Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Poison with a Purpose

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you on the "eve of destruction" - of my cancer cells, that is - as my first chemotherapy infusion starts tomorrow at 9 am at IU Medical Center. I like to think of this next phase as "poison with a purpose" since the drugs I will be given will attack the cancer cells, but at the same time, kill many types of good cells in my body. Four of the five drugs are not targeted in any way, so as they destroy fast growing cancer cells, they will also kill other cells which replicate frequently, such as white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets and cells lining my stomach and intestines. The other medicine is a monoclonal antibody targeted to a specific antigen on the surface of the aberrant b-cells. It will attach itself to those cancer cells and call on my body's death squads to kill the intruders.

So, the goal is to wipe out the insurgents, knowingly suffer collateral damage and civilian casualties, then secure the perimeter and build up sustainable defenses so there will be no more enemy infiltration. Heavy artillery. Special forces. Tough medicine.

There are times when tough medicine is called for, especially when the illness is terminal, or the prospects dire. I along with 66,000 others who are diagnosed with b-cell lymphoma every year are fortunate to have medicines which provide some solid hope of a cure, although there is still room for significant improvement. There are, however,  tens of thousands of patients with other types of cancers and diseases who are not so fortunate - a clarion call for continued bio-medical research and development around the globe, both public and private.

In all aspects of life, not just medicine or the military, drastic measures and harsh solutions are often required. In politics and foreign policy great risks need to be taken to "sue for peace"; in parenting we may need to take stern measures to reign in a wayward child; even in sports, like my beloved baseball, we have the late inning tactic of the "suicide squeeze play" to bring home a runner on third base to score a run, or to be mercilessly tagged out by the catcher.

From a spiritual perspective, there is a disease which is worse than cancer, Alzheimers or serious heart disease. The Bible calls it "sin". It is not a very popular topic during cocktail parties, or on blogs, nor is it often brought up in many of the pulpits in our churches today for fear of turning off the congregants, but it is serious and deserves our resolute attention.

In the midst of his "sermon on the mount" found in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus spoke of various types of sin that often befall us - anger, lust/adultery, divorce/broken relationships, swearing, retaliation, dealing with your enemies, attitudes toward the poor, judging others, and so on. At one point (Mt. 5:29-30), he sternly warns: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell."

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Christ is doing surgery on me of a spiritual kind, even if I thankfully avoided my scheduled pancreatic surgery. This type of surgery is dealing with sin in my life that still needs to be removed, or in Jesus' words, torn out and cut off. I am motivated to take this deep look and employ this tough medicine because I see how far short I fall from God's holy standard, and Christ's sinless example while he was on this earth. I am motivated by gratitude towards him for the sacrifice he made on my behalf on the cross. Even if I know my sins are forgiven based Jesus' death and resurrection, I want to hear "well done, good and faithful servant" when we meet face-to-face.

I wish it did not take cancer, or difficult situations and suffering, to motivate us to take the hard, deep look and use the tough medicine of repentance. God designed us so that pain often has a purpose, requiring us to poison those areas of our lives that keep us from following him. Our time is shorter than we often imagine, as I have been clearly reminded, so a bona fide "sense of urgency" regarding these matters is justified.

Here's to dead cancer cells and dead sin in our lives. . .

In Christ alone,



  1. Crenshaws - Please know that we are praying for you Newt and for the rest of the family, that God will heal... completely... and that the message will be received, as you said so well, that there is a disease that is worse than cancer. Drew-thanks for the verse on day 1.

    Dave & Becky Savage

  2. Newt,
    You are amazing with your analogies. I will definitely pass this onto Mark as he will understand very well wiping out insurgents, whether by Marine standards or wiping out the insurgents (sin) in our own lives.
    Thank you, big brother, for your words of wisdom. You are in my prayers, and I hope you are feeling well as you get home today after those nasty, but necessary, drugs have been pumped into your body.
    I love you,

  3. Newt -san, I'm so sorry to hear the news of your illness. But I know you will overcome this by your beliefs and a lot of love from your neighbors, friends and your family.
    I will certainly keep you in my thoughts and prayer. Get well soon. GAMBATTE KUDASAI!

    Tomoko Kasahara from Japan

  4. Newt:
    Hope you are handling the chemo ok. I would imagine it is simply nice to be treating the problem and that helps temper the physical side effects. Thanks for your insights as well. It is a real blessing to hear them. Keep grinding! In Christ, Boo2

  5. Newt:

    We are traveling the same road with you and your family, my father is going to battle to wipe out the insurgent of colon cancer in his body...we were on the front lines as of last week.

    We will continue to pray for you and your family! God Bless You!

    Leigh Abel