Ashes for Ashes, Joy in Mourning

Helmut Thielicke, the German theologian, warned any aspiring pastor that telling God’s truth is like a child stepping into a grown man’s suit of armor. Most of the time the elegance of the bravery is lost by the comical nature of the girl or boy wearing the garb. Even more so, when he or she holds the sword of truth above their heads with two hands, hardly in control of such an awesome weapon.  I have felt that way most of my life as I’ve read and preached the rich truths of God’s rescue mission for humankind while constantly worried that others would see the shallow ways in which I’ve lived them in my own life. Nevertheless, I’ve been challenged by my own decision to blog about what’s going on with this Myeloma and to stay truthful about the conflict between my own feelings and the walk of faith that, beyond my ability to deserve it, has proven God’s faithfulness time and time again.

As it’s become clear that at least for the present, the awful cancer is mounting a comeback and has successfully regained some ground against this chemotherapy.  Enough as such that my neatly organized battle plan has come unstitched and that I will have to wait for the transplantation process.  It took alot of gumption to be ready to go through with it, and now I find its delay not a relief but a dark cloud of forboding.

The realities of the past ten days have affirmed the things I have preached and read in the Bible; things that I guess on a deep level I haven’t really believed personally.  Others that have a stiffer constitution may think I’m a ninny for being so shallow but I’m surprised at how much I have to learn about things I’ve preached so confidently. So here’s the two main things that God has dragged me into and from where I sit, I guess I’ve had to learn them the hard way. I write these things now, both hopeful and desperate because I think that when the time comes I will lack to strength to describe what now is just faint aroma of future experiences.  Forgive me if they are too frank for such a piece.

The Human Body as Marvelous as It Is, Begins to Turn Quickly to Dust. I am surprised at how vain I am in the wake of my body beginning to betray me.  When the nurse at Stanford pointed out that my present height is three inches shorter than in my glory days, it was like a mini death. I can’t believe how upset I got that I was no longer 6 foot in stature, but instead 5’11”.  The curvature of my spine is now significantly obvious and the anemia has significantly weakened my muscle framework.  I have chemically aged ten years in the past six months.  Many have encouraged me that these issues will resolve when the cancer gets under control but it’s obvious that the strength and stature that I have often used are now of no use.

Second, the chemotherapy and the cancer itself has created a body odor which is like none other I’ve ever experienced.  There have been times when no number of showers and colognes will sufficiently mask the state I’m in. Frankly, it is the smell of poison and death in early stage.

Suffice it to say, I now understand why so many have refused the offer of visitation while they were going through this stage.  It causes an alienation that you can only attribute to the bowels of Hell. It is difficult to die alone, but painful for loved ones to see us in this state. It has prevented me from hugging and kissing my wife. I find myself removed from crowds and mumble words, lest my breath be too odorous.

My good old friend, Steve Givens has warned me that chronic pain alienates in an insidious manner and were it not for his advice, I’d be tempted to pull away altogether. But though I try to stay engaged, I can’t help realize that many of the ups and downs of the battle must be fought inward and alone. This was made even more painfully evident this past week when it was obvious that caring for my beloved Canto was an impossible task.  His behavior without my supervision became erratic and even dangerous. Twice he ran into the street in the rush of traffic to greet a visitor. Things he’d never do otherwise. So it pained me to no small degree to give him to a loving family who could care for him.

I have been miserable since.DSCN0382

I Believe in the Immortality of the Soul. Why? Because I so desperately want to live. In some strange way the dignity of humankind to scrap and survive is not just to leave the planet a better place for our children. I want to fight with every last breath to accomplish what I’ve been put here to do.  I don’t think I’m egotistical about that.  I see God’s vision for a just world and I haven’t finished my race.

To be frank, there are moments when I do have doubts about death but everything I see about humankind I now see from God’s perspective.  It’s a fascinating picture of grace.  We think the world is going to heaven because gays can now marry and we think the world is going to hell because a crazy guy used a handgun to kill black church folk.  In the middle of all of our bloated political thought, God is working with people who are a heartbeat away from turning to dust. And he is only a whisper prayer away from totally re-writing our identity to something truer and more complex.

At the end of July Dr. Anthony Le Donne will come to a public lecture and present the upside down Hope that is found in a God that identifies with our Suffering, rather than a God who identifies with our need for a Superman.  I pray that I am well enough to learn from Anthony’s talk. I think I’m only beginning to understand this Christian stuff.

The Afterlife According to Beetlejuice

beetlejuice3

I had no idea that getting a terminal illness meant that one was doomed to fill out paperwork for the first six months of treatment. Except, of course, you take your theology from BeetleJuice, where suicide takers are doomed to work civil service in Purgatory and everyone waits in line like the DMV.

In the midst of adjusting to a chemobrain and daily nausea, I’ve had to drill down into various insurance issues related to long-term care, health and co-pay and life insurance. While Meg is managing the fifteen different drugs I take, the schedule of doctors’ appointments and blood tests, I’m trying to figure out how to apply for discounts and grants that are available. The problem is they all require applications.

My morning waking hours are spent applying for considerations in a variety of different programs and agencies. Also, I’m trying to automate my publishing business issues so that payments and royalties are shown in their proper place and where they can be captured if I’m no longer in the picture.

I’m also trying to clarify each oncologist’s interpretation of my numbers and the requirements of my future fight.  My local guy sees my cancer as hyper aggressive and therefore, he’s reluctant to make any promises whatsoever on the efficacy of any future treatment.  My second opinion doctor from Walnut Creek is more positive, choosing to see the transplantation as at least the opportunity to kick the cancer can down the road and buy time for future chemical treatment options.

The Stanford doc is the most positive, portraying my cancer as mid-range on the aggressive scale and while he isn’t rosy in the assessment of what must go on during the Bone Marrow Transplant, he was pretty optimistic that a year from now I should be feeling like my old self.

Anyway, I choose to stay positive but can’t help think of succession plans when it comes to the church and issues related to my publishing rights.  I have several folks looking at my screenplay now and would not want to miss the chance to get some interest there.

Finally, I’ve been so grateful for the financial support by so many in the recent days.  I’ve done my best to calculate the costs of the transplant and the costs seemingly are coming down to around $10,000 on a worst case scenario.  Kaiser re-imburses $100 per day so maybe $3300 of that will be coming back after the fact.  Of course, I’ve got paperwork to do while I’m in quarantine.  So I really will look like a Beetlejuice character.

Here’s the details if you still wish to give:

You may send contributions to

Dan’s Redemption Road

6687 Oakmont Drive

Santa Rosa CA 95409

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Thank you in advance and on Dan and Meg’s behalf,