Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A busy week behind, another one ahead

I am writing to you from the 7th floor of Offenhauer West dorm at Bowling Green State University, the site of the state conference for the youth group I advise. And, as with many things, it has been a rather mixed experience.

My friend Ted K. frequently uses the "Great Lakes freighter" analogy. Most freighter ships are imperfectly watertight - so there are a series of bilge pumps which constantly pump seeping water out of the "keel" (the bottom of the hull). If the pumps shut off, eventually, the water continues seeping in, and what appears to be a massive lake-going freighter will slowly settle to the bottom, never to rise again.

The state organization for our youth group has been through a series of ups and downs, and the general hope is that we are coming off one of the "troughs" in activity. It has been seventeen years since I have been to this event - and both the organization and I are definite in the need of restoration and revitalization. We both need to have the pumps turned back on...

In August of 1989 and 1990, I was an advisor when the Toledo area was proud of one of our own "native sons," a handsome young man who was the state presiding officer for the group. The chapter I was advising was active, making progress, and we were definitely at a "peak" in the organization's life cycle. There were three or four hundred young men involved at the state conferences that year, and it was a great time.

In August 2007, I returned to BGSU as part of a much different organization. To be kind, it's a "rebuilding season" - and while I know it's do-able, even potentially enjoyable, it's going to be a long haul. And I also know that 98% of it will come down to the attitude I bring to the tasks ahead...

I started off the weekend with mechanical problems coming back from Van Wert yesterday - tire problems that required repairs to my car (while my sister's is still waiting for repairs), so it just threw monkey wrenches into almost everything schedule-wise this weekend. I was way the hell behind schedule, and managed to leave some important things behind - like the fan I wanted to bring to help out with the dorm's failing A/C units, the pop, the extra towels. So there is certainly the possibilitiy that it's going to be a rather uncomfortable night.

Of course, in other days, if I'd left a fan or the case of pop or cooler or whatever behind, I'd just hop in the car and run to Wal-Mart and grab a replacement. But my sister needed my car to go to work tonight - and her husband is going to need his car in the morning to go to HIS job - so they dropped me off here, stranded. So it's just not as easy as it could be...

Now, before you say it...I know - really, I do. After all, on the way to the TireMan shop, we passed someone who was walking her dog down our country road in a motorized wheelchair. Things could be much, much worse than thy are. I know I'm blessed, and that these are all inconveniences - not critical issues.

And I trust the gratitude will come back. But right now, it just seems a little elusive...

The real deal that's underlying all this is that a week ago Thursday morning I went to St. Luke's Hospital for an outpatient Doppler ultrasound scan of my left armpit. On the surface, this seems pretty benign - and for most people, it would be.

But in the fall of 1972, as we moved from Niantic, Connecticut to Syracuse, NY, my father was finally diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He had a radical lymphectomy, which bought him 5 years. But from the spring of 1977 on, he was essentially already dead. When he died, on August 14, 1979, he essentially looked like a concentration-camp survivor.

It was not a pretty way to die.

So whenever I've had swelling in my armpits, over the last 30 years, the routine has been the same:

- I go to the doctor's office;
- I tell him what I've found;
- The good doctor tells me it's nothing;
- I tell him about Dad dying at 54;
- I use the words "aggressive approach" in a sentence;
- Ye olde Doc says, "Yes, I agree;" and
- I go for an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy.

So this was the ultrasound stage of the game. Sadly, my obsession level has been pretty high, and I pretty much shut down other than showing up at work, and committing to go to the test and get it over with.

The bad part is, ultrasound is a "strong positive" and a "weak negative." If it's bad enough to show up on ultrasound, it definitely requires additional action (biopsy). If not (as was the case for me), it just shows that the test didn't detect anything - not that there isn't a problem. So for now, it's just going back to the doctor, taking the next action, and waiting for the next set of threats to deal with.

And this has been coloring more of my world than I've been willing to admit.

So today, I have been working hard to keep rebooting the "gratitude routine" in my internal thought processes. It's important for me to do this - because I know in my heart that my attitude will color much more than my own experience of this weekend. My roommate and fellow advisor, the couple of young men from my chapter who are here, and their brothers and friends from around the state, will all be colored by what I "bring to the table" this weekend.

So pray for me, if you will, that I can work hard to see all the blessings, the beauty and the possibilities in this weekend, rather than all the niggling details and crankiness.

Because it will be the joy, and the beauty, and the possibilities in this weekend, that will make the difference between enduring these three days and being "an instrument of God's peace" in it.


Lorna (see through faith) said...

the lack of pop and fan don't need to be a huge problem - call it mission training - but I'm glad you went to get your health checked.

The waiting is hard but check ups are prescribed if YOU notice abnormalities and are uneasy. But the waiting for results is hard and yeah there's the feeling "what if" ... leave that with God as best you can.

Tom Scharbach said...

I hope the tests are negative.

As you know, there is no evidence that non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is hereditary, but Hodgkin's lymphoma does seem to run in families, although the root is more likely to be environmental than hereditary, as I understand it.

In any event, testing makes sense for the sake of your own peace of mind and because swollen lymph nodes can be symptoms of other serious health issues, so I'm glad you are taking care of yourself.

A day at a time, and be at peace, Steve.

Poor Mad Peter said...

My father was an unusual survivor of Hodgkins in the early 1950s, when the rate of survival was in the single digit percentage. You're right to be cautious, even ultra-cautious perhaps, and it's understandable the way you'd feel about all this.

I read your words as a prayer that your presence there will not drag the whole thing down for other people. I submit that, with your realities "colouring" everything (and be sure they will), maybe you will provide something in the process that someone else needs at this time, whether they know it or not.

In other words, Steve man, your brokenness may be the best thing you can bring there (even with a too-hot dorm and no fan... {sympathetic grin}). Go with the flow, man.

I, too, am feeling quite a bit lately that the whole church shebang has to die before it can live again, and that is another name for despair, I know. Not enough change or time or will to have it happen. But then, neither of us is responsible for the Big Picture--we need to remember that, and work where we can, how we can.

Keep on swimming...

Heidi Renee said...

Good on ya for writing about it Steve - sometimes just admitting it for me is a huge first step.

My husband just turned 42 on Wednesday - and that means in just over 2 months I too will turn 42... my mom died at 43. I can hear your fear echoing with my own. I am sorry for your loss and the fear of wondering if your life/death will be a carbon copy. I too struggle with this a lot. Realizing that 42 is so dang close to 43 just days ago I am living through a lot of that fear.

Please know you'll be in my prayers. A new AA blog I've been reading (Sobriety is Exhausting) reminds me continually to "stay in the day" - it's become my new mantra. So here's to hoping you can find that gratitude and stay in today. Much love.

Im A Foto Nut said...

Steve hope all is well this week. Just a heads up PJ is back in OP and Yesterday's Sermon was AWESOME. If you have time to listen to the podcast you should it was wonderful.