I don’t usually write about my experiences with Multiple Myeloma and its treatment on this site. Most often, I post those kinds of updates and reflections on my CaringBridge site. Recently, though, I had the opportunity to speak with a blood cancer support group about my journey, and that conversation coincided with my 62nd birthday, my fifth year of living with this illness, and my recent decision that I have to “retire” from Mars Hill University. My reflections–some of which I’ll share in two or three posts here–are, I think, about more than cancer. I hope you’ll find something helpful in them.
Because this illness has torn at my heart, and not just my body, I am more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I notice and feel more keenly the struggles which other people endure and the burdens they carry. I’ve ached for gentleness and tenderness, for myself and for everyone. I cry—and laugh—more often and more freely. I take life more urgently and myself less seriously. My pace is slowing. My goals are more modest. My joys have intensified. My grief grows, along with my hope. I spend time thinking about what kind of difference I might have made in the world and about what I want to do with my remaining time and energy.
These days, I’m more focused on cancer’s influence on my sense of self than I am on its impact on my body. It’s not that my physical condition and treatment don’t matter; they obviously and certainly do. I want the treatments I receive to be effective. I do what I can to cooperate with them: I track the results of lab tests, especially the ones that measure the intensity of myeloma’s activity in my blood and bone marrow. I try to eat well, rest enough, and remain active. I pay attention to news about myeloma drugs that are under development.
There are limits, though, to what I can do to affect the outcomes of treatment. The chemicals will or won’t tame the myeloma. My kidneys will or won’t continue to function healthily. My bones will or won’t grow more brittle and fragile. I will or won’t have decisions to make about surgery or radiation or dialysis. Regardless of how effective treatment is, I will die.
I have more freedom and responsibility—more choices and agency—about what happens to my sense of self. I’ve wanted my journey with cancer to be a pilgrimage of transformation. Early on, I resolved not to squander this experience, to be a good steward of it, to learn from it, and to grow through it. Cancer is not, on its own, transformative. The disease is bent on my destruction. My responses to cancer, my way of dealing with it, are what hold transforming possibilities.
I return, again and again, to the well-known and indispensable wisdom which Victor Frankl mined from his experience in a Nazi prison camp: “Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Cancer takes a great deal away from me, but I’m left with the ability to choose how I will respond to the losses it exacts from me. Without my consent or cooperation, Multiple Myeloma can diminish and damage my physical health. I can choose, however, not to allow it to demean my humanity or distort my truest identity. I don’t want merely to survive cancer. Whatever the course of my illness, whether I live ten more years or ten more months, I want to live mindfully, gratefully, and joyfully. I’m more concerned about the meaning of my life than its length—about its direction more than its duration
Thank you, Guy,for this incredibly inspiring and insightful statement as you walk this dark valley. It is filled with courageous grace and wisdom for all, but especially for those facing similar circumstances. May God’s goodness and mercy follow you, Christ’s love surround you, the Hoky Spirit’s peace fill you on your journey.
I’m grateful to you, Fred, for these generous comments on my post. And, thank you for your blessing on my journey. I pray God’s best for you, too.
Guy, Thank you for sharing your dreams and struggles. Thank you for more insight about the things we can change. I needed to read this today. You continue to be a true inspiration to so many people, including me. How fortunate we were at FBC, Morganton, to have you for the Saturday workshop. You will continue to shine.
Thank you so much, Rebecca. Your encouragement means a lot to me. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be with the faith-family at FBC Morganton.
Guy, this is such a beautifully wrought and personally vulnerable reflection. It is no wonder that you were a beloved pastor and are a treasured friend and mentor to so many people. Thanks for making my day richer as I have read this and remembered you!
Rob, I’m grateful for you kind and generous affirmation of my writing. I’m delighted to know that it had resonance for you.
Precious are the words of grace opening one’s heart to life and love, thank you Guy!
Thank you so much, Olen. My love to you and Melinda.
I’ve recently been diagnosed with early stage Frontal Tempro Dementia. A kick in the gut is an understatement. But, as you’ve shown us, life proceeds with grace and redemption.?Sometimes when I wake during the night, the sock to the gut is new and hard, but mostly I love this gift of fragility. My friends are gracious and forgiving of impulsivity and forgetfulness. My husband is my shield and protection and my children are my joy. How did I deserve this beautiful life! Be well, my friend. Retirement has its pleasures. ❤️
Jan, I’m so sorry to hear of this hard diagnosis you’ve received. I can only imagine–and, of course, still not understand fully–how much of a challenge this is for you and for those who care about you. I will hold you in the Light and in my prayers.
You are such an insightful inspiration. Thank you for taking the time to share with others your life’s journey. I had to share this with others.
Thanks you so much, David. Hope you are doing well.
I always treasure the words of your journey. We will all need them at some point in our lives and I am thankful that I will have them to offer support and comfort when I travel down this path. Also, I am thankful for memories of you and Anita in the Georgia Club at Southern Seminary. Please keep posting as you are able!
Lin, Anita and I are both grateful for our time together with you and others at SBTS; it some ways is seems like a long time ago and, in others, not so long at all. Thank you so much for your gracious words about my writing. I’m so glad you find it helpful.
You have alwYs moved me. Your vulnerability is a strength for us all. I consider myself lucky that your presence is in my life, you are embraced by so many of us. ❤️
Callan, I’m grateful for you encouragement and affirmation–and for our friendship.
You have had a great influence on many lives. My life is included in that group. Every time I feel low I think of your words…”You are a child of God and God takes great delight in you. God is giving you everything you need to live the life God is calling you to live”. Thanks for all you influence on our lives.
Thank you, Loveta. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to emphasize, during my time at First Baptist, how much God loves us, delights in us, and provides what we need to be and do what we’re meant to be and do.
You have and are making a great print on this earth. I remember so well when you baptized someone you always said “you are a child of God and God takes delight in you”,that was a very meaningful quote you shared. Please live your life to the fullest and take care of yourself.
Thank you so much, Polly. I’m glad that the baptismal blessing was and is meaningful to you. I appreciate your encouragement.
Dear Guy, I did not realize five years can be so short and so long at the same time. For you, I am sure they are even shorter and longer at the same time. At times I wonder why….
Is this part of the life that God has given you all you need to live?
Is this a merciful God?
Are all your writings, sermons, and lectures carefully recorded so that other confused and questioning people like me can find courage?
Guy, I pray that you, Anita, your medical and spiritual caregivers are all blessed with the wisdom, strength, and courage needed at this time.
Sandra, thank you for your encouragement and support for me and Anita. I know it won’t surprise you to hear me say that I have no answers to “why” questions; and, in fact, I hardly ever have the questions themselves. I am grateful for an awareness that God is merciful even when life isn’t. For the most part, I trust that God works with us to face what is. I’ve leaned-in to that trust, even when I’ve lacked evidence for it. Grace and peace, Guy
What a true inspiration you are! Thank you for sharing. You always touch my heart with your words.
Thank you, Pam, so much, for your kind comments.
Guy, my hope is that you take great encouragement and delight knowing that so many love and care for you. Your life has touched so many others, and you have been such a blessing to more people that you will ever know. And God takes great delight in YOU! Know that you are being lifted up daily in prayer by a great host of those who love you!
I’m grateful to you, Beverly, for your encouragement. I’ve been graced with a wide circle of people who care and pray for me. Thank you for being in that circle!
We’ve not been in close contact for some years now, but it was a great blessing to me to know your friendship when Anita and I worked together at Montreat College and through the WNC Baptist Fellowship. Thank you for your positive witness. You have blessed many and continue to do so.
Anne, Anita and I are grateful for the way our lives have intersected with yours. Some of those opportunities seem like so long ago, but they are memories we cherish.
Our love and prayers for you,
Guy and Anita
Guy, you continue to bless and inspire many as we walk this journey called “Life!” Thanks for the way you continue to challenge us with your grace and dignity,in spite of the tremendous difficulties you face. You are always in our thoughts and prayers!
Thank you, Gloria. Your support and prayers mean so much to me.
All God’s best to you,
Guy, our thanks for your presence as a gifted and sensitive Baptist leader! We feel so inundated by heavy-handed, religiously-authorized, difference-oppressing leadership that you are a true blessing! We yearn for your continued influence in the formation of thoughtful lives.
Candy and Dick
I appreciated your response to Sandra Mueller in comments. When “why” becomes only (mostly?) a result-of-the-past question it tends toward ‘unanswerability’: “this length?” “this duration?”. You insightfully concluded this post suggesting that “why” as a reflective inquiry into questions of meaning/intent, direction/purpose facilitate “living the questions” by (as you say) “leaning-into” them.
For you, Guy, a little Rilke:
Neither my childhood
nor my future
is growing smaller . . .
in my heart.
May it be so! Shalom, Dick
Dick, thank you for your thoughtful comments and for your gracious affirmation. And for Blake!
My best to you and Candy.
Grace and peace,
I’m a little late seeing this, Guy. Like all your posts, it is insightful, thoughtful, and creative. But this one, oh, my, is such an opening of your mind, your heart, your “gut” even, to share the inside of your journey with this insidious attack on your body, on your life. Your willingness to do that offers me hope for strength, courage, resilience as I face my own challenges, although they pale alongside yours. Thank you for this costly gift.
Thank you very much for this very gracious and generous response to my reflections on the cancer journey. Your kindness and encouragement mean a great deal to me.