Have you ever had that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? You know, the one where just for a moment, time stands still. Once you have heard the words, “you have cancer”, that sinking feeling can be tied to those words. When things come up about our health that cause anxiety, it can be difficult to come up with words that may describe the fear we feel. Maybe we are too afraid to voice what we do feel. 

It was Thanksgiving week, 2004, that I came down with shingles (at the time I did not know what I had). Needing relief, I went to Providence Hospital to see any Internal Medicine doctor on duty. Dr. Marla Lambert was on duty; she took one look at me and told me my problem. As we talked, I told Dr. Lambert about my neuropathy and anemia from time to time. She made notes and I gained an Internest! In mid-2005, I made an appointment for a checkup and authorization for drawing blood for my annual lipid profile numbers. Based on her notes from the year before, she had the lab run additional blood tests in the gamma region of my blood; this revealed an “M Spike” (A monoclonal spike on my serum protein which could be an indication that I might have a precancerous condition or possibly multiple myeloma, an uncommon cancer). When asked about it, I told her I never heard of such. She said it might just be my physical makeup and we would watch it. This same routine was followed every year 2006 – 2010, and the spike was always there. In 2011, however, I had two spikes and she suggested I go see a hematologist oncologist. These were fearful words indeed.       

In October, 2011, Dr. Sherry Arledge with the Southern Cancer Center put me through a series of tests including a bone marrow biopsy, much blood work including a test for immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies, and a full body scan. After examining all the data, Doctor Arledge looked me in the eyes and with a sweet voice full of concern said, “Mr. Wright, has anyone told you that you have cancer? How come you’re not getting treated for this?” Stunned, but grateful for the finding, I listened to my best course of action. 

She said I had a rare, slow-growing form of B cell lymphoma called Waldenstrom”s macroglobulinemia also known as Waldenstrom’s or WM for short. She further explained it was very rare with about 1,500 cases diagnosed annually in the United States, compared to about 32,000 cases of multiple myeloma. Waldenstrom’s occurs mostly in men over 60 when lymphoma cells in the bone marrow proliferate, crowding out normal red and white blood cells. Anemia is common and symptoms include fatigue, neuropathy, easy bruising, and numbness in the hands.  There is no cure. It also produces and accumulates a protein that can result in organ failure. Treatment typically consists of chemotherapy and targeted treatments that kill only cancer cells. It is a killer with life on average limited to 8 to 20 years from diagnosis. About 50% die from it and 50% die with it. Being age 74 at the time, I thought 20 years would get me to 94 and I probably would have died from something else.   

I did not want to take chemo so I chose to continue living and running like I had been doing the last 31 years. I would be tested every three months to make sure the protein accumulation was below the danger point. In mid-2013 I became very anemic and could not run a mile without stopping due to no energy. It was either stop running or take chemo; I chose the latter as I did not want to give up a sport I loved. In September 2013, I started my very first chemo treatments, once a week for four weeks. The initial treatment was grueling as my body wanted to reject the strange “poison” entering the blood stream. My body went into convulsions three times and my treatment was stopped each time. Threatening to stop all together, I said “no, not after six hours of misery and with 80% of the drug in my body.” I persevered, prayed, and completed the drip after another 1.5 hours. The second week went much better and became even easier with treatments 3 & 4. In the weeks following this series, my vital numbers returned to a satisfactory range allowing me live somewhat in a state of normalcy.

After my first series of chemotherapy, I tried to maintain my daily running routine that had become a part of my life. In addition to my health, running meets a spiritual need as well. I talk with the Lord while I run and use the time to memorize scripture. For me, running is a gift He has given me, a gift that helps me to have the strength to serve Him in the ministry He has entrusted to me for as long as He allows me to live. It took several weeks to get back to my pre-chemo condition as my body adjusted to the chemo intrusion. With the passage of time, answered prayer, and God’s everlasting faithfulness, I was able to race again. My friends cheered me on, and I knew in my heart they were “cheers from heaven”. God was beginning to renew my strength. I was so thankful for my friends in the running community who “cared for me and encouraged me at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). While on an early run one morning, God showed me how it was part of his plan, not a punishment, for me to curtail my running somewhat. He wanted to quiet me, to slow me down so that I would see Him in a new way. “Be still, and know that I am God” - Psalm 46:10.                                                                                                                                      

Benefits of that first series of treatment lasted until February 2015 when all my vitals began to plummet again. I took my second series of chemo in March 2015 and again with time my tests returned to a state of normalcy. I asked my doctor about some kind of maintenance program to eliminate the yoyo effect in my life. She said “yes we can set you up on a six month schedule, twice a year every April and October.”  I started that semiannual routine in October 2015 and have maintained that routine to date, even as I write this, early October 2020. The Lord has been good, answering the many prayers offered on my behalf, allowing me to grow older and continue to run. His grace is sufficient for me while I live with a cancer under control, and with a chemo routine that I will endure the rest of my life.                                                                                                             

I think of the message found in Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” The journey is in His hands as I run this “Race of Life.”