It has been about 25 years or so since I had the opportunity to visit every county in the state of Tennessee and, as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society at the time, I met cancer survivors and listened to their incredible stories. I remember one man in particular who had bone cancer and one night he said he rolled over in bed and literally broke his arm in a very simple act.
So here's another story. Last Monday night I got hit with "Just one more chapter" syndrome and went to bed a little later than usual. When I woke up around 5:30 Tuesday morning, my right shoulder hurt like the dickens and I, never having had shoulder problems before, took a BC Powder as I drank my coffee with the dogs, the newspaper and my cigar.
My shoulder started barking a little louder later in the morning and finally I went to the doctor to get a cortisone shot. Since my arm problems are well known for repeated infections, the better course was to take X-rays, schedule an MRI and treat the pain rather than fertilize a possible infection with the steroids. That made much better sense.
About 3:30 that same afternoon my doctor called to say -- believe it or not -- that my shoulder was fine but that my humeris (the bone in my upper arm) was broken in two places. Since then I have learned I am in for a new adventure. A total body scan two days later revealed I also have a compression fracture in my spine, six broken ribs and a prognosis that includes four or five possibilities of very serious diseases you wouldn't wish on anyone.
Yesterday I had a bone biopsy done and doctors at Erlanger harvested a specimen of my bone marrow for pathology to sort out. Some of the blood samples have been sent to specialty labs out of state so nobody knows what I've gotten myself into but everyone seems to agree there are some dark storm clouds ahead. I've already gotten three calls from close friends to ask if I am "real sick" so, as is my style, I'd rather people know the truth rather than whisper rumors among themselves.
I'm no newcomer to bad diseases. I had a clutch of serious infections about six years ago that somehow we got through and I suspect this new challenge will be much like that. Obviously my latest disease is either blood or bone related and the "clubhouse leader," for what it's worth at this point, is a blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma. I Googled it and it isn't very pleasant reading.
My reason for revealing it, as my uncle Frank once wonderfully said of his Lou Gehrig's Disease, is not because I have a bunch of Auburn friends and don't want to explain the joke to each one, but rather to ask for your help in the way I confront bad things when they happen. Oh, I plead for your prayers but not your pity. I never want to be that sick.
Some years ago I read several books by a fabulous man named Norman Cousins. One book he wrote, "Anatomy of An Illness," was made into a movie starring Ed Asner and in it Dr. Cousins found that 30 minutes of laughter was equal to four hours of pain medicine. That's where I need your help.
Over the weekend I assured myself that pretty soon I'd have some rock-solid prayer buddies but this, too -- if I could get some people to e-mail me their best jokes -- stuff that will make me laugh at the fatigue, the medicines, the pain and goodness knows what else -- I'd soon have a leg up on whatever disease has come my way.
If you run across a video on YouTube or hear a joke you can e-mail, that's far better suited for me than a get-well card. I want your best jokes. I like funny, not filthy. If you have one that is a little risqué, I can abide it but don't send me something that would embarrass either of our mothers.
Prayer? I have three lists I carry. There is the 'C list,' where I pray some friend's kid will be into medical school, that a church's mission trip will be a success, or that it will rain in West Texas. My "B-list" is more dramatic, that a heart transplant will work, a divorce will be reconciled, a baby's eyesight will be restored. That where I believe I'd fit best on your list.
My "A list" is for miracles, really heavy stuff where the outcome is all but destined. And I know of some "miracles" that have happened because of prayer alone. Luckily, I don't need a miracle just yet but I'll take a "single shot" at any red light, where you pray a quick one just for one person.
My prayer as I await the test results is this. "The Lord may not have planned that this should overtake me, but He has most certainly permitted it. Therefore, though it were an attack of an enemy, by the time it reaches me it has the Lord's permission and all is well. He will make it work together with all life's experiences for good."
My plan is not to change doing the things I enjoy. Why panic or even flinch? This has happened -- deal with it. I love writing on Chattanoogan.com, although I may have to miss a day here and there, and maybe this summer I want to go to the beach. Oh, I know there will be some changes, different challenges, and some down days so I can better savor the up days.
But my quick plan is to ask your help in providing some laughs that I can re-read at 4 a.m. and, on occasion, share with others who I know need a giggle just as much as I do. I promise I'm not going to write a play-by-play account of my journey. The quickest way to break up any cocktail party is to talk about yourself.
I am blessed that I have been gifted with so many friendships and what I need the most right now is a reason to laugh. I'm counting on you no matter what the bad news may be because, by golly, we're going to make a scar become a star. And one day we'll laugh about it.