The Case of a Slow, Agonizing Death

February 6, 2020
Having consulted briefly with the oncology and surgery teams at the Cleveland Clinic, it is now apparent my pancreatic cancer cannot be surgically removed right now. Stage 3 development is underway, and even chemotherapy is not promising—even the most aggressive, 3-way toxic chemo. The big question is whether the toxic chemicals will do anything but increase the misery of my remaining miserable time on earth. I seem headed towards a slow, agonizing death.

The Case of a Slow, Agonizing Death

Pancreatic cancer actually is rather aggressive, compared to other cancers. The biggest problem is not the cancer growing outside the pancreas and spreading to other organs—if that were the case, then I’m in good shape, because Stage 3 local-advanced means the cancer is still local. The big problem is how the pancreas excretes insulin and other pancreatic juices directly into the stomach and digestive system, where it is picked up and circulated by the bloodstream everywhere else. Now it includes cancerous goop, drip-by-drip.
As my boys grew up, I often embellished the word “death” as “a slow and agonizing death,” which is the exact opposite of the candy-coated words parents should use to describe death to children, with phrases like, “he passed on.”  Once, when standing in line at a Target store, I told the boys their grandma was dying “a slow, agonizing death,” and they nodded their heads with understanding. (Of course, they thought, how else would someone die?) It made another dad standing behind me with his son laugh—so I think I started a new trend! Even though it sounds macabre, it is closer to God’s view of death, where He says, “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) Death is the enemy of everything beautiful in life. Modern efforts to sanitize death and make it seem like “a natural part of life” is truly laughable. Not even close to reality.
Death and growing old is a rude, painful and often agonizing intrusion in life as it severs relationships and causes the world’s greatest suffering. There’s nothing friendly or natural about it, especially if you’ve ever watched someone dying of brain cancer—it’s revolting, disgusting, nauseating, and a multitude of words like that still don’t capture the horror. No doubt, soon enough, I will look and smell disgusting as the cancer spreads to other organs. Just sayin…

Fate Accompli?

Perhaps I’m not looking at the “brighter side of life” like I should, but the most definitive revelations lately are anything but bright and cheerful. They came from the Whipple surgeon’s report from 1/27, which we saw after our Cleveland Clinic meetings, unfortunately, because the primary reason for meeting with Clinic doctors was to get a second opinion. So we did not get a second opinion because the first opinion was mysteriously missing! Our prayers are to get another opportunity to get a second opinion.
Bruce, my oldest brother with the medical research background, interpreted the Whipple surgeon report for us. It was very explicit about all the scar tissue he cut through to gain access to the pancreas and remove the gall bladder. There were at least two major, previous surgeries in my abdomen, including a failed liver biopsy where the pancreas was accidentally pierced instead of the liver. Taken together, the pancreas area was rather heavily scarred and there was much scar tissue with many vessels that had to be cauterized or clamped as he worked towards the pancreas. Only then did he notice the cancerous mass was also abutting the major vein and artery, which called a halt to the surgery. That stage of the surgery was not well-described, and nobody knows exactly what he saw. That’s where we needed the second opinion. My oncologist at Summa thought we should take the Whipple surgeon’s report to the Clinic because they might have a vascular surgeon who could plow past that “abutment” and at least recidivate (remove) the cancer mass, which would greatly increase my chances for survival.
As it stands now, the cancer is untouched, intact, growing aggressively, and spreading its filthy, cancerous DNA throughout my body for at least another two weeks or more while I heal. Healing is required before they begin any chemotherapy. Pancreatic cancer is not only aggressive, it usually has a 9% survivor rate, so this delay is not good news. The Clinic oncologist said the end of February would be the earliest he could begin chemotherapy, if we do it—it may be too late by then. Slicing through all the scar tissue is part of the reason for a prolonged healing.
So am I excessively negative? I doubt it. I still pray for the Lord's intervention, of course. But I'm also not going to overlook how generous he's already been.

Too Many Miracles for One Body?

I was already healed of Hep-C and my liver was left relatively undamaged even though I carried it around since age 19. I fully expected to die before age 60, which Cleveland Clinic hepatologists estimated as an exceptionally long life for me, but I’m 63 now. I also survived a blockage in my small intestines and an intestinal bisection (cutting out part of the small intestines) nine years ago. In short, I should have died many times over before this most recent threat, but I always dodged the bullet. For this I am eternally grateful. I suppose there comes a time when it’s ridiculous (i.e., selfish) to expect to survive yet another slow, agonizing death!
Actually right now I’m fine and recovering (slowly) from my latest batch of surgeries. But here’s the rub—I’m trying to tie up all my business before I become more incapacitated or die, whichever comes first, which includes passing my work on to the Freedom Fellowship elders, my fellow home church leaders, and cleaning up my finances and household so my family is not excessively burdened by my absence. There’s a lot involved.
Furthermore, there are many brothers and sisters I wish to see, and it would be delightful to pray together and laugh and do whatever, but I must ask all my dearest friends to hold off a little while so I can sew up these loose ends. I also want to pump out the 1.5 books that are sitting inside me, and I feel excessively burdened to get them written before I can’t. So I would ask for a little patience here. Soon enough I’ll be in good shape to spend time rejoicing with my brothers and sisters.
I will do a better job of communicating on this blog site, so please leave a comment or two so I can say “Hi” on the run! And please, please continue to pray that JC and His Holy Spirit can keep strengthening me and especially those poor souls who get to pick up the mess I’m leaving behind. (As Connor put it so well, "At least you get to die!" I was aghast, but had to admit he had a good point! I think this is  part of the emotional damage I inflicted on my kids growing up, describing death in such macabre terms.)
Please pray especially for Connor, who is still so young, but beginning to flourish, and Sean, who is also trying to deal with this rude interruption into his otherwise highly-controlled life, and poor Kyle, who has to at least pretend to be strong, and then poor Darlene, who is strong, but I do not know if she’s strong enough for what’s coming our way! And Greg, Joel and Neil, who most definitely are prepared for the work ahead, but they’re also completely unprepared for it, especially at a time when we’re trying to get this property purchase—please support these men, who are wise and struggling to do their best in their spare time to service this fellowship.