Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anniversaries and Thanksgivings

I'm not as faithful as some when it comes to anniversaries . . . and neither am I as forgetful as others. I remember my share of them . . . and then there are some markers unique to my life-experience that help me mark my personal seasons.

One particular anniversary has become poignant for me each Thanksgiving.

In November of 2004 I attended a retreat for our church staff at a facility a little over an hour outside Houston. I had not felt well for several weeks prior to the retreat -- I had noticed myself short of breath when I did any stair-climbing or physical work. And my flesh-tone was pale in the mirror, almost scary white. A couple of other minor and nagging physical things were going on, just enough to cause me to think that something was wrong, but none of them debilitating enough to put me on the shelf.

When I arrived at the retreat, I had to climb two flights of stairs to carry my small bag to my assigned room. I was winded, completely knocked out by the stairway. Soon thereafter I was convinced to leave the retreat and drive back to Houston to see a heart doctor . . . I imagined the shortness of breath was heart-related. Late afternoon and early evening I went through a battery of tests, then drove home. Later that night, around 9:00, the heart doctor called and said, "You need to get back to the hospital immediately. Your counts are so low, you shouldn't even be standing."

I didn't go back that evening, but the next morning I checked into the hospital. A long line of doctors came through that day, each checking and prodding. Nurses and technicians came, too, for more testing of all kinds. I had no idea what they were looking for. From hindsight, the direction of the tests was clear. Finally, after a couple of days, a medical resident brought the diagnosis . . . a form of lymphoma not too common, and one that could not be cured, only managed. Chemotherapy started immediately. I was released to go home a few days before Thanksgiving, my first round of chemotherapy in a periodic cycle that continues.

I have friends who were on that retreat . . . they remember when I left early, when I drove away for the day of testing. I remember that moment, as well. And I remember how different Thanksgiving was that year.

It is a strange marker, I'll admit, but one that I have at the front of my consciousness each November -- and more specifically, right at Thanksgiving. This week has marked 7 years of living with this diagnosis.

[I made it through a personal crisis a little over two years ago when I found an online physician's website that said the average life-expectancy of someone who has been diagnosed with this disease is 5 years. I realized that I was approaching 5 years and got hit once again with the gravity of the situation.]

This is one of the ways I mark the seasons of my life. Periods of chemotherapy marks specific seasons, and seasons of strength and good health mark other seasons. But November is especially poignant for the meaning that it has for me.

Another year. I'm thankful.

The doctor who tends to my general health is my age and long ago beat the odds of his own health challenges. He has said to me recently, "I look forward to growing old together."

Me, too.

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