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“Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” – Psalm 2:11

Dear family and friends,

Good day today!  Kendra and I went to UCLA for a joint consult with a radiation oncologist and a neuro-radiation oncologist.  Kendra decided that they were “cute” together, and so now feels much better about my prospects for surviving this whole thing. Also, the cherry on top of the cuteness was that they really seemed to know a lot about brain tumors and what to do about them.

They had looked at my brain MRI before coming in to see us, and one of the first things they said is that the tumors are “very treatable.”  They dialed back the number of expected sessions from 10-15 or 1-2.  They said they thought they could probably eliminate the tumors in a single session.  I think my main oncologist was giving me an idea of what could be entailed when he told me 10-15 last week, so this was a nice development.

They’re going to use a very targeted beam of particles and not whole brain radiation.  Side effects are unlikely and are unlikely to last long if I do have them.  I have a tumor near the area that handles left-side functions, so it’s possible that I could have some numbness and loss of strength on the left side, though it would likely be caused by radiation-induced temporary swelling and go away soon.  I also have a tumor near an area that controls speech and some cognition.  There, too, side effects are unlikely and are unlikely to last long, but I could have some trouble stringing words and thoughts together for a couple days, they said.  All these side effects are around a 5% likelihood, which is a new personal record for likelihood of bad treatment-related effects, so I really feel like I’m doing a much better job.  Someone please put a good word in for me with the boss.

They’re going to put me into a CT scan in the morning and use the imaging to perfectly fit to my face a vinyl mask which will hold my head still while I’m getting radiation.  Don’t want to miss.  I’m told the mask will look something like this:

We got to see the brain MRI and had the doctors talk us through what we were looking at.  We had another moment of looking at the misbegotten, villainous scoundrel, cancer.  Tumors, right there in the brain.  Totally unacceptable!  You want to know something amazing, though?  So some of the tumors are way up in there.  I have healthy brain tissue between the tumors and where you are sitting right now.  So how do they get to the tumor without damaging the healthy tissue?  We polled the kids at dinner for ideas.  The best guesses were:

Tiny robots – Bobby’s idea
Mary Jane said, “They go in yo brain,” which prompted some nonsense
from all the other kids about Phineas and Ferb, Candace’s brain, and cheetos. 
It was off the rails at this point, so we got back to the topic at hand.

What they actually do is “program” the particles to “activate” only after they pass through the healthy tissue and get to the tumor.  They can also bend these particle beams.  Strictly speaking, I think this is called “magic.”  I just don’t want Doug Henning to show up and tell me,

It’s only an illusion!

On my way home, I stopped at one of our local churches, as I like to do.  Our pastor was in there praying, too, and so I took the opportunity to go to confession.  So here comes another installment of why I do what I do, why I act like this, and probably why I handle cancer the way that I do.  And for non-Catholic readers, this might be a deeper papist dive than you bargained for, but you showed up here, and I’ve decided I’m going to say things to people who show up in my little corner of the internet.  Confession is something I depend on very deeply.  And I think it’s a pretty misunderstood thing, even among Catholics.  For me, it’s not about being overly focused on guilt or on a third party mediator.  And I just don’t buy that it’s an invention of the Catholic Church.

I don’t want to go into a whole essay on this and I really don’t want to get into a comment debate, but while I know about 1 Tim 2, Heb 3 and 7, and 2 Cor 5, for me there’s just no getting around John 20:23 where Jesus gave the apostles the authority to retain sins in the very moment he’s commissioning them as priests.  Why would he say that?  I think it’s because humans need to ask for forgiveness and receive it in a real and concrete way.  I know I need it.  There’s a tradition of it in the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s in the Didache (70 AD), Tertullian, Hippolytus, John Chrysostom – and I want to do what the early Christians were doing.  Plus there are accountability groups in churches and businesses today.  We’re wired to need reconciliation and to ask for it.
What does any of this have to do with cancer?  I confess little cancer-related things like irritability, bad attitude, self-pity, longing for sympathy, procrastination, wishing I had an easier life, wishing loved ones would act like different people than they are, contempt for others.  I’ve been confessing them once a week for years.  I fall into the same habits of lacking love for others, having it show up in the same ways, over and over again.  I try to go either to the same priest or one who knows my spirituality well.  
So it’s probably like 500 times now that I’ve gotten pretty much the same advice in most of these matters.  That helps because it takes repetition to break a bad habit.  I think I’ve gotten a little better.  I’ll take it.  And with cancer or other sufferings or setbacks, I get the same advice every time – unite them to the Cross.  Getting told that 500 times has worked on me over years.  It’s the sort of thing that has helped me love crosses – the Cross – as gifts.  A gift doesn’t always come wrapped up like a birthday present.  Sometimes it’s tough, but it’s been tailor-made by a loving God.  Confession has gotten me to a conclusion related to the whole “taking up your cross daily and following me” thing:  my cross was hewn for me, by God, to fit me perfectly and to be one ounce lighter than would be too heavy for me to heft up to Calvary.  To imitate Christ, I need to get it up there so I can collapse at the top, having fought the good fight.  It will all be better for me and everyone around me if I do it with cheerfulness and gratitude for this gift.
On top of it all, I walk out of there feeling GREAT, because I’ve been shown mercy.  Amazing attitude about cancer?  Nice of you to say, but nah.  Grace working through a sacrament – I’m not sure I’m the one to declare that about myself, but more likely.  Prayer, Masses, Confession.  I believe these things have prepared me for this and other tough moments.  I recommend them.
With fortitude and prayers for you,