Peace Be Still

A few days ago, while I was in my clinic seeing patients, I received a phone call. It was another doctor who wanted to discuss with me the results of a patient’s laboratory exam.

It is not unusual to have another doctor call me to discuss about a mutual patient. Except this one was not about a mutual patient. On the other line was the Hematologist-Oncologist (Hem-Onc) doctor. The patient he was calling me about, is my wife.

It started with a regular annual doctor’s visit. After having routine test, my wife’s Primary Care physician was alarmed by the results of the complete blood count (CBC). This prompted a referral to the blood and cancer (Heme-Onc) specialist.

After the evaluation by the Hem-Onc doctor and having the exam repeated, that’s when the specialist called me. He said that he was concerned about the elevated count of a blood component, and for some “funky-looking” cells. He recommended a confirmatory test, a bone marrow biopsy.

Bone marrow biopsy is not a very dreadful procedure but its not a walk in the park either. It can be done as an outpatient, usually under “conscious sedation” (meaning, light sleep). It entails drilling a long large bore needle into the hip bone down to the marrow, and aspirating and scraping a “sample” contents inside the bone.

The problem of being a doctor, is that you know “too much.” Too much than needed. So in my mind, I already ran down on the possible differential diagnosis. I started to play the different scenarios, their treatments and outcomes. And even though I know that it can be nothing or something benign, I couldn’t shake off the idea that it can be a myeloproliferative disorder. In layman’s term, leukemia.

My spouse’s family history was not reassuring either. Her father died of cancer in his 60’s. She has two brothers that died prematurely, one was barely 50, and the other one in his 40’s. Then her sister who was a little older than her, was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s.

I tried to be nonchalant and positive about it when I spoke with my wife, but I think she can sense that it can be something serious. For the succeeding days prior to the scheduled biopsy, both of us were feeling the uneasiness, as if there’s angry storm clouds hanging over our heads ready to discharge their fury.

The fear of the unknown is one of man’s greatest fears. It terrifies us. It consumes us. It kills us even before we die.

Two nights before the biopsy, we both cannot sleep. My wife asked me point blankly, “Am I going to die?”

I don’t know how to answer that question. Or perhaps I don’t want to answer that question.

She told me that she’s really afraid. So in the middle of the night she asked that we kneel down in prayer.

As we prayed, I asked God to be with us as we go through this storm.

Suddenly I was drawn to the story of Jesus and his disciples when they were caught in a great storm* while crossing the Sea of Galilee. I saw myself struggling with the oars and the sail with the disciples. We were trying our best to keep the boat afloat……

The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. The storm is raging. And I am terrified and trembling.

But where is Jesus?

He is asleep! How can he sleep, when we are about to be swallowed by the storm and the sea?

“Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” I cried.

When Jesus arose, he looked at me lovingly, yet he asked me why do I have so little faith.

Then he spoke: “Peace, be still.”

I looked around me. The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. And the storm is even more raging.

But I am still.

image from here

(image from here)

(*Mark 4: 37- 40)

Live, Pray, Run

Many runners regard their endeavor as a religion. They are so devoted that they may be members of the Nike’s Witness, or the Church of Later-day (and Early-day) Runners, or the Cross-Country Faithful, or the 7-day Joggers. Maybe I am a member of this creed.

Then there are other people who treat other things as their religion. Like eating. They perform this as if it is their sole God-given duty. Well, I will not divulge on this subject any further, at least for now.

But why shouldn’t we treat running as spiritual exercise? I mean, literally.

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My training for the half-marathon for this fall is in full swing. I have been doing the short runs (3 miles) at least twice or thrice during the week, and one long run (5 miles and increasing by a mile every week) on the weekend. I am currently on 8-mile long run.

That is a lot of time dedicated (or wasted?) on running, you might say. What else can you do with that time?

For me, I use that time to clear my head. Or do some serious thinking too. With the beautiful scenery around me, my creative moments (due to relative lack of oxygen?) come during those runs. I have even composed in my head, snippets or even whole article blogs during those period, and I just have to download it into the computer when I sit down.

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But more recently, I have used those times running alone, as my meditation hour – communing with nature and its Creator. We certainly need those quiet moments. Not much talking, but listening.

Not too long ago, during a heat wave in our area, it was so hot that we had a string of 100-degree F days. It was so dry too that we had no rain for weeks, and we were in a drought-like condition, much to the demise of corn and soybean fields here.

Then one morning, as I went out for my run, the surrounding was all wet from the rain the night before. The parched land was soaked with water. It was breezy, cool and refreshing. I was grateful for the rain, as the farmers in our area were as well.

As I was running, I encountered a deer who perhaps was also thankful for the rain. She stood motionless as I passed by, just staring at me.

A thought was impressed on me. “As a deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after Thee.” What a good reminder. To this I add: as a runner panteth for air, so my soul longeth after Thee.

May we all have a blessed week.

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(*photos taken with an iPhone during my morning runs)

Birthday Prayer

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

In my room of our home in Manila, was a poster with a picture of the sun shining through tree branches, and with the above quotation written on it. Even though I don’t have that poster anymore, the message seems to have forever imprinted in my mind.

With another birthday looming on the horizon, it’s that time again for me for an inventory.

No, I’m not doing an inventory of all the birthday gifts I received over the years, nor all of the properties I have. Inventory of my properties will be much easier, since I really don’t have much I can call my own – the banks, credit and lending companies owns most of them. I’m doing an inventory of who, what and where I am, at this point in my life.

As the above quotation said, there are things we cannot change and can change. So I have to accept my receding and thinning hairline. Wearing a hairpiece, is never an option for me (though the wig that Washington used and was common during those days, the one with side curls, looks interesting). And I should do something for my bulging and flabby belly. That means I need to keep running and do more crunches.

I read not too long ago that the average life span in the US is now pegged at 78 years old. This is higher than what it was several years ago, and people are living longer. I know I am already a few years past the halfway point of this average life span. There is no denying that I am in my middle age.

The problem is that, between my father and my two grandfathers (father’s and mother’s side), nobody among them lived past middle age. I have to contend with that genes. I cannot choose or change my family and its genetic pool. However, I definitely can change my lifestyle into a healthy one to improve my longevity.

But there is more to life than health and durability, even though those are important. Our relationships, the way we deal with our neighbors, friends and family, I believe are more precious. Things that really matter — what we want to be remembered, when we are gone.

Yes, I know I cannot change the world. I cannot change other people. Definitely I cannot change my enemies, but I can change my attitude towards them, and make them friends. I cannot even change my wife, but I can accept her as she is. Nor can I change my kids, but at least I can guide them. The only person I can change is me.

Boat in a Storm (by John Lund)

(image from here)

I am thankful for this blessed journey. I am thankful for where I have been, where I am now, and where this voyage will take me. As I continue to navigate in this sea of life, I know I cannot change the storms, the winds, and the waves. But I can change and adjust my sail.

There is one more thing I can do: trust the One who controls the winds and the waves, that He will guide me through.

Prayers on the Roof

We are planning to have our roof replaced later this year. It has been a couple of years since we were advised to have it fixed. In fact it already leaked. I just pray it won’t leak some more. But one of my most sincere prayer is not about the roof, but rather while I’m on the roof.

Exactly 23 years ago this month, while I was still in Manila. Classes just started, and I was a freshman in medical school. My father just got admitted to a hospital, after several months of losing his balance, having dizziness, headaches, and finally having projectile vomiting. I was asked to get the films of his head CT scan that was done earlier in the day at UERM, and deliver it at the hospital where he was admitted. I looked at the films inside the envelop, though I have no idea of the images I was looking at, but I read the dreadful word “mass” in the typewritten report. I later realized that I just delivered my father’s death certificate.

When I got home, there was a commotion in our neighborhood. People were out in the streets clutching bundles of clothes while others are carrying small furnitures. I heard the sirens of the firetrucks, and I smelled smoke in the air. There was a big fire a few blocks away from my home street.

When I entered our house, my mother looked worried. She asked me to go to the roof of our 2-storey house and see how far away the fire is. Climbing up the roof is a thrill for me. I am not afraid of heights, in fact, I love heights. I even fly my kite on the roof.

As I climbed up and stood in our roof, I saw the flames devouring houses and turning possessions into ashes. It was on the roof that I prayed so hard not so much about sparing our house from the fire but more so of sparing the life of my father from his illness. When losing your house from the fire is just a secondary concern, then you know that you really have a big problem. What will happen to my father? What will happen to our family? What will happen to me and my future?

After several minutes that I spent there on the roof, I stopped worrying. I found inner peace. Peace in spite of the nearby fire. Peace in spite of all the unrest down in the streets. Peace in spite of the serious illness of my father. Peace in spite of the uncertainty of our family’s future. Peace in spite of my unknown future.

After a while, I have noticed that the fire became smaller and smaller, and the firefighters were finally able to subdue it. Our house will see another day.

Three months later, my father succumbed to his illness. He was 50 years old. Me and my family have encountered many more problems through the years. But God was always with us, as He was with me, when I stood there on the roof.