It is not one of those words that you ever want to hear from your doctor, even if it is only a possibility among several others that he lists off. By the time that he says it, though, you usually know something is up. Otherwise, you probably wouldn't have come to see your doctor. It may have been the night sweats, the weight loss, a weird pain that was diagnosed and treated elsewhere. For me, it was an abnormal lab test, done on a routine follow-up for another little hematologic problem (which has been stable for months now.) I spent a couple of days wondering if that could be one of the causes before the word was spoken.
Most of us, I think, have given at least a moment's thought to what our lives would be like if we had some horrific disease (or maybe it's just a doctor thing.) It's different when there's a needle scratching the insides of your bone. It's different when your white blood cell count is so low that the smallest infection could cause some real harm.
It could be something totally harmless, or it could be something very harmful. It is only a small comfort right now that I don't know what's wrong with me and that numerous tests are pending. I'm thankful that God has blessed me with all the resources I need to have experts analyzing my bone marrow. It's a big comfort that I only have very minor symptoms that I wouldn't have been worried about otherwise. It's a big comfort that I have a doctor who is thoughtful and compassionate and was very careful to say the word "leukemia" when I was ready for it, after he had listed off a few other common causes of my lab values that were entirely benign.
The uncertainty, though, is no fun.
It's almost like a hurricane. You know it's coming. It's all over the newscasts, the information I've been taught to trust. It's all over my lab tests, the ones I order everyday. I don't know if the hurricane will divert and pass back over the ocean, or if it'll come right for me. I don't know if it'll hit others worse than me. I know that it has. I have my nice, cozy house and the nice, cozy life I live inside of it, but that could always be torn apart with me inside. Or the storm could come and I'll rebuild. I don't know.
It goes to show a lot. Having the best health insurance in Maryland, a healthy diet, graduate education, and a great paycheck didn't protect me from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and they sure as hell can't protect you.
I don't mean to be too dramatic. But I do have a very bad diagnosis floating over my head, waiting to either disappear or fall like a foot of rain. I face the very real possibility of losing everything that I enjoy in this life, from the wife I am just starting to learn how to love to the work that I enjoy so much to the dreams for my future career that I've nurtured for years to the friends who are just so much fun to be around to the goatee I've worked so hard to enjoy (chemotherapy alone will steal that last one!) This isn't a certainty even if I do have leukemia, but it is certainly a thought that frequently crosses my mind as I wait for the pathologist to analyze my cells.
I think the temptation to furious despair is certainly a logical conclusion. We can stay there and wrestle for a while. I sure have today, and I'm sure I'll keep going back there, especially if the diagnosis is as bad as I'm afraid it might be.
There's something worse going on, though. I have always had a war in my blood, a malignancy down in my very marrow that you don't need a needle to scrape out or a lab test to ascertain. It's a mutant perversion of what I was meant to be. I won't go into the details, but I have done some very bad things and struggle with very bad thoughts on a pretty regular basis. If you think this is just verbal exaggeration to make a theological point, go ahead and e-mail me and I can tell you what I won't share on my blog. It's the moral equivalent of leukemia.
But there is a Great Physician, and to ignore His presence is foolhardy and disappointing. Beyond all the good things in this life is a better life in Him, and it was the shedding of His perfect, untainted blood that enables me to live. Even if I lose everything, I have an eternal joy and an everlasting satisfaction in Him. This is real and it cannot be taken away from me by any hurricane inside or outside. And even though the shadow of death hangs over my next few days, I am confident that even death itself will be destroyed, and that beyond death communion with Jesus in a new body borne out of the seed of this clumsy, gangly, aplasia-prone body will be sweeter than any earthly joy, even as my earthly joys have pointed me to the heavenly ones.
I hope you have this confidence, too, and if you don't I have a lot more time on my hands now that I'm not really allowed to see any sick patients. Let's chat.
Your prayers and love are appreciated in this time. We will be having the usual New Song prayer time on Sunday evening at 8pm at our house, which will also double as a prayer time for me. I will let everyone know what's going on via facebook/twitter (follow me here if you wish)