected at this point in our lives. God is good.

Paul and Denise Kelley have stepped up for us in unbelievable ways from the beginning, and continue to do so. Our friendship with them is old, but new. Like so many of my relationships, this one has been transformed. This probably would not have happened without the cancer, and that's 100% on me. For years I said and thought that we needed to cultivate a friendship with Paul and Denise, but I never followed through on it until I got smacked by God's 2 By 4. How dumb am I?

If you've read this journal from early on, you know about the fact that, when I was diagnosed, and for months thereafter, I had no church and no pastor. That has changed. It's wonderful having a church home again, and I have a relationship with my pastor, Tim Jones, that's unlike any I've had before. That's very good. He's much younger than me, but I won't hold that against him.

I've grown closer to so many others in the past few months, whether they be new friendships like Sandi Labo, or rekindled ones like Nicki Morgan, Deanna Griffiths, and Tiffany Berland. I can't thank you ladies enough for what you've meant to me during this time.

To everyone I've mentioned here, and to everyone I left out, Sharon and I will never be able to thank you enough for what you've meant to us this past year. We wouldn't have made it without you.

That's a whole bunch of good, and it's just the beginning.

In spite of the turmoil I'm experiencing right now, my relationship with God is better than it's been for most of my life. If only I could tag his Facebook page! When you have to learn to trust God, loving him is so much easier. My love for the friends I tagged above is magnified by my need for them. Same with my relationship with God. My relationship with him is so much more than it used to be for one reason. I finally realize how much I need him. That's why I wouldn't change my diagnosis, even if I could. Even tribulation is a good thing when it brings you closer to God.

I can't forget my new passion, writing this blog. I feel like this thing is really starting to hit its stride. Not because I'm getting better at it, though I think I am. Practice makes perfect, after all. But I don't think my writing chops are the reason for the growth in readership. And the growth has been amazing to see. My readership has tripled in an average post, and quintupled in my most read posts. But that's not because of me. I believe it's because there's a need for this, and God is using this blog to meet those needs. That's all I want.

There's a lot more good that I could talk about, but I've gone on too long, as usual. Sometimes it's hard to see all of the good because it gets obscured by the bad and the ugly. But it helps to remind myself of all that's good in my life. I encourage all of my cancer brothers and sisters reading this to take stock of the good things in their life. Especially the people who love you. They are more precious than money, added time on this planet, or even a cure. Without love, is life worth living? Not to me.

We can't avoid the bad things that will come our way. But we can try to avoid the ugliness by focusing on the good. If you have a loved one with cancer, thanks for helping us bear the load of what's bad. We know that it's worse for you, in many ways. Thanks for enduring the ugliness that creeps in. You are what's good in our lives, even when everything else seems bad or ugly.

And for all of us, if we can have a relationship with the loving, personal God that I'm getting to know better with each passing day, that is what's best of all. That's what will last forever.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Progress/Regress Report

Let me begin by saying that this is my 100th post. I'm so grateful for what has happened with this journal so far, and I'm just getting started. Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. You've made a world of difference in my life.

When I began writing about my cancer, it was in the form of a CaringBridge journal. That's why, if you read older posts, you'll see that I use the word journal more than blog. Back then, it was more about my day-to-day process and progress. Medical updates and issues related to my change of life. I kept my readers updated on our financial situation, application for disability, and what we did over the holidays. My readers were mainly family and friends, so I got pretty intimate.

Since moving to this blog, my audience and focus has expanded. I'm happy that more people are reading this, of course, and I want as many people reading this blog as possible. I think it's important to get this out. It seems to be helping people. My last post, What Not To Say To A Prostate Cancer Patient, has sort of taken on a life of its own, which I'm very grateful for. I feel like that's the sort of posts I should be writing, the kind intended to be applicable to the most people.

Because of that, I'm now going through my older posts and removing some of the more personal stuff, especially names of individuals, unless they're needed for the post. I have many strangers reading this blog now, which is great, but it also makes it necessary to protect myself and those closest to me, especially my wife.

But at the same time, I realize that my original CaringBridge readers still want to know how I'm doing. I don't want to forget that. I haven't done that since All Things New. So that's what this post is about.

My weight is good. My nutritionist's program, which began on March 31st, seems to be working. When I began, my weight was down to 120. This morning, I weighed 128. At my meeting with the nutritionist a few weeks ago, I told her about my world famous homemade dark chocolate ice cream. Come on over and have a bowl. It'll change your life. She thought it sounded really good, so I decided that, if I can maintain at 127-128 by following her program, I'm gonna take some ice cream over to her office. I might be able to do that in just a week or two, depending on how things go. That's encouraging.

My next appointment with my oncologist is not until June 7th. That's when I'll find out if my PSA is lower than before, or higher, or the same. If it's lower or the same, so far so good. If it's higher, we need a new strategy. But that's down the road a ways.

My main struggle right now is with my emotions. It's not just the mood swings. I seem to have some anger issues. I get angry at very small things, mostly just from frustration or a feeling of helplessness when I start to lose energy and hit a wall. When I can feel rubber legs coming on, it's easy for me to lose composure.

It would be easy for me to blame all of this on Lupron. But Lupron doesn't create emotions, it just magnifies them. It brings them to the surface. It removes filters. So that makes me realize that something deep down is bothering me, and it's coming out in outbursts of either yelling or crying. Or one followed by the other.

I had my first session with my new therapist yesterday. I like her, and I'm comfortable with her, so I'm very much hoping that this will help me. I told her about my feeling that I must be angry about something, but I'm not sure what it is. I can't seem to put my finger on it.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, my original purpose for seeking counseling was to remove "blockage" that's making it difficult to focus on anything other than my cancer. As I said a couple of posts ago, I feel like all I am right now is a cancer patient. Many cancer patients I know of refuse to be defined by their cancer, but not me. I've practically hung a sign on the front of my house. It's my identity now. So that has proved a problem in getting music work done. I just don't feel like that much of a musician these days. I feel like a page has been turned, but I still have to go back and read the previous page again, over and over, before I can move on to the next chapter.

While that remains a problem that must be addressed, my anger has pushed itself to the forefront. I've got to figure out what's bothering me. The peace I had not so long ago is being smothered by this feeling that there's something inside me that's not right. I have to figure out what it is.

It's hard for me to believe that there's some suppressed childhood memory that's going to reveal everything and set me free. I'm not Sybil. So what could it be? Am I really angry about something I can't identify, or is it something else that I'm refusing to acknowledge?

There are a couple of possibilities that occur to me, but I'm not sure if it's either of those things or something else. It wouldn't be ethical for me to go into details that I should only share with my therapist, and of course, I will betray no confidences shared with her. But in general, I think it's one of two things. Anger or unforgiveness. I can't think of anything I'm really angry about, but I can think of people I need to forgive right away. Could that be it? It has been in the past for me. It seems all too likely that it's the case now.

A new friend in the online support group that I basically stole my last post from posted the above meme on forgiveness today. I've always believed and preached what it says. I asked him immediately if he had me in mind when he posted it. I asked because I know he read my last post, where I admit that I have cut people off because of what I perceived to be their neglect in my time of need. My attitude has been that if these people who should have been right there with me the way I have been for them want to get back to friend status with me, the door is open, but they have some work to do.

Is that the right attitude for me to have? Probably not. If I could get past that, forgive them, and go back to the way things were with them, would that solve my problem? Maybe not, but it would certainly help.

I just reread my old post on forgiveness from last December, and while I still agree with everything I said, it's really hard for me to get my head there now. I'm sure that God is working on me in that area, and that may very well be what's been bothering me. But it probably isn't what's keeping me from getting work done. I think that has to do with feeling like I have a new identity and calling, and just as I don't want to go back to being the old Mark, I'm also having difficulty thinking of myself in my old career terms.

So if you've been thinking that I don't talk about my treatment as much as I used to, that's my update. My progress/regress report. Physically, I'm doing well. Emotionally, I'm a mess. I don't know how I'm going to get from point A to point B in either of those areas. But I have to. My ability to focus on work is a psychological issue. But unforgiveness is a spiritual issue. I can't deny that. I have to face it. Holding on to past hurts and resentments = bondage. Forgiveness = freedom. That's what I said last December, and what I've always said. I just have to put it into practice. Maybe if I can get to forgiveness, I won't be so angry. It's worth a try.

When I asked my friend if he had me in mind when he posted the meme, he replied that he was not thinking about me when he posted it. But God intended for me to see it.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

Monday, April 18, 2016

What Not To Say To A Prostate Cancer Patient

In an online prostate cancer support group in which I've become active recently, a new member asked a sensitive question that, after having been asked, seems so obvious. Yet so few people think to ask it. If a friend or loved one has prostate cancer, what are the right and wrong things to say to him? What does a prostate cancer patient want to hear, and what does he hate to hear?

The answers differ from person to person, I suppose. But there was amazing uniformity in the responses of the group. Many have responded in the first three hours since the post, and the discussion is ongoing. It's an important question, and I'm very glad that it was asked in that forum. The answers are illuminating.

Before I begin, I have to say that participating in this forum has been a wonderful experience for me. The knowledge gained from the experience of so many is invaluable. I've made new friends there already, in just a few weeks. They've welcomed me, along with many others, with open arms.

My intention is not to tell people what they should or shouldn't do or say. I assume that you care about your friend or loved one who has this disease, and only want to help and encourage them. Some things, however well intentioned, do not help. But there are many encouraging and helpful things you can say. I'll talk about both.

I'll start with what not to say.

By far, the #1 answer in the group was the exact topic I wrote about recently in The Easy Cancer... Not! Which is, don't say that at least it's an "easy" or "slow growing" or "easy to treat" cancer. Don't say that it's "just" prostate cancer, like it's no big deal. It's a huge deal. You think it's easy? You try it.

Another version of this comment is that it's the best kind of cancer to have! Unbelievably, people actually say that. There is no good kind of cancer to have.

You'll also hear that you're more likely to die of something else first. At 60 years old, that's not true for me, unless I get hit by a bus or something. Even at 80, if it's caught late and found to be aggressive, doctors will want to treat it.

Part of the problem is that everyone seems to know someone who had prostate cancer and has recovered. Some are lucky enough to recover fully, with minimal or negligible side effects. But many others live with serious, long term side effects from surgery, radiation, and/or chemo for the rest of their lives, and a large percentage have a recurrence at some point. That's the reality.

If you've had prostate cancer, don't assume that your friend's cancer is in the same category as yours was, and since you beat it, they will too. Likewise if this was the case with your uncle or someone else you know. Every guy I've talked to personally who's been there has seemed to have that attitude. But I have yet to meet a man personally whose cancer was discovered at as late a stage as mine was. They want to encourage me, so they say, "I'm still here, you will be too." Not necessarily.

If you and the cancer patient are both religious, (or even worse, if you are and the patient isn't) don't imply, let alone say straight out, that your friend will be healed if they only have enough faith. That's an insult. No one can measure another person's faith, and everyone dies eventually.

It's not helpful to say, "If there's anything I can do, let me know." We know you want to help, and it's very much appreciated, but we're not going to ask you to pay our bills or come and cook for us. Instead, ask how you can help. Ask if there's something specific that's needed. If you know of a need, volunteer to meet that need if you can. That's very helpful, encouraging, and shows how much you care.

And above all, for me at least, never invalidate a cancer patient's feelings. If his outlook is negative that day, just love on him. Don't try to cheer him up by telling him he'll beat this. He might not feel like beating it that day. The fact that he's down may bother you, but don't make it worse by making him feel like he's wrong to feel the way he does.

Don't tell him to keep fighting. Sometimes the fight goes right out of us. 

In general, cheerleading is not appreciated. Empathy is much better.

On the positive side, the consensus answer is to just be there. Be present, not absent. What hurts more than a misguided comment is neglect. Neglect, to your friend with cancer, means you don't really care. You probably won't lose your friend over an insensitive comment, but you may lose him if you fail to reach out. This has happened in my circle.

There are many helpful things you can say. I have heard these things over and over, from many people. I love you. I'm praying for you. Tell me how I can help. I'm here if you want to talk. You're safe with me. Precious words. None of us can hear them enough, especially if you have cancer.

If you have things you normally do with your loved one with cancer, keep doing those things. Give them some normalcy in their suddenly upside down world. And if you haven't connected like you should have before the diagnosis, after it is an excellent time to start. This very thing has made a huge difference for me. Long neglected connections are now alive and thriving. It's a wonderful thing.

Many men with prostate cancer keep the news very private. If you've been included in a small group of people who know, take that as a special responsibility. I went public, and as a result, have support from many places. But you might be one of the few people who is in a position to help someone close to you. Don't shirk that responsibility because you feel uncomfortable or don't know what to say. I've made that mistake myself, and now I realize how wrong I was.

One gentleman in the group said that since his surgery, no one asks how he is doing. People assume you're all done, and they can forget about it. But we never forget. Even if we're pronounced cancer free, we still get tested every three months for the rest of our lives. And every time, we fear that number will rise. We're never truly free of it.

As a Christian, I love being prayed for, but being prayed with is much better. I treasure the times when close friends in Christ prayed with me over the phone, in person, or via FaceTime. I've received greeting cards with written prayers for me. If you've been in a position like this, you know how that feels. It's incredible.

We've all been in situations where someone we love is going through a difficult time, and we don't know what to say or how to help. I've been there many times, and have said and done the wrong thing more often than not, I fear. I've also been guilty of neglect. So this is not judgment or complaint. We know that your heart is in the right place. Most of you, anyway.

And if you care enough to ask, like this newcomer did, and care enough to read this post, like you are, it must mean that you really want to help. I hope this post helps you know how, at least a little.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Am I?

Throughout my life, I've worn many hats, as we all do. In chronological order, I've been a son, a student, a cornet player, a singer, songwriter, arranger, husband, producer, entrepreneur, and worship leader. I haven't been a student or a cornet player for many years, but all of the other titles still hold true. Or do they?

I'll be a son and a husband for the rest of my life, but the others are all in question now. My last worship leading position ended last May. I expect to retire as a producer and arranger by the end of this year. I'll always sing, but by my definition, I won't always be a singer. The calls to come and sing for people are rarer by the day.

My new hat, which I received last August, is cancer patient. Like many, if not most cancer patients, I feel like that's what I am. That's all I am. It's the entire focus of my life. Everything else fades in comparison.

A friend posted a link to a blog post in The New York Times last month which affected me deeply. I strongly identified with what the author said. A leukemia survivor, the entirety of who she was had been consumed by her cancer and treatment. Now that she was in remission, she struggled to find the person she used to be. This resonates with me in a big way.

One thing I've never been is a fighter. My instinct is to accept rather than fight. In one of the online support groups I frequent, everyone seems to say that what's necessary to survive prostate cancer is a positive, fighting spirit. I think I have the positive part down, but I don't want to fight that hard. I'm getting treatment, and I'll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but there's a limit to how hard I'll fight.

Remember, for me, quality of life is much more important than quantity. I'll fight as long as I have confidence that I'll have a good quality of life afterward. But a life of long term, serious side effects is not for me. I'm sorry if this disturbs you, but I have to keep it real.

Every day on Facebook I see people talking about how much they hate cancer, but I can't honestly say that about mine. It's resulted in too much positive change in my life. Last Thanksgiving, in a post titled, "Thankfulness," I wrote this:

Are we really supposed to be thankful for the bad times? I honestly don't know if it says that in the Bible anywhere, but as I stand here at my desk on the day before Thanksgiving, I find that I actually am thankful for the cancer. Here's why.

If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't know how loved I am. If it wasn't for the cancer, I would be alarmed at the state of my career. 60 years old with no church that wants to hire me. If it wasn't for the cancer, this holiday season would not have nearly as much meaning. Life would not taste as sweet. If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't have discovered the joys of writing this journal. If it wasn't for the cancer, I wouldn't be counting my blessings the way I am. If it wasn't for the cancer, Sharon and I would be discouraged, worried, and broke. Because of the cancer, we're blessed, know how loved we are, and our needs are met. What's not to be thankful for?

As I've said before several times, I feel that through cancer, God has transformed my life. I'm not the guy I used to be. The old Mark isn't coming back, and good riddance to him. But who am I now? What will I be when this is over, however it ends? If it ends one way, I'll be a memory. If it ends the other way, I think I know where I'm headed, but who can say for sure?

As a person, I'm not sure who I'll be. I'm still in transition, and expect to be for a while. Like the leukemia survivor, I don't think I'll be able to visit my old haunts or interests and find the person I used to be. But unlike her, I have no interest in seeing the old Mark again. How did you people put up with me?

American men tend to identify ourselves by what we do. We don't just say, "I do this for a living." We say, "I am a..." Fill in the blank. I don't just say that I sing or write music for a living. I say that I am a singer and songwriter. So when those hats fall off, what am I then?

I know what I hope to become, and that's what I plan to spend the next year pursuing with all of my heart. It won't happen unless God makes it happen. But I firmly believe that if I'm doing what God wants me to do, he will bless it. He already is.

I've worn the blogger hat before, but not like this. Mark Bradford's Bible Blog was Bible commentary. There isn't a big audience for that. Unfortunately, the prostate cancer audience is much larger. Much larger.

This new hat has become my favorite. Nothing drives me more than this blog. I pour my whole self into it, as you can probably tell. I'm as transparent as I can be here, and I wish I could tell all of you absolutely everything. But some things need to stay private. I'm not the only one whom this affects.

The author of the blog post to whom I referred earlier didn't feel like she had a new identity, even though her blog was being published by The New York Times. I would feel like a rock star if that happened to me! If anyone at the Times is reading this, I'm available! But even that didn't satisfy her. She felt like she had lost the person she used to be, and she had. But while the person I used to be is gone, I can't wait to become Mark 2.0. Right now I figure I'm version 1.2 Beta. The Master Programmer is just getting started on me.

When I was naming the hats I've worn at the beginning of this post, you may have thought that I'd forgotten a hat or two. Christian. Child of God. I am those things, and they sustain me. They are the only titles I will continue to claim in the next life. But they're not hats. They're not an occupation, they're my identity, even more than son and husband. Those relationships will fade in the next life. They'll change fundamentally, according to Jesus. (Matthew 22:30, blog) But I'll always be a follower of Christ and a child of God. Forever.

It's very important to me, as a man, to have a hat to wear, even in retirement. I don't think many of the old hats fit anymore. But what I was when I was born, I'll still be when I die. A child of God. All other hats are temporary. Especially cancer patient.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hope For The Hormonal: A Book Review

This post will be somewhat off-topic. But not really. I want to use this platform, one time only, to talk about a book I just finished reading. I've mentioned it a few times in this blog. It wasn't written for men with prostate cancer, but for women who deal with hormonal issues and depression. But I read it because it was written by a good friend of mine, Kim Bryan. But while she didn't write it with me in mind, it was a great encouragement to me anyway.

First, I need to introduce you to Kim. My wife and I met Kim and her husband, Mark, in church, in a Sunday school class for young married couples in the 1980's. We clicked immediately, and have been good friends since. Kim is a nurse. She has as great a heart for others as anyone I've ever known. She has an infectious laugh, and I've always loved to make her laugh. She also has endured greater heartbreak than just about anyone I know.

Mark and Kim were part of a close knit group of friends that we had at that time, along with Galen and Jan Koch, to whom I paid tribute in my second most viewed post, Introducing The Kochs. Kim included a beautiful tribute to Galen in this book. The last time I saw Mark and Kim was at Galen's funeral. I have far too many friends that I now only see at funerals. I don't want Kim to be in that category!

After Galen's funeral, Kim emailed me a link to her blog, Hope For The Hormonal, which I had been previously unaware of. She thought reading her blog might help me feel better about Galen's suicide. She told me that she had gone through depression, and a suicide attempt herself. I had had no idea. I read her story from the beginning, and it did help me understand Galen's state of mind much better. It helped me process his death, and come to some resolution about it.

But it's also a great read. I found it very well written, fascinating and riveting. Not just because it gave me a window into my friend's world, which I had no clue about, but also because it's just really good. So is her book.

Let me tell you what kinds of books I normally read. I love fantasy, science fiction, horror, and comic books. Stephen King is my favorite author. I'm not big on nonfiction. But I had read and loved Kim's blog, and I wanted to support her. I wanted to read her story again on paper. I prefer actual books to e-reading. They can't tell you to turn a book off on a plane.

What I didn't realize when I ordered the book was how much this book would help me, at the exact time when I needed it.

It's not a very long book. Only 163 pages, mostly doubled-spaced. But it's packed with meaning and insight. It's intended for Christian women who deal with hormonal issues and depression. But this male cancer patient found it very meaningful too.

Go ahead and joke that I liked it because I'm hormonal from my cancer treatment. Maybe a little, but not really. It's just a good book.

Hope for the Hormonal (only $7.99 on Amazon, $4.99 for the Kindle version) is divided into three sections. In the first section, she gives a condensed version of her story of the hormonal roller coaster she endured, the misguided attempts at treatment from doctors who didn't understand her condition, her downward spiral into depression, her suicide attempt, institutionalization, and recovery. Wow. What an amazing story of courage, faith, love, and support, even in the deepest darkness. Personally, I wish more of her story had been included in the book. But the next section rocked my world too.

When I messaged Kim to tell her I had ordered her book, she told me that she didn't necessarily think I would get much out of the second section of it, which consists of short devotional readings specifically for women who deal with these issues. She was wrong.

Full disclosure, I've also never been big on devotional books. I'd rather do my own Bible study and come to my own conclusions about it. But this book is a notable exception to that.

Many of these devotionals were just what I needed at a specific time in the last few weeks. I'll only mention one of them. In my post, All Things New, I talked about how reading a devotional page from Kim's book was the first step in my coming out of my funk after my disability claim was denied. The reading I referred to was titled, "The Raging Sea."

It's about the story in the Bible where Jesus and his disciples are in a boat on the Sea Of Galilee, and a sudden storm comes up which almost sinks the boat. Such storms are common on that body of water. The disciples are freaking out, but Jesus is taking a nap. Out like a light bulb. The boat starts to fill with water, and they finally wake Jesus up. They actually ask Jesus if he cares whether or not they drown!

Do you think I could relate to the disciples in that moment when I had no idea how we were going to make it without my disability? When I was still reeling from the ruling that I thought had ruined my life? I was wondering if God was asleep too. I thought I might drown if he didn't hurry up and pay attention. But in this beautiful devotional reading that I read on that fateful Sunday, Kim quoted Jesus' response when the disciples woke him. “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

That hit me right between the eyes. Did I trust God or not? Reading that short devotional helped me start to calm down and believe that God would work things out. If you know the rest of that story, you know what Jesus did next. He got up, calmed the storm, and went back to sleep! That what he did for me too, the next day. He calmed my storm. Only he didn't go back to sleep. 

This just in. God never sleeps. Except for the 33 years that he had a human body, that is. And he didn't sleep much then. More often than not, he went up into the mountains to pray all night. But I digress.

The third section of the book contains scripture verses chosen to encourage those going through similar trials.

I need to wrap this up before it gets longer than Kim's book. But I have a few more things to say first.

On a practical note, it's great bathroom reading! The short chapters make it perfect for that. And it's not all sad. It's very hopeful, and actually funny in places. I forgot to tell you that Kim is funny. I make her laugh, but she returns the favor.

By the way, whenever I say that someone is funny, remember that it comes from a guy who's made a living at comedy for 28 years. When I say that someone is funny, it's one of the highest compliments I can give. Take that, Karen and Deanna.

Kim does not flinch from talking about the tragedies in her life. I saw one of them up close when she and Mark lived here in the Denver area. Kim talks about it briefly in the book, but I want to add my perspective on it here.

When we met, Mark and Kim were childless, like us. But unlike us, they desperately wanted children. They went through all kinds of treatments in an effort to conceive. Finally, Kim got pregnant. We all rejoiced with them. When it was time to give birth, their precious baby daughter, Molly, was stillborn. This seemed like a cruel joke to me at the time. How could God allow this to happen to these people who love him and serve him so faithfully, and who pour their lives into others with no thought for themselves? How could he appear to give them the desire of their hearts for nine months, and then snatch it away? None of us could understand it.

Kim asked me to sing a song at Molly's graveside service. The song she wanted was "This Child Of Mine" by my friend Barb Robertson. I had to borrow a guitar, learn to play the song, (I know exactly six guitar chords) and play and sing it memorized at Molly's grave on a cold morning, with grieving family and friends all around me. It was the most difficult performance of my life. It was also one of the greatest honors of my life, that Kim would ask me to do this. I'll never forget it. How could I?

I add that story to give you some added insight into who Kim is. This woman has gone through fire and been purified by it. I will never be as strong as she is. My difficulties pale in comparison to hers. But it seems we have found a similar calling. To write about our journeys, and try to help others who may be going through similar things.

Have I made it clear how much I love this book, and the woman who wrote it? She is a hero to me. Right now, she's a role model.

If you buy and read this book, you won't regret it, even if you think it doesn't apply to you. I didn't think it applied to me either. But it was just what I needed at exactly the right time. If you can think of anyone that this book might help, buy it, read it, and then give it to them. Or better yet, buy two, and give one away.

Hope For The Hormonal helped bring some hope to a hormonal male cancer patient. Not exactly the book's target demographic. If it helped me, maybe it can help you.

Thanks for this book, Kim. Thanks for your transparency. Thanks for showing me how to share my story and try to help others with it. Thanks for being Kim. I hope this review helps get your book out to more people.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


All my life, growing up in an Evangelical church and family, I heard about joy. We all hear the term a lot, but Christians really emphasize it. You hear it especially at Christmastime. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. But while I had heard about joy all my life, I never really experienced it until after my diagnosis. Until I got smacked by God's 2 By 4.

Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances. Joy comes from within, regardless of circumstances.

Here's one silly example of circumstantial happiness. My friends in the Reunion band may remember this. On our last road gig together in our previous incarnation, we were in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. During a free day there, our keyboard player, the incomparable C.J. Lewis, wanted to visit the music stores in Cincinnati. We all went with him. Musicians love to hang out in music stores. Most musicians, anyway.

I've never really enjoyed spending time in music stores, drooling over gear that I can't buy. Guitarists can have lots of fun checking out and playing all the guitars for hours with no intention of buying anything. But as a singer who doesn't play an instrument well, that's not a lot of fun for me. What's fun for me is buying something.

As the day wore on, and the rest of the guys were having the time of their lives jamming and looking at gear, I was miserable. I started to feel like I had a cold coming on. I wanted to go back to my hotel room and take a nap.

But then, I noticed a rack of headphones. The store had a sale on Sennheiser headphones, which, in case you didn't know, are the studio standard. I needed new headphones for my studio. I called my wife, who had been telling me for months to get new ones. She has to wear them when we record. She liked the idea, of course.

Suddenly, I had something to buy. My bad mood disappeared. I no longer felt sick. I was happy. That's circumstantial happiness. But until recently, I had never experienced real joy.

When I was diagnosed, I was not joyful yet, but I did accept what I was told. My instinct is not to fight, but to accept. When I was told that I was inoperable and possibly metastatic, I understood that my fate was not entirely in my own hands. As if it ever was. Once I accepted that, I had peace. Joy is the companion of peace.

What is joy? It's very difficult to describe, if not impossible. But I'll give it a try. For me, it feels like love. It feels like confidence that, ultimately, things will work out for good. It's a lack of fear, worry, and guilt. But it's more than that, and I don't seem to be able to find the words for it. Shocking, I know. But it's amazing.

Whatever it is, it's infectious. Someone who hadn't seen me for a few months told me yesterday how much easier I smile now than I used to. She commented on my coloring, which many do. My standard response is that it comes from realizing how loved I am. I had been walking through life with no clue how many people love me. How dumb am I? It's hard not to feel joy when everyone loves on you wherever you go, and you receive expressions of support from all around the world almost every day. I never understood how blessed I am until now. At least I'm finally awake.

In church last Sunday, I was asked to close the service with prayer. It was my honor to do so. I had never been asked to do that before. Remembering the guy that I used to be, I can understand why. My wife and I are fairly new to this congregation, so my pastor, Tim Jones, introduced me to them. He said that he had never seen anyone in my situation with this much joy. I can't take credit for that. It's not something I achieved through discipline or rule keeping. Joy found me through little or no effort on my part.

Let me try to explain where I think my joy came from, and what has taken it away at times over the last several months.

As I said, I believe the first element was being shown so much love and support. Many men in my shoes don't have the base of support that I'm blessed with. I understand that very well. I see it every day in the online support group that I frequent. But it seems that most of the men who feel they have little or no support are also very private about their cancer. As I urged my brothers in my post, Not Alone, I believe that if they would "go public" about their cancer, they would find that they are more loved than they know. But many don't feel that they can do that, and suffer with very little support. I wonder how much joy they have.

Another factor, for me, was loss of control. Have you ever been in a car accident, and right before the collision, you felt a sense of peace? You get a glimpse of mortality. A few times, I've been there, and thought my time might be up. If so, there was nothing I could do about it. I felt no fear. Just acceptance. That's similar to what I felt when the doctors thought they had evidence that I was metastatic. If true, I had lost control. I realized that control is an illusion anyway. None of us has control.

Christians call this "coming to the end of yourself." Coming to a point where you know that circumstances are beyond your control, and you have to trust God. That's where I was always told that joy and peace are found. They're in that place where we realize that we can't help ourselves, and we recognize our dependence on God. Turns out it's true, at least in my case. And in many other people's cases, as well.

I had never reached that point until a few months ago. I had always thought I could take care of myself. And for the most part, I was right. I had a great marriage, a nice house, and I got to do what I love for a living. Never had any major trials. I've had it way too easy. That's not a recipe for joy. Self-satisfaction and joy don't go together.

But while I can point to all of these factors, there was a pivotal moment in my discovery of joy. I write about that moment in my post, "Becoming." I won't repeat that story here, since I'm already going on too long, as usual. But the short version is that, during a church service, as my friend Michael Wygant led us in a song, God showed himself to me in a very real way. When Elisa Morgan spoke on forgiveness later, something came loose inside me. I was able to let go of some things that had been holding me back for a long time. Past hurts and resentments. Destructive habits. When I let those things go, joy came flooding in.

But all has not been well since then. There have been times when I couldn't feel the joy. Many of those moments came when I thought I had control back. If you've read my post, "Full Disclosure," you know where I'm going with this. It doesn't make me look good.

This will sound very strange, but when the doctors told me that they no longer believed that the suspicious spot they had found on one of my bones was metastasis, all my loved ones rejoiced, but my joy vanished. I had control back, and I didn't want it. And this news was messing up my whole retirement plan. I was afraid that it would destroy my disability claim. For the first time in this process, I felt fear. Fear kills joy.

In spite of my recent spiritual enlightenment, I have been in conflict with a few people during this time. When I'm in conflict, I don't have much joy. Conflict kills joy.

The most graphic, and most recent example, as outlined in All Things New, is when I considered appealing my disability ruling after I was denied. I felt God very clearly indicate to me that I should not appeal, but trust him instead. When I thought about following the advice of so many and appealing my ruling, my joy was replaced by a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Once I made the decision to follow my heart, the joy was back.

I hear many parents of newborn babies say that they're experiencing joy for the first time. People who work with the poor or the disabled get great joy from that. I think it has to do with getting beyond ourselves and our own concerns. It's about realizing that we're not the star of the show. If we can get to that point, it becomes easier to let go of things that hold us back. It becomes easier not to fear when it's not all about us. When my focus is on others rather than myself, I have less conflict, and more joy.

If you know me, you know what a step it was for me to admit that I'm not the star of the show. Being the star of the show has always been my goal. But not anymore.

I repeated something I've said many times to some friends yesterday. I said that, even if I could, I wouldn't change my diagnosis. Not if it meant I had to go back to being the guy I was before. Not if it meant I'd lose the joy.

As I proceed to trust God with my future, I have joy behind me, in front of me, beneath me, above me, surrounding me, and inside me. It sustains me. I don't know where your joy comes from, but he is the source of my joy. Trusting him brings me joy. Your joy may come from your children, or your charitable work. If so, God bless you. I think your joy comes from God even if you don't, because loving unconditionally is what he wants us to do, and what makes us most like him. And if you'll let go of the things that are holding you back and trust him, you'll find joy that will sustain you, no matter what.

Until all of this happened, it never made sense to me when people who were going through great trouble would say how blessed they were, and how good God is to them. But now I get it. They've found joy. I wish it hadn't taken cancer to get me to this place, but now that I'm here, I'll never go back.

I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. (2 Corinthians 7:4)

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Easy Cancer?

When you tell people you have prostate cancer, many react with sympathy, but many seem to shrug. They consider it the "easy" cancer. It seems that everyone knows someone who has had it, had the surgery or seed implants, and has been fine since.

My own father had this experience. His cancer was caught early. It was confined to the prostate, and did not score as being very aggressive. My dad had the radical prostatectomy procedure. He has been cancer free since then, 17 years ago.

Stories like this are so common that many people think prostate cancer is no big deal. But if you have it yourself, it's a huge, life-changing deal. I imagine that this is true no matter how relatively "easy" it is.

When some people I know hear that I have prostate cancer, the first thing they want to do is tell me their story with it, or about a loved one who came through it with flying colors. This is meant to encourage me. I understand that. But their story doesn't apply to me. The treatment that they or their loved one used is not recommended for me. And my prognosis is in question.

My cancer was not caught early enough for surgery or seed implants. And my cancer is very aggressive. So the story of how well your uncle did with his cancer does not encourage me that much. It's like telling someone with pneumonia how easily you got over your cold.

The aggressiveness of prostate cancer is measured with the Gleason score. Probably named after the scientist who discovered it. The Gleason score goes from 1 to 10, one being not very aggressive, and ten being the most aggressive. My Gleason score is 9. This makes it unlikely that they'll ever be able to "get it all," either with surgery or radiation. They might tell me they think they can get all of the cancer, but I'm not sure that I believe them. I've heard too many stories where that turned out not to be true.

The support group that I've mentioned a few times is full of stories of how doctors thought they had gotten all of a patient's cancer, with surgery or radiation or both, only to have it come back at some point. The higher the Gleason score, the more likely that is. According to a recent statistic I heard, 40% of men who are treated for prostate cancer with chemo and radiation have a recurrence in the first ten years.

But for every story of recurrence, I see one where someone with impossibly high numbers, PSA and Gleason, has been doing fine for years. Last week, it occurred to me to ask the group how many Gleason 9 guys there are. I hadn't seen any. I thought I might be the only one. I soon found out how wrong I was. There are many Gleason 9's in the group, and some Gleason 10's too. I thought this would make me feel better, but it didn't. It made me very sad. Some with that score had been around for years at that level. Others with the same score or lower are struggling.

In spite of what you may have heard or thought, there is no silver bullet for prostate cancer. There are many new and improved treatments out there, but there's no cure yet. One thing that men in my place find out is that, despite how common prostate cancer is, there are many more resources for women with breast cancer than for men with prostate cancer. There's no Race For The Cure for us. The NFL doesn't wear blue for men the way they wear pink for women.

This might be because we're all very aware of women's breasts. I've always had an affinity for them! But I try very hard to look at your face, ladies. Promise. But many people have no idea where the prostate is or what it does. We all know what women's breasts do, besides make men crazy. They have a well known function that we've all seen many times. Nobody knows what the prostate does.

There's also the fact that women talk about their feelings more easily than men do. Many men want to keep it a secret when they find out they have prostate cancer, even from their families. We're supposed to be strong and silent. Stiff upper lip, and all that.

I obviously don't have that problem. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I don't care if I get blood on you if you get too close. I'm putting my cancer out there for everyone to see. But it breaks my heart to see so many men who don't feel they can do that, and suffer for it, along with their families.

The fact that so many men don't want to share what's going on while they go through this terrible disease makes it more difficult for them. It's not an "easy" cancer at all, even if there were such a thing. Which there isn't.

No, there is no easy cancer. And they are all deadly. But with love, and with God, and with the right treatment, it can be made easier. But easy never accomplished anything. Everything worth doing is hard.

So the next time you find out that someone you know has prostate cancer, don't shrug. Don't tell them it's no big deal because you or your uncle got past it with no problem. There are long term side effects from prostate cancer treatment that are very difficult for many men to live with. Even if we live, for many of us, it's with a reduced quality of life. It ain't easy, folks.

Except, in my case, I feel like I really do have it easy. My only symptom, so far, is weight loss. By the way, the program that my nutritionist has me on seems to be working. I've gained five pounds, and I'm working on gaining another two or three. If I can maintain at only two or three pounds below my normal weight, I consider that a success.

When I say that's my only symptom, I mean actual cancer symptom. I have lots of symptoms from treatment. Have I whined about the Lupron lately? If not, let me start... Just kidding.

I think I still look OK, but the dark circles under my eyes, which I inherited from my mom, have gotten worse from stress. But I'm not gaunt or bald, thank the Lord. I still pretty much look like myself.

I'm not in the hospital. Not on chemo. I can still get around. My voice is still strong. Very important for me.

And the love and support I've received has made this as easy as it could possibly be. But still not easy. I still hit a wall when I try to do too much. I still struggle to focus on work I need to do. I still make life difficult for those closest to me because of my emotional ups and downs.

I know it won't always be even this easy. It's not easy now, and it will only get harder. I'm gonna try to stay here as long as I can, and that won't be easy. But one way or another, this too shall pass. The best part, and the easiest part, is what's happened between God and me since all of this started. It's easier than it's ever been for me to feel his presence. He's always right here. Not beside me, but inside me. I don't even have to speak. I just tune in. It's amazing.

My heart breaks for the guys who don't have that kind of support, personally, emotionally, and spiritually. For them, I can't imagine how hard this must be. Having the "easy" cancer can be the hardest thing in the world.

But as a Christian, I know that the Bible never promises us an easy road. In fact, it promises just the opposite. But Jesus didn't take the easy road. He took the hardest road of all. I just wrote about it for a whole week recently. I can't forget that now. He is my model for how to face adversity.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because he is with me. (Psalm 23:4) I am at peace, not because my road is easy, but because he is with me. Because I know his goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And at the end of this road, however long or short it may be, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Following My Heart

This has been a life changing week. I've had a few of those recently, but this one was monumental. It's an amazing thing to feel like you know exactly what you're supposed to do next. And what you're not supposed to do.

That's how God has always communicated with me in my life, when I needed to make an important decision. He doesn't speak audibly, of course. Many times I've wished he would, but then when I read passages in the Bible where God speaks audibly to people, it's not usually a fun experience for the listener. So I'll pass on that for now. I'll wait till I see him face to face.

Often when I'm making an important life decision, God has indicated what he wants me to do either by prospering something I tried, or "checking" me, to use extreme Christianese. Or both. Since I try to avoid the use of Christianese in this blog at all costs, let me try to explain what I mean by that. If you've read my previous post, All Things New, you know what I'm referring to, but you may be unfamiliar with the concept.

In my case, I know what the correct path is by what I have peace about, and what I don't. Right now, I have peace about my decision not to appeal my disability ruling, and I get all tied up in knots when I think about filing an appeal. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that doesn't go away until I think about abandoning it. That's what I mean by a check. Many of you know what I'm talking about.

I don't necessarily think this is an example of being checked by the Holy Spirit, but one story I related to a friend yesterday to illustrate how I feel is from when Colin Powell was being pressured to run for President in 2008.

When Gen. Powell decided not to run, he said that, when he was considering running, every day that he woke up and thought he would run for President, he had a bad day. Every day that he thought he wouldn't run, he had a good day. That's what I mean by following my heart. That's what I mean by a check. When I think about doing what I believe God wants me to do, I have a good day. When I think about appealing, I feel horrible.

Let me give you one brief but extreme example of a very painful check that I received many years ago, and the result. I also shared this with my friend yesterday. This may be a new story to you, even if we're very close. I haven't told this to many people. My parents might not even know about this.

Around 1980, when I was in my early 20's, I was looking for a band. I'm a singer, and I wanted to find a band that was looking for one. A lady at the place I worked at the time told me her son was in a band that was looking for a lead singer. I went and auditioned, and we hit it off. I seemed perfect for them, and they seemed perfect for me. The audition was magic.

A few days later, I went back to them and made my case that I should be their next lead singer. They agreed, and their manager set up a photo shoot for new band promo shots. But as soon as the decision was made, I got the biggest NO from God that I've ever gotten in my life. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I couldn't think about anything else. I knew what I had to do. I had to go back to this band I had committed to and tell them I couldn't do it.

Do you think what I said made any sense to them at all? No. I might as well have been speaking Martian. "Sorry guys, I know I said I really wanted to be in this band, but now God says I can't." It didn't go well, but after I left, the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was free. But I still had a hard time understanding why God had said no to that so strongly.

About a year later, the mom of the guitarist who had told me about the opening in the first place came to me in tears at work. Her son, the main guitarist in the band, and my best buddy in the band, the one who believed in me and fought for me to be the singer in the band, had been killed on his motorcycle by a drunk driver. He was in his 20's like me.

His funeral was very sad, as you can imagine. But you can also imagine what was going through my head. I can't say for sure I would have been on that bike with him had I stayed in the band, but it seems all too likely to me, to this day.

That's just one of many examples of how God has spoken to me in that way in my life. My decision on Monday was just the latest. Do you understand now why I pay attention to those checks?

I've also never gone wrong following my heart. As I told one of my beloved sisters in the comments of my CaringBridge journal yesterday, I followed my heart by majoring in music when everyone told me to study something I could fall back on. I followed my heart to Denver from Illinois and Michigan, having no friends or relatives here. I followed my heart quitting my printing job in 1988 and going into music full time. I've never looked back from any of those decisions. I'm at peace with my decision now. There's no way I can go back. Not if I want to be in God's will.

Many have said that I should begin the process of appeal anyway, because if I don't, I'll lose the opportunity to do it later. That may be true, but even by beginning the process, we'd have to live below our means for the entire appeals process. And even typing that sentence brought back that sick feeling.

You might think I'm crazy. You would be correct. But not about this. Crazy would be ignoring God's voice and getting on the back of that motorcycle.

On Monday at dinner, my wife and I had a good discussion of my conclusions from the day. She was the first to tell me that there was no way we could live on what income I'd be limited to if we appealed. When I ran down all of the reasons not to appeal that I laid out in my last post, she agreed. But when I told her that I had realized that I was being checked, that ended the discussion. If God says no, to us, it means no.

So after listening to God, and listening to my heart, not just this past weekend, but since, I still believe in the direction I'm going. I have peace about it. I'm excited to see what God will do.

Have you ever been there? Everyone thinks you should go in one direction, but you strongly feel you should go the less safe route, for reasons you can't explain? If you've ever followed your heart when many others were shaking their head, you know what I mean. But that's how I've lived my life, and I can't stop now.

This approach will also apply to my cancer treatment. I'll listen to all of the smart people, and do my research, but in the end, I must follow my heart. Even if it means going home earlier than you might want. Nobody likes it when their friends leave the party, but we all have to go home sometime.

I said earlier that God speaks to me by checking me, but also by "prospering" something I'm doing. Giving me success at a new pursuit. With this decision, he's doing both. He's telling me no about one direction, but also giving me a big fat yes about this one. I can feel it, but I also see it. It's happening right before my eyes. How can I ignore that?

Since my last post, most have supported my decision, but some have questioned. Some have remained silent. I imagine I'll hear from you when I see you. But as much as I love you and value your opinion, I love God more and trust him more. He's never steered me wrong when I listened to him and followed my heart. That's what I have to keep doing.

Monday, April 4, 2016

All Things New

First of all, I have to say that your response to my last post has been nothing short of... I can't come up with a word. And that's saying something for me. In one day, Full Disclosure became my second most viewed post since I started. Second only to Introducing The Kochs, which is a special case. I'm honestly speechless. But it just confirms what I have to tell you.

I feel completely different from when I wrote my last post. The last 24 hours has been indescribable. But I'll try.

So let me tell you about my last day and a half. Previously, on Mark's Melodrama, he thought the sky was falling. He forgot everything he knew about God. Then God said, "Oh yeah? Watch this."

One positive development that I mentioned in my last post is that a new friend stopped by to give me a gift, and as part of our conversation, offered to help me in a very tangible way. This friend is Sandi Labo, who I talked about in my post from last December, Becoming. She and I connected in an unusual way at a Christmas party, and she helped me a great deal that night. She is a professional therapist. Our talk at the party led to a significant spiritual breakthrough for me the next morning in church, which I talk about in the post.

Three days later, her dad suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, and my heart went out to her, naturally. Since then, we've tried to be an encouragement to one another in our time of need.

When Sandi stopped by yesterday, we talked about the trouble I was having getting motivated to do music work that I want and need to do. She, in her professional jargon, called that "blockage." I eat oatmeal for that. But this is more psychological blockage. I need some mental oatmeal. Sandi offered to find a therapist in my area who takes Medicaid, which we are on. I had been thinking that I need to talk to a professional, and I knew that it's covered, but I didn't know where to start.

With her help, I can get someone really good, and not have to accept the luck of the draw. She asked if I had any criteria of the type of person I'd like to talk to. I said I'd prefer a female Christian therapist. She found me someone today. This is a blessing that is hard for me to quantify. And it's only the beginning of what God has done the last 24 hours.

Sandi and her husband Todd Labo are amazing people that we are very happy to be getting to know better at this time in our lives.

But I'm not gonna lie, this past weekend was pretty rough. It took a few days to process the news.

Actually, I think the turnaround really began when I read a devotional from my friend Kim Bryan's book, Hope For The Hormonal earlier Sunday. Don't snicker. She's a good friend of mine, and I'm reading her book. Leave me alone. Besides, I am hormonal, remember? One of the devotional readings from her book hit me right between the eyes yesterday. I think that was the first domino to fall. Thanks, Kim. Another friend back in my life at the exact right time. How did I forget how good God is?

That book is riveting, folks. A must read for Christian women who deal with hormonal issues or depression. When I'm done reading it, I'm gonna totally blow it up on social media, Kim. You can't stop me.

So after Sandi left on Sunday afternoon, I was overwhelmed by the way God had used a woman whom we've really just met, and whose spiritual beliefs are totally different from ours to help us. I was in tears. Tears of gratitude. I was starting to see a pattern.

The next morning, I woke up in a great mood. It was a beautiful day. It's the first real week of spring here in Denver, Colorado. We're gonna set up our patio and plant our potatoes. My dog looks completely healed from her knee surgery. She's supposed to go in for an x-ray to see if she can go on walks this week, but she's been getting daily laser treatment, and I really believe that the vet is gonna say she's fully recovered, three weeks early. She looks fine to me.

All of these are reasons to feel good, and I did this morning. I had come to terms with what we were going to do. And as the day wore on, it started to make more sense. But first, the water got muddied by some very well intentioned people who love me very much. I am grateful to all of them for their concern. I value their advice. And I know that the tone of my last post worried many of you.

My first mistake was looking at Facebook. How many of us could begin a paragraph with that sentence? When I saw the comments for my Facebook share of Full Disclosure, the message I basically got was, "Hey, Idiot, you'd better appeal!" Go look at them if you don't believe me. So since all of these people were telling me this, it seemed like I should look into it. I did. I talked to a legal professional whom I'd consulted before, and whose team I intended to hire, should I appeal. I also talked to an attorney friend who has had lots of experience with disability cases as a workman's comp attorney. Both of them urged me to appeal.

But the more I learned about it, the less right it seemed to me. Let me try to explain why.

If I appeal, we'll have to live on much less than we can afford to live on for up to two years. We'd need even more than the substantial help we're already getting. Strike one. (Baseball season just started.)

If I appeal, I have to stick with traditional Western medicine. If I refuse chemo in favor of naturopathic treatment, Social Security takes a dim view of that. Strike Two.

If I appeal, I have to tell my ministry clients to wait for me for two years, and who knows if I'd be able to do anything then? I wouldn't be able to protect my legacy the way I want to, and some very good people would be hurt. Strike three, you're out.

If I appeal, I can't take advantage of the counseling opportunity that Sandi just provided me. If I were trying to prove depression, it'd work great for an appeal. But not if I'm trying to remove "blockage" so I can get work done. That won't go over well. Strike four, you're still out.

Worst of all, if I appeal, I have to shut down this blog. See, the problem is, I applied for disability under a few different occupations; Singer, Producer, Music Director, and Writer. Writer. If I'm writing a blog, it proves I can still write. Duh. It would kill me to do that. I'm just getting started, and I'm convinced this is the direction God wants me to go. Going underground with it in order to get a government benefit just doesn't feel right to me. Strike five. Why are you still swinging?

If, on the other hand, I don't appeal, I can make money right now with work that's waiting to be done. I just have to get my head right, and I'm already well on my way there. With the help of a professional, I see no problem finishing well for them. That's what I want to do. Finish strong. Get the work done to my standards, and then help my friends find whoever it is who will take over the franchise. That would make me happy.

If I don't appeal, I can seek whatever medical treatment I want, or refuse treatment if I so choose. That's huge for me.

But most of all, if I don't appeal, I can keep doing what I feel God's called me to do. Write about how God has used prostate cancer to transform my life, and tell other guys that God can do the same for them. There are many, many men walking this road with me. I think my story and perspective can help some of them. I've already experienced this in the prostate cancer support group I've talked about. It's just the tip of the iceberg.

For years, I have called churches in my area to ask them if I can come and sing. I've done many church concerts, locally and across the country. So there's a built-in network of churches where I'm already known who might be interested in having me speak for a men's event, or retreat, or a Sunday service. This is a message many can relate to. This is a prospect that excites me.

So unlike my last post, I no longer see a future where my wife and I struggle to survive. Instead, I see a future where, in one year, I finish one career and God gets another one started for me. The year that Deanna Griffiths told me only last Saturday night that I'd look back on and be blown away by what God had done, by the way. Right again, Deanna.

I haven't forgotten that I'll be getting cancer treatment this whole time, which will mean I'll have to pace myself. I can pick and choose gigs, and only do the ones I feel I can do. But I can write at home. I can write in bed. And I'm sure I will, when the time comes.

You may remember in my last post a reference to a back paycheck that we were expecting when I was approved. Ha! It turns out we had it wrong. They hold back the first five months' pay. I would have only gotten one month's pay instead of seven. Big difference.

But today, I picked up our taxes, and we're getting a much bigger refund than we were expecting. Almost twice what we would have gotten from Social Security. We took that as more confirmation. God saying, "See, I'll take care of you."

Here's the clincher. As the day has worn on, I understood that, when I think about appealing my ruling, I feel a sick sensation in the pit of my stomach. I know that feeling. I've had it before, many times. I've learned to trust it. As I was driving home after picking up our taxes, I started telling God that I didn't even think I needed to pray about this. It was clear to me. That sick feeling is what evangelical Christians call a "check." I'm being checked. That means God is saying no. If I keep going in that direction, I won't be able to sleep, and there will be a dark cloud over me until I do a 180.

But when I think about abandoning my claim and trusting God, when I think about finishing one ministry well and starting a new one, that sick feeling is gone. I get excited. I now see what I couldn't see on Friday and Saturday. I see a fulfilling, meaningful career path, however short or part-time it may be. A way to make a difference in people's lives in a way I was never able to do with music.

I think they call it following your heart. That's what I have to do.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)