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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 20.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with cancer as of mid-year 2016. There is a high probability that either you or someone very close to you are or will be afflicted with a form of this disease. What can you do? Will you withdraw, quietly accept your fate, and passively accept protocols of treatment? Or, will you seize the moment, the lessons to be learned, the opportunities which will open, and the purposes that will be plentiful? This book champions the latter response—from the transparent and personal perspectives of both a patient and a caregiver who have endured four diagnoses of cancer, multiple chemotherapy treatments, a stem cell transplant, and are currently enrolled in a clinical trial with 300 other relapsed cancer patients.The title Don’t Drop the Mic! implores the cancer patient to clear away the clutter of destructive emotions and responses to the unwelcomed affliction, and instead, with a clear and focused mind…● Learn lessons that bring fresh insights to life and can be shared with others—both those with cancer and who experience other forms of suffering!● Boldly engage and make the most of opportunities which open alongside of the cancer!● Find and pursue new and invigorating purposes as you pioneer personal paths you never before expected to travel.Lessons learned, opportunities opened, purposes to be pursued. These are unexpected joys, responsibilities, and holy Callings given to us by our Lord Jesus in our sufferings. Jesus also gives us a mic, an unexpected audience, more-than-sufficient grace and strength, and then says to us, “The world is listening; what are you going to say? Don’t drop the mic!”
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Don’t Drop the Mic!
Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursuedon the Treatment Trail
William and Cynthia Bartlett
Dove Christian Publishers
P.O. Box 611
Bladensburg, MD 20710-0611
Copyright © 2016 by William and Cynthia Bartlett
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced without permission of the publisher, except for brief quotes for scholarly use, reviews or articles.
Printed in the United States of America
Unless indicated otherwise, Scripture quotations are from the The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Cover and Interior Photography by William Bartlett
Additional photography (c) Mipam | Dreamstime.com
Cancer comes with lessons, opportunities, purposes—and responsibilities.
Cancer teaches lessons—fast. There is an immediate seriousness to life when the diagnosis of cancer is received. Maturity and perspective that often take decades seem to dawn overnight in cancer patients.
Cancer opens opportunities. Family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers stop, pause, and listen to newly diagnosed cancer patients. Well, if you’re the patient, what are you going to say?
Cancer pings a patient for purpose in his or her life. Without purpose in life, cancer treatment—life itself—is pointless, aimless, and an empty waste of time. But, with purpose in life, even cancer and its treatment become opportunities to punctuate life with impact, meaning, and significance.
Cancer also comes with a mantle of responsibility. Cancer is an attention-getter, both for the patient and for those within the patient’s sphere of influence. Part of the reason why people around the patient are often silent in the presence of the patient with cancer is that they are listening. They want to hear words of wisdom, insights gained, and admonitions that compellingly come from someone who speaks from the perspective of facing eternity. So, dear fellow-patient, DON’T DROP THE MIC! Say something! And, not just something. Speak words worthy of the perspective that cancer gives. Talk of your faith in the Lord. Talk about new insights, priorities, challenges, and opportunities that have flooded like a torrent into your life. Make the most of the opportunity you have. Be a faithful steward of the opportunities (yes, opportunities) that have come, and will come, because of cancer. In some odd and ironic way, cancer can make a person more alive than he or she was before diagnosis. Charge into this new journey with the excitement of a pioneer—knowing that our Lord “goes before us and is with us” and that Jesus is the first “Pioneer ... Who for the joy that was set before Him [referring to our salvation and healing] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). With that assurance, come what may, all is OK!
Acts 20:24 has become my new theme life-verse since diagnosis:“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Fellow-patient or caregiver, the world is listening for us to speak. DON’T DROP THE MIC!
This book has four parts:
Part One sets the context and stage for Part Two. The background of my journey with cancer, from diagnosis to current treatment, is summarized, emphasizing and detailing how this journey has taught me lessons, opened opportunities, and thrust a microphone into my hands. My family, friends, and even unexpected spheres of observers are watching and listening as I engage, grow from, and embrace the lessons, opportunities, and purposes that this journey brings. Everyone, at some time, will face a journey like this. How can my journey prepare them for theirs?
Part Two lists “Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposed Pursued on the Treatment Trail.” Each lesson, opportunity, or purpose shared in this section, in the text boxes, has been an entry in a journey that I started at diagnosis in August 2013, and in which I continue to make entries. Following the text box, I have added brief reflections or expansions on each entry. Several entries in my journal have Internet links to supporting or resulting documents. The e-Book version contains live links to many of these references.
Part Three contains reflections from a caregiver—Cindy, my wife, who tenderly, sacrificially, patiently, and always lovingly supported me, sat next to me (fully exposed to high dose chemotherapy while the nurses, in full protective gowning, administered drugs), faithfully drove to and from the hospital (sometimes taking five hours a day), and carried the full weight of a household during times of my weakness.
Part Four contains two QR codes to access my ongoing list of “Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued” and to open an ongoing “Don’t Drop the Mic!” blog for cancer patients, caregivers, and loved ones for the purpose of keeping our dialog with, and support of, each other alive!
Special thanks to my wife, Cindy, to my children and grandchildren, and to close friends who have been a huge part of that “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) surrounding me with love, TLC, compassion, company, prayers, and purpose for living boldly and in the eternal and strong presence and promises of our Lord Jesus Christ. Special thanks also to Dove Christian Publishers (www.dovechristianpublishers.com) for their professional and faithful partnership in bringing my manuscript to publication. They have demonstrated a consistent pursuit of their mission, which is “to glorify Jesus Christ while entertaining, edifying, encouraging and exhorting the Church.”
If you are reading this book, chances are pretty good that you are a cancer patient, or you know and love a cancer patient. In either case, this journey has given you and will give you lessons to be learned, opportunities to be opened, and purposes to be pursued—all of which become your responsibility to share!
It is my prayer that one message becomes clear to you through this book:
DON’T DROP THE MIC! The world is listening!
It was August 2013, when the Lord turned my world upside down and handed me a microphone—in the form of a call from my doctor while I was at work. My doctor said, “You’ve got cancer.” The situation spoke another frightening and yet compelling message to me, “Along with cancer, you’ve also got a microphone!”
“Don’t Drop the Mic!”
The phrase, “Drop the mic,” at least in urban usage, usually means that such a compelling statement is made that no further comment is warranted. In the matter of cancer treatment, there can never be a “Drop the Mic” moment. Constant, ongoing conversation is needed, appreciated, and part of the treatment process.
This book is a compilation of “Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued” through my experience and journey with cancer since my diagnosis in August 2013. The purposes of sharing these learnings are to comfort and help fellow-travelers on the cancer treatment trail, to keep the pump primed so my cancer-afflicted colleagues will keep sharing their experiences and learnings, and to encourage all of us to heed the admonition, “Don’t Drop the Mic”—to the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the time of my diagnosis in August 2013, I had been a pastor for 38 years. I was used to having captive audiences on Sunday mornings. But, after my diagnosis, I sensed that people were listening more closely than ever before.
Why were people listening so attentively after my cancer diagnosis, and why are people still listening? The Celtic Christians from Ireland used to speak of “thin places.” The phrase “thin places” referred to both times and places when and where there seemed to be a “thinning” of the separation between mortal life and eternal life. “Thin places,” therefore, are holy places. People listen when they sense a “thin place” because all people are aware of their own mortality.
We Are All in the Same Mortal Line.
We all know, but hate to think about the fact, that we all—ALL!—are in the same mortal line. We often suppress that awareness:
In youth and young adulthood, because the threat or reality of death seems an eternity away;
In middle age, because we are too busy just surviving the busyness we let co-opt our lives;
And in old age because of fear or denial of what happens after death.
Since my diagnosis in August 2013, I have kept track, on my prayer list, of people I have known who have died. I thought, back in August 2013, that I was at the front of the “mortality” line among everyone I knew. Yet, since that date, I have known eight people who have died. And, here’s the shocker: I’m still here, and four of those eight have been under 25 years of age. None of us knows where we are in that “mortality line”; but one thing is certain—we are all in that line!
Deep within every person is that nagging realization which King David and his son, the wisest man in the world, Solomon, knew well:
“There is but a step between me and death” (1 Sam. 20:3).
“He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11).
There is no denying it, repressing it, running from it, or outsmarting it. Death and eternity are realities which confront us all and which compel us to face our own mortality.
Try as we may to hide death and eternity behind a thick curtain, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses draw the curtain open on these topics and often reveal either a dropped mic pretending that there is nothing to say, or a stage, a mic, and a podium with a listening and attentive audience, anxious to hear what lessons and experiences we have to speak about life, death, and eternity. When this happens in your life, “Don’t Drop the Mic!”
August 2013: Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
September 2013: Stepped away from my ministry as founding executive director at Crean Lutheran High School to focus on treatment.
September 2013 - February 2014: ABVD chemotherapy treatments at UCLA, with an optimistic perspective due to a 90% cure rate with this treatment protocol.
August 2014: Diagnosed with recurrent Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (10% of those treated with ABVD chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma have a recurrence). Treatment: stem cell transplant.
August-October, 2014: RICE & BEAM chemotherapy prior to stem cell transplant at UCLA.
October 27, 2014: Stem cell transplant at UCLA (50% of stem cell patients are cured; 50% have a recurrence within one year).
May 22, 2015: PET/CT scan showed that the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma returned. Treatment: a clinical trial using Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunotherapy drug, Opdivo.
June 5, 2015: Screening tests for enrollment in UCLA clinical trial using a new drug called Opdivo.
June 23, 2015—current (as of the writing of this book): Started Clinical Trial using a new drug, Opdivo, which I receive every two weeks. I am one among approximately 300 patients worldwide, in about a dozen sites, participating in this 2nd phase, FDA registrational trial, praying that this new immunotherapy will become a new, effective, patient-friendly, and durable front-line treatment for many types of cancer in place of the current and harsher front line treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Upon diagnosis, back in 2013, I knew that I was in for a journey. So, I began a journal which evolved into the “Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued on the Treatment Trail” listed in this book. Lessons are still being learned, opportunities are still being opened, and new purposes continually point me in new directions. These continuing lessons, opportunities, and purposes are then added to my journal. This book, therefore, is a snapshot of this living journey from August 2013 until the time of completion of this manuscript. Over these 36 months, I have made approximately 90 entries in this journal—about one entry every week and a half. I expect this pattern to continue as the Lord is faithful to teach me and, I pray, use me to “make the most of every opportunity” (Col. 4:5)—even this opportunity—to lean on Him, to proclaim Jesus’ saving grace, and to encourage and comfort others in their sufferings and treatment all the while our Lord provides for and comforts me.
The purposes of this book are:
To stimulate discussion about cancer treatment.
To encourage those on the treatment trail and to assure them of the sufficiency of Jesus for the journey.
To give purpose to cancer patients as they share their lessons learned with others and respond with impact to opportunities opened.
And to boldly speak an admonition to everyone, “DON’T DROP THE MIC!”
In Part Two of this book, I share the many Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued that have impacted my life, that have given meaning and purpose to my life even during this journey, and that have, by God’s grace, been a positive encouragement to others, either patients or loved ones, on the treatment trail! In my online journal, several of the Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued contain links to other resources or documents related to each Lesson, Opportunity, or Purpose. Also, as stated in the Foreword, at the end of this book are QR codes which link to my actual and growing Journal and to a “Don’t Drop the Mic!” blog. I invite readers to access these documents to read ongoing and additional Lessons, Opportunities, and Purposes, and to join a blog in which they too can share with others their Lessons Learned, Opportunities Opened, and Purposes Pursued.
Ephesians 6:19 well communicates my prayer for this book and for my life’s passion on this journey:
“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak [or write!], words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the Gospel….”
Please join me in “making known” the Lessons we are learning and then sharing these Lessons through the Opportunities and Purposes that are opened as together we respond to the admonition, “DON’T DROP THE MIC!”
Jesus is the Treasure, not the Bearer of the Treasure.Jesus is Greater than Health, Healing, or Any Earthly Blessing.
This journey has unmasked a common misconception held by many Christians—including me—prior to cancer. So often my prayers have been very selfish: “Lord, please forgive ME, please heal ME, please open this door for ME,” and on and on.
Even Lazarus, after his sisters’ pleas for him and our Lord’s gracious response of restoring him to life, died a physical death sometime later. The real gift, the greatest gift, the only gift, blessing, and reality that really matters is Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus is far more than the Giver, the Bearer, the Author of earthly blessings. JESUS is the Treasure. With Jesus will come forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation. That is … He is! … the greatest treasure.
Have Jesus and you have all that really matters.
Jesus is Sufficient, Even More than Sufficient, for Anything We Face in Life.
Oh, it seems close sometimes. The discomfort of chemotherapy, or the multiple sticks to start an IV, or the hearing of not as good news as you had hoped after a PET-CT scan can all leave you occasionally wondering, “Are You really sufficient?”
And, yes Jesus is. Somehow, He brings strength through my wife, or an email or a card from a friend, or simply through His Holy Word or powerful Spirit. And, I reach shore again, the storm stills, and peace returns.
The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
After feeding the 5,000, Jesus made sure His disciples knew there were twelve baskets of leftovers. More than sufficient.
After promising that we will never be tested beyond what we can bear, our Lord promises that if it does get too hot in the furnace, He will provide a way out. That’s a more than sufficient Savior.
Our Lord Jesus sees that we may not always get or have or experience or be what we want, but always what we need—even more than sufficient.
Our world tempts us to think that more is always better; Jesus teaches us that He—and He alone—is sufficient.
The Lord Said, “Go … to the Place I will Show You,”
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