Peter was able to go home on Friday. On Saturday he spent the afternoon playing with friends. We tried out a new game called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, in which you use a “Bomb Defusal Manual” to talk someone through disarming a bomb they see on the computer screen. Peter enjoys defusing bombs, but he likes giving the instructions even better. He is good at explaining how to disarm bombs; only occasionally did he let someone blow themselves up. After an afternoon of fun, his friends’ whole family joined us for a great dinner. They even brought exotic fruits to sample, something Peter has been eager to do. Dragonfruit and Kiwano, (aka African Horned Melon) were tasted by all.
Our Sunday was the way I imagine Sundays should be for non-pastor families. For pastors like me, Sundays are a workday – a workday I enjoy, but they are workdays nonetheless. I am now in the situation of missing the activity of being a pastor but enjoying a normal Sunday. We worshipped with the church in Delhi that hosted our church plant, redeemed some In-N-Out coupons the kids earned by reading books, used coupons for a better meal for me and Rebecca at a burrito place, got a treat at Yogolicious, and went for a walk on the campus of the local university. Over yogurt we discussed some ideas from the sermon. On our walk we tossed a Frisbee.
Peter feels that good. Except that while playing Frisbee golf on the campus he complained that his joints hurt. During one throw “they all hurt at the same time” and he ended up on the ground. Sunday evening we had visits from several different friends. It was a good, normal, busy weekend, even despite the fact that Peter has cancer.
The new treatment plan will allow us to return home for the next few weekends. Instead of the planned two weeks of radiation (Monday-Friday) he will now be getting four, but at a lower dosage. So far the only noticeable effects are an occasional cough. We thank God that his throat does not hurt at all. If it did hurt as they predicted – enough to prevent eating – it would have been miserable because he has a raging appetite. It’s like he’s a growing teenager. But actually, it’s steroids. Steroids kill tumors, so he’s back on prednisone for a month as he gets radiation. What a change! He went from desiring nothing to desiring everything, and lots of it. He didn’t eat meat for weeks, but now he’s suddenly putting away steak and sausage. Additional calories leads, of course, to additional weight, but rather than a normal pattern of weight gain these steroids lead to a swollen face and belly. Concurrent with the radiation and steroids is a chemotherapy drug that targets one of the specific mutations that is driving the growth of the tumor. He receives that once a week.
Lining up the lasers
We hope and pray that this combination of therapies works. They need to achieve complete remission in order to move on to the only real possibility of a medical solution, a bone marrow transplant. Instead of using me or Nate as a half match, they have activated a full match, which means the donor will have blood drawn for additional tests.
Weight gain from steroids is a good thing, considering that Peter will probably not feel like eating for several weeks after the transplant. He will be in isolation for a couple weeks. He will be confined to the hospital for a couple months. Hygiene will be of utmost importance. He will have the immune system of an infant, making him extremely susceptible to colds and other common sicknesses for the first few years. The process will most likely make it impossible for him to have children in the future. We asked the bone marrow transplant doctor, “What is the likelihood that a bone marrow transplant will lead to a person being disease free in five or ten years?” Around fifty percent, she answered. Not good odds, but better than nothing.
We talk matter-of-factly about Peter’s cancer and possible death. We take our cue on this from the Apostle Paul, who wrote from prison to the new believers in Christ in Philippi. Paul knew that his imprisonment would lead to one of two outcomes: he could be released or he could be executed. Paul’s attitude toward death is clear as he considers which he would prefer: “Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul’s personal desire was to depart and be with Christ. Death held no fear for him. How different this attitude is from all the avoidance and denial we see. And yet Paul recognized that his continued life would be better for them. We likewise feel that Peter’s continued life would be good for us.
So Monday morning while doing a Bible study on the picture of the future in Revelation 21, I asked what God’s servant John might have felt when the Spirit took him “to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel.” The boys agreed that he would feel both happy and sad: happy to see it and sad that he couldn’t stay. Isaac combined the words and said he felt shappy.
So then I made it personal and said to Peter, “We know that you might die from cancer.”
He nodded. “If you get there before us, how will you feel?”
He described his feelings and then I asked, “And how would we feel if that happened?”
He gave his own twist on their newly coined word: “Shad,” he said. “Sad that I’m not with you but happy that I’m there.”
“That’s exactly it,” I said, “Although I think we would feel the sadness stronger. But when we join you there…”
“Then it will be happy.” And God will wipe every tear from our eyes, for there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. There are a few tears for us to wipe away right now.
So that is how we live and how we talk in the valley of the shadow of death.
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.