Saturday, October 22, 2016

Going Public

One year ago today, October 22nd, 2015, I went public with the news of my cancer. I had been diagnosed since the previous August, but I had kept the news private until then, only sharing it with family and close friends. I had never been the guy that everyone felt sorry for before, and I didn't want to be that guy. I was talking with one of my sisters about this early on, and expressed that sentiment to her. She pointed out to me that what I was feeling was pride. I realized that she was right.

To a Christian, pride is the root of all sin. According to our beliefs, every sin stems from pride; from the belief that we are self-sufficient, therefore we don't need God or anyone else. My sister's comment stung. The truth hurts. So I decided that I needed to be more public about my cancer.

Even so, I will admit that the main reason I put my cancer out on Facebook last October is that we had a financial need, and I didn't want to rely on a few friends to support us. So we launched a GoFundMe campaign, and shared that on Facebook, along with my announcement. The GoFundMe campaign was a great success, and the outpouring of support, love, and encouragement sustained us for many months.

But there was an even more important part of going public that I started at the same time. A couple of friends suggested that I start a CaringBridge journal to keep people updated on my progress. Writing my journal became my new passion, and that journal turned into this blog.

Do I need to tell you what a blessing this blog has been to me? Maybe not, but I'll try anyway. At first, with about a hundred faithful readers on CaringBridge, mostly comprised of family and friends, it was my main source of comfort and encouragement. I learned that I wasn't alone. I learned that I was loved. Back then, I would post something almost every day, and would receive encouraging comments and "hearts," CaringBridge's version of Likes. It became my lifeline. But soon, it wasn't enough.

That's when I copied my journal posts to this blog, and launched God's 2 By 4 last March. I began sharing my posts on my Facebook timeline, and in a prostate cancer support group in which I'm still active. That's when the floodgates really began to open for me.

Until then, I was merely telling my own story in an effort to receive encouragement and support. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems that God had more in mind for this blog. The more I wrote, and the more I shared, the more it seemed like I was helping my brothers and their loved ones by showing them that they weren't alone. This blog became less about encouraging me than it was about encouraging them. It remains that way today. That's the purpose of this post, and every post. I hope that, by being open about every aspect of this disease and my treatment, that what I write will encourage other families who are going through this.

With nearly every post, I get feedback that says that purpose is being fulfilled. Men with this disease, and the women in their lives tell me so, almost every time I post. I've been in ministry for much of my adult life, mostly music ministry. Now, I've been blessed to have this ministry. It's my calling, and it's a calling that I will not ignore or forsake. As a good friend who I met as a result of writing this blog told me, this is my ministry now. I'm so glad that I found it. I never would have if I hadn't taken the advice of a couple of friends to start journaling online about my cancer.

One of the greatest blessings of being as public about my cancer as I've been is that I've made new, dear friends. If I had remained private about it, I wouldn't know any of these people. I wouldn't receive any of the encouragement and love that I get from them. A few months ago, I charged one in particular - the same one who told me that this is my ministry now - with holding me accountable in what I write. More than once, she has gotten me back on track when I was veering off. That friend is Miki Friend Chambers. Thank you, Miki! I'm so happy to be your friend, and that you are my friend. This blog would not be what it is without you.

There are others that I consider friends now who I would not know at all if not for going public. I'm not going to name and tag all of you. You know who you are. I wouldn't know any of you if you or I had remained private about our cancer, and I can't imagine my life without you. You can testify as well as I can about the benefits of going public.

But it's not just about blogging. I realize that most don't have the passion for writing that I have. If we are Facebook friends, you know that I "check in" on Facebook when I'm at the oncologist's office, or getting some procedure done related to my cancer. The comments I receive when I do that get me through the day. It's an incredible thing. I'm so glad I got past my reticence about it, because it shows me that people really do care.

One couple that I've become very good friends with online during this process is Christopher and Lori Caminiti. If you're part of one of the prostate cancer support groups on Facebook, you know them very well. They are the best example I know of the benefits of going public. No one is more transparent about their ordeal than they are, and no one is more positive and uplifting in their posts, despite the difficult road that they travel. I asked them to contribute something to this post to tell what going public has meant to them.

When Christopher was diagnosed with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer on May 2, 2016, amidst all of the fear and confusion, he made a decision to be completely transparent about his journey involving this disease.  It was an innate reaction for him to go public, in the hope that he could at least make a difference in even one family’s life.  Here he was at age 46, facing his own mortality. The doctors said that it had likely been growing for 7-10 years. We had been to various physicians with ALL of the symptoms of prostate cancer over the past 7, so how did they miss it? Even our urologist at the time didn’t test his PSA!  It was absurd that simply due to his age none of them put the pieces together.

Christopher became 100% dedicated to ensuring that everyone he knew was aware of the symptoms, and to start testing at a younger age (even with no family history). He knew in order to make an impact he would have to be as transparent as possible about every hurdle and triumph that he faced. 

In doing so, the strangest thing happened.  The more we shared each detail of our journey, the more love, support, and prayers we received. It's what has carried us through thus far; well, that and the Man upstairs. Countless men have called or written to let Christopher know that because of him, they went in and had their exams and tests. He knows in his heart that being transparent was the right thing to do. It brings him peace knowing that by doing so, he accomplished what he set out to do. He'll continue to spread awareness, and hopes to save everyone he can from having to endure the same fate.

-Lori Caminiti

That's what I'm talking about. That's what this post is about. It's not about marking an anniversary. It's about using this occasion to encourage my brothers to do the same. I know you may not want to talk about it. It seems like about half of the people in the groups I frequent are not the men with the disease, but their wives and daughters. But I am here to tell you that if you will be open about this on social media, you won't believe the support you'll get and the friends you'll make. We are brothers here.

Your response to my last post was a great example. I hadn't realized what a long stretch of bad news there had been for the last month until I finally posted some really good news. The reaction was nothing short of amazing. When hundreds of people show how happy they are about some good news in your life, you realize that this is what Facebook was invented for. Not cat videos or politics or pictures of food, but this. The ability to connect with people in ways that were never possible before. For all of its flaws, none of what I'm talking about would have happened without it. Use it. That's all I'm saying.

I didn't want to be the guy that everyone felt sorry for, so I kept my cancer private for a while. But once I went public, I learned I wasn't that guy at all. I was the guy who was loved, supported, prayed for, and befriended. Going public is one of the best decisions I've ever made. #waroncancer #prayforchris


  1. It's been a year!; that, in and of itself is remarkable. Like my Brother, who knew what would be in a year?, and yet both of you are still with me/us.

    I loved this post. To me it made me smile, happy. To me it's now an anniversary of our friendship! How you've touched my life (I know, others too, but I'm being selfish here!)
    Mark, you have an extraordinary gift of sharing love and friendship, even in the darkest of times, and that friendship and love is true. It's not because of convenience, or a 'not really real' FB, it traverses space and place and settles on those who are lucky and blessed enough to have you as a true friend.

    How blessed am I that you chose to 'come out"!!! and pick me.

    Love you my Friend!!!

    1. Love you too, Janice! hey, your comment worked this time! :-)