I grew up hearing it referred to as “saying grace.” Now I more often hear “ask the blessing.” Sometimes “return thanks,” or even “bless the food.” It’s that perfunctory, typically formulaic prayer offered before a meal. Mark Twain takes a shot at this particular Christian practice when he has Huck Finn observing that Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly “mumbled something over the vittles, though there warn’t anything wrong with them.”
For the last couple of months, “saying grace” has been anything but perfunctory for me. Like everyone, I fall into the same familiar verbal prayer patterns, but I mean it more than I used to. That’s because after eight months of not being able to eat or drink at all, eight months of taking all of my nutrition by feeding tube, the Lord was good to open up my esophagus so that I could again eat and drink. So now I thank the Lord quite sincerely not only for the food, but for the ability to ingest it the Lord’s way (which is way better). I can’t eat just anything – beef is difficult and soft and saucy dishes go down easier, but it is all exceedingly delicious and satisfying, and I thank the Lord for every bite. I even find myself “returning thanks for the food” between meals!
My oncologist agrees that the opening up of my esophagus is the Lord’s doing and an answer to prayer, finding my improvement remarkable. Although not everything we’ve tried has worked (like the radiation treatments which were a complete bust), I have been more than satisfied with my medical care. It is great to know that my doctors and nurses are appealing to the Great Physician in prayer as well as treating me to the best of their ability. I’m still taking a chemotherapy (taxol) once a week for three weeks and then a week off. Dr. Devore wanted to add Herceptin to my regimen, since I responded so well to that particular immunotherapy early on, but it was turned down by the insurance company. The problem, according to the doc, is that there are not enough of my types still around (people who have had esophageal cancer for more than two years), so that there is not enough research data to show that Herceptin is effective as a secondary treatment. Don’t get too mad at the insurers, though – the insurance coverage has been a blessing from the Lord, too. Robin got her job at LMU (and insurance coverage for us both) in August of 2016, I was diagnosed in February 2017, and since then Blue Cross Blue Shield has paid many, many thousands of dollars for my medical bills. I can’t imagine where we’d be without the insurance coverage.
My doctors were over the moon about the results of my most recent CT scan just days ago. The esophagus itself appeared unchanged from the last scan; “stable” is how they characterized it, but the surrounding areas affected by the cancer have showed definite improvement. The spot of cancer on the liver, which had been growing, is no longer visible, and the lymph nodes now appear normal. The docs explained that you just can’t get radiologists to use terms like “marked improvement,” and “entirely resolved” in a report, since they are so careful to guard against fostering false hopes, but that’s the kind of language used in my report. Since my scan was so good, the increased frequency and intensity of pain I’ve been experiencing lately is almost certainly due to my body developing a resistance to the pain medication, rather than a worsening of my condition.
Now that I am eating, I’ve been able to increase my caloric intake much more easily, and I’ve even put on a few pounds. I’m up to 165 or so (my boxing weight in high school, although my high school self could easily whip the current version), but that’s up from the high 140’s. My strength and stamina is increasing gradually. My red blood count is at ten (up from 8, normal being 12-14), and I’m getting iron infusions to try to address it. I still get fairly exhausted after being active for a few hours, but I’ve been preaching (from the wing back chair) since Christmas Eve. That has been a great blessing, too, at least for me and I hope and pray for the church as well.
So thank you so much for your prayers, these past couple of years and continuing. Please pray (with thanksgiving) that my esophagus would remain open, and that I would continue to be able to eat and drink. Pray that my weight, strength, and stamina would increase, and that I’d be able to return to more of my pastoral duties. Please pray for an effective solution to the increased pain I’ve been experiencing lately. And please join me in praying that my faith would stand the test that has been given me, until Jesus takes me to himself or heals me entirely by his merciful and powerful hand.