The Cancer Journal Part Three

Byron LeavittDarkness, Healing, Light, Suffering, Wonder Leave a Comment

(This is Part Three of the Cancer Journal.  You can find Part One here and Part Two here.)

We went into treatment.  Prior to starting, though, we were told the laundry list of side effects.  These included, but were not limited to:

  • Nerve Damage
  • Heart Damage
  • Lung Damage
  • Severe Fatigue
  • Demolished White Blood Cell Counts
  • Demolished Red Blood Cell Counts
  • Trashed immune system
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Acid Indigestion
  • Hair Loss
  • Fevers
  • Mouth Sores
  • Unpleasant metallic taste in mouth

Now, these were not necessarily possible side effects: I was guaranteed to have probably three-quarters of these.

The first two treatments passed, and I was still doing good.  But it didn’t stay that way.  Around the third or fourth treatment I was hit by excruciating acid indigestion.  It was so bad that I could barely function.  It raged inside my guts, ripping apart my insides.  The one tiny acid indigestion pill they had prescribed I take daily wasn’t touching it.  We talked to Dr. Chaves, and he advised me to start taking two of them a day.  If that didn’t work, we’d look at something stronger.

The next day I was in prayer around noon at work/church.  The thought occurred to me that just because everyone else had to go through this stuff didn’t mean I did.  So I prayed against the acid indigestion and thanked God for taking it away.  Immediately I felt it fading.  And then I didn’t feel anything.  Furthermore, though there was a little bit that would flare up now and again over the coming months, that intense acid never came back.  In fact, I reached the point where I pretty much stopped taking the acid pill altogether (though I would take it for a few days whenever I was chided by medical professionals.)

A similar thing happened with my blood counts and immune system.  I was anemic when I went into treatment, so I was already off to a bad start.  The threat of infusions was very real and often present.  However, when I would get the panicked phone call telling me my counts had been flushed down the toilet, people would pray for me and the next time they would always have made a valiant rebound.

The best part, though, was the lives we touched.  We soon learned that our favorite nurse, Debbie, was not only a Christian but that she attended the church renting from my church.  When she learned who I was her eyes got really big and she exclaimed, “Oh!  You’re the one we’ve been making meals and praying for!”  Small world, huh?  We further made friendships with Deb (no relation to Debbie,) Rita, and many of the other chemo patients.  We had opportunities to pray for many of them and talk about God.  Sarah actually did far more than me in these regards, as we quickly learned that intravenous Benadryl knocks me out faster than a skillet to the skull.  Because of this, I ended up sleeping through good chunks of my treatments.  Boo.

As we continued on, too, a funny thing happened.  Or, rather, didn’t happen.  My major symptoms I had going into chemo (the coughing, the itching, etc.) faded to nothing after the first few weeks.  And all of the other side effects that we had been promised (with the exception of fatigue) never manifested.  I had been told that I would want to stop eating.  But on the contrary, I started eating more.  I was guaranteed to get this weird flavor that would flood my mouth and change the taste of food no later than the third month of treatments.  That didn’t happen, either.  Sure, I got a faint metallic taste in my mouth near the end, but it was so minor that I don’t know that I ever even told Sarah.  (Surprise, Sarah!)  In fact, there were even some weeks where the taste became really sweet.  Don’t ask me why.

I did begin losing my hair in force, which led to one really entertaining bath (complete with heart-warming “Eeew!  What have you done to my tub?” from my wife.)  Following this we decided to just shave my head.  But then a funny thing happened: my hair started growing again as soon as we cut it off.  This happened two more times, though each time there was less hair loss.  My eyebrows were not so lucky, unfortunately.  There are still two or three robust, courageous hairs sticking in there, but that’s about it.

After a while I learned how expensive my medication was, so I stopped taking it (excepting the acid pill whenever I was told I’d get an ulcer otherwise.)  This led to some funny conversations at our doctor appointments:

They would say, “How are you?”

I would say, “Doing great.”

They would say, “What new side effects do you have?”

I would reply, “None.”

They would say, “Any nausea, diarrhea or constipation?”

I would say, “Nope.”

They would counter, “Are you sure?”

I would reply, “Yep.”

“Any tingling in your fingers or toes?”  (A sign of nerve damage.)


“What medications do you need refilled?”


“Really?  Why?”

“Because I haven’t needed to take any of them.”

I came to love it when people would approach me to talk to Invalid Byron (as mentioned in Part Two.)  When they would start into how sorry they were for me or talking in the hushed tones, I would reply with “Actually, I’m doing pretty great.  God’s really blessing.”  It was wonderful to see the conversation immediately flip around.  The person contacted me lamenting: the person left glorifying God and filled with hope.  Finally I started asking people who wanted to pray with me if they would instead pray that we would have the opportunity to change other’s lives.  It seems whenever I got someone to pray this we had great encounters the following week.

Treatments continued to roll past, and we approached the four-month mark where we would take a new PET scan and reassess the situation.  I went in for the scan, and when it was over I tried to thank the technician.  He had done my original PET scan, and he remembered me from the previous visit (he also remembered that I worked in a church, interestingly enough.)  This was why it was strange that he didn’t acknowledge me at all as I was leaving.  He just kept looking at my scans with a scowl on his face.  I felt a creeping dread enter me.  What was he seeing on my scans?

(The rest is written, but it was just too long to put into one post.  Sorry!  The final part will be up in the next couple of days!)

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