This How We Treat Cancer

Cancer is a inconvenience.  We don’t have time for it.  

Twink is organizing events and designing programs and managing grants for her non-profit–Sustainable Atwood.  Before her diagnosis, she was already under a great deal of pressure.  In addition to planning an event for Sustainable Atwood–an urban tree drawn by horses to the Trinity Lutheran parking lot and then milled into useable lumber–she had just completed discussions with church leadership about serving as full-time pastor when Phil is away on sabbatical.  

Then there are important, upcoming family events.

Phoebe has her senior art show in April.   We are looking forward to celebrating her work.  We are so proud of her, so amazed by the gift she discovered and the path she is taking with her life and career.  In  May, she graduates.  My sister, Paula, is flying in; my parents are driving cross-country.  We have rented a house so we can all be together, cook together.

When we first got the news, Twink said, “This is inconvenient”–cancer as time management problem.

She is right: loss of time and change of focus are part of the diagnosis.  From the beginning, I said cancer is more than a mere distraction and inconvenience.  We can’t pretend that we are going to try to schedule it at a convenient time, working it into our calendars.

Cancer cannot be managed.  Cancer is now our focus: everything else is secondary in importance.

Twink agreed, if grudgingly–okay: it is really inconvenient.

Still, like a surgeon reading an MRI, we study our calendars.   What can be cut out?  What can be saved?   

This is how we treat cancer.

Trout Skin

Trout slip through the water and the water doesn’t touch them.  They have a slime, a film, which protects them.  There is an ichthyological name for it: mucoprotein coating.  This coating contains enzymes and antibodies that fight infection.  When even a small portion of this coating is compromised, fish bleed essential electrolytes into the water.

This slime coat is what stinks on your hands after you have touched a fish.

When you love trout as I do, you handle them gently so as not to mar their delicate, essential protection.

Before you touch a trout, you dip your hands in the stream as if it is holy water, gathering enough water to make your hands a font. Your touch does not injure; it anoints.

In that moment, there is but one thought in your mind: release. 

If you practice enough–and if you love trout you will practice–you can release a trout without touching it at all.  It doesn’t happen every time, but if you keep the trout on the line just long enough, and if you use barbless hooks, and if you are focused on the fish so that you become one with it for the brief time of your connection with it, then you can reach down, grasp the fly, and remove the hook without even touching the fish.

Often, the fish will swim behind your waders, breathing, regaining strength.  You wait and watch, yet the trout disappears like a dream.

Effortlessly, silently, it glides into deep waters.

Forming the words

It took me a while to formulate the sentence.  I had to write it out and practice saying it out loud.

“Twink has cancer.”


“My wife has cancer.”

She now has an oncologist.  We have been to the Carbone Cancer Center.  We have talked about types and stages.

We have talked and talked to get things straight and to get used to this new thing.

We have talked to the girls.  I am proud of how strong and caring they have been.  They have Twink on a strict diet and are prescribing rigorous exercise.

We have talked with family and friends, and in time we began at last to listen.

People tell us stories of recovery, of women living long, happy lives after receiving the same diagnosis.  Our doctors and nurses keep saying the same thing; it is going to be okay.  We are fortunate to have discovered it early.

Everything has changed and has changed again.  This new thing is part of our lives, but it does not define us.  As it turns out, we have the strength of spirit needed for the journey ahead, we have a remarkable team of physicians, and we have the support of friends, families, and two congregations.

So, yes: Twink has cancer.  After April 16th, we will say that Twink had cancer.  I will gladly help her through her recovery and report on her progress–and maybe even sneak an unapproved photo or two.

Thank you to all those who have listened to me talk and helped me through these past weeks.