Monday, January 31, 2011

The Real Thing

 When I decided to start this journal, or really when I realized I was starting this journey with cancer, I made the choice to be as open and honest as possible. I want to be a good example of a follower of Christ, I'd like for people to be able to look at my life and see some of His light and goodness.

 That being said, my first instinct is to put on a brave face and tell you all about how confident and hopeful and secure I am. But the truth is, I'm not that person. I cannot be an honest example if I try to cover things up.

 I don't want to be a downer or to scare people and God knows the last thing I want is for anyone to be discouraged because of something I've said or done. But I believe that the truth sets people free. And so I'm going to share some truths with you and hope that you understand.

 I'm scared.

 I have a fatal disease. It terrifies me. When I asked the doctor to describe the tumor to me he explained that it was large (measured it out with a tape measure for me). that it was inbetween my heart and my left lung and pressing up against them both. It has fingers that are wrapping around my lung, my carotid artery and has caused me to have blockages in several veins and blood vessels. It has spread beyond my chest, under my left arm and into my neck. It spread south into several areas around my stomach.

 I couldn't sleep that night. I wrote this instead: "No-Good-Thing"

"For in me- that is, in my flesh, dwelleth No-Good-Thing
and it eats in my chest and it screams in my dream
Its fingers spread out to feel and to strangle
and its all about what it can steal and can mangle

I'm afraid of its teeth sitting next to my heart
and its harder to sleep, hearing gnaws in the dark
It chased away time and wants to rob my tomorrow
its wasting my mind with its fear and its sorrow

But I will fight tooth and nail and continue to pray
and the Light will prevail and beat the monster away
For in ME- that is in my heart, dwelleth One Good Thing
and though I'm falling apart, my King reigns supreme."
 Fear has been a huge part of my life. People will say I have no faith because of it, but I think its the opposite. Faith is not the absence of fear but the overcoming of it. I watched my brother endure alot of things when he was sick with cancer. I always told him I didn't know how he did it and that I could never be that strong. I was right. I'm not that strong. That's why, every day, I ask God to give me strength, to BE my strength.

 The fear is still there. But so am I, and I will go THROUGH.

 I'm confused.

 There are so many questions that run through my mind and there just arent any answers. Why is this happening? Am I going to survive? How can I endure this? Do my family and friends know how much I love them? Will people forget me when I die? Have I done my best with my life? How much is this going to hurt? Will I be able to have children after the chemo? Can life ever be normal again? Will people lose their faith if I don't survive? Why won't this just go away? Why won't this just go away? Why won't this just go away?

 I HATE not having answers. My whole life if I wanted to know something I studied it. I took it apart. I got my answers. There are no answers here.

 One thing that has really helped me, is understanding that men are blind. We just cant see the whole picture, but I believe God when He says that He can. Life is an obsticle course for us then. Dodging ditches as best we can, but God has promised to lead me through. I just have to keep my hand in His and trust Him even when it seems to me He's leading me into a ditch. This doesn't take away the confusion, it doesn't chase away all my fears, but it gives me a little peace sometimes and a lot of hope.

 I'm frustrated.

 The rug was pulled out from under me. I'm falling apart at the seams. I can't be the person I was anymore. Now I'm Jeremy the cancer patient. I can't get away from it. Its in my dreams. Whenever I cough "I have cancer", whenever my chest hurts "I have cancer", whenever my heart races "I have cancer". Everything reminds me and throws it in my face.

 I'm 26 years old. I was finally feeling like I was getting my life on track. I had a nice apartment. I was holding a steady job and had just gotten promoted to Lead. I had money in the bank. I was doing everything right and was becoming the independent adult I wanted to be.

 Now I'm losing it all. The worst part is not being able, physically. I'm just stuck. It's so frustrating! It makes me grumpy. Its depressing.

 People look at you differently. People speak to you differently. Its hard to lose your identity to a disease that you hate with everything you are. It cant be helped. It cant be ignored. I have cancer, its a big deal. But I hate it just the same.

 So I'm not the greek hero standing strong and unwavering against his mighty enemies. I'm not a stoic guardian of the faith, never flinching in the face of adversity. I'm just Jeremy and I am scared, confused and frustrated. I won't give up, I will keep the faith.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Faith...

 Since my diagnosis many people have asked me if I am angry with God. In fact, I've noticed that alot of my friends and family have that reaction themselves, that they have become angry with God for allowing this to happen to me. "You don't deserve this".

 No. I am not angry with God. The opposite is true, I love Him.

 God has always been in my life. When I was little I can remember talking to Him. Not really knowing or understanding Who He was or what He was saying. But just enjoying His company. I knew He loved me, whoever "He" was.

 I wasnt strictly raised as a Christian. Yes, my parents were Christian but I wasn't raised in church, I didnt speak the lingo, didnt sing the songs. I couldnt quote a Bible verse if my life had depended on it. I knew that there was a "God"and that, for some reason, He sent His son to teach us and he died. That was the extent of it.

 When I was growing up I doubted that belief system and even mocked it. I was a smart kid. I studied all the time. I loved myths and legends and philosophies. I took what I liked from each of them and made my own world view. Built up my own outlook on life. I was god in this sytem. The world was mine.

 Granted, it was filled with Christian ideals. My system was a goody-two-shoes system. Most people, even Christians, would have loved me and my private religion. Would have given me kudos. I, certainly, was proud of myself.

 But then my cousin got baptised. I asked her how she knew she was saved and she said if you have to ask then you're not. I went to another family member, "How do you know when you're saved?". "You are", they said.

 I dont know why it bothered me so much. I didnt even believe in salvation. But it bothered me. Bothered me that even as good a person as I was that some people would still condemn me as "unsaved", "lost", "damned".

 I pushed the thoughts away. It was silly. Worrying about some stupid myth when I knew the way the world really worked. And anyway, everyone assumed I was Christian. So I didnt need to worry about judgement.

 I went back to my way. Back to the books, to what I knew best.

 I did not find God in a church. I did not find Him in a sermon or from the lips of an evangelist of from a pamphlet. I did not find God at all. I wasn't looking for God. God found me.

 I went back to my bookshelf one day, ready to reinforce my worldview, and when I reached out for one of my favorite books I was stopped by a voice saying "Why do you look everywhere but to me for answers?"

 It stopped me. Surprised me. Scared me. I was not one for mysticm or spirituality. I didnt believe in ghosts or floating voices. I wasnt superstitious at all. But here was a clear voice. And what really surprises me, looking back, is how I instinctively knew the Speaker.

 I immediately searched for a bible. In all my studies of ancient and dead religions of modern faiths and philosophies I had NEVER read the New Testament. I completely and blindly ignored it and never wondered why. But that day I had to find it. I found an old dusty one in the bottom of my bookshelf. I took it to my bedroom and opened it to the gospel of John. I read in it that God loved me and that I was guilty and even so He gave His son to die for me so that I could live.

 Guilty? I WAS guilty. I knew it. I literally felt the burden of my guilt weighing on me. I had thought I was a good person, everyone said so. I had never killed or stolen, I treated people like I wanted to be treated. I was a perfect kid. But I was damned and deserved it because there was a very real God who I had known and talked to in my earliest days and who I had turned my back on and in my pride I had set myself on His throne. I had made myself god I had mocked His son, I had mocked the one who was now promising me to take away my guilt to take my punishment.

 I begged God that day on my knees for forgiveness. Its been a long walk with Him ever since. I still had alot of growing to do and most of that didn't happen until cancer (my brother's) forced it to years later. But the lesson that I have learned is this: Who else could I trust more than a God who earnestly and eagerly tries to talk with me even when I ignore Him, who gave His son away for the life of His enemies, who poured out his soul unto death for a boy who laughed at his name, who suffered hell so that I could enjoy heaven, who gave me everything I never deserved for no reason other than that He loved me?

 Christ endured my suffering on the cross. Much more than I will ever know. I love Him. He gave Himself away for me. I gladly gave my life to Him. I sold it. Every part of it. I am the slave and sole property of Jesus Christ. When I gave Him my life I did not say "take it and make me happy" I said "Take it and use it, be glorified in it, be lifted up and magnified, let everyone who sees my life see YOU and Your goodness and Your glory and Your love and grace. Take my life in health and sickness, in good and bad, in living and in dying and make it totally and completely Yours."

 No, I am not angry with God. What He does with my life is His business. In what better hands could I be? Who could I trust it with more than Him? I have seen Him heal people of diseases, I have seen Him deliver people out of troubles. I have watched God change lives and move mountains. He is more than able. I have trusted Him this far, I will go ahead with that trust.

 There will be fear and pain and, at some point, as with every life, there will be death. But I am not alone and I never will be. When I first found out about the cancer I went home alone and prayed a very emotional prayer begging God to heal me and to take it away. Then I apologized. I remembered why I had sold my life to Him and I remembered that He is trustworthy. My prayer changed from "take it away" to "Get glory from this, just give me the strength to endure it well". And thats my mission. To bear it well, to be a faithul witness, to not give up no matter the cost.

 Please don't be angry with God for my sake. Its the opposite of what I sold my life for. If you love me, love the God that I love. If you support me, support my cause.

 People are watching me now. Looking at my life. My life is hid in Christ, if you want to find me, find me there.

Joshua's Story

 I grew up in Thomasville, Georgia, the youngest son of Gene and Debbie Potter. My older brothers, Jason and Joshua, were my best friends and Rosedale Avenue was Our Land. We filled that dead-end road with all the magic of childhood that we could pack into it. We were young and loved and safe and the sun was always shining, even when it rained.

Josh and I were always together. I was his shadow, always a footstep behind. We ruled the woods and left no rock or turtle unturned. We shared the same humor and same curiosity. I remember once, we even shared the same dream. One night we both woke up at the same time from a nightmare, being chased by a monster. Looking back, it seems like an omen.

 Time passed on and we all grew up. Life didn't go in the direction I thought that it would. The magic fell away. We left Our Land behind. Jason moved away and married. I lost myself in a world of fear caused by a panic dissorder and depression and Josh...Josh got cancer.

 When he was 21 years old Josh felt a little sick and went to the doctor. He'd had a cough and some swelling in his glands. Then came the tests and the waiting. We couldn't believe what they were thinking. A phone call: "We need you to come in to get your results". Our world fell apart.

 Joshua was diagnosed with Large cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Lymphoma is a word that is foreign to most people, but it wasn't to us. My mother's sister was diagnosed with it in her early twenties. Cancer of the lymphnodes. I had never met her, my aunt did not survive.

 To me, cancer was something that happened to someone else's loved one. Not something I ever expected to show up in my brother, in my best friend. My mind was forced into a new awareness. I think that was true for all of us. Cancer had touched us and changed us forever.

 I was a Christian at the time, but a very poor one with very little faith or understanding. I was trapped in my fears. I knew then, though, that my brother needed me and something was going to have to change. I gave myself away to God that year. I sold my life to Him. He took away my fears, he made me strong enough to do what had to be done.

 What had to be done took years. Josh went through 9 months of chemotherapy. I remember when his hair fell out, the look of dispair on is face. I remember all the held back tears and the nights we all secretly let them out. The treatment seemed worse than the disease.

 After his chemo, Josh went into remission. It didn't last long and the cancer recurred. With an agressive cancer like he had, options start running out quickly. Cancer learns how to fight back. What doesnt kill it really does make it stronger. Josh's option was a stemcell transplant.

 We moved to North Georgia and into the Hope Lodge in Atlanta. Josh began a much harder round of chemotherapy and radiation. He had a port put into his chest. He had to give himself shots that caused his bones to ache. He was always sick. His body started falling apart. He and I moved into Emory Hospital.

 They took his own stemcells, a 6 hour process. And then administered a lethal dose of chemotherapy. Once they were sure the poison had done its best they gave Josh his stemcells in the hopes that it would revitalize his body and force it to start producing new cells again.

 It didn't take. We sat in his room at his bedside, praying and waiting for the worst. I cannot begin to explain in any real detail the kind of sorrow and pain that I felt that day. My brother was dying and I wanted to die with him. I WAS dying with him.

 "It took! It shouldnt have worked, but it did!". The doctors were amazed and we were beyond relieved. A little bit of light had come back into the world. The healing process was very slow though and the mind heals slower than the body. It took us all years to recover. But now Josh is 7 years in remission. He fought cancer and won. We all were changed forever. Good scars and bad. But at least it was over.

 On December 31st 2010, New Year's Eve I went to the Emergency Room. I'd been sick for months with a cough and fever and chest pain. I had been to the doctor so many times and they had never found anything. I had wasted time and money and was beginning to feel like a fool. I looked at my dad and asked "Did I make a mistake coming here?". Then the doctor came in, "We've found an abnormality on your x-ray". The CT scan confirmed that I had a large tumor in my chest.

 In January 2011 I was officially diagnosed with Large B Cell Non-hodgkins Lymphoma. Stage 3. Our nightmare monster had cought us both. Its only been a month since I found out, but already my life has changed into nightmarish chaos. Tests upon tests and surgeries and procedures. Waiting, always waiting.
I spent years of my life as my brother's caregiver. Always wondering just how hard it was for HIM. I settled into the role, I became it. It wasn't easy having to just watch my brother suffer, it was a suffering of its own. But I always wondered how he endured, how he found the strength to go on.

 Now I'm having to find out for myself. My brother has gone before me and overcome. Now I follow behind, like when we were little boys in the woods. God help me to find my way out of these woods...