He found a lump near his ear when he was shaving.
He went to the doctor right away and was referred for tests and then to an ENT specialist/surgeon. The doctors said most of these tumors are benign. But to be sure, the surgeon ordered a deep needle biopsy.
On Nov. 22 we received the report: malignant melanoma.
A few days later, in a Sunday School class poetry workshop, two weeks after we joined Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, I wrote these words on a blank labyrinth page:
Here is the poem written in an easier-to read version:
Stuart has been calm and stalwart, as usual. We are both learning a lot about melanoma. He is reading Immune by Phillipp Dettmer. I am reading No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler.
I also found this lovely poem online which helped me find words to tell Stuart “I’m going to love you through this” and “WE have cancer.” I have always been impressed by friends who have offered unconditional support to their loved ones during cancer. I hope I will have the strength to be his advocate in the medical system and an oasis of comfort and love at home.
We have started a Caring Bridge site so that the many friends and family who have reached out to us can follow the journey. Doing so has led us to hear many stories, most of them very hopeful, especially about the breakthroughs in immunotherapy. Stuart will soon be getting infusions of the drug KEYTRUDA. Stuart has no pain or loss of energy, and we hope that continues to be true as he progresses through therapy.
Meanwhile, when not going to Philadelphia and Lancaster for doctor appointments, life continues much as it did before. We are getting ready for Christmas and for the joyful reunion with our children and grandchildren.
Stuart’s genealogy project, which I wrote about last month, is now finished! He started working on the project 40 years ago. But this was the year to bear down on it like a book or a dissertation and pull all the pieces together from multiple sources. I am proud of him. He made a Christmas gift for our grandchildren that also interests other family members who have ordered their own copies. Both of us learned a lot as we wrote our letters to our grandchildren now included in the book.
Speaking of grandchildren, we are looking forward to the arrival of Anthony and Chelsea’s family soon. Daughter Kate says that every day Lydia asks, “how many days?” She’s not asking about Christmas, she’s asking when Owen and Julia are coming. My grandma heart rejoices when I recognize the love the littlest one has for her older cousins and when I hear them inquire about her every week.
May your Christmas or Hannukah be merry and bright this year.
Hug your loved ones close, as we will ours.
Will you be seeing family soon? Love to hear your plans.
Dear Shirley, Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you & Stuart. This blog post is wonderful, lovely. I’m trying to imagine the adjustment you both must be making. But I see your smile, your bright, thoughtful words and I hear Stuart’s laugh as well as his thoughtful comments. As it will be for a very long time.
Holding you up with hope & care. Love you!
Thank you so much, Phyllis! Yes, I am happy to say that the smiles and laughter have so far outweighed the tears. We don’t take our current situation for granted. I see YOUR smiling eyes too, and feel your love and care. So grateful for all our shared memories and understandings.
Thank you, Shirley, for sharing in such a personal way. Hardy and I are on that journey as well. His cancer is contained within the bladder, so hasn’t spread, but he has to have regular bladder washes and they leave him exhausted and drained of energy. He has a telephone consultation with his doctor on Dec. 19th. I am in good health and carrying on as best I can. I admire Hardy’s courage through all of this, and am trying to be a good support
Hallelujah for containment. We had the same good news after a PET scan. But the treatments can still be draining. I breathe a prayer for both of you as I write these words. May the consultation and continued treatments go well, and God give you the strength to persevere as you both deal with cancer.
Hello Shirley- boy does life throw us curve balls from time to time. With Stuart having you by his side will be of huge aid to him. Remember to take care of yourself though.
A very merry Christmas to you and family and May his medical treatment go well and your hearts widen on this journey. With love, susan
Yes, Susan. This was a real curve ball. Thanks for your concern for both of us. I like that image of the heart widening. Thank you for it. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Oh Shirley, my eyes teared up, my heart reaches to you with an enormous hug. So many “feels” you are experiencing.
Thank you for these beautiful words and the combined courage of “we”! Christmas blessings.
You know and are one of my many role models, in life and literature.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful note. We hold you both close in thought and prayer.
Thank you, Lois. I remember your care for both of us years ago. You have a ministering presence then and now.
This must be a shock for you both, but I appreciate your (and Stuart’s) hope-filled response. I will be praying for you both as you navigate this challenge together. (And praising God for scientists and doctors and the amazing advances in cancer treatments.)
This is our first Christmas without children at home. My older son is on deployment; my younger is working on Christmas day. We’ll see him for a few days after Christmas, when we all meet up at Goshen to be with family. It’s definitely a different holiday season! Meanwhile, we’re seeing grandsons this weekend in Seattle, which will be a nice way to kick off the break.
Praying for you both.
Yes, Melanie. We are both grateful to scientists and doctors and to the team that has formed around Stuart. Thank you for your prayers.
Enjoy this weekend with grandsons and Christmas in Goshen. It may not be the Christmas you are used to, but I hope it brings surprising blessings.
I join the others in thanking you for sharing your sad news with such grace and honesty. I will hold you and your family in my prayers. May the power and presence of God surround you and yours as you join together as a family to digest this news and to love on one another.
Thank you, Marlena, for these caring words. I extend the blessing back to you and your family.
Receiving such a diagnosis has a way of turning one’s whole world upside down! As others have mentioned, I too am grateful for the medical research that makes such effective treatments possible. I’m glad Stuart is tolerating treatment so well and hope that will continue. Praying for both of you — for courage, healing and hope!
Thank you, Marlene. You probably have used the labyrinth poetry form before? I was interested in the way that it forced me to keep moving forward instead of going back and editing what I had already written. It seemed like a good spiritual discipline, trusting in spirit rather than mind.
Stuart will start his first Keytruda treatment on Tuesday. We pray he will tolerate it well enough to continue.
“strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…”
You write about this devastation so touchingly. What a beautiful portrait of both of you emerges. Stuart’s genealogy project completed ( at least until the next birth) is an amazing gift. Love to you both.
Thank you, Ann. Love to you also.
I love your comment “I’m going to love you through this”, Shirley. Do that. No matter how thing ps turn out, you’ll never regret it. I hope you and Stuart still have many years together on this earth.
You know so well what we are going through now, Kel. Thank you for these words of encouragement. They lift both of us up.
I am sorry to hear this news and will hold you in my prayers. May you experience the love, healing and strength of our Heavenly Father and the care of family and friends during this time. Love & prayers are with you!
You also know what it is like to walk together in uncertainty, Pearl. Thank you for this blessing and have a Merry Christmas.
Shirley, Thank you for sharing this news; I am amazed how you turned the pronoun into “we.” I am praying that you both can trust in the darkness, in the silence, in the shock. We are staying put in our northwest geography, and we are planning gatherings with two of Dave’s sisters who live nearby. Yes to hugs.
Thank you Dolores. We are trusting. I think of you in your northwest geography. Blessings on your family time.
Shirley, I admire your courage and love for Stuart I hear in this post. I know you will be strong support for Stuart as you both journey along through the treatments, tests, and reports. It isn’t easy, is it, loving someone so much and then being told life is being shortened for that soul you have loved for so long.
Not to distract from your story, but to share that I know the feelings you describe all too well. This past Monday morning Bob awoke with shortness of breath. He’d never been diagnosed with heart or lung issues, and in September underwent a prostrate surgery to reduce the prostate in size. It’s been a rough recovery, but things appear to be mending. After a call to our doctor, we spent the day at his office having tests performed so that we might be able to be admitted into an already overflowing hospital. Bottom line here: multiple small pulmonary emboli in both lungs. We have just returned home with arms full of pills and printed guidance. Our heads are spinning and our hearts are overflowing with hope that all will turn out well and not just the opposite. This condition can be very grave.
I love you and Stuart and admire your marriage and family life. We will be praying for you both and visiting with you on Caring Bridge. Hugs and prayers to you both.
Sherrey, no it isn’t easy, and there are still many question marks.
Sounds like you and Bob are dealing with your own serious challenges. God bless and hold you both.
These serious illnesses underscore the observation that it is a blessing to grow old. My 95-year-old mother helps me understand that we don’t want to die unless we are in terrible pain. “What are you looking forward to in the future, Mother?” Her response. “The next day.”
I sense the hope and great love in your words here, Shirley. I will hold you and Stuart in my prayers, and I hope the treatments go smoothly and easily. May this be a peaceful and joyous holiday season for your family.
Tina, thank you. I wish you and yours the same. Me-ow!
Shirley — If I’m stunned and can’t wrap my head and heart around this news, I can’t even begin to imagine how you and Stuart are feeling. Please know that you’re both on my “Laundry Line Divine” as I “zip you in the Pod” each evening.
Thank you, Laurie. I love your language for what other people call prayer. It fits your inimitable self. Zipping you up too.
So very sorry to her this news, Shirley. My Beloved and I have been down the same road a time or two, so I understand the physical impact of that dreadful “C” word! We have learned that our God is able, present, and loving. Praying for Stuart, you, your family, and all those treating him.
Thank you, Judy. When one gets a scary diagnosis, one learns how many others are dealing with equally challenging conditions. I pray you and your Beloved are cancer-free. We are all walking each other home.
Stuart & Shirley,
I am so sorry to hear of Stuart’s diagnosis. I love your WE Have Cancer approach to this. My stepmother spent time using Caring Bridge while she had cancer. Prayers and thoughts there carried her through her one year journey with cancer. She is now free of it. Wishing you a good Christmas 2022 with your family.
Barbara, thank you for being here and for the encouraging story about your stepmother. The number of survivors of cancer is growing every day. We aspire to be counted among them a year from now. Merry Christmas to you and yours also.
Oh, Shirley, I’m with you heart and soul. I’m so sorry to hear this news but know your strength will carry both of you through whatever lies ahead. We are now living at the Colonnades in Charlottesville as Bill’s memory continues to grow dimmer. We both send lots of love and prayers your way.
Thanks, Joan. We have to stick together heart and soul as we face the inevitable challenges of aging. Love and prayers to you also!
Shirley, I am so very sorry that you both are facing this cancer and hope that the shift will be toward the positive, and that you will be sustained not only the support you offer each other but the support around you — so that having a depressed, lousy daily is possible with a kind caring circle. I will continue to pray for you and your family as they gather, and be grateful to your ongoing gifts to so many families.
Maren, I will remember these words when we have a depressed, lousy day, which is almost an inevitability. Thank you for your prayers. They mean a lot to me.
Shirley, thank you for sharing this news. My extended family has been visited far too often by various cancers. And, truly it impacts all those who love the person with cancer. My heart is with Stuart, you and all those in your circles of family and friends. My his treatments be tolerable and the results quick and toward optimal health. Thinking of you durng this holiday season. Much love.
Audrey, I am sorry that you have faced this disease multiple times. Thank you for the good wishes. And blessings to you also in this holiday season. Much love.
Praying for your husband, you and your dear family. I have been where you are. A frightening time yet the peace of God transcends it all.
Being the spouse is not necessarily harder…it’s just a different hard. Be sure to take care of you too during this time.
Roxanne, even though we have never met in person, I feel I know you from your generous comments and posts. I sense a wisdom and peace that remains even though the grief never ends.
We both feel the peace of God and the love of friends and family. We are deeply blessed.
Dear Shirley: You and Stuart are in my prayers. I had a scare with skin cancer myself, but was lucky it was not malignant. The best available treatment and a positive attitude seem paramount. You and Stuart are a strong team. I’m betting on you two to prevail.
I am so glad your skin problems turned out not to be cancer. Those of us who spent a lot of time on farms and were not careful enough, are having to be careful now! Thanks for your prayers and your faith in us. We need them both!
Shirley .. a belated response to your lovely blog and best wishes for Stuart’s health. On a positive note, my first husband (the sailing guy) had was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on his back tin 1986. He had surgery and has been cancer free ever since. I wish that for you and Stuart.
Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Happy New Year, Mary. We are in the midst of our family intensive of four days together. Stuart is enjoying life as usual, very happy that he has had no serious side effects from his first infusion of Keytruda. Thanks for taking time to tell another encouraging story. We have high hopes for the future.
Wishing you all the best on your journey. It can be hard to stop a disease from being the central focus of your life when it is taking up time and energy but I hope you can focus on love whenever possible so every moment together is infused with it.
Welcome here, Annie. Thanks for taking time to write. And your suggestion is the best. I am just back from a post-Christmas morning walk with my two older grandchildren. A magical morning filled with love. May you have the same.
Thank you for this post, Shirley. I”m sorry to learn of your husband’s diagnosis, and pray for his treatment and healing, and for your sharing together as the “we”. on this journey. May you both sense God’s love and care in a special way during this time.
Thank you, April. You are a wonderful model of walking as a “we” with your husband. I appreciate your empathetic prayers. God bless YOU.