Posted tagged ‘cancer’

Dressing Like A Lollipop To Fight Cancer

February 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 3, 2018

                         

Cancer has taken a number of my friends. Mike Wilcoxen sat beside me in “home room” my senior year off high school. The next year I went off to college, but Mike succumbed to cancer at the age of 18.

Jim Sweeney, Steve Shaffer, Gary Gowler, Professor Ted Hsieh…my list of cancer victims is far longer than my list of cancer survivors.

And then about fifteen months ago my friend, Greg Davis, 41 years old, passed after a six year struggle with a form of brain cancer.

And so yesterday I taught an eighth grade language arts class at the school where Greg taught social studies for fifteen years, and I wore a pink shirt with the words “Slam Dunk Cancer” on the front of it. In the midst of each class I told Greg’s story, his victories and his struggles. Each class was graciously attentive. It’s interesting that in my second class I got a bit emotional. It suddenly came upon me like a wave of emotional memories and I had to stop for a moment.

Last night at The Classical Academy (TCA) I wore that same pink shirt, but switched to a pair of blue Docker’s, and sparkling white tennis shoes. My basketball team got a kick out of it! There was a sea of pink in the bleachers last night as TCA raised funds to send the kids of cancer victims and survivors to a special camp in the summertime.

We won our freshmen boys game! In the locker room celebration afterwards I told the boys, “This is the last time I come to a game dressed by a lollipop!”

Correct that! I would do it every game if it could help someone struggling with cancer or families that are living with heightened anxiety each and every day. I miss my friend Greg. As I told my classes yesterday, I wore the pink shirt to honor him and to remember him.

Thank God no one came up to me last night and tried to lick me!

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017

                              

Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!

The Hope In Suffering

October 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 24, 2016

                                     

    People say that I’m more of an optimist! I can see the silver lining in just about any situation. If a flight I’m on gets delayed I think about the fact that the flight attendants will probably give us an extra mini-bag of pretzels during the flight. When my 7th Grade football team got beat 42-2 in a game this year I replayed in my mind several times the play where we scored the two point safety.

So it fits that I’m able to still stay the optimistic course when it comes to suffering. A week ago my friend, Greg Davis, passed away. I led his funeral service on Saturday. During the course of the week I had some heart-wrenching conversations with his family. It had been a six year journey with cancer. Even in the midst of the grief Greg’s wife was able to say that they had come to experience the hope of God.

During the service I read Romans 15:13, a verse that Greg had underlined in is Bible. It reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the journey with the uninvited passenger of cancer the Davis family discovered that God is hope. Granted that discovery was paved with a multitude of tears, countless moments of confusion, and a list of questions all beginning with why, but they slowly arrived at the village of Hope.

Greg’s journey paved the way for other conversations I had last week with other people about being a follower of Jesus and the uncomfortableness of suffering. Some tainted theology emerged from people’s minds. Simply put it said what is the use of following Christ if he doesn’t protect you from things like cancer. If Jesus isn’t a lucky charm warding off evil, accidents, and illnesses why follow him? Great revealing questions that evolve out of a person’s real motives, that being “What will Jesus do for me?” People are always more comfortable with Jesus as a savior, but Jesus as Lord is not nearly as agreeable.

What Greg and his wife Jordan discovered is that God walks closely beside us. Following Jesus is not like having a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, but rather knowing that he is with me in the valleys, not waiting for me on the far side of the valley. It’s knowing in the depths of my soul the truth of that verse in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

     Times of suffering are a part of life as much as times of delight. The hope comes in knowing that the love of God is constant and pure, a mighty shoulder to cry on and a hand to lead me on. The only person who enjoys pain and suffering is a masochist, but when the agony of life makes a stop on the front steps of where I live it gives me a peaceful assurance knowing that the Good Shepherd is standing beside me as I open that door. And that isn’t optimism, but rather heart-felt belief!

When Your Friend Passes On

October 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 23, 2016

                               

Yesterday I officiated at the funeral service for my friend, Greg Davis. “Officiated” is an interesting word to use in this context since Greg and I have been basketball officials for years. In fact, I think that’s how we first met…being a part of the same high school basketball officials’ group.

Then we discovered that he was teaching at the same middle school that my youngest daughter attended…then we discovered that he had been on the summer staff at Black Forest Baptist Camp…then I discovered that he had been raised in the First Baptist Church of Sterling, Colorado, another American Baptist Church! It was a series of discoveries that forged a deeper relationship.

Then the cancer was discovered!

Then I became his pastor!

Greg and Jordan had exited the church they were a part of and, to put it bluntly, they were done with church…an organized church, that is! I noticed that they still had a support group of friends who had exited the church scene along with them, and this group was on an unusual faith journey together.

Then about a month after his brain tumor was discovered I entered our sanctuary one Sunday to begin the worship service and was surprised to see them sitting in a pew on the right side about four rows from the back. Cancer has a way of putting things in perspective for a person. The church I pastored became a safe place for them to ask God the hard questions, a place where they could ask for prayer and have the congregation gather around them…literally!…lay hands on them and pray! They relocated as time went on to the left side of the sanctuary about five rows from the front and many Sundays Jordan would share the latest news of Greg’s MRI or oncologist appointment. I would see Greg sitting beside her and weeping. When I retired from the pastorate at the end of 2015 it was gratifying to see my former church continue to journey with Greg and Jordan through many difficult days, and they will continue to be a support system for Jordan and Kayleigh in the days ahead. She knows that she is not alone.

Yesterday was an emotional day for many people. The sanctuary was full of family, friends, teaching colleagues, and church folk. I found myself riding the roller coaster of emotions as I sat on the platform and then while I was speaking. I’ve presided over probably 150 funerals in my years of ministry and I rarely get emotional during them, but yesterday was different. As I thought about it last night it occurred to me that my flood of emotions may have been connected to the six year journey I had traveled with Greg, a road that was filled with as many praise-filled occasions as gut-wrenching test results.

The funeral was two hours of laughter and tears. One person commented to Greg’s parents that he had never laughed so much at a funeral. That’s good! Laughter is the sugar cube in a cup of tears. People laughed at the sharing of some of Greg’s old sarcastic comments and his brothers’ sharing of past stories, and people cried as his nine year old daughter read the letter she had written to her dad after he passed.

Death is harsh. It will hold hands with each one of us whether we are willing or reluctant. As I told those at the service yesterday, for the follower of Christ it is a confusing blend of grief and joy. There is deep sorrow over the physical departure of the person and a simmering joy because of his eternal relocation.

I miss my friend, and I’ll continue to miss him. In a very weird way one of the blessings of friendship is the sorrow of loss.

The Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016

                                      

I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

The Finger Grasp

January 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 16, 2016

                                        

He reached down with the offering plate in one hand. I placed my tithe envelope with it, and he grasped one of my fingers with two of his own and gave me a squeeze.

I looked at his wrinkled smiling face, dotted with the blemishes and signs of aging, and smiled back. I stood up and we hugged, and he whispered in my ear, “Praying for you!”

“Thank you, Rex!”

The two of us had been through some journeys together. His only son had died in a motorcycle accident a few years go. The pain of losing a child had worn on him. Sometimes we have no compass to help us navigate the storms of life. Losing his son was a time of wandering for him as he wrestled with the question of “why?” A person of faith is not immune to periods of doubt and confusion. Each day was an unsteady step in an uncertain direction.

His questions about heaven began. What was it like? Does a person go directly to heaven after he dies? How can a person be assured that he will receive everlasting life? Will his son recognize him, and will he recognize his son?

He had known Jesus for a long, long time. The questions weren’t those of a new follower, or someone who was thinking of following Jesus. The questions were searchings to bring hope to the wounds of his soul.

He was more concerned about his children, grandchildren, and their spouses. Would he see them someday in glory?

And then the cancer surfaced!

When you’re ninety-five you expect to have ailments. They could with the addition of each decade. A splotch here on his forehead from a clumsy tumble; a darkened area on his arm resulting from multiple attempts to draw blood…old age reminders that youth has long since disappeared from view. The weight loss, however, had been the most concerning thing. The cancer treatments and drugs have taken so much of his energy, his will to live.

And so he grasps my finger to tell me of his support, of his love, and of his appreciation for our journey together.

I want to call time-out and tell him to sit for a while, but some of the congregants have meals cooking in crockpots at home, while others simply want to beat the Methodists to the restaurants.

He holds my finger for just a moment more before releasing and giving me a wink with his left eye, and then he strolls back down the cenetr aisle of the sanctuary.

I’m hoping that he is still awake when I recognize, and talk about him in the midst of my last Sunday sermon as his pastor. The weariness that he shows each day makes that unlikely…but I love him enough to awake him, walk back to where he is sitting, and give his finger a final grasp!

The Perseverance of Allison Perrine

June 25, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                                June 25, 2015

                                   

Somewhere in eastern Kansas (Lawrence) a young lady with very short blonde hair has her feet up in the air right now. Allison Perrine is bicycling, along with about 30 other college-aged young adults, four thousand miles across the country, from Baltimore to San Francisco, in seventy days.

I’ve been following her journey as it has progressed. Carol and I supported it financially a few months ago when she was in the midst of trying to raise $4,000. Today I noticed she was $83 away from having raised $22,000. The funds aren’t being used for late-night runs to Sonic or daily living expenses. Allison is raising funds for young adult cancer awareness, patient navigation, and support groups.

Today would have been the 48th birthday for Allison’s mom, Becky. Becky passed away from cancer in October of 2011. Becky was my secretary for the last few years of my pastorate at First Baptist Church in Mason, Michigan. Allison was a quiet little blonde-haired girl who always looked terrified by me. Perhaps since my last name was Wolfe she thought I was big and bad. These days Allison is not quiet any more, but she is also anything but timid. Her mom has been the inspiration behind her journey, and she has persevered through a lot of obstacles.

In eight days (July 3) Carol and I get to meet up with Allison in Fort Morgan, Colorado. We are excited to see the girl who has grown up into being an exceptional young lady. I’m sure I’ll have tears banging on my eyes to get out as I see the image of her mom shining through her.

Before she started on this journey, Allison got her beautiful long hair shaved off to help in another way. I’ve noticed from the pictures on her daily blog post that it’s grown back to being just a little longer than stubble.

Many of us are traumatized by the tragedies that jolt our lives. We give up, looked stunned, and choose isolation. Allison chose to keep on keeping on. She chose to persevere. On her mom’s birthday she wrote the address of her mom’s favorite bible verse on her leg…Joshua 1:9, which says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

If you would like to follow Allison’s blog you can go to:

Www.4kforcancer.org/profiles/Allison-Perrine/