Season’s Greetings from Traveling Boy! For our lead picture, we decided to ask our T-Boy writers to share an original Christmas photo or painting to grace the home page. We decided to feature Ed Landry (our T-Boy fire-fighter-turned-missionary) who enjoys creating digital paintings and also had an interesting Christmas story to share. We hope you enjoy it, and have a Happy Holiday Season. – EB
Our grown children all lived in America and we lived in the Philippines. If you have read any of our stories on Traveling Boy, you will know we are Christian missionaries. We lived in the Philippines for 20 years and raised our children there. Our role was to give them roots and then to give them wings which is the hard part, but all survived and thrived. We usually only returned to the USA once every two years and that was for only two months, usually July and August. That means our Christmas was always in Asia and when the children were older we only saw them every two years.
The year was 2001 and we were due for our US trip in July. Once again we would not be with our family at Christmas. We were still ready for the break and were hopeful we could see the children who were scattered around the country.
My wife and I were very active and quite healthy. I was surprised that I began having trouble catching my breath after minor exertion. Each week it was getting worse. A close friend, a medical doctor, and I were having lunch after a morning church service one Sunday when he noticed I looked very anemic. The next day after running a few blood tests he was quite concerned as he told me I had a serious problem with my blood and needed to go back to the USA immediately and meet with a hematologist (blood doctor). I told him I had a lot to do and maybe . . . He stopped me, “Read my lips, you need to be on the plane in the next two days!” He got my attention and I flew to Seattle two days later and our mission agency set up all the medical appointments and by the end of the day that I arrived, I had been given three bags of blood and had a bone marrow biopsy.
Two days later I went in to get the results. I need to stop the story now to change the mood of the story. I have no plan to talk about morbid details and sadness and all that. I love funny stories and find joy in most situations. I have been afflicted with that disposition since becoming a Christian. So, I want to tell you about a seven-month journey of joy in the cancer center of the University of Washington in Seattle. By the way, my doctor friend in the Philippines also has a sense of humor. When I asked what my blood test indicated he casually said, “might be cancer, might be nothing.” I told him I may want a second opinion and he said, “OK, you are ugly too!”
When I showed up for my appointment for the results of my bone marrow biopsy two days after arriving in Seattle I was led into what I will call the “bad news” room. Three of our agency’s directors were with me. Virginia, the main oncologist, informed me I had serious acute leukemia and had two months to live but with aggressive treatments that might be extended and in rare cases cured. I am always telling funny stories and puns so I could not pass that one up. I said to her, “You said I have “a cute” leukemia. Is that better or worse than an ugly one? She stared at me not knowing what to think. She then, in a very serious manner, explained that denial is a common response to bad news. I told her she had not given me any bad news. She reminded me she had told me I was going to die. I said that is not what I heard. I explained that as a Christian missionary I traveled all over the world training pastors and when a long trip is over it is so nice to go home. Then I told her a promise Jesus made to all who follow Him. He said He was going away to prepare a place for us and would take us there one day.” Then I told Virginia, “What I heard you tell me a few minutes ago was that I will be going home for the first time. You haven’t given me any bad news.” For the next seven months, we developed a nice friendship.
My wife was able to return from the Philippines a few days after my tests were completed. I told her we were going to have a fun hospital room. If I was going to die, it was going to be a great exit. For us, living is a wonderful adventure, can you imagine what dying will be like, God saved it for last! So we immediately went to IKEA to find something, which we did and took it with us when we checked in for the first of what would become five major chemo treatments, each lasting three weeks. I have described chemotherapy as three weeks of poisoning to the threshold of death and then followed by one week of eating Mexican food. Then back again to the poison control center and repeat four times.
Above is the framed photo we got at IKEA. We hung it outside our room in the hospital and had a contest. Whoever came up with the best captions would get a prize. Word went around and hospital staff came from all over the hospital to fill out the entry forms. How fun is that? We all laughed a lot and met many who got to know us and visit. I was lying in bed with green poison flowing into my veins and tubes hooked up all over and laughing and telling funny stories. Mark Twain once described the greatest days in a man’s life as the day he was born and the day he found out why. I knew why and there was no fear of death and life was and still is a joy and peace, like Christmas year-round.
I picked that photo because it was begging for great captions, but it also represents cancer which is seen by many as a train wreck. For us, it was a fun event on what may be the dreariest floor in the hospital. We had three winners and gave out gifts to each.
We had many other creative things we did over the months. Our room was covered in Bible verses, things people brought or made, and fun balloons. It was a party for someone who was going home for the first time.
The funny stories
I have been collecting true funny stories from my trips for years now and one day I will do a book called LAUGHING INTO THE WIND. But let me share a few things that happened while in the hospital. It would take too long to tell them all.
The Neanderthal doctor and his psychiatrist assistant
If you are not familiar with how chemo is administered, they put a special port in your upper chest to put in and take out fluids and blood. Chemo is very strong and would destroy veins and every puncture is a chance for infection when your immune system crashes to zero as part of the treatment. Once in a while, a port gets infected which is very dangerous and must be replaced. That is what happened to me and as I was laying on the operating table I started talking to the assistant and soon found out he hoped to leave his nursing job and become a psychiatrist. I asked him if he liked funny stories because he seemed very serious, almost somber. He said he never likes jokes. I said I bet I can make you laugh and he said, almost sadly, “I doubt it.” I told him about a guy who went to a psychiatrist and when asked what the problem was he said, “I think I am a dog.” “How long have you had this problem?” asked the doctor. He said, “Since I was a puppy.” He started to smile but tried not to, and then he laughed out loud and said, “That was funny.” Then the Neanderthal doctor arrived. That is what I called him. He came in quickly and had to remove the infected port, clean everything up and sew in a new one. I think he was shooting for the Guinness record for this one. The stitches were quickly cut and then the yanking started but it was stuck in my chest. He put his knee on my chest to pull the old one out. He must have seen my eyes the size of saucer plates and said, “They stick sometimes.” Once the port came out and he made sure no ribs were attached he asked if I minded music. “No, whatever calms you down is fine with me.” So he turned on a boom box and began loudly playing “I need somebody to love” by Jefferson Airplane and almost raced back to me and said, “You ready for your new port? I said I wasn’t sure because the doctor doing it just about ripped my chest in half tearing out the old port and now he needs a song about finding somebody to love. And his psychiatrist keeps mumbling the word “puppy.”
The Atheist and the 800 number
They do a lot of “procedures.” They usually happen in a room where you find insecure psychiatrists and Neanderthal doctors. After one of those procedures, I was rolled back on the hospital bed to my room and there was a new nurse this time. It was fairly common since this was a teaching hospital on the grounds of the University of Washington. When I entered the room the nurse was fiddling around and not saying anything. I guessed she was bothered by the Bible verses and happy stuff on the walls. I waited a few minutes wondering If she was going to say anything, but nothing. I said, “I am guessing you know I am a Christian.” She snapped back at me, “I am an Atheist.” I took a moment to give her an answer. “As an Atheist, it is a good thing you live in Seattle.” She quickly said, “Why is that?” “Because there is a special toll-free 800 number in Seattle just for Atheists. It is called the Atheists Prayer Line. You call that number and nobody answers.” She smiled and after that she became friendly.
Gummy organs and a prize T-shirt
I have one sister. I think when I was born my parents saw me and said they thought they could do better and so my sister was born and then they realized it was best if they stopped. Joking aside, my sister is amazing and funny. She worked for many years as an administrator for several doctors and when she came to visit she knew just what to bring. You have probably heard of Gummy Bears. She brought Gummy Organs. We put them in a bowl and doctors would come in just to get liver or kidney to munch on. She and her daughter came dressed as birds, feathers and all. It is a great story and I have written it for Traveling Boy in the past and you can read it. It is a fascinating story that started with a smashed bird.
Another thing my sister did was make me a special t-shirt to wear, one of a kind. It became such a hit on the floor that numerous doctors wanted it when we checked out. We had a drawing for it and gave it away. Unless you are a doctor you would not understand it. The shirt said, “Leukemia is a real blast!” The background known by all oncologists is that the renegade cancer cells that run amok in the bone marrow are called “blast cells.” The chemo is used to poison the blast cells which overrun the bone marrow replacing stem cells which become useful blood cells. The blast cells do nothing but take up valuable space and prevent healthy cells from growing and you die. For me, the double-meaning shirt was fun to wear around the hospital. Leukemia is about blast cells and I was having a blast wearing it.
The mohawk and tough biker picture
When our middle daughter, Rachel, arrived to visit she had a plan. She knew my hair was about to fall out from the chemo so she wanted to do some fun hairstyles on me. We eventually ended up with a Mohawk and then later the billiard-ball, shaved-head style and put earrings on me and had me make an angry face we called the tough biker cut.
The doctor and the clocks
There are many more stories, but let me close this article with one. I called them the thundering herd. As many as 15 made up the pack. At a teaching hospital, there are a lot of students, interns, and physicians on the floor each day. Every day they thundered into my room and usually just to ask a few questions and look at charts. So, I began telling a different joke or funny story each day, It was always a light moment for the herd. One day they came in and I told my story and they laughed and said, “no change” referring to my tests. I asked why they kept coming since every day there are no changes. They said they liked the jokes.
But then one day there was a new doctor in the pack that took the lead. They usually changed each month. This new one was in charge but had not been in the herd before. He was middle eastern man named “Dr. M.” This particular doctor had no obvious sense of humor, he was all business. After I would tell a good joke and everyone loved it, he would just say, “Thank you Mr. Landry” with an unsmiling face and they would all leave. That became a pattern so he became my project and after several unsuccessful attempts to just get him to smile I set up a good one. When the herd came in the next day I was sitting on my bed looking depressed (not easy for me to do) and when Dr. M asked if I was OK, I told him I had a disturbing dream but did not want to talk about it. He came next to me and urged me to please tell him the dream and I hesitated again and then finally said I would tell the dream. The whole group closed in.
(For privacy reasons all names in this story have been changed to initials)
I dreamed I died and I went to Heaven and I met St. Peter at the gate and before he invited me in he said he wanted to show me something. He took me into a massive hall and on the walls were clocks of all sizes, billions of them and all going at different speeds. I asked what the clocks were for and he told me that is how they keep accounts of everyone’s sins on earth. He asked if I would like to see anyone’s clocks in particular and I said, “Could I see Dr. A’s clock?” (Dr. A was a resident who was in the room standing next to Dr. M. She was my first resident in charge and now she was with the herd. Dr. A, I might add, led a life very different from our lifestyle. I got along fine with her even though we saw issues differently. I played some fun pranks on her and she was a good sport; we got along great). So, I told St. Peter I wanted to see Dr. A’s clock. It was spinning quite fast. When I said that the group laughed and started needling her in fun. Then I said I would like to see Dr. T’s clock and his was spinning faster than A’s. (Dr. T was standing next to Dr. A. He was older, very conservative, super polite, and quiet. He was my second resident in charge of the group.) They really poked him and laughed, all in good fun. Then St. Peter asked if there were any more. I said, there was another doctor, but I am trying to remember his name. Oh, yes I remember and I gave St. Peter his name, Dr. M. He said, “Oh, that is a very special clock. I have it on my desk and I am using it for a fan.”
That one got him. He broke up as did the herd. They all laughed down the hall. I even heard them further down the hall say, “A fan!” and they laughed again.
That night when the halls were quiet Dr. M came into my room and sat down. He told me his father was missing in Pakistan (it was during the Gulf War) and he was leaving the hospital in two days to go try to locate him. We talked for an hour and he wanted me to pray for his journey. It was a very private conversation and I ended up giving him some things that would be helpful to him on the trip. I never saw him again after he left the hospital. I was so glad I told that last story because it brought him into my room that night. Humor over the years has opened the hearts and minds of many when I talk to them. Joy is also contagious. This is a picture of Dr. M the day before he left for Pakistan. I would love to see him again, he was a gentle soul.
This was my most unexpected Christmas… a joyous occasion (despite the health issues) because one of the benefits of cancer is it brought our family to come celebrate Christmas together… in a cancer ward in a Washington State hospital.
Merry Christmas from the Landrys and Traveling Boy!MORE of Ed Landry’s scriptural artwork