I am a cancer survivor.
Every night for more than two restless years, I faced a nagging possibility of not waking to see another sunrise.
In October 2016, I received a horrific diagnosis that an aggressive, terminal growth was commandeering my brain – a glioblastoma, the kind of cancer that killed Beau Biden and John McCain and many others: men and women, young and old, college graduates and blue-collar workers, politicians and artists. It is an indiscriminate killer. Like a ravenous parasite, the brain tumor had been consuming me from within for just a few months.
In response, I turned desperately to medical professionals, on-line information, family and friends, spiritual advisors, and to the Divine. Online scanty resources included research papers and ghastly images, but few personal insights from others living with and dying with this disease. With no family history for this kind of cancer, the moment became my Dark Night of the Soul, a steely cold of aloneness. In response to the horror, I changed my diet, lifestyle, attitude, and priorities at once and wished that I had been more prudent in my adulthood.
Since then, I have had surgery, radiation, and ongoing chemotherapy, this type of cancer has no cure and its incidence seems to be rising without any known cause. For the moment, my medical teams (UVA and Augusta Health) view me as a “stable” patient despite a vestige hot spot lurking in my right parietal. Still, I walk regularly, shop at local markets, drive short distances, read and write, enjoy birding, and gardening, exercise at the Augusta Wellness Center, and even travel.
I am a man of science and faith.
Given my initial prognosis, I am a statistical oddball for this disease. No one knows why.
Is my survival due to my spiritual practices, all my prayer “warriors” around the world, and my staunch belief in the Divine?
Is my survival due to my scientific training as a forest ecologist, a conservationist, an explorer of tropical places, and a science educator?
Is my survival due to my drastically changed diet and lifestyle?
Or, is my survival due to my inherent optimism, gratitude, and even naiveté?
During my post-surgery convalescence at home, my parents visited one day. During one conversation about my cancer, they sat next to each other on the living room sofa. At that point, I told them that I was beginning to see my cancer as a blessing. They held hands and Mom cried a little. “Bruce, tell us what you mean. We will never see this disease as a blessing.” I used an oyster metaphor. “You mean that you’re brain is turning into an oyster?!”
I needed to explain: Oysters filter saltwater, occasionally imbibing sand grains. In response to this irritant, the little animal secretes a coating around the sand to seal it off. “Ah,” Mom responded, “You’re looking for the pearls, the blessings!” “Have you found any?” I answered that I had found many blessings in my malady.
After two daunting years as a cancer survivor, I have written a book about the inherent physical, medical, financial, and spiritual experiences in the journey. I hope that my tale will help other patients and their loved ones to address the dearth of information about this horrible disease. I have tried to balance my storytelling with humor, perspective, and respect, all the while pointing to the efficacy of Grace in every vignette of its telling.
A publishing company has accepted my manuscript as a co-publishing venture. That means that I will need to raise some of the funds toward its publication by a deadline. You can find details at the link: https://www.gofundme.com/rinker-book-publishing-campaign
My team of tireless supporters has established an ambitious funding goal, but we are convinced that we will succeed through incremental donations in the weeks ahead. Please consider joining the campaign to make the book a success. Any level of giving will be helpful.
If you are able, please help me to help others through the publication of my book, A Pearl in the Brain: The Cancer Journey of a Scientist in His Search for the Seat of the Soul. The tentative publication date is 20 June 2019.
Thank you for your generosity!
Biographical Sketch: H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist, science-educator, and explorer living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Bruce is also the founder of Bioquest Solutions LLC, a multi-service environmental consultancy at home and abroad. You can reach Bruce at [email protected].