“Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And if this disease plans on whipping [me], it better bring a lunch, 'cause it's gonna have a long day doing it.” ― Jim Beaver, Life's That Way: A Memoir
As I sat in front of my oncologist this morning, he had to inform me, unfortunately, that he has to cancel my last infusion treatment – scheduled for this Friday – because the chemo/immunotherapy drug, called YERVOY® (ipilimumab), has permanently damaged my Pituitary gland, as well as disrupted my endocrine and circulatory systems. “I’m sorry Alex, but we have to now incorporate new treatment for you to deal with the [negative impact] on your pituitary gland.” I sat there being still and quiet, while Teresa began asking questions about medications and referrals.
As I continued to sit there quietly, I started to think about four paintings that Teresa gave me as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. In my home office, situated on top of my book shelf, are four of my favorite paintings: The Voyage of Life. It is a series of scenes painted by Thomas Cole, during 1839 thru 1840, which depicts an allegory of four stages in a human life: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. The four paintings define a man’s life as a spiritual journey…a “River of Life” reflection of your personal life, if you will.
The third painting, called “Manhood,” the young adventurous man has grown into an adult, and now he has to face the ensuing trials and tribulations that life inevitably “brings to bear” on a human being; alas, the enduring human condition that we all must face during our journey through life. These trials and tribulations leave his boat battered…beyond repair, and with the tiller gone he has no ability to steer the boat by his own will to escape the talons of his ill-desired fate. And before he can make any attempts to patch up damage of which he can repair, without warning…taken completely off guard…the river turns into a terrible frenzy; bombarding the man’s boat with crashing white water, and against his will, propelling his only protection toward jagged rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents that are unceasingly attempting to force the boat asunder or to bring it down into the river’s darkest abyss. In a desperate plea the man looks up to the sky in search of any relief from this current demise, but the only thing that welcomes him are dark and stormy skies, with torrential rains, wind and hail that are bombarding the man and his boat.
And as I consider this painting’s meaning as it relates to my life – both past experiences and current – especially now, apart from the bad news I've received this morning, and as I continue to fight against another recurrence of cancer, I have come to learn that the fiercest trials and tribulations I had to fight against, each one leaving their own unique, permanent battle scars on my “battered boat…beyond repair…with no tiller to grab and hold on to,” they have taught me many lessons, and thus giving me new insight and discernment of the meaning and purpose of my life.
Despite their unique challenges, each one serving as a ‘thorn in my side,’ my personal scars ensued by life’s trials and challenges, within my personal experience and endowments, they have taught me that even though I must face this ensuing human condition – as we all must face on the road of life – I do, in fact…indeed have a tiller in hand!; the empowerment and responsibility to deliberately choose how, and even more…in what manner and attitude I accept these battle scars: I can flee from the acknowledgement and the truth that each of my physical, emotional, and spiritual scars possess an intrinsic transcendent “meaning and purpose” in my life, or, for me and better yet, together for the sole benefit of others, accept this battle scar and the others, for together they have given me the freedom to choose to accept or deny…to embrace or to ignore…to use as a benefit for others or to use as an excuse for pity.
I dare not!
I will not!
Instead, apart from the burden of these scars, I am inclined to make haste to turnabout and become the standard-bearer, such in the likes as Henry in “The Red Badge of Courage,” with the sole purpose to show others how my scars have “meaning and purpose” in my life.
I am beginning to realize, or have realized already, that my cancer has become my very own personal, physical, and spiritual “Opus.”
It is through my experience today…having just learned that I’ve been given a new battle scar… a “Red Badge of Courage,” that I now possess the experience of knowing that the storms of this world cannot dictate how I decide to leverage the tiller in my hand! And even though I look up and see the dark clouds and stormy skies, my eyes also see the ultimate Voyage and the glorified silhouette, the one who has a hold of my right hand (Psalm 73:23-26), directing me around the jagged rocks, dangerous whirlpools, and surging currents, onto a new path with no battle scars.
My wife shared the following song to me that fits perfectly with this blog: