“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day”

2nd Corinthians 4:14

[I]’d like to begin this segment with a little exercise that I would like you all to participate in.

Take a moment and think about that small circle of people that mean more to you than anything else.  For me, that circle consists of 4 others, my wife, my son, my daughter and my mother (my dad passed several years ago).  Imagine just being with them sharing a simple moment, perhaps over a meal or in casual conversation, maybe sitting across from them or even next to them holding their hand.  Now…take a deep breath….and…tell them.

Tell them YOU have CANCER and tell them that as a secondary issue you have a shortage of oxygen reaching your heart.

Now I realize that an exercise is far different from real life.  But, I am curious how this exercise affected you.  Would there have been a knot in your stomach or a lump in your throat?  Would you have battled a tear in your eye from becoming an obvious “tell” that what you were about to share was news that no one should ever have to hear from a loved one?   News that would alter the course of their life in a drastic way.

I will tell you that as difficult as it is to hear bad news, it is far worse to give it.  Telling each of those 4 people was the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do in my life.  Every cell in my body dreaded the thought of having to have this conversation…4 times.  I knew I did not have the words, I did not have the answers and I certainly did not have the will or the desire to do this.  This was a life moment that I was woefully ill prepared to handle.  So I prayed…I prayed that God would tell them for me….God laughed…and so did I.

For days, even weeks, I prayed about what I would say and how I would say it.  I thought about how each person would react.  I thought about how deeply it would affect each of their lives.  I thought about how much effort I would spend consoling them after I told them.  I thought about the constant barrage of “unknown” remedies that would be emailed my way.  I thought about how many “have you heard about Lyle” conversations that would occur.   I thought about how many sincere and well intentioned “I’m praying for you’s” or “I am sending good thoughts your way’s” I would encounter each day and how I would have to craft a response that bypassed any hint of pessimism while communicating the perfect sense of reality and optimism.  I thought…and then I thought some more….and then I thought some more again.  And if you know me, then you know I do not like to think!

Summer of 2012 was easily the most difficult and disjointed of my life.  In fact, if you were on the outside looking in, you would think that our family did not like each other very much.  My wife had a two week (family reunion with all her sisters) vacation planned without me, my son had a week vacation planned without me and my daughter was in Washington DC…without me… come to think of it, maybe we don’t like each other that much….poor me LLL!!!!

Thank goodness for my dog!

It was May when this journey began for me with the first of what would become many doctor’s visits.  It was followed by several critical dates:

  • Friday night June 1st, I received the now infamous call from the Hematologist;
  • Monday June 18th, Julie (my wife) leaves with (3 of 4) of her sisters to head back to Indiana for a family reunion to be finished out with a quick visit to our daughter in Washington DC.
  • Friday, June 29th, our son leaves for a week-long vacation
  • Tuesday, July 3rd, Julie comes home a day early from her vacation to see Oso (our ailing dog).
  • Wednesday, July 4th, I finally break the news to Julie
  • Friday July 6th, our son returns home 2 days early from his vacation to see Oso
  • Saturday, July 7th the morning had come to say goodbye to our precious 13 year old “puppy”
  • Saturday, July 7th, that afternoon Julie and I share the news of my health with our son
  • Sunday July 8th, Julie and I share the news with my mother
  • Tuesday, July 10th, Julie and I make our first visit to City of Hope
  • Thursday, July 12th I had an angiogram resulting in a stent being placed into a main artery into my heart

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”

Romans 5:4

On Tuesday, July 3rd, Julie returned home a day early from her vacation with her sisters to so that she could say “goodbye” to our beloved 130 pound Akita, Oso who had been a part of our family for over 13.  Oso was ailing and clearly in his last days.  Our house was in torn apart (due to a water leak) and I still had the unbearable task of breaking the news of my health to her.  I could not tell her on the day of her return, the day that she would come home to see our “pup” in such a debilitated condition.  On Wednesday, July 4th, I awoke with the same deficit of courage that plagued me the day before….again I prayed…”God give me courage and give me the words”…  That afternoon as we were sitting outside in the back yard, I knew the moment had come.  I was scheduled for my initial appointment at City of Hope a couple of days later and I knew that she would want to be there.  So, the time had come to “man up”…but first…a glass of wine…a BIG glass!

My anxiety had overrun my brain.  Although I had run through the conversation hundreds of times in my head, at this moment, eloquence and articulation had clearly abandoned me.  My genuine desire of making a gentle and well thought out introduction to the subject matter was in an unrecoverable downward spiral quickly circling the porcelain throne.  I would equate it to skydiving for the first time.  You probably make the jump a hundred times in your mind before you get on the plane, but as you edge up to the open door thousands of feet up in the air and look down all of the planning and imaginary gracefulness go right out the window.  At that moment of truth, you either jump…or you don’t.  I jumped…and planning and gracefulness were nowhere to be found.  Although it is still fuzzy to me, I believe I blurted out the words “Well, now that you are back, I have seen several doctors and they think I may have some sort of blood cancer or something, and we have an appointment at City of Hope in a couple of days and I don’t really have any answers yet, oh and I am also going to need an angiogram because my heart is not getting enough oxygen…but don’t worry, I don’t think anything is imminent (as far as me dying goes).  Yes.. awwwwkkwaaarrrrrd and a run on sentence too!  Considering the lack of oxygen to my heart, I impressed myself with the fact that I was able to get all of this information out in one extended rambling.

To her credit, Julie reacted very well.  I think she knew that her strength would become a part of my strength.  After tearing up, she resolved herself to taking it a step at a time and chose to be as optimistic as she could be given the circumstances.  Perhaps it was that I reminded her that I was worth more dead than alive..with teary eyes, she chuckled…and then affectionately mumbled the word “stupid” as she lovingly looked my way.

A couple of days later, we broke the news to my son.  Ironically it was on the same day that his girlfriend wanted to cook dinner for us.  She made “heart attack enchiladas”.  We laughed!

Without a doubt, the person I knew who would be hardest to break the news to would be my mother.  If there was one person who threatened my strong exterior facade, it was my mom!  I knew her reaction would be the one that I would toughest for me to deal with.  My mom has experienced more loss in her life than any one person should ever have to endure.  As a child, she lost two sisters.  As an adult, she has seen the passing of her father, her mother-in law, her mother and most recently, my father.  Her best friend has been battling stage IV ovarian cancer for years far exceeding her prognosis.  I feared that another blow would just devastate her.

Again, in the comfort of our back yard, I spoke the words “the doctor thinks I have cancer”.  Although it was only for a split second, there was a shear look of terror came over her face.  It was as vivid and graphic a look as I have ever seen and it will be forever etched into my memory.  I remember her exclaiming the words “OH NO!”.  There are NO words to describe a moment like this.  If she had allowed the tears behind her initial reaction to fully rise to the surface, there would have been a cryfest of epic proportions, one that would have dwarfed the rains of the days of Noah.  As with Julie, my mom quickly regrouped and put on a brave face.  I know that those tears she held back would later surface once she was alone.

These were without a doubt, the toughest days of my life.

I guess the strategy of initially withholding the information from my family will have to serve as a topic of dinner conversations everywhere for months to come.   Suffice it to say that in my own reasoning, I knew that my disclosure would only bring about more questions than answers, more feelings of helplessness than helpfulness, more anxiety than peace and more sadness than joy.  This revelation would only serve to steal any joy from the upcoming family reunion and vacations.   There was no upside to telling them.  Allowing them to enjoy their respective vacations was the right decision for me…a preverbal no brainer.  After all, there would be plenty for all of us to deal with upon their return…and deal with it we will.

These are the days that I truly began to realize how finite life really is.  It made me realize that God had a story to tell though me.  It made me realize just how BIG my God is…and I praise Him for that!

I am curious, for those of you who are willing, how would sharing this information with your loved ones have affected you…and them?