Cancer is nothing when you have hope!! This site is all about living … and living well … with late-stage cancer. I hope you will journey along with me through the ups and downs of living with lung cancer.
I am, by nature, a joyful person. So far, nothing this world has thrown at me has managed to permanently steal joy from me. Yet. But I must tell you … sometimes it seems rather touch and go as to whether I might finally give it up for good, you know?
I recently got back from the trip of a lifetime to Israel. I had never traveled internationally before, so this trip was a really big deal to me! We booked the trip, which didn’t take place until mid-January, in early September. That left a lot of time for me to fret over what all I needed to do to prepare, what clothes I needed to take, what precautions I needed to make. I am not usually a worrier, but I must have read the information that the travel agency sent us a hundred times to be sure I was getting everything right.
But, this article is not about my trip to Israel. I’ve written a couple of other pieces about that. No, this has a sadder theme.
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, the only question I had for my oncologist was, “Can I keep playing agility with my dogs?” He was dumbfounded. He had just delivered the news that I had late-stage cancer and was expected to die within four months, even with treatment.
I guess I didn’t want to know about dying. I wanted to know about living.
The very first place our Gate1 tour of Israel took us was to Caesarea Maritima. It was very cold, very windy, and very wet, but the weather did not dampen my enthusiasm for the beauty of this spot.
This ancient city was excavated during the 1950s and 1960s. The site became part of the new Caesarea National Park in 2011.
Caesarea Maritima was built in the Sharon plain on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar. Built prior to the birth of Jesus, the seaport included a forum, theater, temples, public baths, and paved streets. Perhaps most impressive, at least to me, was the elaborate aqueduct system that brought fresh water to the city’s 50,000 inhabitants from Mt. Carmel.
Magnificient Aqueduct System
I was so taken by the area’s beauty today, that I failed to fully appreciate all of its rich history while I was actually touring Israel. If I ever get to return, I will go with a much better understanding of the places that we visit and their historical and Biblical significance. For now, I’m going to do it backward by trying to match the pictures I took to the history I am researching now.
Come along with me!
I think one of the most amazing things to me about visiting Caesarea Maritime, aka “By the Sea,” was the condition of the ruins. The city was built during c. 22–10 BC and yet it is easy enough to stand there and imagine the citizens cheering in the amphitheater as they watched chariot races, gladiatorial combats, and theatrical events. The structure, obviously, with many enhancements, is still used today!
My video skills are not the best, to say the least, but I couldn’t capture the magnitude of the ruins at Caesarea Maritime with stills. So I tried to make a little video. If you watch the video, you’ll hear how windy it was the day we visited!
First-century Roman Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, said that the harbor built in Caesarea by Herod the Great was as large as the major harbor in Athens, Piraeus. The city grew quickly and was soon the largest city in Judaea.
Biblical Significance of Caesarea
Herod the Great, whose name was bestowed, not because he was a great leader, but because he was a great builder, including Caesarea, was appointed King of Judea by the Romans in 37 BC. A few years later, when he heard that the “King of the Jews” (Jesus) had been born in Bethlehem, he was consumed with jealousy and was determined to kill the baby.
God warned Joseph and the wise men of Herod’s intentions. They fled Bethlehem before Jesus could be killed. When Herod realized that the baby was no longer in Bethlehem, he ordered that “all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under,” be put to death. (Matthew 2:13-16)
Apostle Paul’s Ministry
Paul, who was called the apostle to the Gentiles, and likely some of the other apostles, preached along the Mediterranean coast, from Joppa (Tel Aviv) to the Roman city of Caesarea. Paul spent two years imprisoned in Caesarea. During that time, he had opportunities to witness about his faith in Christ to Felix, the Governor of Judea, and his wife, Drusilla. (See Acts 24)
Pilate lived in Caesarea, as did others who ruled the land. (Interestingly, until 1961, there was no archeological evidence that Pontius Pilate ever existed. Needless to say, some people used that fact to say that the Bible was untrue since Pilate played such a pivotal point in the crucifixion of Jesus (see Matthew 27:11-26). However, in the summer of 1961, a team of archeologists uncovered a limestone that read, “To the Divine Augusti Tiberium … Pontius Pilate … perfect of Judea … has dedicated …”)
The Roman soldier Cornelius was stationed in Caesarea. He was a centurion, which means he had command over one hundred Roman soldiers. The Bible says he was also a generous and God-fearing man whom God chose to be the first Gentile Christian convert. (See Acts 10 – 11)
Home of Philip
Philip the evangelist lived in Caesarea. Paul and his companions stayed at his home “for many days” after finishing a voyage from Tyre. (Acts 21:7-16) It was while Paul was here that the prophet Agabus warns him that he will be imprisoned when his ministry took him to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:26-36)
We visited Nazareth, the place where Jesus was raised, on the first day of our Gate1 tour. That day dawned and stayed cold and wet! What an interesting start to my very first ever international tour!
Nazareth lies in the center of Galilee in Northern Israel. It is a picturesque, hilly setting. The current city was built on top of the old village. Only a few archaeological remains from the time of Jesus have been discovered.
As of 2017, the population of Nazareth, known as the “Arab capital of Israel,” was over 75,000 people. Nearly 70% of those living in lower Nazareth today are Muslim; about 30% are Christian. The Jewish population lives in Upper Nazareth, known as Natzeret-Illitl.
In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was much smaller. The strongly Jewish population was estimated by American archaeologist James F. Strange as less than 500.
Nazareth is home to a number of Arab-owned high-tech companies, mostly in the field of software development. It is sometimes called the “Silicon Valley of the Arab community.” Another large employer is Israel Military Industries. About 300 people work there manufacturing munitions.
In Biblical Days
Mary, the young virgin betrothed to marry Joseph, of the House of David, lived in Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her, bringing her the news that God had chosen her to give birth to His Son. Can you imagine her shock?
Luke 1: 26-33
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
King Herod was very jealous when he heard that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. He sought to kill Jesus, but God had directed Joseph to take Mary and the baby to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plan.
The little family resided in Egypt until it was safe to return home to Nazareth. While not a lot was written about Jesus’ childhood, we know that He spent most of His childhood in the town of Nazareth.
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Basilica of the Annunciation
While we were in Nazareth, we visited the Basilica of the Annunciation, aka Church of the Annunciation. It was quite remarkable.
I apparently didn’t get a picture of the main doors through which you enter the church. They are worth a look. I did get some close-ups of some of the door.
The Church of the Annunciation has an interesting history. It was first built by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the mid 4th century. It might interest you to know that Helena also built the first Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The original church was destroyed during an Arab invasion in 638 AD. In 1109, Crusaders arrive in Nazareth. They built the second church to honor the hometown of Jesus. Sometime between 1229 and 1263 AD, the church was destroyed again, this time by Mamluks (Azzahir Baibars).
In 1620 AD, the Franciscans purchased the ruins of the Basilica of the Annunciation and built the third church. In 1730, the church was rebuilt for the fourth time. In 1877, the church was enlarged.
Finally, the church that stands today was built during 1955-1969. Designed by Giovanni Muzio, it is a beautiful structure that features two levels, the Upper Church, which is decorated with mosaics and artwork gifted to the church by nations across the world, and the Lower Church.
The Lower Church enshrines a sunken grotto that contains what is believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary. It is said that it was here that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would be the mother of the Messiah.
A highlight of the tour through Israel (and Bethlehem, which is in the West Bank and under Palestinian rule) was a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church, thought to be the oldest operating church in the world, was originally built by Helena, the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. The first church was dedicated in AD 339.
The original church was destroyed. It was rebuilt in the 6th century by Emporer Justinian (who reigned 527–565) and is largely the same today. The church that covers the cave where Jesus was born is magnificent in size and decor.
The Church of the Nativity is interesting in that it is home to three different religions: Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox. A Muslim holds the black wrought iron key to the church. Originally, Muslims were commissioned to hold the key to keep the peace among the three Christian religions using the church.
As you can see, the Church today features no pews; its interior is mostly dark and cold and huge. You feel quite small when you stand there waiting your turn to go through the 1.2 meters high door that takes you into the cave where Jesus was born. Except for the front of the church, which is quite ornate, the only decorations are Crusader-era paintings on the massive columns, wall mosaics near the ceiling of the massive structure, and the chandeliers that hang along the columns.
The picture above, hopefully, gives you an idea of just how massive the church really is. You can see how tall the pillars are compared to an average human’s size.
Fortunately, beginning in 2013, $15 million (US) has been invested into fixing the church’s roof to keep it from falling in and to make other needed repairs to the walls and mosaics. Among the repairs is the restoration of the intricate mosaics in the church. The 12th-century mosaics, made of gold and silver leaf with mother of pearl, had been covered with soot and grime accumulated over the centuries. An Italian team was commissioned to painstakingly restore their grandeur a few years ago.
I found it quite sad that some visitors to the Church of the Nativity feel it is appropriate to desecrate it. There is graffiti on many of the stately columns lining the church. I honestly don’t know what is wrong with people.
Entering the Grotto of the Nativity
To get to the Grotto of the Nativity, you must descend steep and narrow stairs after bending to enter the doorway that is slightly less than 4 foot high. The only doorway to the Grotto is cut into a massive wall and is purposefully low. It was lowered around the year 1500 to keep looters from driving their carts into the holy spot.
Unfortunately, I did not get many pictures while in the cave. It is only about 39 feet x 10 feet and was very crowded. We were rushed to look and get out. If I ever take another Holy Land tour, I will spend more time celebrating the birth of my Savior while in the Grotto of the Nativity, regardless of how crowded or rushed we are.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
We descended a few more steep steps to see where it is believed Jesus was laid in his manger bed. This tiny spot was even more crowded. The pictures below were hastily taken of where the manger where the baby Jesus slept is believed to have been.
I looked so quickly that I don’t even remember much about the manger except that I had to climb down several steep stairs that had no railing and it was very, very crowded.
I found it interesting that a statue of the crucifixion was featured in the manger.
I have read that the rock in the Grotto of the Manger is the original rock from when Jesus was born. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it and don’t even remember seeing it.
The manger in the Grotto is built to match the dimensions of feeding troughs that were cut into the rock by Bedouins back in Jesus’ day. If you want to see a picture, there is one here.
Last Words about the Grotto fo the Nativity
I have to qualify some of my statements. I believe Jesus may have been born in this cave that we saw beneath the Church of the Nativity. I believe he slept in a manger bed, just as the Bible says He did. I do not personally believe that any of us know exactly where Mary gave birth to Him or exactly where the manger stood. I have a little difficulty honoring exact spots that humans have decided are THE spots where historical events occurred over 2000 years ago.
With that said, it does not matter to me if the spots I saw in Bethlehem are the exact spots where my Savior was born. I’ve even seen some reports that say the Palestinian Bethlehem isn’t even the Bethlehem where Jesus was born. I don’t care. What matters to me is that He was born, He lived, He died on the cross for me and you, and He was resurrected three days later.
I hear this question all of the time, “How long did it take for you to regain your energy after treatments?” or “I finished treatments a month ago and I am still exhausted. Why?” Have you asked that question?
Bouncing back after treatment and cancer
The sad reality is that our bodies often do not bounce back nearly as quickly as we wish they would after being assaulted with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. And, don’t forget. Not only did we have to fight the treatment, but we also fought the cancer itself. Double-whammy!!
My six-year cancerversary is upon us so I guess it has me thinking about the journey I’ve been on. I might have chemo brain that robs many of my memories, but I surely remember hearing the words, “You have cancer.”
Cancer … But What Kind?
While I already suspected that I was getting a cancer diagnosis because my primary care doctor (PCP) had ordered a PET scan, I didn’t know what kind of cancer. I was hoping against all hope that it was going to be thyroid cancer. After all, it was weight gain that had sent me to see her in the first place. It would make some sense that my thyroid had a malignancy.
While I waited for my diagnosis, I reasoned that we could just go in, take out the offending thyroid, prescribe some pills to replace the missing hormone, and all would be well. Cancer gone. Life restored. Carry on.
I hoped against all hope that I wasn’t going to hear that I had lung cancer. I had no reason to think that would be the case. I had quit smoking years before, I was more active than I’d ever been, I felt great. Really, the only problem I had was the unexplained and seemingly uncontrollable weight gain. Surely, I wasn’t going to be told I had lung cancer.
My husband and I had just pulled up into the parking lot of an Asian barbeque restaurant when my PCP called me to finally tell me the results of the PET scan. My husband and I had been waiting not so patiently to learn the results of the scan I had undergone about a week earlier. So, I was happy … and scared … when my doctor’s name showed up on the caller ID.
The call didn’t last very long. My doctor told me that I had lung cancer. My heart sank like a ton of bricks. I had watched my dad die of lung cancer back in the 1970s. I knew enough to realize this was not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear. There was a (very) tiny sense of relief when she told me it was non-small cell lung cancer. I’d read that small cell was even more difficult to treat than non-small cell.
My husband was sitting in the driver’s seat of his truck, looking at me with questions in his eyes. Whatever my diagnosis was, it would affect many more lives than just mine, especially his. I wrote “lung cancer” on a scrap of paper and showed it to him.
I remember my doctor telling me that she’d set me up with an appointment the following day to see an oncologist. I was so grateful that (1) she had handled finding me a cancer doctor and (2) that I wasn’t going to have to wait except overnight to go see him.
Keeping Up Appearances
After I hung up, my husband and I sat in his truck and discussed the call for a couple of minutes. I shed a few tears. Then, we went inside to eat so that I could get back to work. I was really happy the call had come while I was away from the office. Processing the news away from prying eyes was definitely easier.
I remember sitting at that small table in the crowded restaurant, looking around, and wondering what secrets the other patrons had that no one else knew. Outwardly, no one would suspect that I had just taken a call that shattered my world. It was surreal to be sitting there, eating a meal as if we had not a care in the world.
And, So It Began…
And, so began the journey that has taken me to places I would have never guessed I would go. What an adventure it has been.
Have you heard about the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR)? It is a foundation that is dedicated to exploring the role diet and exercise have on cancer. They believe that as much as 40% of cancer in the United States can be prevented. The foundation also believes that “every individual has the power to reduce his or her cancer risk.”1
I am a bit cynical about whether we can prevent nearly half of all cases of cancer in the United States simply by controlling our diets and exercise, but that’s just me. The AICR does include weight control and smoking among the risk factors that are under our control but correctly notes that many thousands of smokers never develop lung cancer and that many Americans who are overweight also do not develop cancer.
The exact percentage of cancers that might be preventable notwithstanding, it makes sense to pay attention to diet and exercise while we are fighting the disease. Lifestyle definitely affects how well we are able to boost our immune systems and, perhaps, counteract some of the side effects of treatment.
While the report says that as much as 90% of lung cancer cases among men and 89% of cases among women throughout the world have a direct relationship with smoking, it includes two other potential causes:
drinking water that contains arsenic and
taking high-dose beta-carotene supplements if you smoke or have ever smoked.
In addition, researchers believe processed meats, red meat, and alcoholic drinks may increase our chances of developing lung cancer. I can easily give up most processed meats (you bacon lovers, don’t forget it is considered processed meat) and alcoholic beverages, but I do love to eat red meat occasionally. I thought that pork was considered a “white” meat, but I heard recently that it is also considered red meat.
Fortunately for those like me who haven’t given up their red meats, AICR does state in its latest report, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of red meat increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2 I’m going to go with that! Please note that the same report also says, “The evidence suggesting that consumption of alcoholic drinks increases the risk of lung cancer is limited.”2
If you are interested, you can download a free, 71-page PDF document from AICR called, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Lung Cancer.” The document is part of the Continuous Update Project (CUP) of the World Cancer Research Fund’s ongoing program to analyze cancer prevention and survival research and was updated in 2018.
1American Institute for Cancer Research. “About American Institute for Cancer Research.” http://www.aicr.org/about/about_cancer_research.html. Accessed 9/30/2018.
2World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Diet, nutrition, physical activity and lung cancer. Available at dietandcancerreport.org. Page 39. Accessed 9/30/2018.
“The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 55 percent for cases detected when the disease is still localized (within the lungs). However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage. For distant tumors (spread to other organs) the five-year survival rate is only 4 percent.”1