Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Melanoma-Crack Showdown of 2008

It was high noon as Melanoma and Crack faced each other in the town square and around the dinner table. It was high noon every day, all day, in 2008. Melanoma wore my face and Crack wore my brother's. It's just the two of us siblings and our parents lived that year not knowing what would happen when to either of us. Would we make it out dead or alive? Would Melanoma and Crack both die or would one be left standing? Looking back I don't know how my parents did it. Well, yes I do, too. They didn't do it alone. Faith and Hope came from out of the watching crowd and stood alongside them.

Though my melanoma journey began in earnest that July, it really began around the beginning of 2008. I write about the dramatic changes in my melamole that started in March, but I began noticing more subtle changes earlier than that. The going from dark brown to black. The uneven edges of the double, layered mole filling out into a big circle before it bubbled. I watched, grew increasingly worried, prayed fervently, covered it up as best I could, but durn if some people still didn't notice that I had a "tick" on my arm. It caught Mama and Daddy's eye occasionally and I think they knew. I know they didn't like what they saw. But they knew what they knew about my brother and he had a clear "diagnosis."

He was a full-fledged crack addict. I was 48 and he was 46. He hated drugs. Had no use for people who did any of them. And yet life's circumstances piled up and piled up and in his mid-40s he found himself in the "right" place with the "right" people who knew "just what" would ease his pain. And it did. Like gangbusters. I don't make excuses for him and he makes none for himself. The life that he began living after that first night is a life none of us ever saw coming for him. But it came nonetheless. And 2008 brought the very worst of it.

People think of a crack addict or see one and they see the surface. When the addiction first starts, they can keep a job, they can still manage money and home life. They still look and act like a functioning, responsible member of society. They aren't getting high every day and when they do get strung out it's often not so noticeable because they still aren't using very much at a time or often. But their appearance will start to change as will their attitude. They'll start borrowing money. A few dollars here and a few dollars there. In the beginning they may even pay it back. It won't be long though before they won't. They'll lose one job after another. It will take too long to get into everything that will happen, but let's say life goes downhill. Fast. And ugly. And it will turn violent. It will. See, that crack comes from somewhere. That's the part you won't see when you see a crack addict.

You won't see that they frequent places where they know they can score and you won't see the people they buy from. You won't see the hell their private life becomes. Not until it becomes public when they're arrested. That's going to happen. Crack addicts will build quite a criminal record. It may take a little time. But eventually the money will run out and so will people to borrow from. See, crack lives up to its reputation of taking away the pain. The first time it's used. After that, the user tries to get that feeling back...and can't. It becomes elusive and they will do anything to get it back. Anything. They begin to use more and more. All in an effort to kill that pain and feel good again. But the addiction has them. And it's not going to turn loose.

That doesn't mean the addict likes where they find themselves. My brother didn't. He came to despise it but didn't know how to get out. He kept our parents scared to death. He told us some of what was going on, but we didn't begin to learn the full depths he had sunk to until he went into recovery.

Court ordered recovery. It was that or prison; he was already in jail. God threw him a lifeline and he grabbed it. There were times he thought he was as good as dead in the crack world. And not from the drug itself but at the hands of the dealers. The crack world is a dangerous, violent, seedy world. That's its nature. For ALL addicts. The family won't have a clue, or a complete picture, of the double life their loved one is leading...but that double life is being led. I promise you. It just is.

And it was high noon, all day every day for our family. My parents had enough on their plates with him. They didn't need to add my cancer to the mix. But it was added. My Daddy's a retired dentist and still keeps up with everything medical. He knows the score. They both do. They know the dangers associated with just being put to sleep for surgery. They weren't ignorant about melanoma. They had lived enough years to see plenty of cancer up close and personal. Now as 2008 was drawing to a close, they had a daughter with stage 3b melanoma and a crack addicted son and it looked like neither would make it out alive.

Melanoma and Crack faced off. Weapons drawn. Cocked. And the "boom" that was heard was the voice of God calling into the showdown saying, "No! Not today! Melanoma and Crack put away your weapons. Disarm. There will be no death here today!"

Melanoma and Crack didn't go quietly into that good night. But there was no death in 2008. Four years later we are all still here. Not just surviving, but thriving. And our parents are both still here to see it and us.

We all live with something and usually we have a plate full with all sorts of things on it. Nobody "just" has melanoma on their plate. Or any cancer. And we don't "just" have the issues that come with it and neither do our families. We just don't. Life is like that.

While 2008 was a year, for my family, of intense fear, worry, dread, and anger. It was also a year of triumph and joy. It was also a year of coming together as family, determined to overcome odds that didn't seem overcome-able. It was a year of strength, faith, and fortitude. It was a year that we all held our breath, didn't know what was coming next, often didn't like what was next, but in the end, it was a year we all watched in silent awe. It was a year that Melanoma and Crack, BOTH, were told a Divine "No!" to and they listened. They had to.

When God speaks into our midst, our enemies have to listen. They may not slink quietly away but they have to bow to God's sovereignty and when God says "No!" He means  "No!"

We don't know what the future holds. My brother, though he has completed his "recovery" and leads recovery groups himself, will always have that monkey on his back. He will always be a crack addict. And he knows it. Four years into my ten year statistic I'm still NED, but I'm also still stage 3b melanoma and I know exactly what that means.

The day may come, for either one of us or for both of us, when our enemies rear their ugly heads again and decide to test and see what God will say then. If that happens, God may or may not shout "No!" into the situation. He may choose to work in other ways. I've seen God work enough that I can handle that. I may not like how another showdown may end. I may not like the idea of another showdown or what it may look like before weapons are drawn and cocked again.

But I do know that God has the last word. He may shout "No!" at Melanoma and Crack again, but in that "No!" to them is a "Yes!" to me and my brother. He will always shout "Yes!" to me and my brother.

God always tells His children a divine "Yes!" in the face of their enemies. We may not hear it that way, if at all. But our enemies sure do.

And I am eternally grateful!