"I thank My God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all." Philippians 1:3
Dana and I returned home from our road trip to Fayetteville last night. Her surgeon, Dr. Michael Cross was pleased with the progress of her healing from the skin grafts he performed on her recent reconstructive surgery. There was no infection, and healing should be completed in about four to six weeks. This was welcomed news, answered prayer and a great relief all wrapped up in the best Christmas present we could have received.
Someone asked me how long we were on the road. My first response was to give them the driving time from Arkansas to Texas. In truth, we have been on a two year journey. Since Dana's diagnosis with breast cancer in March 2008, there have been many bumps, twists and terrifying, hairpin turns on this rocky road. We have driven over 12,000 miles in the past two years to medical appointments, treatments, procedures, and surgeries. When we pulled into the driveway last night, we were at the end of our trip, but looking forward to what lies ahead.
At the risk of failing to mention everyone who has helped us along the way, I wanted to put on pause my blogs on "The Christmas Story," and attempt to put together some words of appreciation.
When Dana told me of a lump under her arm, I was holding a meeting at First Baptist Church of Sylvester, Georgia. Dr. Ben and Cathy Bush, long time friends, had invited me to their church, and I was having a wonderful time with some of the finest people in the world. Dana told me her doctor recommended a precautionary biopsy be taken. We decided to wait until I got back to Texas for her to have it done. When I shared this news with the people of FBC, Sylvester, the women of the church were moved to pray for Dana. For the past two years, their cards and letters have sustained her through the prolonged battle with breast cancer. Thank you Ben and Cathy for leading your people to care for someone they have never met. We are grateful.
Three churches sent Dana prayer blankets. This is a tremendous ministry. Starla and Russell Harbin, Rev. John McCullough, and Jeep Morse sent these beautiful shawls, hand-made by the ladies in their churches. They not only provided warmth from the cold, but comfort from God. It blessed Dana to know that each one of the comforters was prayed over by the people of the church before it was sent. Opening the mailbox and finding one of these precious gifts sitting on top of all the medical bills is like a spoon full of sugar. Like the song says, it does make the medicine go down. Dana would take these to each chemo treatment, and wrap them around her. The product and the prayers of people she had never met, and those she has loved for years made the toxic shock of "red devil" chemo endurable. Thank you for thinking of her.
Rev. Ricky and Pam Griffin are two of the greatest gifts God has ever given to us. Ricky called a few minutes after Dana and I received the news, "It's cancer." I was in a fog of shock at the news and attempting to drive to meet our daughters to tell them the report face to face. Ricky's call was a message from God. He said, "Dude?! WHAT is going on. I cant' get you off my mind. Is something wrong?" I told him, choking on every word that came out of my mouth. His response was a quick fix. He told me about Pam's diagnosis a year before Dana's. He exhorted me, and assured me this was a battle we could win. God used Ricky like a bolt out of the blue to let us know we were not alone. The grip of fear loosened its icy grip from my mind and my heart.
Dr. Michael and Terri Catt pastor Sherwood Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia. Just before I met with my daughters, I called Michael on his cell. I told him Dana had cancer, and I was about to meet with my girls to break the news. I told him, I didn't know what to say. It was like I had a claw in my brain raking it clean of the comforting words I needed to come out of my mouth. He prayed for me. It was the sound of his voice, not the words of his prayer that I remember. He was hurting with us. It was a moment in time for which good friends are made. Thank you Michael. Since then, he has encouraged Sherwood to send countless numbers of prayer cards to Dana over the past two years. We are grateful to Michael and Terri, and their fine staff for keeping Dana's condition before the praying people of their church.
Lowell and Shirley Thomas are a huge part of our lives. We met in their home on the east side of Fort Worth in September of 1974. When they heard the news of Dana's cancer, they made a wonderful product, Mannatech, available to us, and introduced us to Dr. Oliveros. They were vital pieces of the mosaic that God was piecing together to give us a portrait of His Presence.
When Dr. Oliveros became Dana's oncologist, he told us that we were going to hit this hard, but the first thing we were going to do was pray. He is a man of faith and great prayer. His own wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before. He took Dana's condition as a personal challenge. He assured us that prayer was the first and foremost weapon we could bring to the fight. With his beautiful Colombian accent, he mobilized and managed Dana's fight for her life. He emphasized the use of powerful prayer, healthy nutrition, positive people, consistent exercised and medical science. Dana balled these five individual fingers of fury into a fist, and hit cancer hard. Thank you Dr. Oliveros for teaching us what total warfare looks like.
Dana began six months of chemo in April of 2008, and in the middle of the treatments we were blessed by a trip to California from long time friends, David and Cindy Lane. Cindy took Dana shopping for the most beautiful scarves in the world. Dana chose to use scarves as a fashion statement after she lost her hair. Cindy was just the right medicine to combat chemo. Thank you for stepping in with a boost over this obstacle in her road to recovery.
Dr. Gail Lebovic was Dana's first surgeon. Her upbeat, but no nonsense counsel led us to the decision to agree to radical surgery to make sure the cancer was taken out of her body. Her trust in God had been evident to us during the examination process, but on the day of surgery it became even more apparent. Dr. Lebovic entered the small curtained cubicle on the morning of surgery with three of her associates. She asked me to pray for her. In 30 years of ministry, I had never had a surgeon ask me to do that. Her humility to make sure that all of her skills were guided by the hand of God was a very moving experience. Thank you Dr. Lebovic for being an instrument in the hands of God.
When a back injury forced Dr. Lebovic to shift her practice from the operating room to the training of surgeons, she pointed us to Dr. Michael Cross. She believed he would be the one to make the final reconstruction surgery a reality. After several months of trying to coordinate his schedule with hospitals in Texas, she asked us to consider going to him in Fayetteville for the surgery. We agreed to go there, and trust God to work out the logistics. Little did we know, God had this own His agenda long before we brought it to Him in prayer.
Our family has been an awesome support sytem. Our parents, brothers and sisters, and their children have been a daily source of laughter and light through the dark of the night. Thank God for friends like, Don and Ruth Stokes and James Nance who sat with us all day throughout Dana's first surgery. God used many others to give us a call, send a card or text us when they could not be with us in the same room. We knew you were there. Thank you for standing with us.
Thank you for a group of men who formed, "DANA'S HAIR CLUB FOR MEN." With genuine enthusiasm and a great sense of humor, they were willing to let us process the trauma of hair loss with a head-shaving party at the church. What Satan tried to use to intimidate Dana, you used as a way to inspire her. Through the past two years, these guys have been there to help me get over the shock and the sting of not being able to fix "THIS" for Dana. They have let me share some crazy observations along the way. I still laugh every time I look at the business cards I have collected from doctors and practitioners who battle in this arena. When I was a high school kid in New York, I don't remember Career Day offering the option of becoming a , "Breast Specialist." I'm pretty sure the guys I ran with would have packed the room, and formed a line that ran around the building at Kings Park High. Oh well, God had another plan.
Our daughters, Ashley and Allyson, have been a tremendous source of blessing and comfort to Dana. They have been there for her, and have developed into mature ministers of God's grace as they walk with their mother through her Great Adventure. Ashley and Allyson ran in a "Race for the Cure" in April 2008 and Ashley's fellow employees at INPROV chose to run in honor Dana. It was a sobering reality check to witness thousands of people gathered on the Saturday morning of race day in Sundance Square of Ft. Worth. Cancer is no respecter of persons, and it has forged a huge sorority of courageous women who have inspired me to have whole new appreciation for the statement, "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL."
Whitestone Fellowship has been the tip of the spear in our battle against breast cancer. Thank you for standing with us through the greatest challenge of our lives. Carol Tanksley, Mottie Huber, and Dee Farber, all warriors against cancer, have been armor bearers for Dana in her own battle. Anita Bernardo added a personal touch by leading a team of women to clean our home while Dana was recovering from radical surgery. It was so nice to come home, and find everything in place. I still can't find anything in my study, but it looks great. God bless you ladies.
Carol Cunningham and Ruth Stokes, owners of two health food stores in Decatur, and Jacksboro, have been an immense source of encouragement, and support to Dana. Literally, she could not have reached this level of her recovery without you. Thank you for taking her health on as a matter of personal concern and major ministry.
When we hit a wall in our own prayer life, Dana encouraged me to get on Facebook and enlist Friends to pray with us for God to provide a solution to her final reconstructive surgery. I have to admit, I resisted. I went over to the dark side kicking and screaming. As usual, Dana was right. One of the world's greatest sources of energy in the world is a little dynamo in Houston, Donna Martinez Bell. She was a key factor in being able to locate and mobilize an amazing group of people on Facebook. These are the single adults that we were privileged to serve with at Houston's First Baptist Church from 1980-1983. Thank you Donna for what you did to point people on Facebook to Dana's need. You are an amazing lady. In a few short days, we had hundreds of people praying for the scheduling and completion of her surgery in Fayetteville. What had built into a ten month log jam of delay, God released into a free flow of His grace. In less than 72 hours, we were scheduled to go to Fayetteville. Still, we didn't know anyone there, or so we thought.
Steve Moore called after we posted our need. He and Laura had just moved from Fayetteville to Fort Smith, Arkansas. He offered to help us coordinate our stay in the area. Through him we reconnected with Ronnie Floyd, Jonathan Beasley, Debbie Beasley, Marcia and Anthony Powell, Mike Lumpkin, and Bob and Sharna Arthur. The Arthurs graciously provided us a place to stay when Dana had her surgery. What a wonderful surprise when we discovered that their home was five minutes from the hospital, and three minutes from the doctor's office. Wait there's more. Sharna follows the same nutritional guidelines as Dana. Bob and I are kindred spirits of another philosophy. Dana and I are so grateful that He brought them back into our lives, for such a time as this, and for the great times that are ahead. Also, Steve called after surgery had been scheduled with Dr. Cross to let us know that his daughter, April, was the nurse assistant for surgery and post-op. We have known her since she was in high school. What a blessing she was to Dana, as she gently guided her as an angel of mercy through the whole intimidating process.
Thank God! He prepared the way for Dana's surgery and recovery long before we knew we would be on the road to Fayetteville. I am trying to transfer this truth to every other aspect of my life. God is Sovereign over everything that comes our way. What comes to us passes through His heart, before it arrives at our address. Some of God's greatest gifts are wrapped in a very unusual way, but always have His hand prints all over them.
OK. This is taking longer than I thought. Let me wrap this up with a big bow. Please forgive me for any slight that may come as a result forgetting to make a personal reference. Trying to express my gratitude for the past two years with weary brain cells, and limited space is harder than I thought it would be. Thank you to all of our Facebook Friends who have been willing to pray with us through Dana's scheduling for and recovery from surgery. Your notes, posts, and likes have been a daily reminder of the Presence of God. He has guided us through the darkness with the points of light reflected from the faces of His people. Because of you, but in honor of Him we are able to wish you and enjoy ourselves this special time of year. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
"I thank My God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all." Philippians 1:3