Tuesday, January 02, 2007

News for the new year

Life update: Personal news
Some readers are friends and family and will already be aware of this news. Some are new friends I have met through blogging. Some remain anonymous strangers, floating on the margins (please feel free to comment anytime). If you belong to the first category and this post breaks this news to you, I apologise. I had been delaying saying anything directly here to give people a chance to hear through other ways. But for the sake of my blogging friends, it is time to share what's being going on in my life over the last month.

Back in early October last year I began to lose my voice (mentioned here and here). It was a very stressful time at college and personally and so for many weeks, I simply rested my voice and waited for it to return, unfortunately missing some speaking engagements and mercifully giving my classmates more chance to speak.

However, after a couple of months, exams were over and life was slowing down, but my voice hadn't fully return so I went to get it checked out. A nasal endoscopy quickly discovered that my left vocal chord is paralysed, greatly reducing my volume and range. A CT scan the next day was intended to rule out one possible cause: a compressed nerve. This scan discovered a growth (3.5 by 3.0 by 2.5 cm) in the middle of my chest, extending between my oesophagus and the base of my trachea, and growing into my left main brochial tube, partially obstructing my breathing. I received this news on the 4th December and so regular readers might realise that all the posts since here are coloured by this news.

Weeks of tests and hospital visits ensued, at the end of which it has been determined that I have a primary squamous cell carcinoma of the upper aero-digestive tract. There are no secondary growths (praise God), but as it presently stands, the tumour is inoperable, being trickily located at the junction of primary tubes for food, breath and blood (aorta). I began chemotherapy a week ago and had my first radiotherapy session this morning. I am physically tired and sometimes have difficulty concentrating, but am generally quite well. My breathing, which had been getting progressively more difficult throughout December (and which was affecting my energy and sleeping), has eased even in the last couple of days - another reason to rejoice.

It's hard to say exactly how Jessica and I are feeling, because there are many aspects to the experience and the last few weeks have been such a whirlwind of responses and new challenges. There is shock at the ugly presence of sickness and wrong in God's good world. There is sadness at lost or delayed plans. There are bouts of some anxiety and uncertainty, mixed with pragmatic necessities and reflective moments of insight and new perspectives. There is joy in the love of friends and family and the daily gifts God gives. There is a yearning for Christ to return and bring healing to his entire groaning world. Overall, we are feeling well in spirit, trusting the God who calls into existence the things that are not and raises the dead. There is no reason to fear, because the light has dawned on all of us who sit in darkness, in the shadow of death.

For those who pray, here are some suggestions.
Give thanks:

• For so many positive reasons to rejoice: life and new life in Jesus; overwhelming support and offers of help; providential proximity to hospital (just a few hundred steps down the road); reasons to live found in all those around whom I can serve and from whom I receive so much; hope despite brokenness because Christ is the author of life and through his death destroyed the power of death and rescued us all from slavery to the fear of death.
• For a deeply encouraging celebration of 'God with us' over Christmas: God thinks this life is worth sharing - and fixing.
• For a health system that provides hours of medical expertise and attention, a wide variety of drugs and equipment for basically no charge.
• For easier breathing and sleeping the last few days.
• That the combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy are effective in reducing the size of the growth (down to nothing!).
• That side-effects will be minimal and for patience to endure what is necessary, growing in perseverence, character and hope.
• That Jessica and I would stay thankful, loving and hopeful, trusting God to give strength each day. "The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lam 3.21-22)
And in other news, from 21st January, Jessica and I will be leaving St Barnabas Anglican Church, Broadway (now with new website), where we have celebrated God's grace in Christ for the last six and half years with many dearly loved brothers and sisters. Having finished college, I have accepted a part-time position as a lay ministry assistant at All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt (five minutes down the road). With great sadness and eager expectation, one chapter closes and another begins.

There is more to come.
Photo by JKS.


michael jensen said...

There IS.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your sickness, but I'm glad to hear your doing well under the circumstances and that the chemo/radio is working.

I'm not very good at praying, but my thoughts are with you.

Craig Schwarze said...

Praying for you mate

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron.

I am gutted to hear this news, but uplifted by your response. I have grown so very e-fond of you over the past year. You shall certainly be in my prayers.

I myself suffer from a viral infection which the MDs tried to clear through a year's treatment (from July 2005 to July 2006) - the side-effects of which took me to Job 2:8! The treatment didn't work, but I'm okay - the virus just seems to idling at the moment without doing too much damage. However the experience gave me pause to reflect - which I did in a piece called "Sick Note" at Connexions, 19th July 2006. Ben found it helpful; I hope you do too.

Cheers, mate.

Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear that; I'll be praying for you. I'll also go back and re-read your (very enjoyable) recent posts with a different eye. They fell into the category of 'too many thoughts provoked to leave a simple comment', which is why I haven't been saying anything....

Anonymous said...

Byron--wow. That's huge. I am moved by your hope, fortitude, joy, optimism, reality. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

I'm a regular reader of your blog...I will pray for you and wish you the best!

Anonymous said...

I read your blog nearly every day, and this post caught me completely off-guard. I will definitely be praying for you.

byron smith said...

MPJ - indeed (there is more to come). That's becoming quite a useful refrain for me, capturing a number of angles I've been pondering for the last couple of years.

Patrik - Thanks, and although you might have seen it, I recommend having a look at this, definitively the best thing I've read on prayer for a while.

Craig - thanks.

Kim - "e-fond", I love it. The feeling is mutual. Thanks for your prayers, and for your suggested link. Worth a read, everyone.

Rev Sam and Ben - It was people like you guys (in fact, nearly everyone who has commented so far), who I feel I've been slowly getting to know a little over the last months - but only know through blogging - that I felt it was time to tell. Thanks for your support.

Ryan - thanks for piping up and making a first comment, I just found your blog yesterday.

Adam - strange how a stranger (unmet brother or sister) can still throw us with unexpected news, isn't it? The communion of saints has really come alive in my thinking recently. Thanks for your prayers.

Anonymous said...

As one of your appreciative lurkers, may I add my prayers too?

Anonymous said...

Hello Byron.

Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. My thoughts are with you at this tough time.

Anonymous said...

Praying for you man, looking forward to hearing about your minstry in Leichardt, being a Wog i have a special place in my heart for that place

Anonymous said...

I am new to this blog, but your voice is so personal, I feel I know you already, and I felt my heart thud when I read this post.
But your hope and courage are a relief, and give me hope for humanity. And there IS a reason for suffering in this fallen world: Job's story proves that suffering is sometimes allowed as a proof of one's righteousness, as your trust in God's providence illustrates.

And Christ's victory "throws a new light upon every suffering: the light of salvation" (if I may quote a pope to an Anglican). But it is not my place to begin a discussion of substitutive or redemptive suffering on someone else's blog. Mea culpa.

You and yours are in my thoughts and prayers - may He lay his healing hands upon you, and bring you peace.

One of Freedom said...

Wow. That is crazy my friend. I will definitely be in prayer, also about your new ministry. Keep us posted.


Anonymous said...

Geoff Everett is over here in Perth, being here for the birth of our son. He told us your news a couple of days ago, and also shared with us something of the witness to the hope of God you've been around College as you've faced this situation.
We will certainly fall to prayer for you and Jesssica.
In Christ,
Rory and Susan Shiner

Anonymous said...

"A man's steps are made firm by the Lord when he delights in his way.
Though he stumbles, he shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds him by the hand." (Psalm 37:23-24)

Rachel said...

we have been praying and will continue to pray - in fact we had a guy pray for you in our bible study who doesn't even know you (or your blog!) and he prayed a mighty prayer that brought tears to my eyes.

May God continue to surprise/astound you daily with the unfathomable breadth and width of His Love.

Rachel said...

forgot to also say that we (and great heards of other people) will really miss you and Jess from St B...

Anonymous said...

I've only recently started reading your blog - well, blogs in general - but have so appreciated its tone and also the spirit with which you are now responding. I was shocked by your news - weird thing this internet world, that such news about someone on the other side of the world whom I have never met could move me so. I'm also conscious of not being at all good at prayer even though as an enclosed monastic I do rather a lot of it I suppose. But I have been very conscious of you at the Office since reading your news, and I wanted you to know that I also hold you before God.


Justin said...

Serious prayers have been and are being prayed, my friends...

Anonymous said...

Byron, saw craigs's blog and followed the link. May God strengthen you in faith, hope and love, and I pray the chemo works.

byron smith said...

Lynne, aaron, josh, kathryntherese, frank, rory and susan, andrewe, rachel, macrina, justin, gordan: thanks! It is so touching to be supported by so many, including numerous as yet unmet members of the family.

And kathryntherese, I agree. I think that God often graciously redeems even our very sufferings to snatch good out of evil, victory out of defeat, blessing out of curse, growth out of pain, a resurrection from a cross. However, I still think this perspective, though crucial and so pastorally relevant, is a secondary response to evil and suffering. This is (part of) the good news of what God is doing about sin and evil and suffering, but I think it important that evil be primarily conceived as God's (and our) enemy, rather than his instrument. A few months back, I wrote a six-part series on this very topic.
PS Popes are as welcome as Anglicans here!

Anonymous said...

I'll be praying for you, Byron, including giving thanks for the way God is so obviously working in and through you, even during this shock.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron,

Never been online for a while. I always visit your blog whenever I'm on. I will be praying for you. I'm hoping that things go well with you and your wife. You have been a blessing.

Anonymous said...

So sad to hear the news Byron. You probably don't remember me but you tutored me in a first year English course in 2003.

I was greatly encouraged by the genuine life you lived and a couple of short conversations we had. May God heal and bless you now, brother.

Anonymous said...


Not sure how I missed this entry...

Words (and words on a computer screen in particular) are often so inadequate in the face of such things. Just know that my heart goes out to you and your loved ones.

However things play out for you, I know that the road that you are walking is not an easy one. I suspect that your body now knows more of what it means to journey in solidarity with God's groaning creation than most of us can imagine. And your joy and thankfulness in the midst of these things is a powerful testimony to the presence of God's Spirit, even at the very heart of our groaning-places. The wondrous thing is that, as those in Christ, our groanings can become the very thing that cause God's new creation to burst forth into the world.

Pax vobiscum.

Anonymous said...

Hi Byron,

I appreciate your sharing your life with us. My family and I will be praying for you.

Anonymous said...

I only recently discovered your blog, a near namesake of my own; it was quite a shock to hear your news. The faith and cheerfulness you show in your post (it's remarkable how in Christ those in sickness can minister to those who are well) leave me nothing to add except my prayers.

Carolina García said...

Hi Byron,
Now you will know: a mexican is praying for you.
I´m reading you!

Anonymous said...

Byron, be assured of our prayers for you and Jessica. We felt simultaneously gutted and hopeful at this news. Jason & Judy.

Joanna said...

Byron, just wanted to say that I'm praying too. Oddly enough, a dear friend of mine is staying with (one of?) your brother(s) and his wife, and had told me of your illness - I had said I would pray and then realised that she was talking about 'the' Byron whose blog I regularly read and enjoy. I'll keep reading and keep praying.

Unknown said...

No — not again.

I'm so sorry mate.
I dread the horrific medicines you'll be on — their very names give me flashbacks and nightmares.

I just wanted to pass on that when I read that I physically grunted, and sort of said "Oh no". Harry was in the room playing a game on the other computer, and wanted to know what was wrong.

I choked up trying to explain... and as soon as Harry heard, he choked up as well. I described you as my new peak oil mate that wrote cool Christian thoughts on the oil thang, and he teared up. After Harry's experiences with cancer, he could hardly speak. "That's - really - sad - Dad".

Cancer sucks. Chemotherapy sucks.
I'm so, so sorry mate. Maybe this is not helping... but I'm sorry. I try to pray about these things, but I am still a bit freaked out by the sometimes "Severe mercy" of God, and am still obviously working through some baggage of my own regarding the last few years.


Then there's the social expectations, and the spiritual expectations. How do you handle all the calls offering help? What about people wanting updates?

One of the best things that a long-term Leukaemia nurse told us was to refer everyone to a blog. Even put it on the answering machine. "If you want the latest news on how we are going... please see our blog". You could even start another blog simply tracing your progress, and link it in to your profile.

The last thing you need is 10 calls a night requesting updates on some exhausting procedure you might have just been though. You'll need the sleep, and lots of quiet.

Also, this nurse went on... because we had Harry sick with Leukaemia and little 5 month Amelia to babysit...

Put someone you trust in charge of babysitting /cleaning / meals roster / whatever else you can think of would help give you time and more energy to face the week.

Then all the offers of help get co-ordinated through this one person, and once every few days this coordinator will call up and let you know who's coming over and doing what. You don't have to negotiate everything with a dozen or so helpers. The coordinator explains your preferences to all the helpers, cutting a lot of unnecessary phone time.


If your treatment is anything like Harry's — and different cancer regimes can be very different, so who knows? — you'll need lots of time to rest and be ministered to by those who know you.

You may also find that one of your biggest challenges is sheer frustrated boredom. Chemo might do weird things to your mind and moods, so you might not be up to deep theological stuff. Don't pressure yourself too much, God created you into as an integrated human being. He knows what you are going through... and knows where you are at physically and psychologically. So can I suggest plenty of funny DVD's, good novels, or even trashy airport novels if you need it light... whatever scratches your itch! ;-)

God forbid! — but you could be in for a long road ahead, so... one day at a time, and one favourite book at a time please! (Not too much theology ok?)

your flash-backing brother in Christ,

byron smith said...

Once again, thank you everyone - your messages are all a blessing. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and care, many towards a virtual stranger. Apologies again for the loss of identity suffered by many comments on this post when I recently switched to the new Blogger.

Jonathan - thanks, and yes, it's good to stay thankful when there are so many good things coming out of it too.

Mr Dix - I do remember you as a lovely Christian student in my first tutorial group. You spoke up in our first class about your favourite book, I think, and I realised you were a Christian. I always meant to say something directly to you about it and to say how encouraged I was by your boldness.

Dan - our groanings can become the very thing that cause God's new creation to burst forth into the world. Amen.

Joey - thanks, and it's my pleasure to share - that's why God gave it to me.

Robs - nothing to add except my prayers - nothing is more valuable. Thanks.

Caro - thanks! I think you're the first Mexican I know and what a privilege that I get a praying one. :-)

Jason - simultaneously gutted and hopeful at this news: a good summary of our own reactions! Thanks. I guess I won't be coming to St Andrews again quite as soon as we might have initially hoped. Scholarship plans are postponed for a year at the moment.

JoBloggs - which brother? Murray or Adrian? Who is your friend? Thanks for your prayers.

Dave - wow, thanks for all the tips. All very practical. I'd been wondering about the update blog idea and your mentioning it again will make me think more about it. So far, I've been sending out an update email every now and then (sent one out this afternoon) to keep people in the loop, but something which people opt in is a good idea.

At the moment, the chemo side-effects have been mercifully minimal and my wife and I are still on holidays, so physically coping has been quite manageable. We also don't have any children and so that removes one source of stress that you guys face.

I'm still working out how the chemo (and various other drugs to deal with side-effects) might be affecting my concentration, memory and moods. Thanks also for your ideas and permission to not push myself. It's important to keep remembering that rest is a good thing.

We remember Harry and you and your family in our own prayers. Our eyes have been opened to the sheer number of people in society affected in a wide variety of ways by living with serious illness in the family.

byron smith said...

Oh, if anyone would like to receive update emails, send me an email (you can find my email in my profile).

rachel. said...

hi byron, i have been floating in and out of your blog for a little while. wanted to share with you this puritan prayer that i love:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley. Amen.

i am praying for you and jessica.

love, rachel manchester.

byron smith said...

Thanks Rachel - I love the quote and the more prayers the better!

Unknown said...

A note from an old friend, in the days when we both studied in a place that sang about its "bushland setting all around" and where we stood as "tall as every tree":

Praying for you; particularly that you can remember and trust in the fact that God is good.

Jo Chen (now Gamble)
PS - found your blog thru Moore college friend Mandy

byron smith said...

Hi Jo, long time no see! Wow - thanks for your prayers and dropping by here. It's been a long time since we were neighbours. I remember every word to that song...
How do you know Mandy?