cancer

Chemo Drips and Left-Handed Layups

Pushish Donhongsa/ Shutterstock.com
Lauren Hill is right-handed, but has to shoot lay-ups with her left hand because of cancer. Pushish Donhongsa/ Shutterstock.com

One of my days last week started with my usual wake-up routine — sitting in a chair, sipping my first cup of coffee, checking up on Facebook posts — when one of them made me smile.

A long-time friend in Cleveland has endured 250 days of chemotherapy and radiation. He’d just received the results of his latest scan: No trace of cancer anywhere. Yes! Chuck noted that “the collateral damage has been great” from all the chemicals and radiation. He now stumbles around and has trouble typing, both temporary conditions. But he’s cancer-free.

Stumbling, yet still standing.

 

Cherish Each Moment — Even the Sucky Ones

Elizabeth Palmberg (photo by Heather Wilson)

ELIZABETH PALMBERG—Zab to her friends—says her motto is “Cherish each moment, even the ones that suck.”

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She has had her ups and downs in her battle against cancer, but many moments in that journey have undeniably sucked.

In 2001, Zab was a college professor in California when she applied to be an intern at Sojourners. We decided her Ph.D. (in Victorian literature) perhaps qualified her to do the data entry and fact-checking work required of our editorial intern, and when her yearlong internship was over we invited her to become a full-time member of the editorial staff.

She’s been gracing us, and our readers, with her brilliant analysis and quirky wit ever since. Her knowledge, passion, and insight informed and often challenged those of us who’ve worked closely with her—and led to outside recognition as well. In 2011, for instance, Zab joined a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia, visiting communities engaged in the difficult work of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Her report on the trip—the last feature she wrote for the magazine—was honored by the Associated Church Press as the best news article of the year.

In November 2012, she wrote on her blog, “Just as I was planning a big six-year hey-they-cured-my-cancer party, it turned out I have cancer again.” Months of difficult treatment followed, and she chronicled the good times and the bad with (most of the time) her sense of humor firmly intact. For instance, she wrote that “technically, the exact wrong thing to read [during chemotherapy] is Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, which also happens to be the wrong thing to read in almost *every* context—that book really puts the “ick” in ‘Victorian.’ My deepest apologies to the one class I forced to read it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

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After Cancer Resurrects Career, Christian Music Star Cured In Time For Tour

CT has noted other Christian figures who have announced cancer diagnoses, including popular author Margaret Feinberg and Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis. Philosopher Dallas Willard revealed his diagnosis with stage 4 cancer in a tweet in May; he died just days later. Christian singer-songwriter Darlene Zschech recently revealed she has started chemo treatments for breast cancer as well.

Five Spiritual Resolutions for 2014: What Elders, Suffering, and Loss Have Taught Me About the Gospel

Beginning a new year. Photo: canonzoom via Shutterstock

This past year taught me so much about the gospel and caused me to go deeper into my faith. As this new year begins, here are five spiritual resolutions I learned from last year:

1. Return to the gospel. Gordon Cosby, the founder and pastor of The Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. passed away in early 2013. He was a mentor, elder, and spiritual director to me. I miss Gordon greatly and often have things I would like to talk with him about. But I usually know what he would say to me and it would always be about returning to the gospel. In his last sermon, spoken from his death bed, he spoke of Jesus’ “clear and frightening statement that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

VIDEO: A Soldier of Conscience

As Mary Margaret Alvarado writes in The Beginning of the End of War in the January 2014 issue of Sojourners, Joshua Casteel was deployed to Iraq in 2004 to serve as an interrogator in Abu Grahib. While there, Joshua came to the strong understanding that his role as a soldier did not align with his beliefs as a Christian. Before dying of lung cancer in 2011, Joshua wrote and spoke out as a conscientious objector.

“Soldiers of Conscience,” a 2007 documentary, follows eight Iraq War soldiers as they face the moral decision to kill an enemy combatant. In this clip, Joshua describes his “crystallization of consciousness,” or the moment he realized the call to peacemaking requires one to truly love one’s enemies.

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The Beginning of the End of War

LATELY I’VE been reading my dead friend’s files. That’s how I know that he often typed in Cambria. That’s how I know that he drafted beginning-to-end, reworking early paragraphs before he set down the next—which is why so much of his writing just stops. That’s how I know that as a child he held press conferences in a White House made of cardboard boxes, wearing a clip-on tie, and that the night before he began school at West Point (a school he’d soon leave), he and his father smoked cigars on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, though his father did not like cigars. That’s how I know how much he thought about pain, which to Heidegger is “the rift,” a “separating that gathers,” and to Wittgenstein is “a having, not a knowing,” and to Elaine Scarry is an “objectless experience” that “destroys language.”

This thinking was for classes at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago, and this thinking was for other people, namely prisoners and fellow soldiers in the War on Terror, which was also the Global War on Terrorism, and was the Iraq War and is still the War in Northwest Pakistan and the War in Afghanistan, a subset of which is “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and is also and continues to be World War III or World War IV, depending on how you count, and was once The War Against Al-Qaeda and is now the Overseas Contingency Operation, which has been tidily renamed CVE (Countering Violent Extremism).

Joshua Casteel was sent to the Long War after first enlisting in the Army Reserves as a high school junior in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Seven years later he was stationed at Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogator and linguist. This is where he became convicted that he could no longer be an “American war fighter,” which he saw as treason against his “real kingdom and home.”

In Letters from Abu Ghraib, a book of correspondence from this time, Joshua wrote to his parents:

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Every Prayer, Every Breath, a Step Toward a Cure

Record crowd gathers for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, May 15, 2010 in Columbus, Ohio. Via aceshot1 / Shutterstock.com.

One morning each week, I ascend the outdoor staircase on the side of our little church and enter the Upper Room – a cozy, loftlike space above the pastors’ offices set apart for prayer.

Once inside, I turn up the volume on my phone, choose “Taize” or “Gregorian Chants” from the iTunes playlists, pull out my knitting and begin to pray.

The subject of my silent prayers is usually the person for whom I’m making the scarf or blanket or shawl. The prayers are as simple as the stitches and after a minute or two, they become as steady and unconscious as my breathing:

“Lord, I lift to you your child.” And then I say his or her name.

My Unexpected Diagnosis

THIS IS A very personal column. Last December I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. There were no symptoms, just a routine blood test. I was on a conference call when the doctor phoned with the biopsy results, but I continued on with the other call assuming I could return it later to hear that there were no problems. There were problems, he told me, and I would need to see a surgeon.

I felt incredulous about the news. I was about to launch a book tour and everything seemed to be in control. Sojourners was involved in intense advocacy work around immigration reform, gun violence, and the budget/sequester battles. There had to be a mistake, or surely some convenient treatment would suffice. Certainly, I would work this all out privately, and stay on schedule for everything else. But then came further testing and discussions of medical options—and anxiety began to grow.

The tour for my latest book, On God’s Side, had to be postponed without announcing why. I kept the health news to a small circle of family, friends, and senior staff, and I did my best to go on as if this wasn’t happening. But it was.

My care shifted to the research center at the National Institutes of Health. There, I took part in a new program using resolution MRI to guide surgical decisions. Such opportunities are available to anyone (people can find out about the work of NIH on its website—sadly, this critical work is being severely cut in the sequester). The NIH staff’s extraordinary knowledge of cancer was immediately evident, as was the wonderful care they showed me.

 In early June, I had major surgery for prostate cancer. The surgery “couldn’t have gone better,” the doctors say, and I seem to be recovering well. They keep telling me to go slow and take my time, which is not only good physical advice for healthy recovery but also spiritual counsel for those of us who sometimes tell time by how much we hope we are changing the world.

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Losing Control and Learning to Trust: My Unexpected Diagnosis

Man praying against cloudy sky, Dayna More / Shutterstock.com
Man praying against cloudy sky, Dayna More / Shutterstock.com

This is a very personal column. In December of last year, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. There were no symptoms or problems, just some results from a routine blood test that needed to be checked out. I remember being on a conference call when I saw the doctor was phoning with the results of a biopsy, but continued on with the other call assuming I could return it later to hear that there were no problems. There were problems, he told me, and I would need to see a surgeon.

Surprise was not the right word — not even shock. The news felt incredulous to me. I was about to launch a new book tour early in 2013 and everything seemed to be in control. And Sojourners was involved in intense advocacy work around immigration reform, gun violence, and the budget/sequester battles. There had to be a mistake, or surely some convenient treatment that would suffice. Certainly, I would work this all out privately, and stay on schedule for everything else. But then the conversations started, as did meetings, further testing, time-consuming activities, discussions of medical options — and a deepening anxiety began to grow over the next several weeks.

The book tour for On God’s Side, both U.S. and U.K., had to be postponed and reset without saying why. I kept the health news and discussions in a small and close circle of family, friends, and senior staff. And I did my best to go on as if this wasn’t happening. But it was.

'God is Good. God is Great. Hope is Eternal:' Lessons in Life and Dying

Phil Haslanger (l), and his friend Mike. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger
Phil Haslanger (l), and his friend Mike. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger

My friend Mike died last week.

We were the same age. We grew up together in Marinette in northeast Wisconsin. Worked our way through Boy Scouts together. Played at each other’s houses. Studied in the same classrooms. And then, over time, we drifted apart. Until this past year. That’s when I learned that Mike was dying of cancer.

In less than 12 months, we re-established a friendship and Mike and his wife, Nancy, taught me amazing lessons about living with the prospect of dying.

In our initial contacts, Nancy wrote of Mike: 

“He is doing well with his treatments. I am amazed, each day, how well he handles this journey we are on. Never once have we asked ‘why us?’ We feel so blessed that we have each day to love each other and enjoy our retirement one day at a time. Not everyone is so lucky to have a long goodbye with the one they love.“

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