Thank you choir, it's
so good to hear you again [this was Dan's first sermon after being gone
several weeks due to surgery].
I actually have 2
texts for us this morning. The first comes from Ecclesiastes 3:
everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under
2a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
gain have the workers from their toil? 10I have seen the business that
God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11He has made everything
suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future
into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the
beginning to the end. 12I know that there is nothing better for them
than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;
13moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take
pleasure in all their toil.
And my second text comes from the gospel
of Hallmark J.
This card that I received while I was recovering from surgery -- the
picture is of a little dog talking to the gentleman in pajamas on his
bed, and the dog says:
Lie Down. Stay":
on the inside of course it says: "Heal". Indeed.
So what I have to offer
this morning is not so much a sermon as it is a personal reflection on
my own healing journey. I do not know what value, if any, it will
have for others, but I do know that many of you have been (and are) on
that very same journey. And so I share these modest and hardly
original insights as a fellow traveler in hopes that we might find some collective wisdom to guide others that are on this path of healing.
I have had two
ultrasounds in my life. The first occurred on a Tuesday afternoon
in 1994. I had initially been diagnosed with a bowel obstruction
the previous Saturday morning, but my physician (on this Tuesday
afternoon) suspected that something else was causing my continuing
abdominal cramps. So he sent me to the surgeon with my new,
freshly-made ultrasound revealing the diagnosis of appendicitis.
The surgeon did not exactly instill a lot of confidence in me when he
took a look at the ultrasound, turned it this way and that, and said:
"I don't know how anyone can read these things"!
But my temperature was
102 and climbing, therefore he said that they had no choice. It
was 5 minutes after 5:00, after 3 hours of being poked and prodded in
every way imaginable in that office, he told me I had 10 minutes to get
to the hospital for my surgery that was scheduled for 5:30. I
didn't have a whole lot of time to think about that surgery. It
was not a pleasant experience, I can tell you. He tried to remove
my appendix laparoscopically, but my appendix had wrapped itself around
my colon, and hence he had to open me up and do it in the traditional
way, something that was going to cause my next surgeon a lot difficulty
12 years later.
I had one medication
then that I absolutely despised, that I was convinced was making me
sicker. I spent 3 miserable days in the hospital and when I went
home that misery just continued, and I'll never forget one night when I
took that pill and immediately threw up. I called my surgeon, it
was late and night, and said 'what do I do?'. He laughed at me.
He laughed at me! And he said: "Grow up! There
is no medicine on earth that could make anybody vomit that fast.
It's all in your head, get over it". Great, of all the
surgeons in the world, I had one with the bedside manner of Arnold
There was one bright
moment in that long trial, and that was when my mother came and took
charge of my recovery. She managed my medications, my diet, and
most importantly, made me get out of bed and start walking again.
Judy has never quite forgiven me for that -- because she tried to do the
same thing. But there are those times in your life when you just
need a Mom. I was so thankful that mother was there to get me
Now I don't know which
of us learned more from that, whether it was the fact that I had learned
how to be a better patient, or my wife learned how to be more assertive.
But she took charge of my recovery these last 2 weeks and I'm very
thankful for the loving care she gave me to get through it.
In contrast to 1994 when
I had almost no time to think about that surgery, the surgery I had 2
weeks ago was nearly 4 months in the making. The first indication
I had that something was wrong was when my physician told me after a
routine physical in December that I needed to go see a urologist.
A urologist?! I thought, ‘Only OLD men have urologists,
you know, why do I need a urologist?’ I went in January, and
sure enough he told me that I needed to have a biopsy taken of my
prostate. That was the second ultrasound. That, along with a
needle that was a yard long. I'm not going to tell you how he got that
needle into my prostate, believe me you don't want to know! It
wasn't fun, but we got through it. That occurred 2 days after my
51st birthday in February. I didn't think it was a very good
birthday present, personally.
By the time I received
my diagnosis of prostate cancer on March 3rd, I had already had 2 months
to prepare myself for that possibility. [Editor's note, with
encouragement from Dan: click
here for educational information about prostate cancer] I learned 2 things on that
day, one comforting and one unsettling. The comfort: I
learned that prostate cancer is among the most curable of cancers that a
man can have. The unsettling: my prostate cancer was on the
very edge of the spectrum of those considered to be curable.
I received this card from my stepmother,
who is also a cancer survivor, which she received from another cancer
thought she loved me J.
It says on the inside of the card: "Remember that right
attitude is very important".
Fortunately, I learned
that most prostate cancers are very slow growing. In fact, so slow
that often doctors choose not to treat it. So I was given a month
to make my decision. After I researched all the possible kinds of
treatment, I decided that I wanted to try laparoscopic again. Only
this time I wanted to make sure that it was done right, that it would
work. So after much research, prayer, contemplation and discussion
with others who have been through the surgery, I chose to go with that
high-tech robotic-assisted DaVinci surgery you have perhaps seen
advertised by McKenzie Willamette Hospital. [Editor's note, with
encouragement from Dan: click
here for information regarding the DaVinci system] Nancy Hayner, one of
our members, is part of the team at McKenzie Willamette which made the
decision to bring it here. I'm so thankful for that and especially
the care that Nancy gave to me in that time I was there.
I received this card
that kind of describes this new modern technology:
On the inside it says:
"He has a 50-inch high-definition widescreen plasma T.V. in his new
home entertainment center". With what I paid through my
insurance company, I'm sure my doctor could have bought several. I
actually showed that card to him, and he thought it was great.
So it was that after
months of preparation that I entered McKenzie Willamette on April 27th.
I went home the next day with 5 dime-sized incisions, that along with
the excellent care I received from my wife, made all the difference in
Then Frank and Donna to send me this card:
Indeed, and if you want
to know more about my Doohickey, you can ask me later and I'll be glad
to tell you all about it
J. But not now.
When we returned to the
surgeon the following week, we got the best news of all -- that the
cancer was found to have been fully contained within my prostate, now
removed, and therefore my surgeon said to me, "You should never
have to deal with that cancer again". You don't know how good
it felt to hear that. Technically I won't be considered cured
until I've had two years of negative PSA tests. I still have a few
nagging side-effects caused by the change in my plumbing, but I can't
tell you how good it feels to be here and to tell you that I am, if not
yet officially, at least practically, cancer free. And for that I
give thanks to God. [Applause from the congregation].
Now that was a long
story that I didn't make very short. But let me share with you a
few insights that I gained from this experience.
I received 6 or 7 books
from folks (I think people thought I was going to spend a lot of time in
bed, it didn't turn out to be the case) and I haven't read all of them,
but I'm still enjoying them. I wanted to mention two in particular
that I found especially helpful. One from one of our new members
-- "Illness as Metaphor", by Susan Sontag1. Sontag (who is
herself a cancer survivor) challenges the way we use cancer as a
metaphor for all that is evil in the world -- you know, “this 'cancer'
that we have to eradicate in our society”. As well as the
military metaphors that we use to describe the way we fight cancer.
She says the result is not only do we demonize the illness, but then the
patient often feels guilt or shame. “I must have done something
to bring this evil upon me,” and “how can I have this evil growing
within me?” That in turn inhibits effective treatment, resulting
in preventable deaths. “Cancer,” she writes, “is just a
disease. Not a curse, not a punishment, not an embarrassment.”
And it's only when we learn to treat it just as that and not make it
into more than what it is, you see, that we can effectively treat it.
This is especially true
of cancers involving those more 'sensitive' parts of our body. So
women are often embarrassed to talk about breast cancer, and men about
prostate cancer. Well folks, I will not be shamed. I am not
embarrassed to say that I am a man, and no less of one, who just happens
to be without a prostate. Heck, as far as I'm concerned, with the
help of God and the good medical care I received, I have beaten this
disease and I am proud of it.
Now, they say, men, if
you live long enough, you too will get prostate cancer, even if it
doesn't become a problem for you. So the difference between me and
most other men here is that I never have to deal with it again. Na
na na na na!
The second book I
received from Jan Stafl, one of the physicians in our midst. It is
a book specifically on prostate cancer health, diet and complementary
treatment, "Smart Medicine for a Healthy Prostate" by Mark
McClure, a urologist who believes in the role of mind and spirit in
healing. It cites the work of Michael Lerner, who published a book
in 1996 entitled "Choices in Healing" (about cancer), in which
he makes the astounding claim that one of the traits of many cancer
survivors is that they learned to see their illness as a gift, as a
blessing. So as odd as it might sound, I want to tell you not
about my fight or war with cancer, but how I have been blessed by it.
One of the first things
I read about prostate cancer is that contrary to the fear most men have
about what prostate cancer will do to their sex lives, many men
actually report increased intimacy with their partners. And I'm
here to tell you that is true. Never in our 26 years of marriage
have I felt closer to my wife than I do now. You know what the
hardest part of that surgery was? Saying goodbye to Judy before
they took me away. I wanted her to go with me, I wanted her to be
there, to hold my hand. I wanted her to be the one on the
operating table instead of me
But I'm here to tell you
on this Mother's Day, that the love of my life is the mother of our
children, with whom I share intimacies of flesh and spirit I never
before fathomed possible. It is truly a beautiful gift of God,
brought by this cancer.
The second blessing this
cancer has given to me is the outpouring of love and support I have felt
from all of you. The stack of cards I have received, the food, the
prayer vigil, the E-mails, the drumming circle -- Mary Burrows sitting
there drumming! -- that was held during my surgery. The first trip
I took out of the house was to the mailbox. I couldn't wait to see
if I had any more cards. And sure enough, here was a card from 8
year-old Josie. A little puppy dog on the front, and it says:
"How long until you
get to come out and play?".
That has meant so much
to me. Twelve years ago when I was diagnosed with that
appendicitis, I literally broke into tears in the doctor's office.
I'd been sick for 3 days, I was running a temperature, hadn't eaten, so
I was a little weak to begin with. The doctor mistook it and he
tried to comfort me. He said: "Don't worry, it's not a
problem, we deal with this all the time". And I said:
"No, no, no, that's not the problem. I'm the healthy one.
I'm the one that goes to the hospital to visit other people. I've
never been on the other end. I don't know how to do this".
Well, I learned.
I didn't have that
reaction this time. There were still some tears along the way, but
this time I actually looked forward to the recovery. To be on the
receiving end, to draw from that, to receive strength from all of that.
And so I am here to stand before you to say "thank you".
Several people have said
to me, why on earth are you preaching, it's only been just over 2 weeks
since your surgery -- you should take more time off. I said, no, I
need to be here, I need to express this to you, especially on this
Third blessing, I
learned to be more pro-active about my health. To seek answers to
questions. To not shy from asking for the best treatment possible.
I learned that from several of you who said you gotta do this. To
not take "no" for an answer from the insurance company the
first and the second time I was rejected for the treatment I had chosen.
To get in the best possible physical shape I could. I set as a
goal for myself to run to the top of the hill behind our house,
Gillespie Butte. I'm not a runner. Regular exercise is not
one of my strong suits. But I was bound and determined to get in
the best possible shape, to give myself the best odds possible. So
about every other morning I would get up early and I would run a little
bit farther up that hill. Finally, 3 days before my surgery, I
made it all the way to the top, and like Rocky Balboa, I'm dancing up
The fourth lesson --
learning radical trust. Those of you who have been through major
surgeries probably know this feeling. Unlike my first surgery
where I had no time to think about it, no choice, this time I had
several options. Options of kind of treatment, options of where to
get surgery. I actually had two different surgeries scheduled --
one with a more experienced surgeon in Seattle. I spent a long
time struggling with that choice of where to go. I finally made
the choice, a conscious choice, a decision of the will not based on any
empiric evidence, but more on a gut feeling and on faith that I could
receive the best possible care here. Thus I went into that surgery
giving my complete and total trust to that surgeon and to that medical
team. For 8 hours (I didn't know it was going to be 8 hours) I
turned my body over to them. It's not often that we place so much
trust in another person, but that is precisely the kind of trust that
Christ asks of us. Not just for 8 hours, but for our whole lives.
To learn how to do that, to place that kind of trust in God, is a
And the fifth and last
blessing, at least for now -- taking the time to heal. The first
week after surgery was not a lot of fun. But once I got off the
pain medications, got rid of that catheter, it was a much more enjoyable
experience. It's not that I'm done healing, either, but that I
feel that I'm well on my way. And so I'm very thankful for that
gift of time to be able to do that. How important it is for all of
us to take that time. To give our bodies as well as our spirits
time to heal. Be it a physical, emotional, or spiritual injury.
Michael Lerner says that
even when a cure is not possible, healing always is. You see a
cure involves our physical body. Healing involves that inner
process of the mind and the spirit. And so he says healing is
always possible. There are people who are cured but are never
healed. And there are people who are healed even though they are
not cured. That is the good news given to all of us -- that
healing is possible for every one of us regardless of our physical
matter what your ailment, you too can be healed. May we all be so
Susan Sontag died on December 28, 2004, aged 71, from complications
of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) evolving into acute myelogenous
leukemia. The MDS was likely a result of the massive doses of
chemotherapy and radiation she received three decades earlier when she
was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and a rare form of uterine