A Letter From Beyond The Grave

I’ll bet that you read the title and right away you were thinking, “Ghost story, cool!” In a way, this is about a ghost that never was, but the truth is not as exciting; I’m no ghost. That’s because…well…I’m not dead.

Like a lot of cancer patients, I was supposed to die. I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t die several times. At least one aunt had a very good wake dinner planned and now she’ll just have to put away her good dishes. A few other relatives may be disappointed, but then, we all have our crosses to bear. I think I’ve been that way most of my life. I like it that way. I never did do what I was “supposed” to do. This time though, I had help. A lot of help.

I think that it’s only logical to try to sort this out. After all, why me? It’s only recently that I received the good news from my doctor. No evidence of myeloma anywhere. No cancer, none, zilch, zero, nada…you’re cured. The odds against that happening (especially to me and especially as far along as the cancer had developed) are, well, really really long. I’ve asked God for the lottery. I mean as long as I’m on a hot streak. Know what I mean?

I believe in God. I believe He saved me. I believe He has something else in mind for me. Naturally, I don’t have a clue as to what that “something” is. God is funny that way. He gives you blessing after blessing, a miracle or two (or three), makes you really turn your view of yourself inside out and then…nothing. No sign, no angel in the mist, no epiphany, no sudden revelation, no phone, no email…nothing. I’m pretty sure He’s “sending,” but I’m equally sure I’m not “receiving.” Man, do I hate being stupid. By now, God (I’m sure) feels like Chris Rock in Rush Hour…”Do You Hear The Words That Are Coming Out Of My Mouth?” My answer is, “Eh, what?” Like I said, stupid. All I know is, God saved me.

How God saved me is another issue altogether. My doctor is as mystified as I am. I’m sure he’d like to know what he did right. I’m sure he’d like to know if what he did is all it takes. I’m sure he’s hoping that it wasn’t just another damnable miracle. Doctors, it turns out, have a “love/hate” relationship with miracles. Miracles are unexplainable. Miracles are very unscientific. Miracles are messy. Miracles, for scientists and doctors are a stiff pain in the tuccus (Yiddish, I think, for ‘back side’, ’butt’… you get the picture). On the other hand, miracles are great stuff. The doctor’s patient is cured. The doctor gets to witness the recovery of someone he’s grown to know. Someone he has a vested interest in. Someone he cares about. The question is though, who’s responsible for the cure? God or the doctor? Let’s face it, why is the doctor doing all that work if God is just going to step in at the last minute and save the patient? Maybe the doctor should just put an ad out on Craigslist and say, “Miracle needed, please dial….” After all, everybody reads Craigslist.

I think the truth is that God works through His children. My doctor and the doctors and nurses at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance have their own angels. They work against incredible odds and every now and then, they win one. That’s what keeps them going. I know for a fact, that’s what kept me going. I was depending on them to pull a rabbit out of their collective hats and they did! I think God guides their hands and their minds and their hearts. I also think that we patients can help the process.

Advocate. If you don’t have one, get an advocate. Your wife, your husband, your son or daughter or your best friend. Whoever it is, get someone to be at your side and fight with you tooth and nail. The power of advocacy happens in many ways. The best way is by always making sure everyone is aware that You are the “decider.” The President’s silliness aside, you decide what comes next, what does and doesn’t happen to you and primarily how you want to be treated. The people at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (as I’m sure it is almost everywhere else) become overwhelmed with the devastation and deterioration that they see everyday. They become a little numb. Not jaded, just numb. It’s your job to help them get the feeling back in their fingers. How do you do that? First and foremost, never allow decisions to be made without your informed consent. Be aware of everything that’s about to happen to you. A simple way is, for example, when a technician or nurse draws blood from you, tell them your rating them on a scale of 1 to 10 (I never gave out tens even though, to be honest, there were a few). Make a lighthearted joke. “I’ll be rating you. I’m an expert on pain after all!” Simple little moments might make your care provider pay just a little more attention. It’s just a quick and innocuous reminder to whoever is listening that You’re there. Be your own advocate when you’re able and rely on those closest to you to be your advocate when you can’t help yourself.

Prayer. Your relationship with God is truly your lifeline. He can and will save you. I used to imagine that my cancer was an ember from a dying fire. I would ask God to step on that ember and crush it under his heel. Naturally, I imagined that God had sandals on…wouldn’t do to burn God’s feet. I prayed often and I prayed sincerely. I didn’t make promises that He and I both knew I probably wouldn’t live up to which is good because I don’t think I’d do too well in a monastery. I just asked for His help. I’m pretty sure I got it. I’m alive, after all.

Even for those who don’t believe in God you can think of prayer as a powerful tool of enlightened introspection. Pray to a power greater than yourself. Whatever and however that may suit your own view of the universe. I believe that visualizing your disease as a real thing that can be destroyed is also a powerful tool of self-help. (By the way, for you non-believers, I’d tell you that you’re going to Hell, but what’s the point? I know this for a fact, though…one of us is really going to be surprised!)

Survive. Modern medicine is a miracle happening right before our eyes. Everyday it seems some new treatment or new drug is being tested and used to cure cancers that once were incurable. Fight for every minute, every hour, every day. Never give up. You can do it, I know you can.

The bottom line is. My doctor (William Hammond, Md) saved my life. God helped him. I believe it. You want proof? Geez, I don’t think Macy’s will let me stand in their window without any clothes on. Besides, it’d be really ugly.

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