On February 24, a week and a few days after a bone marrow biopsy, I learned that I have a new, and more serious health condition than the one I have been battling over the past four years. In fact, it was the chemotherapy I received this past summer for that disease, called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), that is the cause of my new health challenge. Against 99 to 1 odds, the chemo seriously damaged my bone barrow to the point where I have a condition called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, formerly known as “preleukemia”).
What I’ve been focused on the past few weeks is once again preparing myself to enter unknown territory. My spiritual journey into more than three years of on-again and off-again chemotherapy I chronicled in my book, “Embraced by God: Facing Chemotherapy with Faith.” Now I am facing the very real possibility that this syndrome (which I and most others have never heard of) will transform itself into leukemia, which everyone has heard of and is just about as scary a word as cancer. In any case, I am facing what I was told was the only possible long-term cure for the syndrome/leukemia — a stem cell transplant.
I knew that was a possibility when the doctors ordered the bone marrow biopsy, but it’s hard to visualize something you’ve never experienced before, so I didn’t think much about it until I met with my oncology team and they began to explain the disease, the treatment, the risk and, hopefully, the recovery. A couple of weeks ago I met with my new doctor, who specializes in stem cell transplants. She has a great demeanor and wonderful communications skills, and I walked away from the appointment feeling much more optimistic about this whole thing than I had in the previous few weeks. The risks are still there, of course, but I gained some optimism and hope after our consultation.
The past few weeks have been good spiritually. With lent just beginning, I have entered into the season with renewed meaning and purpose. At the suggestion of my spiritual director, I have begun each day with the lectionary readings and then meditated in silence on my drive to work. I have found this a welcome change from the news or music. I tend to arrive at work a little more centered and relaxed, a little more in touch with the movement of God in my life, even in the midst of my worries, personnel issues or projects I sometimes don’t feel like tackling.
Talking to my doctor and reading information about my transplant, I know there are tough days ahead – at least a month in the hospital and several weeks of being very sick and weak because of the chemo and other drugs. Then at least another month recovering at home. I am preparing for his stem cell transplant, this new and last line of defense, which will wage war against a disease that has attacked me, literally, down to the marrow of my bones. And here’s the paradox I’ve discovered: Even as I put all my effort—mind, heart and soul—into a fight that shouts, “I will survive,” I am being drawn to an ever-deeper relationship with God that gently whispers, “surrender all….” The wonder of the whole thing is that within this juxtaposition of fight and surrender I am discovering peace, hope and an unwavering God.