What a year! The past seven months have been a nightmare. I wish I could look at it in a different light, but I still can’t wake up. Now, before I begin, I truly don’t want this blog post to come across as a whining, complaining diatribe. That’s not its intent. Everyone everywhere faces seemingly insurmountable odds every day. It is the one thing humans should be able to understand about one another. Nothing in life is easy. What we all have in common is hardship of varying degrees.
As many of you know, my wife has been fighting cancer since September of 2018. It has been a long road with many twists and turns. She had a lymph node biopsy, which detected cancer in it after all, and facial reconstruction. I’m glad to say that part of her is healing quite well. In January of this year, she started Opdivo, an immunotherapy drug that is designed specifically to fight melanoma cells. We thought that this would be the easy part of the journey, but it has turned into a trail of endless doctor appointments and strange maladies (dead thyroid, double vision to name two).
I wish I could say that the health events only affected Liz. My oldest daughter has been on antibiotics three times since January (2 strep infections & 1 ear infection). My second oldest has been on antibiotics twice (2 strep infections). My third daughter has had 1 strep infection and an earring back surgically removed from the back of her ear (long story). My youngest has also had 1 strep infection. This doesn’t even count the hospitalization my wife endured for several days at the end of March. Several doctor appointments are still on the horizon, including a liver biopsy for an undiagnosed autoimmune disease, a visit to the neuro-ophthalmologist and rheumatologist, as well as a trip back to Philadelphia to visit the dermatologist/oncologist. She also has the routine CT scans and lymph node ultrasounds with her oncologist and skin checks with her dermatologist. It is a road that we will be on for quite some time.
When will it end? That is the question that floats around in the back of my mind whenever I am reminded of all these things. The answer that echoes is this: “I suppose never.”
This is the plight of humanity; it is the struggle we all must endure.
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13:1
The car repairs, dirty dishes, clean house, work trouble – these are the small stresses that no longer seem small. These are the stresses that begin to feel overwhelming when coupled with everything else.
What can one do? You must keep on going! Our four daughters depend on it.
All of this brings me to the strange point of this blog post.
“What turkey?” you may ask.
THIS ONE IN OUR HALLWAY
Well, on Friday night, while we were out at a friend’s house, a turkey crashed through our double-paned window and roosted in our house for several hours. While there, it destroyed part of our kitchen, scratched our floor, smeared blood and feces on our walls, beds, floors, doors, and ceilings. (Yes, even the ceiling.) Of course, insurance only covered $282 dollars.
Good ol’ insurance. They think of everything.
So, in the end, what does all of it mean? How does our family carry on? One step at a time. Though, if I’m being honest, at this point it feels as if I’m more or less being dragged behind the wheel of a truck.
What else do we do? We will wait. There is nothing else we can do. We will wait, and wait, and wait.
“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 31:24 ).
I’ll be upfront and honest with you. I love fantasy stories, and stories told in other worlds. When I read, I like to be taken away from the world in which I live. I like a story to take me away from the problems I am dealing with in this life. My mind is constantly churning over the difficulties of this life, so when I read a book or watch a movie I like to escape, to force my mind to rest for a moment. That doesn’t mean I don’t read “real world” books or watch “real world” movies. It’s just that I prefer stories with an element of the fantastic, which brings me to “superhero” movies.
I also believe it taps into something we, as humans, know to be true. As a Christian, I believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God. While the source of the super-human strength stems from a different source than what we are typically used to in comic books, we can find superheroes interwoven throughout the Bible. I will focus on one that stands out above the rest: Samson.
He was an ordinary man who was given extraordinary strength. He even had a “kryptonite.” No, I’m not talking about Delilah. It was scissors to his hair. While the strength came from God, and ultimately his loss of it came through disobedience, it was “held” in his uncut hair.
But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.
I recently read an obnoxious article that lambasted superhero movies and those that watch them. Don’t get me wrong. If someone doesn’t like that genre, I don’t really care. But when someone demeans those who do and labels them childish for liking them, that irritates me.
The article, however, got me thinking. What makes a story a childish story versus an adult story? While I like Liam Neeson movies, are they any less fake than superhero movies? I would say, “No!” They are just as fictional as Lord of the Rings.
I’m not exactly sure what motivates someone to label fans of superhero movies as childish, but it reminds me of teenagers who have decided that they are going to start acting like an “adult.” They are still living at home with Mom and Dad, but they must separate themselves from their younger siblings, and inevitably, they overcompensate. They start calling the behavior of their brothers and sisters immature. They make fun of the cartoons their siblings still watch and say things like, “I don’t watch little kid shows anymore.” In a sense, they are insecure of their own growing up. To appear more mature, they feel as though they must diminish things that they may have previously enjoyed when they were younger.
I think I can end this post with a quote by C.S. Lewis:
“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
Just a thought.
These past few months have been difficult, to say the least. It's hard to move on, to think about the future, the road ahead, when the daily struggles of life feel so burdensome. I tell myself that I have to homeschool the children, I have to edit the third book, I have to clean the house, balance the checkbook, decorate for Christmas, fix the snowblower, etc... while another part of me says, "Who cares about it all? Does any of this matter?"
While my head says, "No," my bones, my heart, and my God say, "Yes!"
When you find yourself standing at the foot of cliff, staring up at the mountain before you, reaching the summit seems impossible. How do you overcome such an obstacle? How were we going to make all these trips to Philadelphia? How would we navigate a huge city in which we've never been? How would we navigate such a life-changing event?
Fear tells me that I may lose my grip and fall. Fear tells me that every horrible situation is lurking around the corner. It all seems too much to bear. Many times, I had wished I could find a place to run to escape these problems, but no place exists. You just have to stand up and face them.
The reality is perseverance is difficult. Giving up is easy. That much is obvious. But it is in the midst of darkness where the smallest light becomes most noticeable.
When I hadn't been consumed with stress and worry about Liz's condition, I had been trying to live a "normal" life. I edited my third and final book of the Scar of the Downers Series as I homeschooled my children. It was difficult moving on with the "mundane" in such a emotionally turbulent time. Again, I would ask myself, "Who cares about tomorrow? Who cares about it all?"
Then I would think of Liz and the faces of my four daughters. I would painfully and reluctantly tell myself that I can't give up. Not yet.
It was during this time when I prayed and pleaded to God for good news. This whole situation had spiraled out of control and I felt so lost and helpless. A firewall was needed. A bottom was desired. Just one word of hopeful and encouraging news is what I wanted.
This past weekend we made yet another trip to Philadelphia to attend a couple more doctor appointments. One was with Liz's dermatological surgeon and the other was with her oncologist. We did receive hopeful news from both doctors. The dermatologist said that her face was healing perfectly, while the oncologist said that her lymph node biopsy came back negative. While this doesn't change her future care, it does provide encouragement for the moment. It was a pinprick of light in a very dark tunnel.
That is one thing I've been made aware of throughout this whole process.
How powerful a small word of encouragement can be!
It was at this time that I didn't care about a book deal! I didn't care about a high-paying, impressive job. I didn't care about a great house or any other temporal thing. What I wanted was good news, that's it. I didn't care about birthday presents, birthday cake, or anything like that. I cared for one thing - the health of my family, more specifically, my wife.
She is one of the meanings behind my writing. I've realized that my love for writing is bound together in my love for Liz. It is one of the reasons why I do it, and why I can't let this become a roadblock for tomorrow.
It is easy for me to obsess over the dark thoughts that something like this conjures. My mind can become like a black hole that sucks me in away from my wife and family. While the pull is the strongest during these times, it is also during these times that I must resist.
I don't know what the road ahead looks like, or where it will take me or my family. She faces months of healing, perhaps years. Will these feelings resurface? Sure! But I know that I must not give up walking this path, no matter how bleak the hills and dark the road becomes. With the answers to prayers, God has given me enough light to see the step before me, and it is in that light where I will work and dwell.
Thank you for the prayers! I will keep you updated on my wife and my writing, which, by the way, is coming along well enough. I am editing yet another book called The Cry of Kilhaven (this is a completely different series.)
Perhaps that will be my next blog post!
I have not written on this blog in over half a year. Now that's not to say I haven't been doing anything because I have. I wrote, acted in, directed, and produced a short independent film with my wife and local church. I'll embed the teaser and trailer. I've also been editing the third and final book in my Scar of the Downer Series. I've taught college and homeschooled my children. Yes, this summer and fall have been quite busy.
I was planning on writing a new blog post a few months ago when something unexpected happened that stole my focus. My wife had developed skin cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer didn't look like textbook cancer and so it went undiagnosed for some time. This allowed the cancer to "break off" with satellite spots. Has it reached her lymph nodes? We don't know yet. We are still waiting on the results of the biopsy.
What has been difficult about this more than just the typical cancer fears and worries is that she had to have major facial surgery to remove the cancer. This has come with months of bandages on her face and quite drastic facial reconstruction that has been stressful and painful for her. Even her smiles have been affected. (They're more like smirks now.) We have also made many trips to Philadelphia so that she can have the best care this country has to offer.
All this to say, this gigantic hurdle has made many of the things I once cared about seem pointless and inconsequential. While autumn is typically my favorite season, I'll be honest and say that it has been difficult to find the motivation to complete the mundane. It has been almost impossible to care about the things that had made me love this time of year. I've allowed cancer to rob me of finding happiness in the small things such as hanging up Christmas decorations or writing a blog post, or even reading a book. I've allowed the fears of this disease to steal small moments of my life, moments I cannot get back.
But it has also made me realize with even more certainty why I'm doing what I'm doing, and why I can't give up or give in. This battle has made me understand how world-changing a game of Monopoly with my wife and children can be; how a simple dinner with my daughters can turn into a lifelong memory; how the quiet moments with my wife can be a reminder to her just how much I love her.
It will change you whether you want it to or not. In fact, Liz asked me if I think things will ever be the same again, and the simple yet difficult answer is no. Our lives have been forever altered - emotionally, spiritually, and physically (she has the scars to prove it). That, however, doesn't mean that it has to be all bad. Things like this can return one's focus to what matters in life. It can renew and test the bounds of faith in God. It can open a closed heart and make an ungrateful one thankful.
I'll admit that I've always struggled for happiness, for smiles. In a sense, it has been like my white whale - something that has eluded me. I've understood that about myself. It has been a thorn in my flesh that I've struggled against all my life. Smiles have always been rare to me. Many people have commented on it in my life. That is yet another thing that I've realized. Just how powerful a smile can be, especially to my four daughters in a time like this. But what my family has fought in these recent weeks has made the battle for a smile all the more difficult, and yet, all the more necessary.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.