This was originally written March of 2004.
I wanted to write this article for the February news letter, but I had to wait until the after the 28th of January which is way too late for Cindy Whitmore’s deadline. Why the 28th ? It was my 65th birthday and a milestone and I wanted to make sure I had made it before I wrote about it.
All my life I have been looking forward to these various milestones in my life. It started with 6 and being able to go to school since there was not any kindergarten back in those days. Then there was age10, just to be in double digits in age; 13 and being a teenager; 16 and being legally able to drive (although I had been driving back in Indiana for 4 years between my uncle’s two farms and town with cars, pick-ups and grain trucks). Eighteen was eagerly anticipated because I would be out of high school and hopefully on my own; 21 and I would be legally of age and considered an adult.
At each of these stages of my life I wondered what I would be doing at the next stage, where I would be and what my life would be like. At 21, I had already earned my wings as a navigator in the USAF guiding KC-97’s involved in air refueling with B-47’s and B-52’s. The following April Jeri and I were married and moved to Kansas.
By age 30 we had moved from Kansas to Newfoundland to California to Oregon. I was out of the Air Force because I learned my stomach did not enjoy flying near as much as I did. I had gone to college, earned a degree, God had blessed us with Chuck and Kris, I went to work for Fleetwood and we were now living in La Grande on the corner of 2nd and N.
By age 40, I was out of Fleetwood, we had moved from La Grande to the Mount Glen area under Mount Emily, and then to our beloved farm in Summerville. I was farming full-time and enjoying it less. Then it was full- time farming, part-time working, and Jeri worked first at the post office, then for Grande Ronde Hospital. God was using this time to teach me about Himself and myself, and most of the lessons were not enjoyable. God had surprised us with Andy and then we adopted Lani.
By age 50 I was out of farming. God allowed us to keep the farm, I just had to turn it over to a neighbor to farm and I went back to college, added an accounting major, and God performed a miracle and opened a position with the IRS in Pendleton just for me. We were blessed that we were able to stay in this valley and not have to move to another city to find work as some of our friends have had to do.
Turning 60 was the difficult one mentally. Up until then I still felt young, but 60 sounded old. There is just something about that age that connects you with the elderly. I didn’t feel any different, but there was that number that I did not want to accept. My dad retired at 60 as that was the mandatory age for flight personnel in those days. I was only 40 at the time, but it seemed reasonable that he would be able to retire. It did not seem so when I turned 60.
It was also the first time I had progressed through a decade working for the same outfit. My dad worked 35 years as a Flight Engineer for TWA. By the time I was 60, I had worked for the IRS 11 years, twice as long as I had worked for any other employer.
Now I have reached age 65, a year more than my mom lived. Even at the time I knew 64 was a young age to die, it is even more so now. Yet over the last year or so I have seen several of my friends die in their 50’s, and a couple have had heart attacks. As I write this, my dad will turn 85 tomorrow on the 20th of February. He is in great shape for 85, still lives alone and drives, keeps himself and the house clean. My goal is now to live as long as he has.
When I was in the emergency room earlier this month, with what turned out to be Diverticulitis, the doctor who examined me was looking at my chart and asked me if I was 55 or 65. I replied I was 65. He said that I didn’t look 65 and that I must be taking good care of myself. That made me feel good, until I asked myself why I was in his emergency room if I was in such good shape.
I don’t feel 65. I feel like 20 something trapped in an old man’s body. I don’t know the number of days that God as allotted me, don’t care to know. But my real goal is to be as healthy and active as I can be the remaining days that he allows me and that I can accomplish what ever His will desires of me. I have good genes on my side, so that is a plus. I try and eat right, keep my weight down, walk everyday that we are down here in the land of sunshine, and work hard on the farm when we get home in-between golf and what ever else God chooses for me to do.
The length of our life is controlled by God, but the quality of those days is mostly in our hands. My father-in-law lived to be 91, and all but the last three months were of good quality. My in-laws stayed active, traveled frequently, visited others when ever possible, just plain stayed busy and it paid dividends in spades. I pray that Jeri and I will be able to emulate that life style.
This winter has been a time of ministering to parents. It has made us acutely aware of our mortality and how quickly our health can fail, and how important it is to make each day count and give God thanks for it. It has also meant being really flexible in our scheduling and relying on the following scripture. Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matt. 6:34
Update as of 8/13/2016
Since I wrote this back in March of 2004, much has transpired and the statement of “How quickly our health can fail, and how important it is to make each day count” turned out to be eerily prophetic. 2006 was the year of Prostate cancer and 8 weeks of radiation. Four years later I am 71 and being treated for Mucosal Melanoma with two surgeries and another 6 weeks of radiation. Four years later in 2014 I am diagnosed with Lymphoma, most likely because of the 14 weeks of radiation for the first two cancers.
Now we are into 2016, just two years from the Lymphoma, and in March they find a golf ball size tumor in my left maxillary sinus. They remove that and then in May do further major surgery to clean out the sinus of any remaining cancer. Various oncologists and surgeons gave me estimates on when the cancer would return and it ranges from three months to two years. Congratulations to Dr. Curti at Providence Cancer Center for the winning estimate of ----- three months.
I had a MRI on Monday the 8th and it showed something in my left maxillary sinus that was suspicious. I visited with an ENT here on Thursday and he confirmed that what was up there is not normal tissue and very likely the return of the Mucosal Melanoma. I visited with an Oncologist on Wednesday expecting the diagnosis of cancer since the bleeding in the nose was consistent with the two previous bouts. Picked to wrong time to be finally right about something. This oncologist recommended a Immunotherapy drug called Keytruda.
I am now on the downhill side of 77 awaiting a call from the surgeon on what to do next. Do we remove surgically what cancer they can and then start treatment with Keytruda or go straight to Immunotherapy? If surgery is required it will be done in Portland. The Keytruda treatments can be done in the Oncology unit at the North Hawaii Hospital in Waimea. A very nice hospital built by the doctor who invented the pace maker.
I am reminded of the old movie prison scenes on death row where an inmate is served his last meal, given last rights and then the warden comes to get him. As they walk out of the cell and head down the long corridor of cells to the execution room, the other inmates sing out “Dead man walking, dead man walking.” Reality is starting to settle in that I am not going to beat this cancer. Forget about living to 85, I’ll be lucky to make it to 78. I guess what I am trying to do is buy time so that I might die of a heart attack, maybe a stroke, a terrorist attack, or maybe someone driving head on into my Camaro. Anything but a long drawn out ordeal wasting away from cancer, while hard on me it is even harder on my family and friends. Wait, maybe I could try sky diving and forget to open the chute?
So we are again facing decisions and trying to discern what God’s will is. He has a plan, I am sure of that because of the way He has guided and controlled events in the four previous bouts. Why has He allowed me to survive through 4 times with cancer, only to have a fifth go around?
Any normal person with any common sense would throw up their hands and tell God “OK, you win, come get me and take me home to heaven.” I have to be honest, I am really tired of fighting cancer. But there is something in me that refuses to let me say the words “I quit, or I give up” Most people who really know me know that I am not normal and with questionable common sense. So I am left to lean on scripture and pray that God will reveal His will sooner than later.
As I finish writing this, it is now the afternoon of August 13 and no word from the Surgeon. In his defense I am aware of the tremendous number of surgeries he performs on Wednesday through Friday, often late into the night. His thoughts probably are that 2 more days is not going to make a difference so maybe he will call Monday. I have no idea how long it will take for this cancer to kill me, but at the rate that it has progressed in the last three months, it probably will not be long.
The one thing that I know to be true is that I cannot change the day of my departure. That was decided before the foundations of the earth were formed and cannot be shortened or lengthened. Job14:5 If the number of his days and the number of his months are determined by you, and you set his limit, then he cannot go past it.
Therefore I cannot make a wrong decision, the only thing it will effect is the quality of my remaining days.
On a lighter note, the good news is the ranch is sold for all practical purposes. Both the FSA and lending institutions have approved the buyers loan application and so we are just waiting for final closure. Knowing the government all too well, it could take awhile. Hopefully we can get this done before Cancer kills me. I am hoping to be able to close the Corporation’s books and file the final tax return, then pay off the Hawaii house loan and we will once again be debt free.
Our next major decision will be how long we stay in Hawaii. Jeri and I both agree we want to stay as long as possible. Again I know that God has a plan and will direct us accordingly. I would be super nice to have an inkling as to what that schedule is, but He has not been very forthcoming in the past and I figure the same will hold for the future. In the long run health issues will ultimately dictate the time schedule. Of course our kids will vote for sooner than later. As always we covet your prayers and we will keep you informed as best we can.
Love to all,
Mike and Jeri.