This little piece I wrote back in 1984 sometime, after Cammie’s last chemo. It was never distributed to anyone but a few family and friends. I did it mainly as a catharsis (as my little missives continue to do for me). I read through it quickly just now (we just got it digitalized again from the sole copy I have had in my files). I have to tell you it evokes memories and feelings I thought I was over. I guess we never get over this type of thing.
Cammie sat in Judy’s lap, wailing like a siren. Both of her small arms locked behind her back. Judy pried one loose and asked Cheryl, “How does this look today?”
She was referring to the slivers of purple below her wrist marking her veins. It was through the veins on the back of her hand that the chemotherapy was shoved into her bloodstream.
They looked good. Cheryl applied a tourniquet to Cammie’s forearm and held it firmly, wrist angled down. Judy held Cammie’ s left hand to prevent her from reaching over and trying to pull out the needle that would slowly be inserted into one of her veins.
Immune to the shrieking in her ear, Cheryl swabbed the area with a brown betadyne and wiped it off.
“It’s OK, Cammie. I know it hurts. Hold still, we’ll be done in a sec. She tapped her middle finger on the back of Cammie’s hand – a ritual I’ve seen repeated every time I’ve watched this painful process. The tapping raised the vein, making it easier to find.
And then…in went the needle. All the nurses learned that the soooner they got a piece of tape over that needle the sooner Cammie would stop her wail.
Her face blotchy and red, with tears coursing down her cheek, she stopped crying, but the wracking sobs continued for a few minutes while the chemo was pushed in. This was a “push” day. On other days the chemo would go in by I.V.
No more! This was her last treatment. My eyes misted up as the nurses congratulated Cammie and told her that they were going to miss her. And through her tears you could see a timid smile. She was glad to be done with it.
Judy and I serve with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Following our training we were assigned to do translation in Sudan, Africa. On October 1, 1978 we arrived in Khartoum to begin Arabic language study.
It was one of the most enjoyable years of our lives. The Northern Sudanese (Arab) have got to be one of the most hospitable and friendly people I know. I haven’t worked out the exact formula, but their hospitality was in inverse proportion to the climate (exceedingly hot and dusty) and their economic condition (poor).
Arabic was fun to learn. And it was good to know that after years of preparation for translation work the principles of language learning we were taught really worked.
One of the things that made our time in Khartoum so happy was Cammie’s birth–June 9, 1979. We had read all the books we could on natural childbirth. Even one called “Painless Childbirth”. The one thing I will always remember about the delivery was during one of the contractions. It was very strong. After straining and panting the contraction subsided. With beads of sweat freckling her face Judy looked over at me and stated: “Painless childbirth? My foot!”
In the fall of the next year we moved to Juba.
What Khartoum is to the north, Juba is to the south.
Sudan is, in reality, a divided country. Arabs in the North. Blacks in the South. Topographically, the North is semi-arid. The South, savannah. Linguistically the North has chiefly Arabic dialects. The South 53 languages. Religiously the North is, of course, Moslem. The South animistic and Christian. It is a country of contrasts.
For 17 years following the departure on the last day in 1955 of the British (who governed the country) a Civil War broke out between the north and south. A peace accord signed in 1972 gave the South a certain level of autonomy and Juba became the capital of this semi-autonomous region.
Survey and Allocation
We had, by this time, been assigned to the Didinga, a small tribe of about ~ in the south east corner of Sudan.
But Bible translation is not as easy as it may appear. One of the first steps involves discovering where the needs are in the first place. And where one language leaves off and another begins.
Fortunately, Jon Arensen, one of our colleagues, had already done a linguistic survey of the South. There was a definite translation need for the Didinga. But we needed to find a suitable place to live.
So, in October Russ Hersman who was assigned to the Toposa, and I, along with Jon Arensen and a group from another mission, set out in 3 Land Rovers to survey the area. We were gone two weeks.
After we found a suitable place for Russ and his family among the Toposa, we headed for the Didinga Hills. The roads in this part of Sudan are terrible. Originally built by the British they deteriorated for lack of maintenance. We left the main road for an 18 mile bone-jarring drive to Chukudum.
It was steep. Rocky. And rutted. Once out of the valley the road hugged the edge of the mountain and emerged onto a beautiful doon – -Chukudum.
There is really no such thing as a “village” among the Didinga. Each family lives in a small cluster of huts near their fields. But Chukudum was the closest thing to a village in the whole area. It was the seat of government for the tribe. And it had a church (Roman Catholic). And a clinic. And a Norwegian relief and development group ran an experimental agricultural station. There was also a police compound and a jail with about three shops on each side of the road.
Across a little valley there was a school. A junior school (through about the 9th grade) and a primary school (through about the 6th grade). It was the only school in the entire area—-serving 25,000 Didinga. Total enrollment was several hundred.
Just across the next little valley was a vacant field on a small bluff. With the chief’s approval, we selected this site for our house.
And that ended the survey part. Just before Christmas we made the move out to Chukudum, sharing a truck to bring our stuff with the Hersmans. They would live 60 miles down the rutted road from us.
It is more than love. More than caring. It is one of the beneficial by-products of some of life’s most difficult tests.
As we began to build our house – thatch roof, mud walls, cement floors, louvered windows – we began to get to know the Didinga. They were basically one step removed from being hunter-gatherers. Now they raised some crops, mostly sorghum (millet). But culturally their life revolved around cattle.
This became apparent to us the first week we were there. About 10 PM one evening we heard the distant but distinct rip of machine guns.
The next day none of the men showed up for work on the house. I rode my Honda motorcycle into the village to find out what happened.
“Didn’t you hear the guns last night?”
“Yes, who was fighting?”
“The Dodos (a Ugandan tribe) were trying to steal some of our cattle and we ambushed them.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“Yes, we killed about 40 of them!”
I was aghast. “Did any Didinga die?”
“Yes, about 10.”
“Who had the machine guns?”
“They do. And we do. When Idi Amin’s regime collapsed the soldiers brought their weapons home. But they could not eat their weapons so they traded with us for our cattle. Now they have guns and so do we.”
And so it went. In the next year at least 50 more Didinga were killed in cattle raids by surrounding tribes in our area. We discovered this inter-tribal warfare over cattle was a way of life.
The house went up quickly. In three months we moved into it.
And then we launched into language learning. And as we did we slowly began to realize that something was dreadfully wrong. What was wrong was water. Not enough of it. In fact we found ourselves in a drought——the worst in their living memory.
Prolonged drought in a non-developed area like SE Sudan can mean only one thing. Famine. And we watched as people we knew grew thin before our eyes.
I grew up in India. But I never saw anyone starve to death. But we watched now as little children did not have the strength to stand up. And our hearts went out to the women who had to walk five miles to get their water…and then five miles back.
You can’t live in that type of situation without being affected. Both Judy and I lost weight. We simply could not eat. I dropped from my normal 145 pounds to 122. It was without question the most emotionally difficult thing I had lived through.
I think the Lord used some of these experiences to teach me a little bit about compassion. But I really took it to heart in my next big lesson.
Before it was over more than a thousand people in our area died. The Norwegians asked if I would help them in their relief efforts. I happily said yes.
I had hardly begun when we got news of the death of Judy’s father. We decided we should go and be with Judy’s mother for a while, even if we missed the funeral.
As it worked out, we actually got back in time for the funeral. This was a minor miracle in itself. It was one of those unusual instances when travel arrangements actually worked better than you would ever expect.
That was August, 1980. By early January we were back in Sudan.
January in the North is one of the most delightful months of the year. Cool. Pleasant. But in the South it was not. It was hot. Even the nights.
The first matter of business was our branch conference. Every two years we would get together to be spiritually refreshed, to think about our goals, to discuss problems. This year Bishop Kivingere from Uganda was our speaker. It was an invigorating time.
We had ordered a small Suzuki “jeep” to take the place of our Honda 90’s. We felt it would be safer and an alternative to the expense involved in having our Wycliffe airplane fly us in and out. The best thing about it was the price – $3200, brand new, delivered to Mombassa on the Kenyan coast.
By the time I went to get it and got back and cleared it through customs in Sudan it was mid-February.
We moved back out to Chukudum and plunged back into the work.
“Steve, look at this.”
“What is it?”
“I don t know.”
“Let’s see it.”
“It” was a small piece of tissue that looked like a colorless grape. Judy found it in Cammie’s diaper. And we were bewildered as to where it had come from.
Judy thought it was serious. I was willing to wait and see what else happened.
Three days later, another one.
We got on the radio and passed a message on to the two doctors (one with U.S. AID, the other a mission doctor) to ask them what this could be. The answer came back: “Nothing. Not to worry.”
And more little grapes.
Our group airplane was headed our way with Frank and Ethel Robbins. At that time Frank was the Executive Vice President of Wycliffe and a family friend. We were delighted to have him come and visit. There was a spare seat on the plane and we asked if Dr. Bradford would be willing to come out and take a look at Cammie. She was willing.
But she found nothing. Her reassurances were not so reassuring to Judy in the face of mounting evidence that something was wrong. By this time we knew these grapes were vaginal in origin.
A week after the Robbins’ visit we decided to drive to see the Norwegian doctor 87 miles away.
Chukudum was off the beaten path. And when anyone came to visit we would make it a point to have them over for a meal, or at least tea. In this way we came to know many of the Norwegians working in Eastern Equatoria Province. Their programs included rural health, agricultural experimental stations, road improvement, and water wells and the like.
Dr. Ole Mathis Hette was one of these. And now we called him on the radio to ask if he would see Cammie. He was happy to.
87 miles may not seem very far. But it is a five-hour drive on those roads. On these drives I would normally take my shotgun along and would shoot a couple Guinea fowl on the way for the pot.
Dr. Hette did a thorough exam. He admitted he didn’t know what the problem was or what caused it. His advice was to go to Nairobi to a specialist.
That was easy for him to say. The Norwegians had a nice 12-seat airplane that flew to and from Nairobi twice a week. He could hop that plane anytime at no cost.
For us it was different. We would have to go to Juba first. And then we would have to wait for Sudan Airways, which flew once a week. If it flew. You just never knew if it would or not. Sometimes it would not fly for months on end. We calculated that to fly to Juba, fly to Nairobi, fly back to Juba and then back out to Chukudum would cost us $1000. Travel in these parts does not come cheap.
We drove back to Chukudum and then the next week drove to Juba. I put Judy and Cammie on the Sudan Airways 737 to Nairobi. I would stay in contact with them on another mission’s radio link. It was now the end of March. The heat in Juba was stifling. It was good that the rainy season was right around the corner.
April 4th, 1981, 6:3O AM. I was leaning against the door frame of the ACROSS (Africa
Committee for the Reconstruction of Southern Sudan) radio room. Judy would be on any minute to tell me the lab reports on Cammie.
Keith Gingrich fiddled with the single sideband radio trying to get the hiss and crackle out. The voice on the other end was high and nasal.
It was a pleasant morning. A cool dawn. Crisp.
Judy was on the air. Speaking slowly and distinctly. But the static made her difficult to hear. But one word rang clear. Cancer. Cammie had cancer!
I reeled away from the door, my eyes blurred. My breathing was way out of sync.
I climbed into the Suzuki and drove slowly back to our guesthouse. When I got to my room I closed the door and drew the curtains. And then I sat down and cried like I had never cried before in my life. My whole body cried with me.
Twenty minutes later Russ Hersman came in. He was understanding. Sympathetic. And fortunately, very practical.
“What would you like me to do, Steve?”
“I want to get to Nairobi as soon as I can.”
“Nine Three Uniform (our plane) is up in Wau with Denny and won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“Can you see if there are any other flights out?”
He left to check. By now everyone on our center knew the news. And in the next few hours each in his own way conveyed their concern.
Russ came back. No flights out. Should he call in our plane? He was the flight coordinator and that was a decision only he could make. He made it. And midway into their two-day trip the plane – with four government doctors——was called back to Juba to take me straight to Nairobi.
I had suggested to Judy that when she got to Nairobi she stay with our good friends, Dr. Sam and Suman Gamadia. I knew Sam from Seminary days and enjoyed many delicious meals in his home. Sam was now ministering to fellow Indians in Kenya. The Gamadias welcomed her with open arms.
The next few days were tense. This doctor here. Then that doctor. This last doctor was Dr. Max Benun, a South African doctor practicing in Kenya. He told Judy his fears. That he suspected it was very serious, but that he had to do a biopsy of one of those little grapes. But he had a certain warmth and sympathy. That helped.
These were difficult days for Judy. Separated from me at a time of looming crisis. It was all she could do to keep her composure. On Thursday Dr. Benun informed her it was indeed cancer.
Russ helped get all my papers in order – exit, re-entry, and other assorted documents. Several times the reality of our situation would spontaneously increase the gravitational forces on my body. And I found myself choking back my emotions.
The plane came in from Wau. Denny Dyvig and the four disgruntled doctors got out. Chuck Orenschall refueled it while Russ and I threw in my briefcase and single piece luggage – my blue nylon Adidas bag with a change of clothes.
As I got into the plane Russ gave me an empathetic hug. Words were unnecessary, but we both fumbled with them. I again found myself biting my lip to stifle my emotions.
And Chuck and I took off into the hazy heat of the Sudanese sun.
As we crossed the Ugandan border I could see the Didinga Hills on our left.
My emotions again hit the high-water mark. This time not for Cammie. This time for the Didinga – this relatively small tribe that we were now leaving. We had committed the greater part of our lives in training to translate for such a group of people. We had come to do just that. Although we had hardly begun to learn the language, we had already come to love them.
It was a clear day. But the Didinga Hills blurred into the distance.
Uganda lay devastated below us now. Fields overgrown. It was hard to believe that Winston Churchill had once called Uganda “The pearl of Africa”. The country was in disarray.
The contrast when we came into Kenya was remarkable. Neat, crisp fields. Tin roofs. Tarred roads. Human activity. Hope.
We passed over the magnificent African Rift Valley and landed at Wilson Airport. Judy was waiting on the apron for us.
We hugged tight. I apologized for not coming with her. We wept together.
I picked Cammie up. The same child, but all of a sudden my perception had changed. I didn’t have more love —-just a better love. The quality of my love had changed somehow.
“Steve, I have tickets right here and we can leave for the States on a flight in about an hour.”
“Well, let’s not get hasty. What kind of prognosis does Dr. Benun give us?”
“Zero. She’s terminal.”
My breathing went out of sync again. I wanted to sit down and cry. In the next three years I was to become very familiar with this feeling. It is a primal response to emotional pain and difficult to verbalize. If you have ever experienced it, you know what I am talking about.
We decided not to rush. We needed to call our folks and get some advice. If Sarcoma Botryoides was indeed terminal there was no need to hurry.
We ended up leaving three days later. Mom called us back and said that there was some chance of survival. Judy’s brother Gary had called all over the country, and even to Europe to find out information on this rare variety of cancer. The two places he kept being referred to were St. Judes in Memphis and M.D. Anderson in Houston. Since my folks were living in Houston, we decided to go there.
Dad met us at Houston Intercontinental. We were exhausted——mentally, physically and emotionally. He had a little gift for Cammie. Two small monkeys with long arms wrapped around each other. It was a symbol. In the next two years we would feel the long arms of our family and friends wrapped around us. It was April 7th.
M.D. Anderson is a well-known cancer research and treatment center. But we had never heard of it be ire. Mom got an appointment for us.
Mom Beekman and Gary came down from Dallas. It was quite an entourage that converged on the Pedi (Pediatrics) Clinic on 6th floor——Judy, Cammie and me, Mom Van Rooy, Mom Beekman and Gary. My mom is an nurse anesthetist, familiar with hospitals, so she took charge.
At the bank of elevators in the main lobby we got our first look at bald heads (from chemotherapy) and maroon lines marking up faces (these lines, we were to discover, marked areas that were being irradiated).
Up to the sixth floor. Left down the hall to station 61-Outpatient Pedi. It was already crowded. We checked in.
Soon Dr. Norman Jaffe, a South African doctor, introduced himself. In his crisp way he outlined what he wanted done that day – tests and so on. After the results of the tests were in he would do an exam personally and then make some recommendations.
Then began a bewildering series of tests. Down to the first floor for blood and urine. Up to second for X—ray. Here for this. There for that. We felt like we were in a maze. It was all so unfamiliar. So new. An eon removed from our simple life in Sudan.
On Friday Dr. Jaffe made his recommendation. He confirmed the diagnosis of Botryoides. But because we had caught it early he felt we had a good chance——perhaps about a 40% chance in Cammie’s case. The course he recommended was the VAC pulse –Vincristine, Actynomyocin and Cytoxin. A two-year course, five days in a row on a 4-week cycle.
We were elated at the prognosis. From zero – no hope – to 40% was quite a jump.
He explained that it would be intravenous (some chemotherapy is taken orally) and what we could expect – hair loss, loss of immunity, vomiting, and perhaps some other side effects as well. The drugs are actually poison. They kill all fast growing cells-—the good along with the bad. So it clobbers not only the rapid growing cancer cells, but also the hair cells, white blood cells, platelets and other innocent and beneficial fast growing cells. But these would be monitored and not allowed to go below certain minimum levels.
He advised against radiation at this time. By irradiating the pelvic area, he said, the bones there would grow more slowly than the rest of the body, causing deformity. We appreciated his desire for a treatment that not only cured, but also resulted in a “quality of life.”
After, talking it over for a couple of minutes we all agreed. We had prayed much. We sought the best advice we could get. And now we felt that this was the course of action we should take. And so we told Dr. Jaffe that he could start right away.
We were to come back Monday for the first treatment.
We arrived at the Pedi Clinic at 8:30. We found that a nurse, Linda O’Brian – was assigned to us. In the next two years we noticed a high turnover of nurses. But that is almost predictable. The stress is unbelievable. Little kids screaming. Suffering. And succumbing to cancer. Nobody wants that for very long.
On Monday we ran the maze again. In a couple months it became old hat. Blood and urine. X-ray. Sonogram . And then back to Pedi.
Linda would have everything all laid out on the table. She was gentle and explained each step. But the pain was real. Cammie, at 22 months simply did not understand why she was being repeatedly jabbed with a needle in the back of her hand. She protested in the only way she knew…or could. She screamed as loud as she could.
Her pain was our pain. It hurt to see her scream. But it was the best thing for her. And so we would hold her tight as the life-giving poison was pushed in. A little pain now. But what was a little pain when the possibility of life was being offered in return?
By the end of the first week we were exhausted. But we began to learn the ropes. Know what to expect. Who to see. What to ask. Two years later it had become a way of life. Routine.
Within a month Cammie lost every follicle of hair. Even her eyebrows. It was the most visible indication of her cancer. Her strawberry blond hair…gone. She was bald. It made us weep at first. And along with the loss of her hair, she also lost her ability to fight off infections and childhood illnesses.
One of the most difficult things about the next two years was the isolation. Because she had a very low immunity level we had to keep her away from other kids for the most part. We became her chief playmates. And she learned to play for hours at a time by herself.
The following week we left for Dallas. Wycliffe has a large center here——the International Linguistic Center—— to train future translators. There are a number of International Administrative offices here as well, plus a Regional Office of the U.S. Division. I knew that if we were going to be here for a couple of years I could plug into something here.
We stayed with Judy’s mom until our home became free in June.
Because of the nature of Cammie’s treatments I knew that one week a month we would be in Houston. This demanded a flexible work arrangement. I had worked part-time in my student days at the Regional Office and so asked Ralph Haupers, the Director, if I could serve on his staff with the understanding that I needed to be gone about a week a month.
In many ways work was therapeutic for me. I don’t know how Judy handled it—-being with Cammie all day long. She spent inordinate lengths of time trying to feed her (because of-the nausea and evidently due to the nature of the chemicals themselves, Cammie simply did not enjoy eating). But she had to eat. She had to have a certain number of calories each day. And each day it was a struggle to get the minimum amount into her. And to keep them in. I marveled at Judy’s patience.
Judy was also pregnant. We knew that before we knew Cammie had cancer. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. When Stephanie was born, Cammie had a built in playmate. Before Stephanie came along she would plaintively remark: “I need someone. I’m all alone.” She never said it again after Stephanie was born.
On our fourth trip to M.D. Anderson it became apparent that all the travel and time was a bit much. Children’s Medical Center in Dallas had an oncology clinic and after consultation with Dr. Jaffe we decided it would be best to begin treatments there. However, every third month we would take a treatment in Houston.
And so it went. Never smoothly. But we got used to it. In May we had a scare when Cammie didn’t drink enough and had a strong reaction due to a chemical imbalance in her system. She had to be hospitalized for a day.
Meanwhile, the chemo was interacting very favorably with the tumor, causing it to shrink significantly. That was good news.
In February, 1982 she went in for surgery. The doctors determined the tumor had shrunk all it was going to and they wanted to operate to remove what remained. They ended up removing the tumor in her vagina which ended up removing much of the vagina itself.
When we were in Houston we began staying at the Ronald McDonald House. My parents had moved from Pearland to Conroe and it simply was not feasible to drive from Conroe each day. And so the RMH was a prayer come true.
One of quite a number across the U.S., the one in Houston was large——22 rooms. And brand new. There was a communal kitchen and enough fridges and stoves and cupboard space to go around for everyone.
What was amazing was it worked. Here everyone was in the same boat (kids with cancer, or other very serious conditions). Everyone pulled together. There was no maid service. We were responsible for keeping our room clean. And before we left we were to wash the linens and towels and prepare the room for the next occupants.
Cammie, of course, enjoyed the toy room. It was piled high with toys of every description. Most of them were gifts from parents whose children had died. The toy room provided enough diversion for the kids that parents could get some peace and quiet.
The three years we have been home now have been – without a doubt – the most learning-packed period of our lives. Through our experience, our relationships and reactions, the Lord has taught us things we might never have learned any other way.
For example, we discovered that the greater the emotional aspects of our situation, there was an exponential decrease of interest in things material. We left Sudan for what we thought was a week. Instead, we ended up in Houston with one small suitcase and handbag between us. We never missed all our things left behind one bit.
And nothing, and I mean nothing, has increased our sensitivity to the pain and suffering of others as Cammie’s cancer. It has been a searing needle thrust deep to activate to expression sensitivity, sympathy and empathy as nothing else has.
We learned that God gives strength for the now – not the “then”. Oh, we are confident He WILL give strength for the “then”, but only when it becomes now.
As we sat in waiting rooms we met people who were angry. Angry that their child had cancer. Angry at their spouse. Angry at God. The fact is, you simply can’t beat being a Christian. Especially when something like this strikes. The prayers of God’s people have wrapped us in an envelope of love, care, concern and comfort.
Speaking of prayer, we believe in its power. That Cammie tolerated chemo so well, and that the chemo acted so favorably with the tumor was due, we believe, to prayer
At the same time, nothing has more pointedly caused us to examine and re-examine our priorities. And they are: God first, family second, work third and all else somewhere behind that. It grieves us that the Didingas with whom we worked will continue without the scriptures. The Samuelsons, colleagues who followed us there, have unexpectedly had to leave Sudan themselves. It is difficult to sort out God’s perspective in all this. But we know He has a purpose in His priorities.
Somewhat along the same lines, the Lord has taught us that His call is to obedience…not a location. Having grown up abroad and knowing the desperate needs that exist outside the U.S., my eyes were set on serving abroad. As we began our work with the Didinga I found I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the task there. I often thought to myself, “The Lord will need a mighty long lever to pry me out of here.” And now? Now I am ready and willing to serve Him anywhere. Even if that means here in the U.S.! We are content in our new location and are happy to be of continuing service.
As you can well imagine, few things make one re-examine his own life closer with regard to possible sin than something like this.
And, although it is not a fresh lesson for us, it is always a joy to see it happen. And that is the Lord’s generosity through his choice servants. Especially in a time like we went through. It took away some of the financial concerns we had.
Two illustrations stick out in my mind. The first was the first Sunday we arrived back. We were at Minnetex Bible Church were my folks attended. After the service in which it was announced who we were and why we were there, a gentleman came up to me. I knew who he was, but really didn’t know him well. He asked if we would like to have a car since we were going to be here a while. “Yes,” we told him, “We would.”
He arranged to have us for dinner the next evening at which time he would give us a car he had sitting around. It turned out to be a recent model Olds Delta 88 Royale. With power everything! It was the nicest car we had ever owned.
And then there was the small matter of the cost of our sudden trip home. It amounted to over $3000. Our account statement was going to look like someone had spilled a bottle of red ink on it. But interestingly, within the four weeks after we arrived back, that much and more had come from concerned friends and supporters!
While we are on the topic of money, you may be wondering about the medical bills. It so happens that we in Wycliffe have a group plan that covered every last little bit of it except the first two hundred dollars. That came to more than $15,000 a year over two years.
Another lesson. We have learned to laugh. Yes, laugh! A good sense of humor is imperative on the field. We were glad we took ours with us. We are equally glad we happened to pack it with us when we returned. It has been indispensable. We made it a point to tickle Cammie regularly——usually just before we put her to bed. She loved it. Laughter is therapeutic.
We also learned to keep an open mind. At first it disturbed us to receive letters telling of various alternative “cures” to cancer from well meaning friends. We personally feel that the Lord definitely led along the more traditional route.
Quite frankly, most of the alternative methods do not have the clear-tone ring of truth one listens for. The best book that we found on this subject is titled Getting Well Again by Drs. Karl Simonton and Stephanie Matthews Simonton. Their work on cancer and stress is well worth reading.
On several occasions we were strongly advised to cast ourselves completely on the Lord and “trust Him’ for Cammie’s healing. (That we had done). And then, as an evidence of our faith, quit chemotherapy. These suggestions were a bit disquieting to us. In fact, we felt that this particular theological stance bordered on the presumptuous.
Life is precious – indeed very precious – but there are some things more important than life. Like God’s glory. We have affirmed our theological position that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And from God’s perspective that may entail calling home to Himself a human life. To see it any other way, we feel, is presumptuous.
Absolutely nothing else in the world has made us happier than to see the Lord spare Cammie’s life so far. We prayed fervently for her healing. But more than that we prayed (and pray) that the Lord would bring glory to Himself with Cammie – whether in life or death.
You know, no matter how dark the day, it is always darker somewhere else. And as bad as our situation seemed, we saw plenty of others who were in far worse shape. As we sat in the Pedi clinic at M.D. Anderson there in Houston we have watched a parade of kids with all varieties of cancers and brain tumors that make us happy to contend with Cammie’s variety of cancer. Many of them had far less hope.
And what a great thing hope is! God knew what He was doing when he gave mankind the ability to hope. It pacifies emotions. It allows for glimpses of what could be. It helps make striving and trying an act that will never be regretted.
And what a great thing God has done in knowing the limitations of what the scale of human emotions can bear. If one had to deal on an emotional level with our type of situation all the time, he would go bananas. But God gave us the ability to forget. We don’t often see it as an ability, do we?
And through it all Judy and I became closer. Oh, to be sure had our little disagreements (o.k. maybe some big ones too). But the pressures from without squeezed us closer. (Interestingly, more often than not children’s cancer drives a wedge into marriages.)
Many people remarked to us that we were a “testimony to the grace of God”, and how well we were taking it – stiff upper lip and all, that. Nonsense. You do what you have to do but it does not mean it is emotionally easy.
The fact that we appeared in control and on top of it was just that – appearance. The fact is we hurt. And hurt bad. The sad fact is that our culture does not tolerate open displays of emotions such as we could easily have exhibited many times. And most people simply wouldn’t know what to do if you did get emotional in their presence.
And so people would ask how things are going. And they were genuinely concerned. But what they wanted to hear was: “ Fine, thanks”. Very few people in two years ever went beyond that by asking questions about how we felt——really felt——or statements to the effect that it must be hard.
And further, only a small handful of people took the time to pray with Judy and me personally. Oh, we knew that many, even thousands, were praying. But only several took the time and trouble to pray personally with us. It meant so much.
One of the few occasions when I did break down was on the phone, long distance. After we had concluded business we chatted about Cammie, and how things were going. “Fine”. And then he came back with this: “Steve, I want you to know that my wife and I pray for little Cammie every day.” Emotion flooded me and I could not speak. I whispered my appreciation, hung up and cried like a little baby.
I find fault with no one. In fact, if there is a fault in any of this, it is ours. Perhaps we needed to be more open. More honest. And tell people we were hurting. Badly. In February of 1983, I wrote this letter expressing some of this to a number of friends:
Dear Mike and Sue:
Remember the story of the King’s new clothes? Invisible to all but the king.
Well, Cammie has no hair, as you know, due to the chemotherapy. Bald. Completely bald. But like that fabled king, who thought he could see his invisible clothes, Cammie thinks she can see her invisible hair.
Each day she combs her imaginary hair. And she asks us: “ Mommy and Daddy, isn’t my hair beautiful?” And we have to say yes it is. It is beautiful. And for a portion of any day she can be found with a comb in her hand.
The King and Cammie aren’t the only ones.
Isn’t it interesting how often we see what we want to see? Or a slight twist to this is to appear what we aren’t? I am guilty of that.
I got to thinking the other day. People perceive Judy and me as strong. Holding up under a lot of stress and emotional tension (“How do they do it?”). Is that what we want people to think? And if so, why?
Well, perhaps it is because it is easier than trying to explain teary eyes. Perhaps it is easier than seeing the perplexity that even a slight amount of emotion causes in our society (‘ooooh boy! Now what am I supposed to do??”). Perhaps it is because it is so difficult to stem the tide of emotion once you take your finger out of the dike.
There is a lesson here for all of us. First, people going through stress and emotional tension are not always as they may appear. We are often deluded into thinking, along with the rest of the crowd, that they are wearing the clothing of serenity and peace. When, in fact, they are emotionally naked. We don’t need to be like the little boy who pointed out the nakedness. But we can throw our cloak of love around them.
And secondly, when we are the naked king we need to admit it! And if that means a few tears, a good cry, so be it. How better to indicate to peop1e you need their cloak of love?
A joy shared is doubled. A stress expressed is halved.
Steve and Judy
It has been a year since Cammie’s last chemo treatment. Six weeks after her last chemo her immunity was back up and she was playing with the other kids. We wondered what would happen. Would she adjust? Get along with the kids? We needn’t have worried. She learned to play with others just fine.
Her hair came back in slowly. She now has a full head of hair, a deeper color of strawberry blond than before. I enjoyed running my hand through her short soft hair while it was growing out.
Emotionally we have experienced a release. It was if we had been holding our breath for two years. And in a way we had. Now we sighed with cautious relief.
I took a new position as the Assistant to the President of Wycliffe. The job is stretching and challenging and is giving me a good feel for some of the aspects of international administration.
We still go to Houston for checkups every four months. In between those visits we drop in at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas every other month for a “once over”. This will continue for the next two years.
Judy and I will both tell, you that this has been the most difficult time in our lives. But we will also tell you——albeit with moist eyes——that it has been the richest and most meaningful. We thank God for Cammie, her cancer, her courage, and her second chance at life. And we deeply appreciate the beneficial by-products that come from it some of life’s toughest tests.