Following, Not Fighting – round one

boxing-ring-corner_300It was a few days before my fifty-fifth birthday; I was brushing my teeth, as I had done hundreds of time before, as I was preparing to go to work. I made a big smile to examine my work. It was then that I made the discovery.
I saw something white on the underside of my tongue on the left side. I pulled my tongue over and saw a white looking spot that was about three quarters of an inch by about one half of an inch. I showed it to Terrie and she said to leave it alone, but to be sure and show it to my dentist at my appointment the following week.

I did show it to my dentist. He said he didn’t know exactly what it was (even though I think he did suspect what it was) and he said it would need to be removed. He scheduled an appointment with an oral surgeon to give his opinion and to have it removed, which he easily did. He told me he would send it to pathology to determine what it was.

On August 15, 2006, I got the report from pathology- I had oral cancer.

I didn’t know much about oral cancer except that it was usually with people who had used tobacco. I had never smoked a cigarette, pipe, cigar, or anything else. I have never used tobacco products in any form. I was shocked! But as strange as it sounds, I had peace. I have since learned that oral cancer occurs in higher percentages of active tobacco users and in alcohol users. The doctor told me only 3 to 5 percent of non-tobacco, non-alcohol users get oral cancer. I was one of those.

There is a 3 to 5 percent chance of non-tobacco, non-alcohol users of getting oral cancer

The oral surgeon had told me there was a possibility that it could be oral cancer. He said he wanted to refer me to Dr. Jesus Medina at OU Physicians. He said Dr. Medina was the best oral cancer doctor in America. He said the chances of getting an appointment were not great, but he would try.

As I walked out of the surgeon’s office, the Lord impressed me that at any moment along this new journey he could have stopped these things from happening, but He had a different plan for me.

Just six months earlier, I had had an appointment with a heart surgeon to discuss if I should have open heart surgery for my newly discovered heart murmur. Terrie and I were anxious about that appointment. It was our custom for me to read daily from the Bible. On the morning of the appointment we sensed God’s presence when I was reading from Psalm’s.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 42:11 ESV

We took courage from God’s word and went to the appointment with our chins up. The doctor examined me and said I had a classic heart murmur and wished his interns had been there to listen to my heart. He then said if I were his brother, he didn’t think he would do the surgery. Terrie and I left his office and went down the elevator to the lobby. We stopped at a bench, sat down and cried with tears of joy, praising the Lord for extending mercy to us.

So we placed our hope in God regarding the cancer. I did not sense that this would cause my death, but what would it do to me?

I got a call from the oral surgeon’s office that due to a cancellation, they were able to secure an appointment with Dr. Medina. Again, I was seeing God’s hand go before me. Why did I have an appointment with the nation’s top oral cancer surgeon? I was just an average guy. I didn’t have money or notoriety. Why me?

When I met Dr. Medina, I was greeted with a warm smile and a firm handshake from this quiet, but confident man from Peru. He confirmed the pathology report and told me I would have to have reconstructive surgery. He explained to me that even though the tumor had been removed, they had to make sure all the cancer cells were removed. They would cut out little bits of my tongue, send them to pathology while I was on the table, until they got “clear cells”. They would use another surgeon to take a 4″x 4″ skin graft from my thigh and place that skin in my mouth, to make my tongue work correctly.

Dr. Medina wanted to use a particular surgeon for my reconstruction because he was one of two surgeons in the United States that does this type of surgery. His name is Dr. Jose Sanclement. He was born in Spain and he and his family moved to Florida when he was fourteen years old.  At that time, Dr. Sanclement was doing fifty of these surgeries every year.

So now, I started getting blown away! I have two of the best surgeons in the United States who are going to operate on me. Again I asked “Who am I that I have these doctors are willing to operate on me?”

The surgery was scheduled two weeks after that appointment.

Terrie and I began praying and our church was praying and people on the West and East coast of the United States began praying for me. It was so humbling to ask God to do something that no one else was able to do- to heal me from cancer.

The day of the surgery came. I had the support of my precious wife, my family, my church, Terrie’s work place and my work place. I was placed on the gurney and wheeled to the operating room for a 6-8 hour surgery. As I lay on the gurney, I thought of a single tear from my mother’s eye as she was preparing for a medical procedure. I had asked her if she was frightened. She told me that she was not frightened but just wanted to be right with the Lord. I understood exactly how she felt. I was beginning to go into a  place completely by faith and trust in the Lord and I wanted my heart to be right.

I was looking at the dropped ceiling with florescent light fixtures of the surgery room with surprise. This isn’t how it looked on TV or in the movies. The surgery team was busy around me, getting me situated on the table, and talking to one another and to me. The anesthesiologist told me he was going to put his medicine in the IV and asked be to count backwards from 100. I said “99” and the lights went out.

Some speak of fighting cancer. I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as just following the Lord. I was following, not fighting. He was doing it all for me.

When I woke up, I was in recovery and then I was sent to a room. Later I had learned that Terrie had many sit with her during my surgery. My pastor and his wife spent most of the day with Terrie, even though it was their wedding anniversary.

I had swelling on my tongue and could not speak well, but I could listen. Terrie told me they shaved my beard after they knocked me out and then she told me something that changed my life.

She said as they were waiting in the surgery waiting room, they saw several instances when a doctor would come out to give an update on results of other peoples loved ones surgery. Not all of them were able to give good reports. When Dr. Medina came out, he told her they had “clear cells” and I would be okay.

Why would I get a good report and others got a less optimistic report? It was then that I realized I had been blessed by God and that it was His good pleasure to take the cancer away with this operation. I had a deeper understanding of how much He loved me. He chose to show me His might and He showed me, even a guy like me could get the best a country can offer, even if He would bring them from other countries.

I left the hospital after a couple of days, several days ahead of schedule.

For over four years I had follow-up visits with Dr. Medina and Dr. Sanclement. We had a friendly relationship. I would tell them about the Lord and they would tell me about my mouth. The visits changed from monthly to every three months and then every six months. Each time I would visit, I was always humbled when I got a good report. When I was waiting for my appointment, I would observe the other patients, seeing some who had similar wounds and some with halos apparatuses. Each time I would give thanks for the Lord’s kindness to me and I always wanted to be a light and an encouragement to the staff and to the patients.

If I could make it to five years from the surgery, they would consider me cancer-free. But the fight wasn’t over, I had to get ready for round two- the unexpected round. But look who is in my corner!!

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