Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Today was another mile marker. After 2 1/2 years of recovery since my last post (see below.....a single mile). I have managed a strong recovery. In the last 6 weeks.....skirting surgery (my port was finally removed in my chest) and summer heat that has hit record highs (105+ degrees with no rain) I have managed to commute by bicycle to work 500 miles (20 mile round trip daily). It is no small feat from where I have been physically. I never thought I could regain health that would permit me to accomplish anything remotely close to this. I had almost given up on my body, assuming.....expecting meritocracy at best. I am thankful...... I am truly blessed. This journey of cancer is a difficult one.....no less difficult post cancer. Though the body heals, the heart, mind and soul are all deeply wounded. They can be subtle wounds at times almost forgotten, but with the capacity to rear their ugly heads at the most unexpected times. I would love to say that I have overcome.......that I have discovered some metaphysical way to rise above this disease.......but the wounds run deep, the scars remain both physically and emotionally. I wish I could say that I have succeeded in all that I have set my mind to since treatment, unfortunately that has not been the case. The last 2 1/2 years have been filled with both joy and tears, both success and complete failure. The mind is such a fickle place. You might assume that once diagnosed with cancer and faced with system failure as a result of the very drugs designed to save my life that I would have motivation to scale even the most highest obstacle . Unfortunately, denial, fear, a sense of loss and shear human stupidity can lead even the most grounded individuals astray. Life after cancer is still.......Life, in all of its raw glory. Life laid open, stripped of the false security that most of us live with. A false sense of immortality. We are described as "survivors" post cancer. I have never been sure what to think about such a term. It has never seemed like a designation that held "power" or "control". Unfortunately when I think of survivors, I think of people who are "spared" during a plane crash while hundreds of others perish.......or survivors that lived in the path of a horrific tornado devastating a town, seeming to take life and spare life indiscriminately. It makes little rational sense. My own case is no different. My own brother and I.....same disease....same age of onset. He is gone. I remain. Same treatment. Same faith. He is gone. I remain. My religion talks of faith. My physician talks of treatment protocol. We all spoke of Hope. Yet he is gone and I remain. It is if I stand in the wake of great destruction and for no effort of my own, or in no rational way am I able to understand why I live. I am thankful for life. Perplexed. But I am thankful. I am thankful for a second chance. Overwhelmed that I still have the audacity to squander my days, to take them for granted, to not savor the very breath I breathe. I remember death......or at least the presence of death. I know what it feels like to wonder if I will live, to face a point where it looked as if it were over, to stand on the edge of eternity and hope that my theology is correct, where boyhood beliefs and an immature faith is suddenly get put to the test. I know what it is like to grasp for breath feeling as if I were suffocating, convincing myself that I am still alive simply by watching my O2 stats as they dipped into the 80s.....the 70's......the 60's. I remember. Some days it feels like a dream. I look down and my body is whole. My strength is back......the scars remain.....the fear lingers.....like the tick, tick, tick of a clock. Life moving, slipping through my very grasp with every movement of the second hand. I once felt immortal in my youth......boyhood fantasies. Now I know mortality, it is an intimate bedfellow, always whispering to me drawing me on in a cold seduction. Survivor........life.......future.....these are words that are hard to grasp, they are fleeting realities with no real form as one glimpses meteors briefly lighting up the sky.....momentarily.....where only the memory remains. What I do know is a deeper understanding of the Sovereignty of God.....or at least a deeper realization of that reality over our lives. I have no answers, no clarity, no "reason" for sickness or death.....no "reason" even for life....except if we are spared by grace we must grasp on to the fleeting and fragileness of our existence. We are finite.....mere dust. It is this reality were the true wonder of life begins to immerge. Such weak and finite beings hold the very image of God and purpose that bridges the gap of eternity spanning not only generations but time itself. Why? I do not know except for Grace and Love bestowed upon us from a Creator God, Merciful God, a Sovereign God. And these things remain.....Faith.....Hope.....and Love.......the greatest of these.....LOVE. This simple word is manifested in unending ways by so many different people on this journey of Cancer. I am thankful not just for life and a second chance but for the hundreds of people who have stood by me. My friends, my family, my children, my wife. Thank you for loving me. Helping me. Praying over me. I once asked my father how I would ever repay him and my mother for all they have done for me, he told me "son......just do the same for your own children someday". Life after Cancer is much the same. Thank you is not enough. There is no adequate way to repay the countless souls that have graced my life in the last few years........the only way to "repay" anyone is simply to LIVE! I dedicate these last 500 miles and the many more to come to all who have graced my life. Thank you. I Love You All........God Bless.
Posted by Doug Miller at 1:13 AM
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
In a bit over 30 minutes I walked my first mile since being diagnosed with cancer 6 months ago. In those few months my life has been altered from assumed health to sickness, from days being marked by the nearness to the weekend to days and sometimes hours measured by treatment scheduels and doctors visits. Chemo thearapy, countless tests, a body broken by disease and the treatments that aim to heal it. Less than 2 months ago I found myself in respritory failure, poisened by the drugs that were attacking the disease, laying in a hospital on oxygen. 12 days later, my body was atrophed to the point that simple tasks were nearly unthinkable. Today, nearly 60 days after facing a body that was shutting down, lungs that gasped for a simple breath, I am slowly feeling my strength. A single mile seems fairly insignificant, but for me it is a serious marker, something I doubted I would be able to regain. A milestone of body, and spirit, and hope. In years past these legs that have struggled to bear my bodies own weight carried me accross mountains. The mountains of my past were made of rock and stone, those of my present are made of an intangible but powerful realilty of the fragility of life, love, and humanity. I hope that I will have the resolove to continue this journey, one step at a time.
Posted by Doug Miller at 10:31 PM
Friday, January 8, 2010
Every time I am in a position like I am now it never ceases to amaze me how many others are out there in the same position and often worse. I have had probably the hardest 9 days of my life this last week, but still feel blessed to be in the condition that I am. My heart is strong, kidney function good, no infections, etc. There are some on this floor (oncology floor) that have no immunity and are in isolation. I am sure their stories are full of great struggle. How many more are out there that are suffering from other things less tangible? Things like fear, financial problems, broken relationships, pain that others have inflicted throughout the years, obscure and unhealthy body image, anger (I battle that myself), addiction, a since of loss, hopelessness......the needs are unending. The difficult thing is that these needs often do not exist independently of each other. They intersect in a complex and at times crippling way. It is easy to feel as if there is no way out. The most significant thing i have learned over the last 5 months is the great need of our humanity. I new of it in a general way before. But coming face to face with many who are fighting for their very lives is eye opening. Everyone I have met have families.....jobs.....hopes....and dreams. The need is great, and I sense that the scriptures are correct in saying that "the fields are ripe for harvest". (John 4:36). Humanity is aching for hope and compassion and love. It does not take some formulated highly marketed program to deliver this hope. It is delivered through our own hands and feet. We are to bring this hope to the world, through opening our hearts and giving of ourselves. Hundreds have provided this to my family and I over the months. It is a healing balm and the answer to the hopelessness in our world. The love of Christ lived out through our touch.
Posted by Doug Miller at 7:23 AM
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Today is day seven in the hospital. My backside is numb! Well all the tests are back and everything is negative. No sign of infection.......therefore no pneumonia. The default diagnosis is Bleomycin Toxicity. It is a result of a buildup of a drug called Bleomycin that is part of the ABVD drug regimen given to me during Chemo Therapy. The drug builds up in your body and then hits. Lungs fail....fever can strike......lungs fill with what looks like snow. When it is acute it can be terrifying. One minute you are fine the next you are gasping for breath. Your heart rate races up towards 150+ and your O2 stats plummet to the 70's. The fear is as suffocating as the lack of oxygen.
Posted by Doug Miller at 7:56 PM
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Sitting on a sore backside.....sweating from multiple high fevers....labored breathing.......high levels of oxygen.......a cough that seems like it sucks life away.......that is where I am right now and have been for the last six days. The doctors and specialists have diagnosed pneumonia. I saw the chest CT scan......It looks like it is snowing in my chest. Cancer is shocking to be diagnosed with, it is most peoples greatest fear just short of public speaking. What I have learned is acute illness can be even more terrifying. One moment you feel fine and the next your body crashes. Things do not work. Fear quickly weighs in on you. You feel like you are balancing at the edge of life and death. Wednesday December 30 I worked all day and picked up the kids. I noticed I was winded but that has been occurring with treatment and exertion. As the night progressed things began to crash.....I had a hard time speaking. Gasping for breath, it felt like nothing was getting into my lungs. It became terrifying! To be honest I preferred the cancer diagnosis. It had a name, and a treatment protocol. While you are never in control completely with cancer, you have the ability to give it a run for the money. Very sudden Acute illness is something completely different. As we were driving to the ER an overwhelming thought hit me. "My Theology better be right" The way my body was reacting made me wonder if this was the end. We all fear death, but our different vantage points provide us with different understandings and resposes. A year ago I was healthy and active, with plans to remodel the house, go camping, and maybe get back out to the mountains, death was far from my mind. Fast forward to August. A simple lump leads quickly to A cancer Diagnosis. The reality of the finiteness of life drops in to your conscious thoughts day and night. Fast forward to now. Acute illness where there seems to be a sudden failure and you can't breath no matter how you try moves your understanding of life and death from a reference point of the finiteness of life to the frailty of life.......and it is wire thin. Just a few failed breaths separates us from eternity. Cancer refined my thinking and perspective in life. Acute illness has further refined it......to its marrow
Posted by Doug Miller at 11:57 AM
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Wow it has been too long since I last posted. For everyone that has been wondering where in the world I have been, I will catch things up. Lets see......there is no good way to describe it......the best way is the analogy that I provided in a recent email to friends. A long journey.......similar to the numerous long distance backpacking trips I have been blessed enough to complete begins and ends with a single step. Those steps are often filled full of anticipation, excitement, and a bit of celebration. It is the middle portion, the thousands of steps that become repetitive, redundant, and more often than not dreadful are the real part of the journey. They are the difficult and often painful portions of the journey where the real "success" is met, though at the time it feels very unsuccessful.......sometimes like an all out failure. Well that is where I have been. In that place of a thousand steps, differentiated only by fatigue, pain, and shear tenacity at times. It is this part of every journey that makes or breaks not only the journey but the one who is plodding along trying to gather enough energy....physically....emotionally...spiritually to muster another step. I have been in that place many times. Those journeys were external to me. This journey is internal. Locked up inside. The mountain I have been crossing is Cancer.......the valleys I have traversed is the Shadow of Death. It has not been easy. But I can tell you one certain thing. I have no fear. The peace that overwhelmed me from day one rests upon me still. Yes I have despaired at times. I have unfortunately lashed out too many times! But the peace remains. Today I stand at yet another watershed (at least potentially). Tomorrow may be my last chemo treatment. I am scheduled for my 3rd set of CT and PET scans on 12/21/2009. Those scans will decide if we discontinue the chemo regimen and consolidate treatment with a month of daily radiation, or if we continue with four more cycles (8 treatments) of Chemo. To be honest, I can not imagine continuing. I am bloated, my hair is patchy, I have dark circles under my eyes no matter how much sleep I get. My legs are swelling, they are painful and hardly have enough energy to get up off the floor (if I am foolish enough to get down there in the first place) They can barely carry me up a flight of stairs. These by the way are the same legs that carried me nearly 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. And the Fatigue............the relentless fatigue that sneaks up on you and builds progressively over time, until it overcomes you. It is a constant companion......a very strange bed fellow. It is probably the most difficult of all side effects (and none are enjoyable!). It saps the energy from you. It is as if the very life that once pulsed through your veins is somehow now gone. At first if comes and goes between treatment. But eventually it stays and never leaves. I have been thinking more lately about the time "after" treatment. So many people keep mentioning that "it will soon be done". "It is only a season". "You are halfway done" and other equally positive comments......but will it be "done"......"complete"......ever? Yes the treatments will end. But will it be over? Is it ever over once Cancer settles into your life. Think about it. It redefines you. You are suddenly a "survivor". That is short hand for CANCER "survivor". Cancer is like a dividing line. Life before cancer and life after cancer.......somehow it is not the same life as before. You have waged a tremendous battle......and "won".....or at least that is our language that we use. But the potential for it to come back is there. On top of secondary cancers from treatment regimes.....as well as numerous other equally unappealing secondary effects that could potentially shorten your life span. There are follow up scans. Check ups. Potentially every ache and pain could be a signal of problems emerging. So I see no end point. Life is different. I am different. My family is different. Much of it good......but some......well that is to be seen. There will always be uncertainty. It existed before diagnosis, and will remain after without a doubt!
Posted by Doug Miller at 10:46 PM
Friday, November 6, 2009
I have been silent for some time on the blog. Life has returned to a bit of normalcy. Though life is never quite normal after a diagnosis of cancer. I have been busy with home repairs and the daily grind of work, lunches for kids, laundry and all of the things life brings. Summer has slipped away. And the coolness of fall is beginning to have a bite that is all to much like winter. This time is always one of my most favorite times of the year. It makes me want to put on a sweater brew some tea and read a good book. I kind of hole up, slow down and retreat into life like a turtle slipping back into its shell. That would be a good description of the last few weeks. During this time I had a second set of scans to reveal the process that is occurring with the cancer treatments. I drove to Urbana early in the morning for preparation for the scans. Contrast liquid is consumed over a period of time and radioactive tracers are injected into your blood stream for pickup by the CT and PET scans. Scan day is not unlike the diagnosis/staging scans that start the entire process. There is uncertainty, fear, and hope mixed together. You want to be positive but also worry about overreaching that hope and having your hope dashed by the reality of what might be seen. It is a place of calm. Waiting. Hoping. As you lay prone with your chest facing the ceiling, arms stretched over head on a narrow bed that moves you towards a narrow tube, you feel exposed and vulnerable. There is silence in the room. No music, no voices, just the magnetic hum of the machine that is peering into the recesses of your body searching for those dreaded signs of cancer. It is a bit ironic that these cells that have the darkness of death attached to them appear as light spots on the PET scan, shining brightly signaling there existence. Reflecting the contrast chemicals, revealing there continued assault on your body weakened by cancer and the "lifesaving" treatments you have been subjected to. Treatments that sap your energy take your hair, threaten to even take the feeling in your hands and feet, and give you a list of other side effects longer than most can imagine. As the table moves slowly in and out of the narrow tube your mind searches the recesses of your thoughts. Hope is there saddled by fear and the reality that this moment is yet another watershed moment that can define and redefine your very existence. As I laid there arms tingling from poor blood flow, waiting as the minutes slowly rolled by my mind drifted thinking about all that has happened in the last 2-3 months. The lives that have intersected with mine, the beauty that has emerged from the ashes. I lay there encased in the humming machine like a cocoon, wrapped around my broken body. My heart reaching out to a Creator God that has the ability to reach into that cocoon and touch the brokenness and make it whole. A new creation. Well. I prayed. The tears slipped down my face. I rested. In the embrace of God and the warmth of my cocoon. Sleep found me and I slipped away into silent dreams. Before I knew it, it was over. The movement of the machine slowed as I gradually found myself slipping out into the light of the room. Nurses attended to my IV and sent me home to wait. The next day found me back in Urbana to have a consultation with my oncologist. The scans were positive. There has been substantial success made with the chemo treatments. We are well on our way to our projected end date of the end of December 2009. After chemo is finished a month of daily radiation will be conducted to put a final closure to this journey.......or at least this phase of the journey. Once cancer has intersected with your life it never really goes away. The treatments may end, the cells may disappear, most of the side effects return to normal (hopefully), but the lessons and the refining that it forces upon you never really dissipate. The reality of cancer will always be there. It is a constant companion, a strange bedfellow of sorts.
Posted by Doug Miller at 6:55 AM
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Brokenness is a place. It is a state of being. It is a reality that is unmistaken, shaped by forces at times that are uncontrollable. Brokenness can be brought on by the onslaught of disease, accident, genetic anomaly, and uncertain causes that science and mankind to this day still do not fully understand. Brokenness is also shaped by our own actions or inactions. Brokenness can be brought on by our own decisions and choices that send our lives, our bodies, and even our relationships tumbling towards destruction and collapse. Addictions, affairs, abusive behaviors, and the failure to meet the needs of those entrusted to you are just a few of the ways that brokenness can come into your life by your own hands. Brokenness at times comes at the hands of others. It steals into your life at a moment’s notice without warning. The headlines are full everyday of this brokenness. We are terribly familiar as a society with murder, molestation, rape, and countless other senseless acts perpetrated with a vengeance on the innocence of others seemingly without any sort of purpose and end. It makes no sense. It leaves us reeling asking why? Our minds rage against a world and often a God that would allow this sort of reality to enter our lives. The answers are often nonexistent, empty of any sort of understanding and even hope for redemption or healing. Brokenness is often not an isolated moment. It is something that enters a person’s life and consumes it. It engulfs your reality and redefines everything. Brokenness has the capacity to penetrate every corner of your life, your body, your mind, your heart, your soul, the very relationships that you reach out to for some sort of stability. It pierces the very core of your existence plunging its icy hands deep into any resolve and belief that one may have, shaking, tearing, and destroying any since of stability. Brokenness is a place that is shared by countless thousands and millions of people around our world. It is something that is happening as you read these words. Our humanity is groaning at this very moment bearing the building weight of broken lives, shattered dreams, and senseless acts of violence. Brokenness is personal. Likely you yourself or someone very near to you are in this very place. Walking a path that is unmistakably painful, fearful, and possibly feeling as if you have no hope, no way to see through this storm. If this is your reality, if brokenness is your point of reference, then I welcome you along side. Brokenness is a journey that seems empty, void of any sort of security, a path that is cut off from everyone and everything that holds any sort of hope. It is a journey that seems to isolate us from everything around us, building a callous around our lives and our very hearts. If this is the place you are in right now, the journey that you face, your point of reference, I share it with you. I myself as I write these very words are walking a similar path of brokenness and uncertainty. I share the fear, the loss, the shattering reality that brokenness brings to life. I walk the same path with a future that seems out of reach, one that just months ago I could envision with great detail and hope. But now it is darkened by a great uncertainty. I peer ahead to see a glimpse of something, anything to hold on to but am left with nothing. Brokenness is my point of reference. I stand in the storm, raging around me, the waves threatening to overtake me, sweep the very life and breath I breathe away forever. My path is no different than yours. It may go by a different name or be brought on by other situations that seem far distant and unlike your reality, but I fully believe that brokenness of any cause places us eye to eye with an understanding that transcends specific details, life histories, even cultural and language barriers. No matter how different we are, brokenness is a point of reference anyone at any age can identify with. Tears are universal. Pain is universal. Loss is universal. Despite the differences that exist within our humanity, the moment brokenness intersects with our lives it acts as a great leveler, bringing us all to the same plane of existence. Where if we could lift our heads long enough out of the dim of our pain and fear we would see a world around us that is in that same place, that same reality, a broken hurting world, just as frightened as you and I are at this moment. It is true. I have looked. I have seen the brokenness around me; I have spoken to countless people who share this burden. I have seen their fear, heard their stories, and shared my own. In a since though most who are broken have never met, we exist in an unlikely brotherhood and sisterhood. We have been thrust into a shared existence linking us in a way that is difficult to understand. It is not a badge of honor, it often seems more like a curse, but it is something that we unmistakably share. There is a strange bond that emerges, one that builds with time if the destructive forces are able to be held at bay. It is true. I am here in this place right now with you and many more that surround us every day. The ranks of the broken are swelling daily. Our numbers grow. It is an unfortunate reality, but it is the truth or our existence, of our broken and fallen world. These words that I write are real. They are an expression of my journey and an unmistaken feeling that there is hope that lies amidst the broken and shattered existence that so many people share. Hope is often found in the most unlikely places. As life crumbles around us and the things that seemed so strong and stable collapse out of reach, hope rises. Out of the ashes it emerges in a manner that is often unrecognizable. Our entire point of reference has shifted, so too has our understanding of hope and the redemption that our minds and bodies ache to grasp a hold of. The words I write may be raw at times; they may signal difficulties and a reality that is not necessarily easy. They may not be what many who are broken long for. There is no easy answer to our brokenness. There is no simple incantation or positive thought process that can breach the gap that has emerged in our lives. Brokenness is complex, and so is healing. Our understanding of how things are to be resolved in our lives is shaped by many confusing and often contradicting ideas and beliefs. Many times as we read the countless resources that exist and are counseled by professionals and those that are around us, it leaves us with more questions than answers. At times the “well meaning advice of others” can turn the wrong way. Often these moments have the capacity to seep into our brokenness with a stinging effect that can suffocate us. This journey of brokenness is confusing and the process of healing is sometimes wrought with more dangerous pitfalls than the very thing that shattered our existence and plunged us into this place we are trying and hoping to make our way out of. Though this complexity exists, and the path is uncertain, Hope remains. Hope is a thread that exists in our lives. It has been there since the day we took our first breaths. It has existed alongside us as we built our lives. It exists now in the shattered reality of brokenness. Though we are broken, hope remains strong. In our weakness Hope rises as an unbroken thread stretching out into our uncertain future, beckoning us to follow and explore the potential that lies dormant and hidden by our pain. Hope waits. Ready for us to reach out and grasp its firm hand. The question is not if hope exists within our brokenness. The real question is if we are willing and able to allow ourselves to stretch out of our brokenness, our preconceived attitudes, and self imposed assumptions and grasp hold of the only hope that exists, the only hope for our brokenness, our humanity and very existence. There is hope and healing and a future no matter what our circumstances. It is true. I have seen it. There are many others that have shared in it as well and testify of its existence and power and potential. Lift your eyes out of the brokenness and glimpse it, it is before you. You are not alone.
You are not without HOPE.
Posted by Doug Miller at 10:14 PM
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
It has been a while since I last posted. Emotionally I have slowed down significantly. For some time I have been running on an emotional high left over from the initial diagnosis. Life for good and bad has started to get back to "normal" (though nothing is remotely normal anymore). I was thinking early this morning that I have started to become one of those people that track time by doctors appointments, or treatments, or surgeries. Aughhhhh! I never wanted to be one of those types. I realized for me it was not at all an infatuation with illness (thank goodness) it is instead tangible and VERY REAL moments. Moments anchored by events that are easily remembered. We all do it. It is usually babies first steps, the last semester in college, or events like, right before I started my last job.....stuff like that. Unfortunately I have entered in with a group of fellow travelers that have other types of moments that mark a specific period or time in thier life. Stuff like, before the biopsy, after the diagnosis, during treatment, in between treatments, etc. Specific, very real moments in life. Unforgettable, and capable of drawing a very specific line in the sand. Separating the east from the west. A boundary of sorts. So be it. These are the tangible anchors of a life with illness. My goal is to not have them be the only anchors. In reality there is an entire life moving on along beside and around us with its own set of anchors. Those are the ones I choose to place a stamp on my life. Illness has its place in life. It is not life in its entirety. That little nugget of truth covers lots of other nasty things in life as well. Divorce. Job Loss. Addiction. Death. Fear. I choose different things to define the mile markers in life.
Posted by Doug Miller at 9:55 AM