Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pharmaceuticals and Faith

Pictured above is my weekly regimen of chemicals designed either to slow the progression of my cancer, to deal with the side effects of those chemicals, or to treat some ancillary ailment. Yep! Facing a third year in this battle with malignant melanoma, I have officially joined the ranks of the chronically ill and settled into a regimen often ruled more by chemicals than by any creative pursuits.

It is impossible to tell which symptoms are due to the underlying battle with renegade melanoma cells (in brain, meninges, lymph nodes, long bones), which are due to the drugs designed to hold the cancer at bay, and which are due to the drugs designed to lessen the side effects of those drugs. Well, honestly, I have some idea which symptoms come from which source, but it is getting more and more difficult to discern which is more troublesome: the disease or the treatment?

One example: daily headaches. Likely due to the multiple deposits of metastatic melanoma within the skull, both the radiation specialist and the oncologists recommended high-dose steroids to reduce the associated pressure on the brain. Although this helped for a time, the steroids also resulted in muscle weakness, cramps, fluid retention, and fatigue. I was forced to cut back on the steroids, after which I regained some muscle strength and no longer look like a jack-o-lantern :-) The headaches are controlled now with Tylenol and an occasional Dilaudid.

As a physician, I fully anticipated this balancing act -- balancing the beneficial effects of drugs with their undesirable side effects. And I have the advantage of knowing which symptoms are likely due to the cancer versus the drugs designed to treat the cancer versus the drugs designed to treat the side effects of the drugs designed to treat the cancer (!) I also recognize that I need to pay attention to the basics: maintain a balanced diet and exercise even when I don't feel like it. The experience has taught me great humility and empathy for all patients who face similar challenges.

I have found the same principles apply to my spiritual health: when I am spiritually malnourished I am more susceptible to unhealthy and negative thoughts and less sensitive to the needs of others around me (just ask Linda!) On the other hand, to the extent that I read scripture, spend time in prayer, and look for opportunities to exercise the spiritual gifts He has given me (i.e., to express His love to others), I experience renewed energy, a greater optimism and a settled joy in each day.

Some pills are hard to swallow (e.g., acknowledging my greater dependence on others), so each treatment decision involves a risk-benefit analysis. It takes spiritual energy to put the needs of others ahead of myself (especially when I have very little energy to begin with). Fortunately, investing time in prayer, scripture-reading, and seeking opportunities to serve others ultimately results in a net gain in spiritual, emotional, and even physical strength.

With the help of the Great Physician, I continue to pursue a balanced regimen that includes both pharmaceuticals and faith. This regimen, thoroughly mixed with your prayers, is a prescription made in heaven!

Dr Dan


  1. I'm so glad you have updated. I have been checking everyday. I so look foreward to hearing from you. I pray you get the right combination to make yourself comfortable. I love you, pray for you, and think of you and Lin often.I know this Christmas will be wonderful surrounded by family who loves you. Merry Christmas and God Bless. Love Sues

  2. I check often, too, and thank you for sharing yourself with us. Many Christmas blessings to you, Linda and your family!

  3. Thanks for the update, Dan. Its a great reminder not to get spiritually lazy, forcing the Lord's hand to draw us to Himself. I know this Christmas will be a great celebration for your family, of what God has done and will continue to do in your lives. ~bill/wendy hunter

  4. Hey Dan,
    Kevin and I are so glad you are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus with your family. I pray for a day without pain- just to be blessed with beign aroudn the kids and grans!Much love to you & Linda- I miss our monthly conference calls. Merry Christmas

  5. I also check often to see how you and your family are doing. Hoping you all have a wonderful, Christmas celebrating the birth of the Lord.

  6. I find myself in tears at your every post--not tears of sorrow or even tears of joy. I'm just moved so deeply by the sober truth that the Holy Spirit continues to reveal to you. I think about my own spiritual struggles that are simply brought on by my own wrongful ideas, apathy, etc. I'm nowhere close to facing what you do daily with such strength, and it really causes me to make adjustments in my life. Thank you for your transparency that ministers to me so very much.

    Merry Christmas,
    Kristen Stapp

  7. Have been daily checking your updates knowing with assurance , that even when you have not posted anything, GOD is not idle in your life. HE is certainly working, speaking and ministering to you and giving you that precious time you need with your family. I've been out of town and everywhere I go and every chance I get, I share your story and your blog with those that need to hear how GOD is alive and working in your life and your heart in the midst of a very painful ( both emotional and physical journey)and prayers are going out for you all over the place.... Just this AM, I had a friend ask me about her cousin with a similar diagnosis and what did I think.Who am I to answer such a question? I dont have those answers, but one thing I do know. We have a loving GOD and our lives are in HIS hands, so of course, I answered her what came first and foremost in my mind, "DOES SHE KNOW OUR LORD?" WE all know that without HIM, we cannot be sure of anything, but WITH HIM, all things are possible and we have a hope, whether it's while here on earth and certainly for a heavenly joy that awaits us when it's our time. People everywhere are so encouraged by your strength, what you have learned and how GOD's grace has sustained you and how it's obvious HE has never left your side. HIS word is TRUTH and we can hang on to that when all else seems bleak. Thank you for continuing to share, for your transparency and how you have been ministered to . Your words are touching lives and none of it is in vain.

  8. I can only imagine you are surprised to hear from me, it really has been so long. I think of you so often and check your blog now and then to see how you are doing. Your blogs are such an inspiration. Your faith and your journey with Christ has been an incredible testimony to God. I was sitting in Church last Sunday and the Pastors words spoke to me in a way that touched me very deeply. We were talking about spiritual relationships. Spiritual parents, spiritual partners, and spiritual proteges. You certianly came to my mind. I can't help but remember all those times you prayed with me in your office when I was lost and felt like I had lost my sole. I know God had a purpose for putting you in my life. I remember the day you came to Maryview to see me and you told me to read Jermiah 29:11. I was so confused back then and stayed that way for a long time. Things got much worse after that and I hit bottom. Then there was nowhere else to go. I reached out to God and asked him for help and for the first time fully put my trust in him. I got honest with myself and admitted that I was addicted to pain killers. I have 14 monthes clean now by the grace of God. I now know it's not my will but God's will for my life, which goes back to that passage that you asked me to read back when I was in Maryview Jermiah 29:11. For the first year that I was in AA I kept saying that I was learning to live life on life's terms. I now know that I know that I am learning to live life on God's terms. And though life keeps happening, I know that I no longer have to num the pain. I am so grateful for the things I have endured in life for I know that God has a purpose for me. I want to thank you for being such a strong spiritual person in my life.
    My email address is
    Ruby Blanchard