Another cancer: another blessing

23 Aug

Three weeks ago I visited a plastic surgeon to ask him to check on some bumps and spots on my skin. Fortunately none of those is anything to worry about. But another spot on one finger was of interest: he shaved it off and sent it away to the lab, even though he thought it was probably nothing to worry about. The very next day, however, he rang me with the surprising news that it was an invasive skin cancer and could I please come to the hospital tomorrow for surgery to remove it.

I’ve had a few small skin cancers before, of the common type known as BCCs. This one was an SCC: Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is very different in that it can quickly divide and spread elsewhere in the body. That’s why the surgeon was keen to get it out right away.

So within a day I was operated on, with a large chunk taken out of my finger, and another from my arm to provide a skin graft, and then sent home with my arm in a sling.

The good news is that the margins of the cancer were completely clear, so it is all out and gone. I have to be very careful from now on, to ensure that any other spots are regularly checked to make sure that no more SCCs develop.

So I’ve spent some weeks being somewhat disabled, not able to do much with my left hand, not able to drive, for some time unable to type, and always needing to be very careful not to get the skin graft bumped or injured, or wet.

Even so, how fortunate I am!

Another cancer: it certainly was a shock, and I have found myself again wondering why my body does this to itself. On face value this is much less serious than my prostate cancer, for example, but in reality it is no less serious, with the potential to go into the lymph glands and then anywhere else in the body.

I’ve spent these last weeks counting my blessings.

How fortunate I am that I went to the doctor in the first place and that he was careful enough to find this SCC.

How fortunate I am that this happened early enough for this cancer to be removed before it had spread.

How fortunate I am to have health insurance, so that I could go to hospital quickly and have this problem resolved.

Then, when I think of how kind and helpful the hospital staff were, along with my wife who has driven me around and helped me to do things I could not do while my arm was bandaged up, I know how blessed I am.

This week I visited in hospital a dear friend who has had surgery for a much more serious cancer and is facing a very difficult road ahead. We both recognized that we live in a time in human history, and in a country, where medical treatment is such a blessing. In earlier times, and sadly still in some places, our respective conditions would have gone undiagnosed. I might well be dead by now from my earlier condition and he would face a similar situation.

How fortunate I am to live when and where I do.

Having one arm in a sling for a week or so led me also to reflect on the situation of those who are always like this: perhaps disabled in one limb or perhaps have lost the limb altogether. I have developed a new appreciation of how difficult it must be for those people., just to cope with the everyday things of life.

It is remarkable how many things you would normally use two hands to do!

Here I am meaning simple, everyday things like putting toothpaste on the toothbrush.

Going to the toilet is the classic. Opening or closing a door with only one hand available may require moving your body quite differently.

I have been able to touch-type since my school days (a huge bonus)—but that means that I never learnt to type with just two fingers the way many people do. I have been so frustrated being unable to type. Basically it has meant I could not do so much of my work. There’s another blessing: I just had to sit down and read!

Then, too, I found myself reflecting on the stories in the Gospels about the man with a withered arm, who was healed by Jesus. This man was permanently unable to do the things I was struggling with. In the society of his time, he would always be culticly unclean. For him, going to the toilet required using the same hand as he also used to eat: no way for him to maintain the required separation of activities. He was in trouble, whichever way you look at it. And along with all the practical implications of his disability, his society considered people such as him ‘outcasts’: this ailment was a sign of some disapproval by God.

How wonderful it must have been for him to be restored: restored in his arm, but also restored to the full sense of belonging to the community, including ‘the people of God’.

Compared to all that, I am indeed so very fortunate. I am counting my blessings and so grateful that I am healed. Sure, the wound has yet some way to go, but that is not a big concern. Rather, I am made whole, by the knowledge of how blessed I am, again and again and again.



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