In a "New York Minute..."

Everything can change.

I have always loved that song. I remember listening to it on an Eagles CD many times as I drove to and from Lipscomb in 2002-03. It was a pivotol time of transition in my life. Everything was changing. Some things changed over days, weeks and months. Other things, it seemed, changed in New York Minutes. Even though many of the changes were intentional on my part, some were not, and all were painful. I have always feared the unknown and I don't like change. With fear and anxiety, I wondered, "What next?"

Certain songs I listened to during those times trigger visceral memories -- memories that take me back to the emotion as well as the moment. I remember watching the video of Van Halen's "Right Now" on New Year's Eve, 2002. Four agonizing months into my transition, I was beginning to believe I had something to look forward to. I was feeling a bit stronger. But it would be another six months before I could see what God had planned for my life. And in the middle of them, those hard months felt so long. But in hindsight, they have always looked incredibly short. From mid-2003 to mid-2007, I felt like Cinderella at the Ball (as far as my new life with John). But then...

Four years ago this June (2007), I had just finished working out when the phone rang. It was our family friend and primary care doc. Mike was calling me because he had been trying to call John about the results of his recent bloodwork and John -- preoccupied with business concerns -- wasn't returning his calls. Turns out John had gotten the first news of an elevated white count in April after a routine blood test. He had chosen to keep that to himself, wait six weeks and have his blood rechecked before telling anyone (including me). Now the high white count was confirmed as indicating something serious (not just infection in his body) and we needed to consult an oncologist. Mike suspected chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

That was another time when everything changed in a minute. I remember my conversation with Mike and my immediate thoughts afterward. I already knew a little bit about CLL because my dad had been diagnosed with it years earlier. At that time, the doctor had acted like it was a very benign, slow progressing leukemia that was unlikely to ever cause much problem. But if it did "become active" (the doctor's words), there was treatment. I remember him telling us that if you were going to have cancer, this was the best kind to have and that my dad was more likely to die with it than from it. That seemed like a pretty good prognosis and because I had so much confidence in the doctor, I don't remember feeling overly concerned. Of course, my dad also had other, more pressing health concerns that we were focused on.

So, with only the "good cancer" knowledge in my head, my first thoughts were, "Okay. No big deal. Best cancer he could have. Nothing to worry about. John will be just like my dad." (More than ten years after my dad's diagnosis, CLL was the least of his problems and he still has not had treatment for it. But he also has Parkinson's Disease, which has progressed.)

Wanting to know all I could about CLL, I began to read reputable medical resources and patient-driven forums online. I quickly became educated in the knowledge that CLL is not a good cancer (if there is such a thing at all) and that every patient progresses differently. I learned about different prognostic markers and categories of anticipated progression "buckets" that patients were grouped into based on those markers. I started to worry. And cry. And ask, "What next?" John was in his early fifties, which made it seem more of a threat (my dad had been in his early sixties at diagnosis).

As I began to read about medians of survival and aggressive CLL vs. indolent CLL, I became gripped by paralyzing fear. I can't remember exactly how long it took me to stop crying on a daily basis. It felt like months, but I know it was more like weeks. Because I remember when I started to feel my legs underneath me again. It was after a conversation with God on my back porch one day. I was watering my flowers, crying, and begging God to let John have all "good markers" so I could stop worrying about his CLL being the aggressive kind. My thoughts during that emotional time were pretty much this: "I can't lose him. I can't lose him. I can't lose him. God, I can't lose him, You just gave him to me. I can't lose him..." And then that day on the porch, God spoke back (not audibly, but unmistakably). He told me He did not want me to put my faith or trust in the markers, but to put my faith and trust in Him and in His promise that He was working all things for our good ... EVEN THIS. I knew those words did not come from my mind or heart because my mind and heart were gripped by fear. That moment on my back porch is a more powerful memory today than any other moment of our CLL journey.

Our life is different since that diagnosis. There are regular doctor visits. John has had to endure a lot of needles. He went through chemo that didn't work. And there have been some pretty rough days. But soon after failing FCR, he qualified for a clinical trial with a drug in development called CAL-101. He takes a pill morning and night, the lowest possible dose. And it's worked beautifully to control his CLL ever since. Only God knows if it will work indefinitely or reach an ineffective point when something else is needed. But only God knew that CAL-101 would work when chemo didn't. That's why He told me on my back porch to put my trust in His promise. I couldn't have known that anything good could come from John failing chemotherapy. But it did.

When we don't know what's next, we can trust that God does. He is in control. That does not mean bad things won't happen or that we won't suffer. It means that whatever is part of His plan -- good AND bad -- is for the ultimate good of those who love Him. We may not always know what, but we can be assured that good will come from everything we suffer. That knowledge brings peace.

Ten years ago I was in the classroom (Mass Comm) of a local community college (Vol State) when a student walked in the room (late) and told the professor, "A plane just flew into the World Trade Center." At first, it sounded like an accident. But then we quickly learned there was a second plane, hitting the second tower. I remember the stunned disbelief and the fear of "What next?"

That moment is frozen in time. I don't remember anyone's face from that classroom. I just remember the words and feelings. I remember the professor sending a student downstairs to watch for information coming across the AP wire in our building. When he'd come back telling us that the Pentagon was also struck by a plane, my thoughts and fears turned to a full blown war breaking out on U.S. soil.

My next class was canceled, but the one after that hadn't been. So I sat in my car with the radio on. I called my sister-in-law to ask if she was watching. We were talking on the phone as she watched the first tower fall. She told me I would not believe the images when I saw them. I can't remember if I went to my other classes that day or if they were also canceled. The memory stops with me in my car, talking to Cheryl and listening to the breaking news. The next memory is from later in the day, being glued to the television, watching news coverage and videotape of the tragic events over and over ... thinking nothing would ever be the same.

Things are not the same.

I don't need to list the ways our lives have changed since that "New York Minute" -- and all the minutes that followed -- on 9/11/01. For most of us, that day marked a national tragedy and a national change. For those who lost a family member or friend, however, that day is both national and extremely personal; public and very private. The personal loss is, I'm sure, the worst.

Life not only CAN change in a New York Minute, life DOES change in instantaneous moments for all of us. The people who went to work in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon or boarded airplanes on 9/11 had no idea that would be their last day on Earth. But neither did all the people who died in some other tragic circumstance. A lot of people also received an unwanted diagnosis that day ... and every other day of every year. Those New York Minutes don't make the news, but they change each of our lives in an instant just the same.

We have to live in the present moment. We can't allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear, whether the fear is another terrorist attack or an unwanted diagnosis or the progression of cancer. We can't put our trust in the government to protect us or a war to avenge us.

There is only one hope. His name is Jesus. And He is the Prince of Peace.
The peace only He can give is the peace that will get us through all of life's changing moments.
And I say this from personal experience.


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