Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Year With Cancer

One year ago today, on August 7th, 2015, I received a phone call that changed my life forever. It was my urologist calling to tell me that the biopsy I'd had done a few days earlier had come back positive. I had cancer. For the next twelve months, my life has been transformed in many ways, good and bad. I couldn't let this day go by without writing about those changes.

This will not be a retrospective, blow-by-blow post. I've written a few of those already. If you haven't been following along with my story, and you want to know those details, I invite you to read 2015, Things I Learned In My 60th Year, and the depressing epic, Full Disclosure. Or better yet, start from the beginning and read this entire blog in order. Many have done that and continue to do it. It makes me very happy when I see that.

Instead of a post like the ones above, this one will focus on the changes that have taken place since August of last year. They are many, and they are profound. Positive changes and negative ones. Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news? Let's start with the negative, and end with the positive.

When you're diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. In one moment, I went from being a professional musician, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and worship leader to being one thing; a cancer patient. As I wrote in my post What Am I?, "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." That pretty much sums it up.

One year ago, I was still physically able to do all of the things that I did before. I didn't need to think about pacing myself. A simple thing like going to an event at Red Rocks in the evening was still doable. But after nearly a year of hormone treatment, things like that seem out of reach. I have to be very careful now how I commit myself. I have to go to bed early. I have to make sure that I get enough rest. If a friend had a late gig a year ago, I could go. Now, if it starts later than 6:30, I have to pass. I just don't have the energy.

Before I was diagnosed, I expected to live into my early 90's, as my family tends to do. Now, I have to plan as though I won't be here a few years from now. That doesn't mean that I don't have hope for a cure, and it certainly doesn't mean that I've given up, but I have to be realistic. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Lupron, the hormone suppressant that I've been on, has wreaked havok on my life since my first shot. I've struggled with hot flashes, emotional peaks and valleys, extreme sensitivity to cold, and weakness. This blog has been, in many ways, one long record of the effects of Lupron on my body and mind. The good news is, I may have had my last Lupron shot. The bad news is, I may have had my last shot because it isn't working anymore. I'll know that in a few weeks.

I've lost a friend or two since I was diagnosed. Most have been there for me in a big way, but a few disappeared. Every once in a while, I think about a conversation I'd like to have with one of them, and realize that that conversation will never take place. They've opted out of my life, so I'm not going to waste any of my limited remaining time on them. There are far too many real friends and new friends that I'd much rather spend time with now. Every one of my cancer brothers and sisters knows what I'm talking about. That's how life is for us.

I've learned about the struggles to get and keep insurance coverage for my medical needs. If you don't live in the United States, you probably have no idea what that's like. When I was diagnosed, we had one private health insurance provider. It went out of business at the end of the year. At the beginning of this year, we qualified for Medicaid, which covered everything at no cost to us for a few months. Then, we lost that coverage, and had to shop for insurance again. Now we have insurance, but with a high deductible. That hasn't been a fun process, and it was a major topic of this blog for a while.

For several months since my diagnosis, I struggled with weight loss. I've always been naturally thin, so losing ten pounds was not a good thing for me. I had to see a nutritionist to learn how to gain the weight back. That process was documented in this blog as well. But I've been staying at my optimum weight for a few months now with no problem.

That's a good place to transition from the bad to the good. And there has been an amazing amount of good.

Over the course of the past year, I've developed a different relationship with money than I used to have. I used to be the guy who was all about making money. I didn't do much volunteering, and what I did, I mostly resented doing. My priority was my paying work, and trying to find more of it. Now, I've discovered the joys of volunteering. I love it. When I have the energy to do it, that is.

Since my diagnosis one year ago, I've gone from trying to keep my failing music career going to seeing it as a thing of the past. I feel like one chapter has ended, and a new chapter has begun. And I don't regret that. It's actually liberating. The stress of trying to find new gigs at my age has been replaced by thankfulness for the career that I've had, and a new desire to do what I feel I've been called to do now; write this blog in an effort to help those who are going through similar things. And mentor young musicians in their formative years.

While I've lost a very few people in my life, I've gained many more. I'm not going to start naming and tagging people here, because the internet would run out of space, as I'm fond of saying. But the relationships have been the best part of this, without a doubt. Old ones have been revitalized, or have deepened. And many new ones have started. It's been an incredible blessing.

As I've said many times in this blog, the biggest, most life-changing revelation that I received from cancer is that I am loved. More deeply and by many more people than I dared imagine. The support that my wife and I have received, financially, emotionally, and spiritually, has been beyond calculation. That support continues to this day. We are more thankful for your support than we can possibly express.

When I was diagnosed last August, we didn't have a church. Our last church had closed in May, and we were adrift in terms of a church home. Now, we have a church that we love and are part of. I experience God every Sunday now on a level that I rarely had before. This morning was a huge example.

Knowing that today was the one year anniversary of my diagnosis has been on my mind all day, as you can well imagine. The fact that it occurred on a Sunday was big for me. I always seem to get emotional in church these days, and I knew that I would be extra emotional today, and not just because of the occasion. It was also Communion Sunday, being the first Sunday of the month. I always get emotional during communion now. But this time, my wife and I were asked to serve communion for the first time in our lives. It was a great honor.

My favorite worship leader these days, Michael Wygant, led us in worship. I always get emotional when he's there. He always seems to pick a song that "gets me." Today was no exception. And to top it all off, the theme of today's service was healing. With all of those factors put together, I was unsure how I'd even get through this service without completely breaking down.

For the uninitiated, most Christians believe in some form of divine healing. In our tradition, our heads are anointed with a dab of oil, and the one who anoints us places their hand on our shoulder and prays for our healing. That was part of the service today. It was the main focus of it. I had this done in a church last September, not long after I was told that I was metastatic. But I've been very public about my cancer in my church. Everyone knows about it, so I spent this past week struggling with whether to be anointed for my healing today.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, while many pray for my healing every single day, I never have prayed to be healed. I don't think I ever will. I'm thankful for those who pray for me, and if you are one of them, please keep right on praying. But as for me, I am at peace with whatever God wants to do. If he wants to heal me, awesome! If not, awesome! I win either way, as I've said many times before.

And there's also the fact that I have a complicated history with divine healing. If you want a full explanation of that, I recommend that you read the post where I wrote about that early on in this process. To bumper sticker it for you, I not only believe that divine healing happens, I know it does. But I also know that it doesn't happen for everyone. And I accept that it may not happen for me.

But back to today's church service. As it started, I was still unsure as to whether I'd go forward to be anointed or not. I didn't really want to, but I felt that I was expected to. I've lived my whole life under the weight of expectations from a church where I was prominent. But now, I think I'm finally free of that. Here's how it happened.

Michael's second song was one that I've sung many times. I've led congregations in singing it many times. But it never hit me the way it did today. It's a song called "Better Is One Day" by Matt Redman. The second verse goes like this:

One thing I ask, that I would seek;
To see Your beauty
To find You in the place Your glory dwells

As I said, many continue to ask God to heal my cancer. But I don't ask for that. I don't want to ask. I want to accept whatever God has for me, no matter what that means. This church service was all about asking God for healing. I didn't want to get anointed today because I felt that it would amount to asking, and I didn't want to ask. But I was afraid of what people would think if I stayed in my seat. I decided that I would let God lead me in the moment. If I felt prompted to do it, I would. If not, I'd stay seated.

Throughout the time that was set aside in the service for anointing, I prayed. Actually, I wept. It was Niagra Falls the whole time. And all I kept thinking about was the words of that verse. One thing I ask. One thing I seek. Not to be healed of cancer, but to see His beauty. To find Him in the place His glory dwells. That is what I ask for. That is what I seek. And that's what I've found.

I never felt prompted to be anointed for healing this morning. I felt that the words of that song gave me permission to stay in my seat. I knew that I might be asked by someone afterwards why I didn't do that, but I no longer cared. And no one asked.

How was I going to serve communion after such an emotional time? Communion was scheduled immediately after the anointing time. But while I cried through most of that part of the service, as that time drew to a close, I felt a strange sense of calm come over me. I was able to be composed during communion. It all worked together for my good. (Romans 8:28)

I can't think of a more perfect way to spend the anniversary of my diagnosis. That church service was exactly what I needed. And of course, I had to write about all of this today. It's my calling. It's my ministry now, as a good friend said to me recently. I hope this post has ministered to you.

The past twelve months have been a year of trial, heartbreak, trauma, and upheaval. It's also been a year of great love and great blessing. If you have been part of this journey with me, thank you! I love you more than words can say. I'll never be able to express my appreciation enough. Your love and support keeps me going.

But one relationship has sustained me more than any other, and it's the one that will last forever. One thing I ask. One thing I seek. To continue seeing His beauty. His glory dwells with me and within me. He is in front of me, behind me, over me, and beneath me. And it's just a taste of things to come.

My year with cancer has been the most incredible of my life. I expect the next year to be even better. Exciting prospects are on the horizon, regardless of what my next PSA test says. And I'm so grateful that you and He will be with me the whole way. #waroncancer


  1. I am glad that the day, and the Lord, provided you with what you needed Mark!

  2. Hey Mark, it is funny, so many years have past and I don't really remember what pulled to connect again but it's been a real blessing to me to follow you through this Journey. I want to share with you what someone who was very instrumental to initiate my walk with Christ told me. I had asked, " how do I know if I am praying right?" They shared this with me, no prayer is a wrong prayer when your communing with God however, when you pray , Pray HIS will be done in your life, not YOUR will. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. It is so try, when you open yourself up to Him in that way He Blesses you with His perfect Will for you and the sense of peace is overwhelming. A true Give it to God and let Him do a work in you, peaceful feeling.
    As I close this I would say, if we were still in Denver, I would meet for a coffe clutch with you once a week! Hugs my friend.