I am not a religious man. I am, however, open to learning and developing a manner of living along certain spiritual lines. 27 years ago on November 4, 1984 I walked into a small hospital in Seattle, and after a few days in their mental health unit, transferred into the alcohol and drug treatment center. It generated the most profound change that had ever taken place in my life. It saved my marriage. It saved me from the hell in which I had been living and forcing my family to live in. We were a family of hostages.
I had a lot of choices to make in life, and one of those choices was where I would go to find my recovery. I could go to AA or NA or I could try to find something else. At one of my first "outside" NA meetings, I heard a message from a young woman with long blond hair. "Let us love you until you can learn to love yourself." Being somewhat of the free love generation and not of the John Barleycorn generation, maybe I heard this differently. It doesn't really matter. The message was about love and hope. For all this time, I have surrounded myself in recovery with individuals who espouse this ideal, and they have taught me a lot about love. They taught me that love is not a noun. It is a verb. If you truly love someone or something, you will act out of that love. And it is not always a big thing. A hug, a handshake, a pat on the shoulder, an offer to do some small task like visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Doesn't seem like much, but it is.
After being diagnosed with EC on the 11th of August 2011, I found myself headed down a very rapid road to recovery. I have what I consider to be the finest oncologist, radiation oncologist and surgeon that I could have. But I have something much more. I have friends. I have family. I have a world of caring professionals. I have once again been taught some lessons about love and the impact of laying on of hands. We happened by my neighbor Sam Rainwater's house one warm late summer evening and I disclosed my cancer to this couple we've known for almost 30 years and whose children went to school with ours. We do not share the same religion, but we share some very strong common bonds. We have never been close, but we have always been good neighbors to each other. That evening, Sam did something nobody else had done.
I had been told by many with whom I discussed my cancer that they would keep me in their thoughts and prayers. Sam, however, ASKED me if I would mind him praying for me. What a unique request and one I found most touching. He then (of course I gave him permission) said he would like to pray with me right then. There we were on the street corner where I feel as much at home as in my house a half block away, with Sam, Geraldine, Sam's good friend, Mimi and me, with them laying their hands on me and praying for my healing. It was one of the most significant spiritual turning points in my life. No proseletizing, no plea for me to open my heart to Jesus or anything, just a simple prayer for the removal of cancer from my body, with faith that through prayer, it would happen. I think Sam knows better than to try to convert me, but just provided a simple act of love and grace, from his own experience and faith.
Fast forward to October 26th. We arrived at Swedish before it was even light out, with a 6:30 check-in time and 8:00 am surgery scheduled. I was in pretty good spirits, considering that I was about to undergo one of the most difficult and complex surgeries that is done on the human body and knew that the next couple of weeks were going to be quite painful, and the recovery time would be pushing me to probably not being able to return to work until close to the first of the year. I knew the risks, knew the statistics for full survival and recovery from EC and was prepared to be as aggressive as possible to beat this thing growing inside me. Mimi was there and held my hand until they rolled me away. I had planned to drift off to sleep with the vision of Ruby Beach and Mimi and I playing there together. It worked, I guess, because as I was waking up some 9 hours later, I remember walking through the woods on a trail back to the car. But what I remember most waking up is a hand on my arm and a soft voice saying, "Ah, you're back" or some such. The words weren't important; what was important was that hand. It felt so warm and I could feel its life energy move across my body, something that would be repeated a lot of times over what ended up being a 52-day hospital stay.
There were a couple of nurses, especially, who particularly stood out above the “duties” of their job. Shannon was my first nurse when I checked in for chemotherapy, not sure about what to expect, trying to keep myself strong and brave. This was very early on in the game and I didn’t have a clue yet about what was coming, but when she came into my room, she touched my right forearm in a reassuring way that let me know I was going to be okay. Throughout the week, she continued to check in on me, and in my long surgical hospitalization, came to visit me, held my hand and kept me thinking I was going to come through it all just fine.
Then there was Min. I think life change happens sometimes when we are at our lowest point and when I met this particularly gifted nurse sometime in November, I had been through a seemingly endless run of surgeries, I’d spent several days in ICU and when they brought me back to 10E, she was assigned to me. Now, the nurses were all very good, kind, patient, caring individuals, but Min stood out for how she attended so gently to my needs, staying with me nearly without interruption for 2 full days as Mimi remained at my bedside. For those 2 days, I received the most loving and gentle care any human could ever hope for. She later gave both Mimi and I birthday gifts, for Mimi a jade bangle and for me some jade prayer beads that have become a part of my daily meditation routine. She taught me things about love I didn’t think possible to teach and old man and my heart will forever keep a place open for her.
What impressed me most, though, was just how many people laid their hands on me with loving, healing touch. Each time a nurse came into the, they touched my hand or my arm or my legs, and it became so very clear to me that it is not the touch of one man or spirit, it is the touch of loving healing that is given by the multitudes of people who cross our path that give us what we have.
I began to pay more attention as the days turned to weeks and it seemed like every time I began to become discouraged, someone would pat me on the arm, shake my hand, kiss me on the forehead (Renin did this every single time she visited me!) or gave me some other small gesture of love and healing that renewed me. Some of the hands did things a little differently. My neice Megan and her husband Tommy came to visit for a weekend. On one of the days, she sat at my bedside, crocheting a cap that I thought was for Mimi. Nope, turned out while we visited she was putting her love into making ME one of her handmade caps. Beautiful but simple black and red (well of course it was!) with white accents to match Katrina. I noticed that every time they walked into our out of the room, Tommy reached out (except the time I had my toes exposed) and touched my foot somehow; most of the time it was just a little squeeze or pat to let me know he was there for me.
Mimi, of course, was there every day with loving touches, massaging lotion into my feet and hands, arms, back and gazed lovingly into my eyes while she did this. Her love and care proved to me just how strong the bonds of marriage are after 32 years.
Tom came down from Canada and spent an entire week when I was beginning to lose hope. He not only touched me every time he came, but brought me a talisman that provided healing of its own kind.
Josiah spent several nights with me, one in particular that will be forever etched into my brain as he just attended to putting either hot or cold washcloths on me. I was so tired, weak and in so much pain and so distressed from the drugs that with each rag he layed on my forehead, I could feel that same healing energy I had felt in post-op, and by the time he left at 6:20 the next morning, I was feeling stronger, more positive and was "clean" shaven for when Mimi arrived at 6:30.
Chris and Deena came, and when they did, Deena brought me little things she had either made or found and just thought of me. Chris shook my hand and I felt that strong old bond of the randonneur course through my veins, giving me hope to get back on the bike soon and ride with them.
My NA sponsor, a sponsee and a few friends made sure to bring a meeting in to me a few times so I would remember how important my recovery is and how I got the spiritual strength to get through these hard times. Always with gentle hugs, a little hand holding and reciting of the Serenity Prayer and and usually with a pat on the arm as they were leaving. I always felt stronger when they left.
Sam came back to visit me in the hospital and this time, we got to visit for a while. I think he was actually there twice but I was pretty lost and confused for a few days and forget a lot. When we did sit and visit, though, I told him about the article I was writing and his inspiration and gift to me. I hope he can understand and appreciate what it means to a possibly dying man to have a man of faith pray with him. Somehow, I think he understands and appreciates it far more than I do.
To all of you who have touched me, either with the actual physical laying on of a healing hand or the cards, prayers, letters, notes on either facebook or bike journal, a hearty thank you. I did a lot of work over the past several years that built me up physically and I honestly believe that my physical condition going in one of the largest contributing factors in my ability to make it through 52 days in the hospital, five surgeries and come out the other side still prepared to accept any outcome that the future holds. While that physical conditioning was important, however, it is you, your support, your faith in me and your own spiritual condition that have been responsible for getting me this close to the finish line.
Now it is time to recover. Some folks have told me it is time to recover and get my old life back. One of the lessons I guess I needed to learn, though, is that it is not my old life. It is just my life right now, this very moment that is important. I look forward to living it to the fullest.