The unknowable {a hearing update}

The music rolls like thunder out of the Bosendorfer grand piano, a diminutive elderly woman with arthritic fingers that still fly to melodies memorized years long past. A woman with no legs is in a wheelchair on the marble floor under the streaming sunlight, and she raises one hand in praise as she makes that wheelchair dance and twirl with the other. It is the strains of "How Great Thou Art" filling this very secular space, and people stand against the railings 3 stories up, their harmonies cascading down in a sweet and singular moment when the broken people gathered here for treatment only found at a nationally renowned medical center rise up and claim this day, this moment, for the glory of God and delight in His presence.

I am the walking wounded, shell-shocked, and I have to pause to catch my breath in the beauty of all this. It is untenable to human understanding, the roller coaster a cancer patient rides. Only with a God-sized brain could I understand the purpose He's laying out before me today.

Last Tuesday, I lost most of the hearing in my right ear. By Thursday, I had difficulty hearing out of my left as well. All my local doctors could tell me is that this sensorineural hearing loss (a condition that affects the nerves that interpret and carry sound to the brain), probably auto-immune brought on by the assault of the radioactive iodine for my recent cancer scan. They sent me to Mayo for more testing, in hopes that more steroids could restore some of the hearing in my left ear.

I saw the chief of the ear, nose and throat department at Mayo this morning. More testing revealed that the steroids have indeed restored some hearing in both ears. I now have what is considered moderate hearing loss in my left ear and moderately severe hearing loss in my right ear (I cannot make out any words or make sense of sounds with my right, I can only tell that there is sound coming in). After reviewing this information and doing a thorough check of my medical history, the doctor presented three explanations for my hearing loss.

1) Sensorineural hearing loss, autoimmune: my immune system is attacking the structures and nerves of my inner ears. This condition is life-long, with hearing coming and going, getting worse and better. The treatment is frequent bursts of steroids and also injections of steroids into the inner ear. This is by far the "nicest" possibility.

2) A familial defect in my brain that has led to hearing loss that will most likely be progressive (getting worse) despite treatment. This is even more a possibility because I have multiple relatives who are deaf.

3) A metastatized or new cancerous tumor affecting my auditory nerves. Treating this would involve brain surgery and most likely permanent damage to my hearing, perhaps rendering me completely deaf. The doctor believes there is at least a 50% chance of a tumor, based on his observations.

I was just told I was in remission last Wednesday. To hear the word "cancer" usher forth from a new doctor's mouth put me in some state of shock. It simply doesn't seem possible that it's even an option! My over-riding emotion is consternation. I don't feel angry, scared, worried. Just shocked.
Sufficient unto each day is the trouble thereof. (Matthew 6:34)
My next appointment is February 21st, my son's 4th birthday. It was his birth 4 years ago that heralded the news of my thyroid cancer. It is possible I will get news of cancer again on his very birthday. It all seems too much. For now, I will be trying to weather the effects of the steroid treatment (rage and irritation, hot flashes, insomnia, among others) and I will be trying to keep my eyes fixed on the prize...not the arduous pathway that intervenes.

There is verse we read in church on Sunday: they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31). How scary would that first moment soaring like an eagle be? How far do we have to run or walk that we might grow weary or faint? This verse is sung as a song of rescue from our human plight. But it implies the hard work that accompanies sanctification, that difficult and often dreary path tread by so many saints before, the grassy ground watered with their tears, the shuffle marks of their tired feet marking our way. I pray for strength to endure this newest uphill climb in my faith journey, in my life. May you find strength, too, friends, whatever you face today.

This is the very group that led us in "How Great Thou Art" today. Listen in the background for the voices of the patients who stopped on their way to appointments to sing along. It is the best kind of "flash mob", to bring true hope to the hopeless and hurting.