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“God does things great and unsearchable, things marvelous and innumerable.”  – Job 5:9

Dear family and friends,

It’s Christmas in the Tierney house – still Christmas, we will have you know – and I wish you Merry Christmas and true happiness in any other occasions you are celebrating.  This Christmas has been a

time for a lot of gratitude for this mysteriously good place I’m in with my health.

Recently I got reacquainted with some friends’ experiences of loved ones’ cancer and it’s just making me feel that I’m being told I need to be here for a while longer.  It feels like the point of this cancer has been a wake-up call aimed at making me live the gift of this life better.  I spent time with a friend from the other side of the US who lost his beloved sister to melanoma in a pretty short period of time.  I have another friend who, several years ago, lost his wife to cancer very quickly after a surprise diagnosis.  He shared that his teenage son asked if he could listen to any recordings of his late mom because as the years have passed, he has started to forget what her voice sounded like.

In a very good way I’ve been haunted by that touching and heartbreaking little story about my friend’s son.  I’m being given some unknown period of time – and that was true without cancer, too – and it’s more than some others in similar situations have gotten.  I am trying to look at our friend Suzanne’s funeral prayer card frequently to remind me that I have been given time that I need to do a lot with.  I haven’t been taken quickly.  I’ve never really felt a bit different through this whole episode, and I’m pretty convinced the earlier mild wheeziness was just a lingering cold.  Why has it played out this way for me?  I know better than to dwell on too many questions that won’t be answered in this life, but I do wonder.

I’ve mentioned previously that I try to spend time sitting in a church praying as often as I can.  When I petition God to let me stay on this earth for a while longer, I often make the point to him that while I know he can take better care of my family than I can, I think my son Frankie probably actually does need me watching his every mischievous move.  Somehow I have then felt several times that I’ve

I mean, look at this guy

gotten some level of supernatural assent to that idea.  He was given the dad he needs.  I was given the son I need.  We’re here to save each other, and he needs me shaken out of the comfort of pre-Cancer 2.0 so that I will be at my best.  That’s a “why” that’s making a lot of sense to me right now.

At a Christmas party with an oncologist friend, I was catching him up on the series of scan results, and he planted a new idea in my mind.  He said that after my partial response, the stable, no change  tumors we see in the scan results might not even be tumors anymore.  They could be scar tissue, fried tumors that are no longer even a threat to me.  Holy smokes!  I’m liking that idea.  He also said that oncologists believe that in some cases, immunotherapy can train the immune system to fight cancer on its own, eliminating the need for ongoing infusions.  That’s a pretty terrific thought, too.  Both of these things are hard to know with certainty, so I’m not getting my hopes up or planning to do anything different at the moment.  But what an amazing time to be alive.  I’m trying to remember to frequently give thanks for that, too.  That despite the frustrations of this time in our history, it’s truly an age of medical miracles, and I think I’m proof of it.

As I was reflecting on the idea that medication could teach the body to fight a disease, I actually started thinking that’s a pretty good explanation for the 10-year interval I had between episodes.  I’m not going to start recommending interferon to my friends and neighbors, but I’m moving out of “not badmouthing” territory to being quite positive about it.  Dare I say, “grateful” for interferon?  It seems silly not to be.

There are a lot of family reasons to be grateful.  There are ways that each of these many children have been an absolute joy this past year.  But as I sit writing this post in a chapel that is a work of art my wife created, designed, hand-painted in our house, I think I’m just going to say that I’m grateful to be married to a force of nature.  You can read about some of it in our Christmas card, which she just posted over on her blog, but the short version: that lady makes stuff happen.  Much like God gave me the Frankie I need, he gave me the wife I need, too.  When I have cancer, I need level-headed and non-pitying.  I need life not to change if that isn’t required.  I need to feel that if I have to keep working just as hard and do the infusions and get to the scans and be sure I still go on retreat and be able to pray in a church on the way home and start a podcast, the wheels aren’t going to come off.  I have a wife who has always believed that if anyone on this planet is capable of doing something (hand letter dozens of lines of scripture on a ceiling, not freak out about cancer, capture a swarm of bees…) then we can do it.  Mission accomplished.

This year is drawing to a close in ways I did not see coming when it started.  But I can’t think of a year when that wasn’t true, cancer or not.  Let me close by saying how honored and grateful Kendra, the kids and I are for your prayers and your participation in the adoration train.  I think about the fact that this current age is marked by such intense loneliness and isolation for so many people.  You are are the friends that those people deserve.  Thank you for everything.

With fortitude and prayers for you,