For the first 57 years of my life, I had been blessed with excellent health.  I had never spent a night in the hospital.  I enjoyed rigorous exercise and challenging outdoor activities.  I was physically strong with good endurance.  From my perspective in 2013, things could not have been better.  I was happily busy in church ministry, studying, preaching, teaching and counseling.  My wife, Lola, and I were enjoying our new status as empty nesters.  We were engaged in the work of renovating the 1925 brick bungalow we had purchased in 2011.

Then, one Monday in August, two young men delivered our new mattress and box springs.  When Lola came home from work, we went upstairs and lay on our backs on the bed to test its firmness.  As we lay there talking, I felt a fist-sized lump—something pushing out from below my ribs on my left side.  “What could THAT be?” I thought.  Was this a normal part of my anatomy?  I felt around on my right side, but there was no corresponding lump there.  Lola (reluctantly) felt it too—it wasn’t just my imagination!

Over the next two days, I poked and pushed my newly found lump and mentioned it several (too many) more times.  Lola said, “Will you just go to the doctor?”  I called, and they got me right in that Friday morning at 9:00 AM.

I was concerned enough to make the appointment, but I was fairly sure it was not too serious.  I was feeling great!  When the doctor came in, I told him I probably just needed a lesson in human anatomy.  He seemed pretty confident as well.  He explained that it was my spleen and that it was enlarged.  But he also said there were many possible reasons for this.  “You are so healthy and well,” he said, “that it is probably a benign process.”  I liked the sound of “benign process.”  They drew blood and scheduled me for a CT scan the following week.  As I carried my chart to the front desk, I noticed the term he had written down—“splenomegaly.” 

It was a beautiful August day.  I was reassured by the doctor’s positive attitude.  That afternoon just as Lola arrived home from school and as I stepped outside to greet her, my phone rang.

It was another doctor from our family practice.  He explained that my own doctor was not available but that they had conferred.  They wanted me to go to the hospital immediately.  They had already called to pre-admit me, so I could meet the oncologist and have some tests right away.  I argued that I felt fine and that as a pastor I was expected in church on Sunday.  Couldn’t the hospital wait until Monday?  Besides, my doctor said just a few hours ago that it was probably not that serious. 

He deflated my argument with two sentences.  “Your white blood cell count is over 40,000.  We can tell that this is a leukemic process.”

What a difference a day makes!  I had been sailing along believing I was basically well, but somehow I had run aground on the hidden reef of a “leukemic process.”

I was admitted to the hospital.  I had an oncologist— “my” oncologist.  Doctors and medical students came to feel my very large spleen.  I had my first CT scan and my first bone marrow biopsy.  They drew out many vials of blood.  I was a human pincushion!

As a pastor for 30 years, I had counseled dozens of people in situations very similar to what I was now facing.  I had read Bible verses of comfort to them.  I had talked to them about God’s good purposes in even the most difficult circumstances of our lives.  I had accompanied them to appointments and procedures and surgeries.  I had held people’s hands while they were dying and had comforted the families left behind.

I knew full well about human mortality—about my own mortality.  I had preached that people should never ever forget about it themselves. Now this fatal disease had sneaked up on me, and I was surprised.  But it was not really unexpected.  I knew it would come someday.

When confronted with a life-threatening disease, we are challenged, “How will you respond?”  For me this challenge is to live out the truths that I have preached to others all these years.  How will God’s grace prove to be sufficient for me in my difficulties?  How will God’s word speak to me and comfort me?  What ways will I find to use these new circumstances for good purposes in my own life and in the lives of others?

I am not Superman.  I knew the answers I believed to be true, but now they were put to the test.  I would personally experience all the stages of grief that all newly diagnosed people face—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  I would have bad days and good days as I worked to regain my equilibrium. 

At this point, I can honestly say that God has used myelofibrosis as a blessing in my life.  I have met many wonderful people I would not have otherwise known.  I have found new avenues of service that are very gratifying.  I have an increased appreciation of the big and small pleasures of life—a beautiful day, a child at play, the people I love, my life’s work and even my weekly chores.  Life is good, and I enjoy it more than ever.

I’ve learned many things through my experience with myelofibrosis.  One of the most important things I have learned is to not let an uncertain future rob me of today’s joy.

Don’t let an uncertain future steal your joy,

Dave Denny

 

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