Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Much to be thankful for

Excuse me for the grammatical error in this week’s headline: I ended with a preposition! I tried the correct version – “Much for which to be thankful” – but it just didn’t feel right. Nor did the error seem very important, when considered in the context of the “big picture” scheme of things.

And the big picture is what I am writing about this week as Americans pause to celebrate Thanksgiving. Because, in the big picture, we do indeed have much for which to be thankful.

True, times are tough. We are mired in a serious recession, and many feel great uncertainty about the future of our nation.

Despite these challenges, however, we still enjoy a standard of living and quality of life unparalleled in the history of mankind. Living at this particular place, at this particular time, is a privilege for which 99% of the people who have ever inhabited the Earth would gladly trade places.

We are thankful for living in the land of opportunity, where our free enterprise system allows each of us to raise ourselves up through our own individual efforts, to benefit from our own hard work, creativity, and perseverance

We are thankful that we have the freedom to speak out and try to change the policies with which we do no agree, and even to elect new leaders. We are each free to become as involved as we choose to be, and to make as much of a difference as we wish to.

We are thankful for the freedom to worship as we choose, to put our faith and our futures in the hands of our Maker as we choose, without interference.

And we are thankful that these freedoms are protected. We may profit from our efforts, speak out to make a difference, and practice our faith without oppression or threat of retribution.

There are billions of people in other lands who are also suffering from the global recession, but do NOT have the freedoms to do anything about it… so, in the big picture, all Americans have much to be thankful for.

In addition to these blessings of liberty shared by all Americans, I personally also have many, many other blessings for which I am thankful.

For example, I’m still here… and healthy… which I can only count as a miracle.

In Summer of 2008, many readers will recall I was diagnosed a cancerous brain tumor, and initially given a dire prognosis. The tumor was a recurrence of the same cancer – melanoma – from 25 years earlier. My odds of still being here for Thanksgiving, 2009, were slim. My odds of still being here and being healthy were even slimmer.

At that time, I wrote in detail about my condition, and promised to keep readers posted of developments. Thanksgiving seems to be a good time for an update.

For the better part of a year after my brain surgery, I remained free of any recurrence. In late June, 2009, however, scans detected growth of tumors on one of my lungs, which biopsies revealed to be melanoma.

A month later, a regularly scheduled MRI revealed new, very small tumors on the brain.

Since my 2008 surgery, at the advice my doctors I have undergone scans every couple of months in order to catch new tumors as early as possible. It worked! Within weeks of the new discovery, I was able to undergo stereotactic surgery at MUSC to eradicate the two small brain tumors.

Similarly, catching the tumors on the lung early has allowed me a variety of treatment options, including participation in experimental clinical trials, which is the route I chose to take. Ultimately, I was fortunate to be accepted into an innovative cancer research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, for a long-term trial in which I am currently participating. It’s a field of cancer research -- finding better ways to boost the body’s natural abilities to fight cancer -- which is VERY exciting to me, and appears very promising for the future.

My most recent scans indicated that the tumors on my lung appear to have stabilized.

So, as promised, this is an update of my medical condition. If you’re keeping score, I’ve now had four separate occurrences of cancer -- starting with one in 1983 that I shouldn’t have survived, according to the doctors -- and overall, the odds have been something like 1,000 to 1 against me. But, to date, I have no symptoms, no side effects, and no impairments whatsoever. I’m not just alive… I’m healthy! (I could add that I’m “completely normal”… but, frankly, I’ve NEVER been exactly what anyone would refer to as “normal”.)

Am I thankful this Thanksgiving? You betcha!

I’m thankful to be here. I’m thankful for the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who have found ways to keep me healthy -- from MUSC in Charleston, to Moffitt in Tampa, to Lovelace Family Medicine in Prosperity, SC… and lots of places in between. I’m thankful for my family and friends whose strong support has kept me positive and optimistic. And mostly, I’m thankful for the many, many people -- including entire groups of people I didn’t even know -- who said a prayer for me… and caused a miracle.

In the big picture, I have much to be thankful for.

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