July 2008


Thank you all so much for your prayers, encouraging words, and shows of support these past few weeks.  Words can’t fully express what it means to have an army of folks who love you backing you up in the midst of an unknown enemy.  I hope I get the opportunity to return the favor in some small way soon (see here if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

OK, enough melodrama!  Yesterday, I had my consult with the University of Washington neurosurgeons, and we set up a surgery date for August 14 (changed from earlier date).  To spare you the long, tedious details of this meeting, I’ll make some general observations and conclusions myself and the doctors have made thus far (scroll down for all that).

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But, first, many of you have offered to help out any way you can: thank you so much for these generous offers.  Here’s what comes to mind:

 – Prayer (pt.1): for the surgery, for the doctors (Dr. Silbergeld and his team), for the results of the surgery, for a quick and  thorough recovery, and for God to speak whatever truth He wants to (to whomever) through this whole thing.

Prayer (pt.2): what are your needs/issues that I can be praying for?  This is a two-way street, so pass ’em along.

Meals (post-surgery): I anticipate being out of commision for about 2 weeks after surgery, and those of you who have offered to bring meals by during that time would move a few notches up my list.  Please email me and let me know if you’re willing/able, with available dates (between 8/18- 30) and I’ll sign you up.

Meals (pre-surgery): though not physically incapacitated at this time, I am sort of stuck here with limited transportation and income (couldn’t work a summer job).  My response to many generous offers: as a rule, I never turn down dinner invites or baked goods…

Transportation (pre- and post-surgery): as I’ve mentioned, the doctors have taken away my car keys for awhile.  Therefore, I’m kind of limited to wherever the bus, my bike, or my feet can get me.  Though I’m mostly able to do all I need to do, I’m always up for an excursion or visitor (should you find yourself heading towards the Greater Lynden area). 

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(General observations and conclusions, regarding the strange process of removing a tumor from one’s head)

The Good:

– It is no small thing to have access to such incredible health care in this country.  Dr. Silbergeld, trying to reassure me of the process, told me, “I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and do 250 of these surgeries a year.”  Yeah, that’ll do.

There is a very low likelihood of any lingering effects from this surgery (assuming, of course, the tumor is benign).  Anything that does linger should clear itself up in a few hours/days.  I definitely dodged a bullet on that one.

 – It’s fun to remember that, in the midst of overwhelming circumstances, there’s always something we can thank God for.  My list goes on for miles about how favorably this process has played out so far.  Try ending your work day by thinking of five things you’re grateful for about that day…

The Bad:

– Here’s the phrase the doctor used: “After the surgery, we send the tumor tissue to the pathologist to determine how benign or how malignant it is. Least reassuring words I’ve heard from a doctor in a while.

– Washington State has grounded me from driving for 6 months after my last seizure.  Most states, it’s a year.  Yeah, I know, it beats crashing, but, still.  Gonna be an interesting Fall…

The Random:

– The scar on my forehead (from my last seizure, when I head-butted my dresser) is healing up nicely.  It is, however, probably never going to completely heal.  I’m trying to figure out what it’ll become: the early Harry Potter-esque lightning bolt has been replaced by a Hebrew alphabet KafMy 7-yr old niece said it looks like a cranberry bagel. 

– I’m in the market for some kind of cool hat(s) that I can wear after the surgery, to cover up a pretty grotesque scar.  What’ve you got?

– You know, that long time nemesis of mine, the health insurance industry, just might be earning a little respect in my book.  For all of its frustration-inducing complexity, and it’s wealth/poor dichotomy, there’s still something to be said for a service that lets us have brain surgery, and only pay X dollars out of pocket.  Maybe there are people in that industry that actually wish to help people.  No, I don’t believe our system really “works” yet, so don’t come back at me with your battle cries against the Machine.  Also, don’t bring up Canada or Sweden: they don’t work, either…

– I’m learning that, when it comes to medical offices, the following rule of thumb applies: the more specialized the service provided, then (a) the better looking the staff, and (b) the worse the magazines.

This has been a strange week, in the midst of a strange year.  Many of you have faithfully been praying for a recent family health concern; in addition, I’ve let a few of you know of another health situation in my family.  My apologies if I’ve been a bit elusive this week, but I think you’ll understand.

Last Friday, I learned that I have a brain tumor.  Technically speaking, a low-grade glioma.  This came after multiple “fainting” episodes in the past few months, which turned out to be seizures.  Nothing short of God’s direct protection kept myself (or others) from being seriously hurt during one of these episodes, but it was clear something was wrong.  Since the MRI scan which yielded the diagnosis, here’s what the doctors have determined:

  • The tumor appears benign (non-cancerous)
  • It’s parked on my right frontal lobe (away from the really important stuff)
  • It’s near the skull (easy to get at)
  • It’s not that big (not small, but could be bigger)

Here’s what happens now: I get a second consult from the Univ. of Washington neuro-oncologists (the guys who take lumps out of brains); we set a timeline for surgery; I go under the knife, spending a couple days in hospital; and, for the next few weeks, I get my strength back and we make sure everything still works OK.  If you need to have brain surgery, this is the best-case scenario, I’ve gathered.

Please note: I’m not in any pain right now (just feeling a little funky from the new meds); my brain still works just fine (and you can keep your jokes to yourself!); I’ve had my keys taken away for a few months (just until we see how I react to things), so I’m not able to come and go as I’d like for awhile; and all of this is pending my second consult in the coming week.

There’ll be plenty of time for philosophizing later, but I’ll leave you with this: words fail me to describe the experience of spending a weekend thinking you might have a terminal illness.  Though entirely terrifying, it is also, in a sense, completely liberating.  Knowing that if I can make it through this thing relatively unscathed, I will have been given an amazing gift that many in similar situations simply do not get.  An inch or two in any direction, and this tumor might end my life; whatever God has planned for the rest of this process, I can rest easy knowing that every second of every day thereafter is a freebie, and I just get to enjoy what He’s keeping me around for.  Today, I received the best bad news I’ve ever received: another shot…

You’ll have to excuse my lack of eloquence in describing this ordeal, but I just wanted to get the information out there.  I don’t mind others knowing about this, either (unless that person was about to offer me a glamourous, high-paying career with lots of travel.  Tell that person I’m fine…).  Thanks in advance for your prayers, your continued love & friendship, and any other support I may hit you up for in the coming weeks.

“You use that word a lot…I do not think it means what you think it means.” – from The Princess Bride, concerning the word “Inconceivable”

Why?  Why do people continually use these phrases/expressions, when they know how upsetting they are to me?  Blatant overuse of these words, phrases, colloquialisms, and such, literally make me lose my mind!  (Anyone who has seen my mind wandering around town, please send it back home immediately)

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1)  “Thoughts and Prayers” (as in, “Please send your thoughts & prayers along for poor Uncle Bob.”).   Here’s where I’m coming from: as one who believes the teachings of the Bible, and who believes that it is possible to have a personal relationship with God through Christ, I also believe that prayer is a real thing with real impact.  God wants us to pray so we can know Him more and stay involved in His work, not just wait for things to happen.  Prayer has power; thoughts have no power.  Unless you’re one of the Superfriends, or the girl from Carrie.  If that’s the case, you just go on ahead thinking things.

Similar variation: “sending energy” towards some cause or person.  I saw a concert at the park tonight, where the singer urged us to send our energy to Africa to cure AIDS.  Everyone cheered, and started dancing.  Really?  Can someone who doesn’t have their own copy of The Secret explain how this works?  Are we talking light-wave energy, or a Star Wars midichlorian thing?   Seriously, I’d love to hear your take on this whole thing.

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2) “Retarded” as an insult (as in, “This IRS form is so retarded!”).    I work with special-needs kids.  Those kids work ten times as hard for every freakin’ thing they have in life, will never have the kind of easy life you and I take for granted, and certainly don’t need this cultural trend further stigmatizing them.  Don’t get me started on this one…

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3) “Blessing” – related overuse (as in, “Finding this new Lexus in the color we liked was a real blessing.”).  Hmm.  This one’s tricky.  The term “blessing” is a historical one, stemming from rituals where one person (typically, an elder) would bestow favor and/or wealth upon another (typically, a son).  So, it would be easy to equate “blessing” with “gettin’ stuff.” 

Here’s where the problem starts: unless you are a young Hebrew male, putting sheepskin on your arms to receive the birthright from your blind father, “blessing” takes on a different form.  It generally means that God has shown favor on you in some form, and you are acknowledging this favorable treatment.  However, our culture has not always grasped that a blessing is not limited to physical, material goods: a blessing might be a phone call from a friend, a kind word, or perhaps an encouraging turn of events in your life. 

My take is that a blessing is anything God passes along to us that draws us closer to Him and His will for us.  This might even be something we would consider unfavorable, if it results in refining of our faith.  So, when we so casually toss around that we’ve been blessed by this, and that such-and-such was a real blessing, do we really, honestly see how this thing/event might be something God is using to draw us closer to Him?  Or is it just that we like gettin’ stuff?

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4) “In My Heart of Hearts…” (as in, “I know it seems strange, but in my heart of hearts, I know it’s true).  Besides just being a silly grouping of words, this little number is a faster discussion killer than Godwin’s Law (playing the Nazi card).  Use of this phrase instantly personalizes any argument that preceded, making it impossible to refute the other party’s point-of-view without directly insulting them.  Basically, it cuts past the “red tape” of facts and evidence, and suggests that a truth can be identified by how strongly one feels about it. 

A possible scenario: Christopher Columbus has just returned to Spain from his exploration of the New World (during which, he did not fall of the mythical Edge of the World)…

Chris: “So, as you can see by these exotic plants, strange animals, and Native Americans we’ve brought back with us, there is a land across the sea, not a big drop-off where we’d all fall off and die.”

Queen Isabella: “Hmm.  Yes, I know a lot of people have said that the world is actually round.  But, still, I gotta say, in my heart of hearts, I know it’s flat…”

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5) “I Heart (Something)” (or any similar instance of replacing real words with text-speak).  Unless you’re a 12-yr. old girl, or some kind of courtroom stenographer, let’s just not include cutesy text-ese stuff like this, any variation of “OMG”, and such in our normal online conversations, yes?  (A college grad student I met on a plane once told me about a student’s paper she was grading, where the student closed out an argument by typing, “WTF?”   The aforementioned instances don’t bother me so much as a hunch that we’ve not seen the worst of this ugly beast in our culture… )

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6) Playing the 9/11 Card (as in, “Of course we need this new law…just remember 9/11.”).   OK, tricky territory to navigate here.  Yes, the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 were horrible.  Yes, the families who lost loved ones experienced an awful, unimagineable loss (harder when you consider what the victims must have gone through in their final moments).  Yes, our nation’s security and safety holes were exposed, and we all became (or, felt) less safe.

Sept. 11 was an awful event, and should be remembered as such.  However (bear with me on this one), it was not so horrible and awful as it’s been made out to be.  It wasn’t even the worst event of that year: In January, an earthquake in Gujarat, India, left over 12,000 people dead and at least 150,000 injured.  Thousands of impoverished families instantly lost loved ones, without having a chance to say goodbye, and with the knowledge that another similar event might occur at anytime.  Are those lives worth any less than those from our own country, where the average 9/11 victim received over $1.5 million in compensation? 

Here, in an election year, we’re just getting warmed up on this one, too.  Try counting the number of times a candidate will reference the events and victims of Sept.11 in a given speech, and you’ll likely run out of fingers and toes really quick.  Sadly, it has become yet another device used to evoke an instant emotional reaction in the listener (and when’s the last time you heard a politican urge us not to forget Gujarat?). 

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That’s all I could think of right now, but, in my heart of hearts, I know you’ve got a few to add to the list.  Send your thoughts, prayers, energy, and suggestions my way; I will heart reading them.