There Is a Time to Cry

Thursday, we finished 90 minutes worth of interviews with the Stanford Transplant Oncologist and his nurse coordinator. It was a grueling process full of statistics, biology lessons and timetables that seemed hard to track. Fortunately there was a patient handbook given to each transplant candidate. I’ve read it thoroughly four times since that appointment just to remember what was covered.Megnme

Now, here, back at the Stanford Cancer Center, it was time to interview with a social worker who would presumably sign off on the mental verity of the interviewee;  A 62 year old pastor with high blood pressure and a history of depression. I also have cancer in more than 70% of my body’s bone marrow. The social worker was all of 27 with skinny jeans and capezios.  She could be one of my son’s most recent love interests gathering from what I’ve seen of his choices.  I felt a bit flustered by someone so young making such tantamount decisions on my mental stability. My unhinging were the capezios, I’ll admit.

She asked if I understood the condition I was in, in other words, did I understand the decision required about a bone marrow transplant. In my best academic, condescending tone I summarized the details of Myeloma and the state of the standards of care that are currently guiding the treatment. Nailed it.

She pushed in more intimately. “I see you have had a history of depression.  Can you tell me about that.”  I avoided the details of living through a marital infidelity and the unrelenting agony of divorce and chose to summarize the biology.  “My main symptom of depression has always been an fitful sleep pattern which leaves me awake at 230 AM and unable to sleep until morning.  The daily fatigue is difficult.  I use anti-depressants to help even out that sleep pattern.” Ok, dealt with the hard question.  I’m still in the running.

She wrote a few notes and then moved in with a professional skill I now appreciate. “So tell me how you feel about fighting this cancer.”

I paused and said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, it’s really been a test of my faith.”

What had my faith included?  Frankly, the joy that had been found in marrying Meg a year previous.  For ten years I had served the congregation in Oakmont as a single pastor.  I had been appreciative of their open minded willingness to allow me to serve as a divorced father of three.  It was a big leap of faith for them to trust my stability and I have always been grateful.

But I felt I had paid my dues.  Single and out of ministry for five years. Single and in pastoral work for almost ten. Finally a new light had spilled into my life in the form of this beautiful, radiant woman of God, Meg Gaucher.

Unfortunately, the were some early problems that beset our marriage.  My bad back was so painful, I couldn’t in my best state, help her drive her belongings from Pennsylvania out to Santa Rosa. My congregation and friends held back their confusion but you could tell they were asking, “what kind of man does that to his new wife?”  Her arrival didn’t make things easier.  My back pain increased as we moved furniture, made love or walked long hikes.  Not a great way to start.

So the social worker’s question had touched a nerve. I had been married for a year and my wife had been my nurse for eight of those months.  It has rocked my faith.

That’s when the tears began.  They really haven’t stopped in the past two days.  Even though Meg insists it’s her deepest pleasure and yet clearly not what she wanted, she’s good to go with whatever I need.  So now that kind of love makes me cry all the more.

The Numbers and Chemistry of Cancer

It’s now been eight weeks since that Easter Saturday when the bone marrow biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. Eight weeks of chemotherapy. Eight weeks that have felt like eight years and eight days at the same time.

There is a marker for MM that helps measure effectiveness in treatment and that is the measurement of Kappa Light Chains. Light Chains are complex molecules which clog up the system and at the highest level my marker number had been at 3500. In the past eight weeks that number has bounced back and forth but not really reduced. That speaks to the aggressive hold the cancer had in my system.

But now finally I’ve experienced a significant drop from the 3500 number to just over 2100, which is a drop of 30%. Hooray!!!

So, tonight, Wednesday May 27, Meg and I will be traveling to Stanford to spend the night and tomorrow meet with the Bone Marrow Transplant Team for a qualifying interview. They will be interviewing me for healthy viability (they only perform 300 transplants per year) and we will interview the team for the decision itself. There are some in the discipline who believe the transplant is too dangerous for an uncertain return. They also believe that so many cancer drugs are coming to market that perhaps that’s the best course of treatment.

Stanford_Hospital

As an update, we have been blessed by the donations that have been made on our behalf. To date, $3000 has been donated and costs such as the lodging at Stanford have been allayed by the financial support. We appreciate it so much. If someone still cares to help, the website is to use Dan’s Paypal account where He collects his speaking and wedding honoraria.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WVLBKNXMYA4Y6

You may send contributions to

Dan’s Redemption Road

6687 Oakmont Drive

Santa Rosa CA 95409

Dan’s Redemption Road

Dr. Jack and Nancy Swearengen

Dr. Jack and Nancy Swearengen

I met Dan shortly after Nancy and I moved to Santa Rosa in 2002; as I recall he was teaching adult classes at First Presbyterian Church, and also leading the adult ed program. Dan and I share a zeal for a version of the faith that goes with us into all the places where life is lived—workplaces, offices, universities, malls, prisons, public gatherings, travel. We are of vastly different backgrounds, Dan and I—he of history, arts and culture; I of science. But we both take the Christian faith as our guide for life. We became good friends, sharing many meals and events, always rich with conversation and many laughs. We agreed that faith lived out in difficult circumstances can grow really strong.

But surely at this moment Dan’s faith is being tried at a level that hopefully most of us will never have to face. First the enduring pain—eventually leading to the dreaded diagnosis. The first round of chemo causes his heart to run like a racehorse. Followed by another blow: Shingles. Today Dan is facing six months of chemo (at Kaiser) and recovery at Stanford from transplantation of his own blood.

His out of pocket costs for the treatment will be in the neighborhood of $3500—or more if he decides to seek alternative treatment at the point of transplantation (UCSF or Mayo or Cancer Treatment of America are possibilities). Even as his medical expenses mushroomed, Dan’s income has tumbled because pain makes normal work impossible. He’s had to cancel many of the weddings he was scheduled to officiate, and suspend work on his Redemption Road Productions. Just when medical expenses leap, a big portion of Dan’s income has gone away.

A full return to work under any circumstance will have to wait until at least 2016. Oakmont Community Church has decided to allow Dan and Meg to remain rent free in the parsonage until then. But what happens if he can’t return to work on Jan 1?

The situation seems to me like the Biblical account of Job. “Stretch out your hand and strike everything he has,” Satan says to the LORD, “and he will surely curse you to your face.” And Job lost everything.

But Job’s response was to fall to the ground in worship, saying

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb;

and naked I will depart.

The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;

May the name of the LORD be praised.”

Dan has continued to lift up God since the beginning of his diagnosis. He has ministered to us even through his pain and uncertainty. May we who have been spared such suffering come to Dan’s aid now.photo-1

You may send contributions to

Dan’s Redemption Road

6687 Oakmont Drive

Santa Rosa CA 95409

Or use Dan’s Paypal account where He collects his speaking and wedding honoraria.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=WVLBKNXMYA4Y6
Thank you in advance and on Dan and Meg’s behalf,

Dr. Jack Swearengen

Should We Go to Yosemite or the Emergency Room?

photo-1After church on March 1, Meg and I were supposed to leave for a five day adventure in Yosemite. The elders of my church had rented a house for us with dining privileges in the Lodge. A wedding gift for our marriage May 14, 2014.

But my back was aching and it was all I could do to get through my message. Afterward, there was a church social and I stayed long enough to walk through the dining tables and say hello to everyone. One of our members who had come from her care facility in Petaluma to join the meal was the last one I greeted. I sat for a few minutes with her and then said my goodbyes. I later found out her daughter was livid that I gave her such short attention span in the face of her effort to get to church.

At home I tried to gather the strength to leave but couldn’t lift anything into the van. Meg’s face slowly began to grow more severe. She finally put her foot down and said, “I’m not going to Yosemite just so that I can find you a hospital in Fresno. We’re not going.” It was a painful thing to hear because I know she was really looking forward to a healthy time away. And under the present circumstances that was not going to be the case.

That event  actually precipitated a more insistent look at my symptoms and a month later, the diagnosis was in.  But now that I am in the throes of chemo it has given me pause to consider this: “How long have I actually had the cancer present?”

For more than a year, I’ve not felt all that great but have passed the troubles on to getting older and being out of shape.  I tried to play thru it.  Meg has been angry with me because I did not listen to my body and when I think of my doctor visits, I’ve not been a very strong advocate for my own best interest.  I guess the stoic response and let the doctor do his job didn’t really yield a better outcome.  If anything, I’m pretty angry now about how this all played out.

Being on the other side of the diagnosis, I have to beat down the temptation to be angry and just get on with my part in fighting the disease.  If anything, now I’m pretty much on high alert and really searching for every physical response to every situation.  I have also developed an aversion to idle chatter.  When I go into the infusion center many sit and visit with their nurses and the conversations turn social, friendly and in many cases, the talk about physical symptoms of illness is a predictable topic.  But I can’t do that. I’m on edge.  I’m concentrating on the medicine coarsing through the body and mentally tallying how many people have lived and died going thru this room.

I felt that I had ignored symptoms for too long and now I’ve got to concentrate on what is happening.

So, this morning, Tuesday, I will meet a couple for a wedding rehearsal, head to the infusion center where I will get my Velcade shot to go with the dexadron and the other oral med and then come back to do a wedding at 5PM.  I’ll be hyper vigilant because, the rash on my neck has not gone away and I’m worried that it’s the beginning of shingles.  I guess it’s better than just letting the oncologist do whatever he thinks is best.

By the way, thanks to Patty Holderfield, I’ve also connected with Kaiser’s Content Management Oncologist in Walnut Creek.  He’s an expert in Multiple Myeloma and his second opinion will help me feel like I’ve crossed all my t’s and dotted all of my i’s.