Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lord, We Need to Talk

Okay, it has been a little while since I have had the energy to provide an update on my condition, and since I’m not entirely comfortable just talking about me, you may have noticed that I have focused on just those things that have lifted my spirits or moved me to have hope and comfort in the midst of this difficult journey. But this time, I’m going to try to tell it like it is. For those of you who may not want to know some of the ugly side of this experience, close your eyes and drop down to the end of this entry.

Here’s a summary of what’s been happening:
· Without any specific treatment to date (apart from the gamma knife procedure for the brain metastases), the cancerous growths in the liver have apparently enlarged, resulting in more pain across the abdomen, complete loss of appetite, early satiety, constant nausea and frequent (painful) belching. All of this has been complicated by severe constipation induced by some of the medications I am on. For those of my patients looking for a successful way to lose weight, I now have a sure-fire strategy :-)
· For two weeks now, I have developed a daily pattern beginning at about 5pm of 12 hours of severe flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, soaking night sweats, weakness, and generalized musculoskeletal pain involving ribs, back, sacrum, hips, shoulders, forearms, and thighs), along with the background nausea. This has presented some difficulty in achieving any restorative sleep at night. Over time, however, and with the help of medications, we are learning to manage these symptoms.
· The results of the core needle biopsy of the left parotid gland confirmed that the growths there were metastatic melanoma all along – still no clue where it may have started.
· On Thursday, 2/21/08, we traveled to Charlottesville to consult with Dr Grosh. Although he assured us that the previous tests did not preclude my entry into the IL-2 treatment protocol, he seemed particularly concerned about the daily pattern of fever, chills, night sweats, etc. While acknowledging that these symptoms were most likely due to so-called “tumor fever” from the metastases in the liver, he wanted to be sure that there was no underlying infection. He also wanted me to have an MRI of the entire spine to rule out potential nerve-compressing metastases there. So I underwent a host of blood and urine tests and a repeat chest X-ray, and we returned home.
· Friday was spent recovering from the rigors of travel the day before and trying to arrange the MRI. Late that afternoon I received a call from my local oncologist’s office, indicating that Dr Grosh was concerned that I could have an early pneumonia based on the findings of the chest X-ray. He wanted me to undergo another CAT scan of the chest to be certain. Since I had experienced a dry painful cough that afternoon and a higher than usual fever, we made another trip to the emergency room that evening. Long story, short, studies showed no evidence of pneumonia, only some fluid collection around the lung on the right side. We are grateful for that.
· We now have the MRI scheduled for next Tuesday and if no other obstacles present themselves, we plan to return to UVA to begin the inpatient treatment program on Monday, 3/3/08.
· Today was not a fun day – the fever started earlier than usual, accompanied by worsening fatigue and nausea that would not respond to the usual medication and making it almost impossible to eat. So I told the Lord, “We need to talk…”

I got alone and we had a conversation. I want you to understand I have not been privileged to hear an audible voice from God, but somehow He makes His thoughts known, sometimes by reminding me of truths from scripture, sometimes by silence, and sometimes by deep-seated impressions that speak to my spirit. His first response: “Of course we need to talk. I’ve always wanted you to feel free to speak with Me at any time. You know I love you very much.”

I thanked Him for His love, acknowledged that I was counting on that, and simply pleaded for some glimpse into what He wanted me to learn through all of this, asking for a little break from the weakness and nausea so I could comfort my Linda. He did not respond right away but later this evening as Linda read me a passage from a book sent by an old friend titled The Shack, He gently reminded me that the basis of my question stood on a false (and doggedly persistent) assumption that I have RIGHTS. As difficult as it is (for all of us) to accept, all such rights are an illusion and a reflection of our inexorable tendency to want to wrest control of our lives out of someone else’s hands, even God’s.

The unspoken thought is that I have a right to grow old with my wife; I have a right to see my grandchildren grow up; I at least have a right to a few hours of relief from this progressive illness – right?? In some earlier entry I wrote: “None of us deserves tomorrow.” That is ultimately and absolutely true. And it is so, because we are created beings who have rebelled against a loving and holy Creator. When we did so, we lost all claim to any rights or expectations that would otherwise accompany an unbroken relationship with Him. But because we have a God who is also merciful and full of grace, we begin to think that somehow we deserve His blessings.

As Linda read on, the Lord continued His conversation with me (really with us), reminding me of His grace and love. Simultaneously I felt strengthened, the nausea subsided and Linda and I enjoyed a bowl of ice cream! This wasn’t a right, but a great privilege.

Grateful for another day,

PS -- It's not that God does not grant us rights. He certainly does -- we have the right to bless others, to help meet others' needs, even to overcome the forces of evil in this world (Matthew 10:1). And the greatest right He offers us comes ironically not from wresting control for ourselves, rather by surrendering all control to Him: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12)


  1. Dear Brother Dan, In so many ways you manage to consider and encourage us as we continue to pray and also believe we have rights...after all, we need you here with us... He must have more than enough angels in His kingdom for the time being. Our prayers certainly include whatever break you might be blessed with from day to day. Remembering our childhood and favorite things; ice cream was at the top of the list :-) I love you Dan. I'm with you, with Linda, your girls, their husbands and all of your beautiful family. With continued prayer and strenghtened faith for the grace and strength you asked for, Brother Don XO

  2. I remember vividly a conversation I had with Rich Hardison when I was a teenager. I was angry because my parents were divorced and I didn't have the access nor the attention from them that I felt I deserved. God used Rich that day to teach me the very same lesson that you and Linda were reminded of - we have a false sense of rights. The time has come for those of us who are watching from the outside the pain that you, Linda and the rest of your family are enduring to learn this lesson again, or perhaps for the first time. We have bought in to this false sense of belief that you or any of us gets to be here tomorrow. We feel we have the right to your friendship for the rest of our own time here because we've had the privalege of having you as a friend. We feel that it is insane that you would be so sick. What is insane is that we believe that immortality and perfect health is due to each of us, and specifically right now to you (and Howard). I know that I'm not alone to say that if we could, we'd stop this cancer from growing and we'd take away the discomfort. We feel there is little tangible help we can give you when so often y'all have given so much to us. We have to learn that we don't have the right to do what our heart is crying out to do. Thank you for reminding me of this lesson God taught me so long ago. I continue to pray with you and the hundreds of others on your behalf. Paula

  3. Dear Dan, I've been trying to work up the courage to look at the blog and send cheers your way. I found out about a week ago what's happening when calling in to check on an appointment date. I am praying for you and as I'm sure all who know you are feeling rather helpless. God bless you and your family. I am very close to having all of my post op stuff done before the gastric bypass confirmation date! And come what may I will thank you right now for keeping me alive over the last few years of our relationship. You and my lovely wife of 25years Tara for putting up with me to this point! More good news our graduating senior Matt was accepted on early decision to American University in DC. Well I hope these two high points will make you smile. I've included my email address. If you could do the same I'd like to keep you informed on the upcoming body replumbing job. :-) I so want you to be able to revel in helping me head the direction I'm headed. If not I'll just tell you here. You have always been such a voice of reason, calm and compassion to me Dan, and I'm sending you and yours my love and prayers.
    Take care and God Bless...
    Dennis Stewart,

  4. Linda and Dan, I have been away and was not aware of the turmoil you have both been going through. After reading your entries, I am awed by your courage and unbelievable acceptance of whatever God has planned for you. You can be assured that you will be in my daily prayers and know that God will not desert you in your time of need. Mary Alexander

  5. Dan and Linda,
    I thank you for sharing from the heart. As a I read your entries my heart is filled with pain yet it is also filled with a strange peace. By sharing so openly and honestly, you have allowed us to get a glimpse of the spiritual life we are called to lead. I'm involved this year with Norfolk Public School's Relay for Life sponsored by the American Cancer Society. I have donated a luminaria in your honor. These will light up the stadium during the relay at the end of May. That night as I walk and look at these lighted bags, I will be praying for you and your family. You are loved. Deb Ripka

  6. Dear Dr. Dan--If ever you wonder what is being accomplished by your difficult trial, please know your words and thoughts are ministering deeply to me. I pray for you and your family daily. Becky Linsz

  7. Dan ,
    As I again read your update, I was sitting tearful of the pain you have to endure and then pleadingly thinking, Lord, if you could only spare him, but since you have called him to share in your suffering and to remind us all that WE DO NOT HAVE rights or expectations that should be met...but rather we have only an obligation to praise Jesus for what HE endured for us and be reminded that it is for THAT... we live to tell the story of what GOD"s purpose is in living through us all.......and despite all you are journeying dont cease to bring GOD into the picture and you show us all the positive things that you are learning......We do well to learn from you.... and to be honest...I think it's good for all to know the ugly painful side you are experiencing to see how GOD is working in you through it all..that's where GOD is getting the glory...Not one of us can read this and say we understand or we've been there....not one of us can know the goodness of GOD and HIS purpose without experiencing HIS hard as it is to read about a man so faithful and who loves GOD as you do...go through is so comforting to know HE is meeting you at your deepest need with making HIS thoughts known to you through His word, books, Linda's encouragement, etc.
    As you continue to surrender all control to HIM...HE continues to use you to help others...
    Those who go through much are used much for HIS glory....I"M convinced.....dont for a minute ever doubt your trial is in are absolutely ministering to so many and showing us all what we can learn from in living the spiritual life that we are called to lead.....His work in you is AMAZING, Dan.....
    I couldnt' agree more with Paula that if we could somehow HALT the cancer and take away the persistant discomfort .......we SURELY< SURELY would......
    Always in thought and prayer EVERY SINGLE DAY...many times a day.
    praying for strength and endurance to walk each day the LORD gives you.
    Audrey Lewis

  8. Dan & Linda -You both have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you with prayer as you run the race that is set before you.
    Thank you for so graciously sharing with us all the nature and reality of that race. It allows us all to partake in some small way of the pain and suffering you are enduring as you run.
    Do count us among those who are praying you onward. We do not alwyas know how to pray as we should, but we link our prayers with the Holy Spirit who interecedes for us on your behalf, when groanings are too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
    In His mercy and grace, Bill and Wendy Hunter and family, w/church family in Lexington

  9. Dad, I hadn't shared this with you before because it seemed a bit silly at the time, but the more the images come to my mind the more powerful and relevant they I'll share. When I pray for you, the battle scene of Helm's Deep from Lord of the Rings frequently pops into my mind ( In this scene, hope is fleeting and the heroes decide to ride out into the thick of the battle in a final blaze of glory. Aragorn acts on tremendous faith by remembering that Gandalf the White (a resurrected Christ-figure) promises to be there for him. As the heroes ride out into the battle, Gandalf appears with an entire army of his own. His light & goodness is blinding as he charges down the hill and together they vanquish the enemy.

    What does this have to do with you? Well, the Battle of Helm's Deep was a physical and a spiritual battle. (I think if we could see inside your cells it would look very much like the Battle of Helm's Deep! Imagine all of those cancer cells with goblin and orc faces.) Like Aragorn, you must trust and have faith that God will meet you in your darkest hour. You must have the courage to "ride out". Gandalf did not appear on the hill alone. He appeared with other warriors. All who love you and are praying for you are determined to fight this battle alongside you. My favorite part of this scene is when all evil is blinded by the righteous light of Gandalf. May all the darkness you are experiencing, spiritually and physically, be blinded by the light of Christ. May your body be flooded with healing and may those cancer-orcs be defeated! I love you, Beth

  10. Dear brother-in-law Dan and Linda,
    Never give up dear Dan never. We are all behind you in thought and prayer. Keep up only the positive thoughts and laughter... I know it's not easy at times to stay positive, but at the end it's all worth it.
    You are in my thoughts and prayers daily.
    hugs and love,

  11. Dan
    I really don't know where to start, but I know where to finish so I'll start there and see what happens: thank you so much for your ruthless trust in our friend Jesus and your clear leadership regarding how to face the ultimate challenge of life -- surrender and fight with all your might to the last breath, all at the same time.
    I am on your prayer team, but today I understand that the spiritual "white blood cells" of the Body of Christ have got a specific job to do on your behalf, and I am happy to be on this team!! There is more to this story, which I will now try to summarize quickly: on March 9, 2007 I found out that I have aggressive prostate cancer, and on March 13, I found out that it had metastasized to my pelvis, so like you, I was told that, from a human standpoint, we cannot talk about a cure. Once I regained my spiritual balance, I asked God if I was supposed to prepare to live triumphantly or die courageously, and, so far, it has been the former. But I know that the second option will come sooner or later. My biggest fear is that I will not be able to do the second one well, but with your inspiration and encouragement, I have renewed hope! And I KNOW that I am not alone; there are many, many people who are growing stronger every day because you are finishing strong (if indeed the finish line is now in sight -- I know that we're not sure yet). I am learning to just lay back and rest in His arms, so this will be one of my prayers for you as well. But, at the same time, I will also pray aggressive prayers for healing and deliverance until the day that our Father tells me I can stop, because that will be the day that you have received your ultimate healing, you will see Him face to face, and you will hear those words that I know you long to hear "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your master!" I will end where I began -- thank you so much for your ruthless trust in your friend Jesus!!

    David Sutton

    p.s. know that our love and prayers are also with Linda and your daughters. Also, here is my e-mail address:

  12. Dear Dr. Dan, I concur with so many of the comments sent, and the one from your daughter was precious. My prayer for you today was that you would have strength, stamina, and relief from pain to allow you to enjoy the beautiful view and sunshine that you have so eloquently described in the past. Continual love and prayers.

  13. Dr Crabtree and Linda,
    Richard and I think about you and pray for you both. As a cancer survivor, Richard knows some of the depth of the feelings that go along with the treatment, many Dr visits, waiting for results, and so on, so he knows better how to pray for you. I pray for Linda's strength and peace right now. Your love for each other and for the Lord is a testimony to all of us. May you both have more periods of relief to enjoy ice cream (or whatever brings a small rest or joy!).
    Richard and Lisa Colvin

  14. Dear Dr. Crabtree,
    What to say, I usually can't stop talking but now I am almost speechless.
    First of all let me say that you inspire me. I have always been a true believer in the power of prayer and I know that many are being raised up for you and your family.
    Thank you for making me fell special with your kind, caring and loving way.
    You are in my thoughts and prayers.
    Remember to stay who you are and thru Christ all things are possible.
    Darlene Jones

  15. I weep, I smile, I’m disturbed & angry and then at peace as I am blessed and honored to be your brother and friend... and like all who have been touched by you, I am inspired and renewed in my faith and belief in Him. I sure love you Bro!


  16. My dearest brother Dan.
    Each time I read your updates, I am left in amazement. Your trust in the Lord is so overwhelming. As I told you before, I ask so often, "Lord, why Dan? He has been such a servant of Yours his entire life and has so much left to give this world, why Dan?" It is your strength, trust and wisdom that is blessing and inspiring so many people each and every day. The Lord has asked you to show all of us how to continue to trust in Him even through our darkest hours. He has asked you to use your life as a testimony to us all and I truly believe that as each person who has ever known you and has had the opportunity to read your messages, will forever have your ministry instilled in their hearts. We will all go though our hardest times in life and we will all remember how you handled life through out all of this. I hope you know just how many lives you have touched and changed each and every day.

    Stay strong Dan. We continue to pray for you each and every day. I love you so much Dan and am so very proud to say, "That's my bro!"

    Love to you, Linda and the entire family, Debbie