Monday, 25 September 2017

The Enemy Within...

I never thought I would get cancer.

Arrogant of course, considering the number of people who suffer from cancer at some point in their lives – but I never thought it would be me.

There is no history of cancer in my family, as far as I am aware. My grandfather had his early adulthood stolen by the horrors of the trenches in the first world war.   He lived a hard life and smoked 40 cigarettes a day for as long as anyone can remember.  He lived until he was 82 when finally a stroke got him.

My father died just over a year ago in his eighties.  He had chronic back problems and heart disease which led to a triple bypass in his early 70’s, but it was post-operative complications which finally finished him off after major abdominal surgery at 84.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s in her early 60’s and over the years which followed she lost all recognition of the world around her, including her family, and yet she still reached her 80’s before finally giving in.

Heart disease I had expected at some point in life, Alzheimer’s I would understand, but cancer?  Never.

So it has come as somewhat of a shock, at the age of 54, to be told that I have Advanced Prostate Cancer.

I had been meaning to go the doctor for a while, as my toilet patterns gradually changed.  I started to think that something was wrong when I started to suffer fatigue – acute tiredness for no apparent reason.  When I finally went, it was after two episodes of debilitating pain in my hip and right leg.

The result of initial tests pointed to Prostate Cancer, and having now had a full suite of scans and biopsies, I know it is Advanced Pc.  For those who know about such things, my Gleason score is 9 and my PSA is in the 300’s.  It has spread to my lymph nodes and my bones.  It is beyond surgery or any other cure.  It is simply a case of ‘managing’ it now.

The irony is that, following my first course of hormone therapy, I felt fine again.  The fatigue subsided, and my hip pains had largely gone (until earlier this month).  Yet now, I know that lurking deep within, many of my cells are slowly mutating against me and there is no way to get rid of it.

Treatment is, of course, improving all the time, and Prostate Cancer UK’s website says that ‘treatments can help to keep it under control, often for several years’ but suddenly life seems different now.  The finite nature of life which we prefer not to think about, has suddenly come into sharp focus.  Long term plans, dreams and expectations suddenly seem obsolete. Retiring to the west coast of Scotland with my wife Mel, buying a RIB, and exploring the beauty of the Inner Hebrides.  All seem like folly now.

I am reminded of the story Jesus told about the successful farmer who built his barns bigger and planned to ‘take life easy’.  That very night, his life comes to an abrupt and untimely end with God’s words “You fool!” ringing in his ears. (Luke 12)

At times like this, people often re-evaluate their lives.  We ask ourselves what is really important in life?  For me, as for so many others, the two things which come to the forefront are family and faith. 

Both, of course, are inexorably intertwined. Since my first visit to the doctor, I have found my most uttered prayer to be,

“Really God? Is this really my time?  Because I don’t think it is!” 

My wife Mel is partially disabled after a road accident and in chronic pain.  For 14 years, I have been her principle carer to a greater or lesser degree.  She isn’t getting any better, and in time may well get worse.  Really God? Is this my time? 

My children at 17 and 19 and will soon be off to University.  I want to see them graduate, perhaps marry and have children.  I want to see them establish their lives and be the wonderful people I know they are, and I want to be there for them when life is not straightforward or easy.  Really God?  Is this my time?!

On the positive side, this makes me want to fight.  To be determined to be alive in several years’ time, whatever the odds may be.  Determined that I will not give up, and will take every opportunity to be there for them, for as long as I possibly can.  To be determined not to go gently into the night.

When it comes to my faith, I know what is waiting for me.  I am not afraid of death because I know what Christ has done for me. I know that one day I will stand before his throne in awe and wonder, not because of anything I have done, but because of Him who died for me and rose again.

That does not mean I don’t have my issues with God, of course.  Sometimes life just doesn’t seem fair, and Mel and I have had our fair share of those times.  Like Jacob, I sometimes wrestle with God and will not give in.  Like Job, I sometime find that God seems far away and oblivious to my petty concerns.  Like Jonah, I sometimes don’t want God anywhere near me, and yet God is there.


Putting all of those together, I press on.  Life is different now.  And I will treat each day, each month, and each year differently, as I join others in living in the paradox of life and death.

20 comments:

  1. We have never mey but i will include you in my prayers

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    1. Thank you - prayer is always appreciated.

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  2. Benny, you write so beautifully about such pain. I cannot imagine what life is like for you Mel and the children right now. I am sorry this is happening to you. There are few people I know who I can say are truly good, but you are one of them. If you want to talk give me a call, or I'll call you, or not; either way is fine my friend. I don't know if it helps at all to know that I am thinking of you, but I am.

    Marcia

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    1. Thank you Marcia. You are very kind to say such a lovely thing. Your thoughts are always welcome and it is very touching to know you are thinking of me.

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  3. Dear brother Benny, not many words, but deep appreciation and affection and heartache. Facing death is shitty, but Jesus is beyond it and in it for you. Love you mate, big John.

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    1. Thanks John. Its good to have a big brother like you! Maybe we will get round to that lunch together sometime.

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  4. Hi Benny, I was so sad to read your blog this evening when I came home after walking my dog, Cookie. I thought of all the wonderful eye opening moments you brought to the parish of Puddletown including your reason for coming there in the first place. I thought you were crazy but you were the breath of fresh air that we needed.
    I remember your forthright honesty and your ability to be challenging with love, and your great coffee.
    You will remember that I was a hospital chaplain for many years and that experience radically reshaped my life, most especial by the remarks of a wonderful chaplain I worked with who said, "If you can't improve on the silence, don't."
    And so I try to be honest in my silent prayer for you and for your wonderful family. I am silent in the face of suffering and offer no platitudes nor distractions. I have, however, to confess that I am truly pissed off with God but I am not the first and won't be the last and join a wonderful company that includes Job.
    This sincere but grossly inadequate response comes with my love, my silence and my prayers.
    Roy.

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    1. Dear Roy, Thank you for writing. I'm sorry it has taken me a while to reply. The irony is that I have had so many messages in so many ways, and want to reply to each one, but it is also emotionally draining to do more than a few at a time.
      Thank you for your kind affirmation from our time in Puddletown. It was the right place for us too, so much so that we only moved up the road, and have settled well there.
      Thank you too for your silent prayers. They are much appreciated. I hope you and Diana are well.
      God Bless
      Benny

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  5. Hi Benny,
    Thank you for sharing your story, it is indeed very appropriate that you get angry with God,and glad to hear that your faith in Him is so strong.Indeed I would say he would not be amused if you were not angry,
    I am at the start of a prostrate Journey, do not know what is ahead, of course I have passed 'the span of life' three score and ten.
    Please be assure you are in my prayers and may 'God Bless you and your family'

    Ted

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    1. Thank you Ted, and I am sorry to hear you have started a similar journey. May yours grow slowly and unobtrusively - or even better, not atall!
      Every Blessing
      Benny

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  6. Thank you for your blog, Benny. Real . . . beautifully real. We can be terribly bad as Christians with our pat, trivial, and o so godly comments when those we care about are hit with something shitty and wrong. Yet none of us has an insurance policy against the nasties of this world. What entered my head was, "What is God thinking?!!" But all I know is there will be love, and grace, and anger, and frustration, and just being human, so I pray simply that as you remain authentic with him, may he pour out a shed load of grace and love on you. May be there cannot be 'cure' but there sure as heck can be 'healing' and I hope that in this unexpected chapter of life you find it in abundance.

    Much love being sent.

    Elaine

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    1. Thank you Elaine.
      Your comment was equally real and authentic and struck chord in me. I am about to post something about healing, and I hope for abundance too.
      God Bless
      Benny

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  7. Benny, thank you so much for sharing with such honesty, bravery and wise faith. We love you and Mel so much, even though we hardly ever see you, and you'll be in our prayers ever more.

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    1. Dear Dave and Anne. Thank you for your love and prayers. You mean a lot to us too.
      God Bless
      Benny

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  8. Hi Benny

    Thank you so much for sharing your reflections. It is difficult to find words but please know how much your friendship and your loving concern for so many means to us. We send you and Mel our love. God bless. Martin and Ian

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    1. Thank you Martin and Ian.
      I'm sorry it has taken me so long to reply. The days seem very full of things at the moment, and I am trying to continue working full time. I am about to start radiotherapy later this week, and then chemo next month, so it continues.
      Every Blessing
      Benny

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  9. Dear Benny, I am shocked and saddened to hear this news.. On behalf of all our family I wish and pray for you every strength to face this trial in Jesus´ name.. Kind Regards, Jonny Bensted

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    1. Dear Jonny, Thank you for taking the time to write and thank you for your prayers. Every blessing to you and the whole family.
      Benny

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  10. Hi Benny, I'm really sorry to hear to your news. I was diagnosed with TC just over three years ago, thankfully it was caught early and although I still have regular checkups I avoided any chemo. We will be praying for you as will our church. Love to Mel and the kids too.

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    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for your message and I'm sorry to hear about your TC. I hope and pray the checkups continue to be positive.
      I start radiotherapy later this week and then chemo next month to control the spread. Love to Sian and the (grown up!) kids.
      God Bless
      Benny

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