In September I went to the dermatologist for a bump under my eyebrow. The visit was as ordinary as the one I made the year before over a similar bump in the same place. That year they blasted it with liquid nitrogen and I was done. A tiny bit grew back. So that was the purpose of this visit--to take off the tiny bump that had grown a little.
Only this time the doctor took a biopsy. Small shot and a cut. As is my usual custom, I had a vasovagal episode: cold sweats, low blood pressure, pale face. The biopsy lasted two minutes. My response lasted another 20.
I was confident the biopsy was just procedural and of no concern. I was convinced of that before I went to the doctor that morning. I was told the results would be available in a week.
Ten days later I got a voicemail that the results were in. I called the doctor but had to leave a message. Two days pass, so I tried calling again. I found out this is the "nurses" line and they are not always available. So I called several times until someone picked up the one.
In a very candid voice, "Oh, yes, your biopsy returned. You have cancer."
That word "cancer" is like saying AIDS. Everything stood still for me at that word. Yet the word, I've learned, is more nuanced than AIDS, applies to different kinds. I asked a couple of questions. I was told I'd undergo a MOHS procedure in early November and that literature was being dropped in the mail for me.
I called back two more times with questions that day. Processing. The kind of skin cancer I had can spread to other organs, I was told, could cause the removal of my eye, could spread to the lungs.
My mother died of breast cancer that went to her lungs. But breast cancer is a different kind of cancer than skin cancer. Yet, still, I started to think about what I was leaving behind should this cancer spread: wife, baby boy, Soulation, too many unwritten words.
One thing that kept coming to mind was my story with fundamentalism... how it had to be written. I didn't want to die without writing that. People need to know, I thought. People need to know how its poison effects most evangelical churches in various forms. People need to know. Just like people needed to know about the Gulag. If I had a year to live, would I write that?
Funny the things that come to mind if you think you've not much time left to live. Reassurance flooded me that human life was good, appropriate human life intended by our Maker, though it's funny how hard you have to wrestle with humans sometimes to remember and believe it.
I debated finding a doctor that would put me under general anesthetic. I didn't want a HUGE vasovagal episode during a longer surgery. As I explored, I decided to just do the MOHS and the local anesthetic and listen to the knife and scissors and feel the needles and the cuts. This would be the most dramatic physical manipulation I've consciously had. [I was knocked out for my wisdom teeth procedure when I was 21.]
I shared all these fears (confessing of sins?) with my house church. They encouraged and prayed for me. Our Soulation prayer team did the same. Many of my readers knew I was going in for surgery of some kind, though without specifics.
The day came. The waiting room was filled with others getting the same procedure that day. All of them older than I. The doctor said I'm young to have this procedure, but all this Welsch skin in Florida and California sun does not a friendship make. I'll have regular examinations the rest of my life, the surgeon said, and 50% chance another procedure in the future. We caught it early and the chance of spreading is slim.
That day in the doctor's chair was miraculous. I don't use that special word very often. But with prayers and Jonalyn's sticking with me through the whole procedure, I had no vasovagal response. I was even talking to the doctors as they sewed me up (15 stitches, maybe more). Jonalyn even had to sit down for the sight of my eyebrow flayed open. I kept squeezing her hand through my fears and uneasiness and inviting Jesus to be my peace. The God of Israel held me.
A week later the stitches were removed. Those were a monument of a time God met me and I went through the waters unharmed. I wore them proudly. The scar continues to fade (the doctor said there likely won't be one when it fully heals). But the memory lives on. Now I have to wear hats in the sunshine... another monument, though less rugged as a scar above the eye. You'll see more hats in future pictures on our facebook fan page, I'm sure...
That's the story.