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More Cancer--Stuntz

My cancer has been promoted: I’m officially in stage 4. My doctors have found two cancerous nodules—a euphemism for “small tumors”—one on each of my lungs. I started chemo this week. Next week, I’ll see a thoracic surgeon who will, sometime this summer, cut those tumors out. Needless to say, this isn’t good news—though, thanks to medical advances (especially, thanks to those evil drug companies that politicians regularly attack), it isn’t disastrous news either. We’ll see what the future brings.

I don’t have any previous experience with this sort of thing, but judging from what I hear and read, I’m supposed to be asking why all this is happening, and why it’s happening to me. Honestly, those questions are about the farthest thing from my mind.

Partly, that’s because they aren’t hard questions. Why does our world have gravity? Why does the sun rise in the East? There are technical answers, but the metaphysical answer is simple: that’s how reality works. So too here. Only in the richest parts of the rich world of the twenty-first century could anyone entertain the thought that we should expect long, pain-free lives. Suffering and premature death (an odd phrase: what does it mean to call death “premature”?) are constant presences in the lives of most of the peoples of the Earth, and were routine parts of life for generations of our predecessors in this country—as they still are today, for those with their eyes open. Stage 4 cancers happen to middle-aged men and women, seemingly out of the blue, because that’s how reality works.

As for why this is happening to me in particular, the implicit point of the question is an argument: I deserve better than this. There are two responses. First, I don’t—I have no greater moral claim to be free from unwanted pain and loss than anyone else. Plenty of people more virtuous than I am suffer worse than I have, and some who don’t seem virtuous at all skate through life with surprising ease. Welcome to the world. Once again, it seems to me that this claim arises from the incredibly unusual experience of a small class of wealthy professionals in the wealthiest parts of the world today. We think we live in a world governed by merit and moral desert. It isn’t so. Luck, fortune, fate, providence—call it what you will, but whatever your preferred label, it has far more to do with the successes of the successful than what any of us deserves. Aristocracies of the past awarded wealth and position based on the accident of birth. Today’s meritocracies award wealth and position based on the accident of being in the right place at the right time. The difference is smaller than we tend to think. Once you understand that, it’s hard to maintain a sense of grievance in the face of even the ugliest medical news. I’ve won more than my share of life’s lotteries. It would seem churlish to rail at the unfairness of losing this one—if indeed I do lose it: which I may not.

The second response is simpler; it comes from the movie “Unforgiven.” Gene Hackman is dying, and says to Clint Eastwood: “I don’t deserve this. To die like this. I was building a house.” Eastwood responds: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

That gets it right, I think. It’s a messed-up world, upside-down as often as it’s rightside up. Bad things happen; future plans (that house Hackman was building) come to naught. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

Why, then, are we so prone to think otherwise? This is one of the biggest reasons I believe my faith is true: something deep within us expects, even demands moral order—in a world that shouts from the rooftops that no such order exists. Any good metaphysical theory must explain both of those phenomena: both the expectation and the lack of supporting evidence for the thing expected. The only persuasive way to get there, I think, is to begin with a world made good that was twisted, corrupted, bent. Buried deep in our hearts are hints of the way things ought to be; the ugliest reality can’t snuff them out. Still, that reality exists; it can’t be denied. Christianity sees that reality, recognizes it for what it is—but also sees the expectation, and recognizes where it comes from.

Bottom line: I don’t need anyone to tell me why I’m in the situation I’m in, and I certainly don’t think I merit an exemption from the rottenness to which the rest of the world is subject.

But I do need to know some things. Three, to be precise: first, that I’m not alone; second, that my disease has not made me ugly to those I love and to the God who made me; and third, that somehow, something good can come from this. My faith tells me that the God of the universe suffered everything I suffer and infinitely worse. Death and suffering don’t separate human beings from our Creator—on the contrary: those things unite us with our Creator. The barrier became the bridge: that is the great miracle of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. So I need never suffer alone. Job’s story confirms that, far from rejecting the ugliness of disease and pain, God embraces those who suffer and takes on their suffering. Beauty and ugliness are turned inside-out. Joseph’s story and the gospels alike show a God who delights to use the worst things to produce the best things. That doesn’t make life’s hells less than hellish. But it does make them bearable.

This isn’t just whistling in the dark—at least, I hope it isn’t. It all makes sense to me: it fits the world I see and feel, with all its shades of glory and misery. And it answers the questions my soul cries out. “Why” isn’t one of those questions.

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Comments ( 56 )

I teared up reading this post. Your courage and faith inspire me. I am proud to call you friend.

And, obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

It's strange to feel close to someone you've never met, but I guess it is the best part of blogging.

I have started reading this blog for pure academic reasons (I was hoping of asking you to be my supervisor at HLS). But as time goes by, the academics moves aside.

I found myself concerned more and more about your well being and health. It's hard to read your posts. But if it matters at all, they take you further away from being alone. I, and the other readers of this blog, are with you in their hearts and hopes.

I hope there will be good news ahead.

We are praying for you, Prof. Stuntz. As my wife and I were going through cancer surgery, one book that was a comfort to us was a recent book by Mike Horton, "Too Good to be True." An excellent resource--thoroughly biblical. It is an antidote to the theology of glory that you see with preachers such as Joel Osteen.

This is what it means to say humility is the most precious virtue.

All the best,

Steve

This was very powerful. Thanks so much for posting it and God Bless. Mark Movsesian

You are in my prayers. It is rare that I come across an essay where the humility and theology remind me of Chesterton, but I have done so here.

Thank you for your post. I left my 30-year career to pursue the pastorate. I sold my home and moved south to attend seminary. Since then I've been stricken with some form of very rare muscle-wasting and crippling autoimmune disorder. People often assume that I struggle with God's reasons for allowing this to happen to me. Like you, I don't; the question never enters my mind. The Lord has the right to do with me whatever He wants. I am not entitled to anything. I was already blessed beyond all desert in my career. He owes my nothing.

There are times when I do have to battle self-pity (when I think of the activities I really enjoy, but will never engage in again), but I find meditating on the sovereignty and the wisdom of God always to be a help (see the end of Romans 11).

Your post articulates many of my own thought, but, of course, much better. Thank you!

Thanks for sharing this difficult part of your life. God be with you to the end.

In the first centuries after Christ, Christians were distinguished by their lack of fear of suffering and death. At the same time, unlike the Stoics, Christians did not disregard, devalue, or trivialize suffering and bodily life. This strange combination can only be understand in Christ.

Very powerful post - thank you.
Will pray.

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Having experienced my father's bout with lung cancer, I will say that you have every reason to be optimistic. The medical field has made great strides in the last decade. Obviously my prayers and good wishes are with you and yours. You are beautiful, in the eyes of those that love you and He that created you. Only the best and may your trials be as easy as possible.

Bill,

My wife was given two months to two years of quality life and she lived nine years. She was a beautiful woman to the end.

Dear Lord,

Look down with Your love and affection on Your servant Bill in his time of need for Your Grace. Give him and his the strength to meet this cancer head on, as You did on the Cross. Make him a centurion in Your service on this earth and a Saint when You call him home. In Christ Jesus Name! Amen

I will pray for you this evening, and thank Glenn Reynolds for the wit to guide us to your wisdom. I hope you have what John's comment suggests: no fear and yet a strong affection for life and a determination to pull through.

Hello, Professor Stuntz,

Instapundit suggested I drop by, and I intend to do a bit more looking around before I leave.

Thanks for the powerful post. We need you to hang around, if only because you see things just as they are. Keep fighting the good fight, and there will be lots of us out here pulling for you.

Jude in Houston

Peace be with you, Bill.

Thanks for writing while you learn how to practice medicine with a law license and also deal with answering the question posed by that great philosopher Tim McGraw (how do you live like you are dying). I have to say, I admire your answer thus far.

Vaya con dios.

Best Wishes. Your courage and good humor are an inspiration.

The third of twelve steps:

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

You are a great power of example of this, Professor Stuntz. I thank you. You are in my prayers.

Thank you very much for your very sincere post. I am very sorry to hear about this diagnosis and wish the speediest recovery.

I wanted to comment on your reference to a higher power and the power and comfort that it provides you. My wife is a strong Christian, whereas I am a athiest. It is times like these that I wish though that I were a believer, I can see the strength that it provides and I must admit that I admire it.

That being said, you are completely correct. None of us deserves anything more or less than anyone else. If anything, we should be humble as we face our lives and I thank you for leading the way.

Again, best wishes to you and your family.

God bless and protect you and your family. And God bless the eeeevil drug companies which, I pray, will help get you through.

Bill,

I'm a total stranger, but wish you the very best in this trying time.

As an atheist, I won't cheapen these sincere thoughts of you with some smarmy words I don't believe in (prayer, God, Heaven, etc.).

Instead, I promise to think of you each day as if I had known you as a close friend who is treasured and valuable, now in a difficult place.

A friend who is a stranger may still be a friend.

Don


Bill,

I'm a total stranger, but wish you the very best in this trying time.

As an atheist, I won't cheapen these sincere thoughts of you with some smarmy words I don't believe in (prayer, God, Heaven, etc.).

Instead, I promise to think of you each day as if I had known you as a close friend who is treasured and valuable, now in a difficult place.

A friend who is a stranger may still be a friend.

Don


You are not alone. All of mankind is with you.

Powerful statement.

I lost my Mother in January '05 to breast/then bone C. You are a model to all of us- thank you for your living example of courage and faith. It reminds me of someone I once knew.

Hello Professor Stuntz - I can relate to your situation, as it's been almost a year since being diagnosed with Acute Lympoblastic Leukemia. For 7 months I went through some hard chemo, but I held fast with a determination to put this behind me, and I am succeeding; my cancer is in remission (for 9 months now). I expect to have it behind me. You need to expect to have your illness behind you as well. Think positively and expect recovery.

Expect it.

I asked those question you mentioned, but I deduced that nature, a construct that we are part of, is prone to random mutations; it just happens, but I will say that certain influences - smoking specfically - can accelerate cancer.

I'll keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Best to you, sir, and hang tough; you're going to make it.

I had chemo a couple of years ago. Expect to be tired, stupid and clumsy. I gave up working with power tools. Even hand tools presented a problem. For the first time in my life, I cut myself chopping kindling. We spent 4 hours in the emergency room on Christmas day. After chemo is over, don't expect to be "right" for several months - it takes a while for your body and your brain to get back to normal (check out "chemo brain" on line). The doctors and nurses I had were excellent (City of Hope, Los Angeles for the surgery and Lancaster, California for the chemo)- do what they say. Keep track of everything that happens healthwise -a Palm is good for this - and tell the doctor. If there's anything at all abnormal, and I mean anything, tell the nurses. I had a bad reaction to the antinausea drugs and ended up in the hospital a couple of times. I didn't have the reaction at first - it was after 5 sessions. They are basically giving you poison that kills fast growing cells. Your body may react differently than others.
Take care. Pay attention to everything. Get involved. Pray a lot. I hope everything turns out OK.
Steve

From the Book of Common Prayer:

The almighty Lord who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, whom all things in heaven, on earth and under the earth obey, be now and evermore your defense. May you believe and trust that the only name under heaven given for health and salvation is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hmmm.

Keep a positive view! I don't have cancer but I do have End Stage Renal Disease. It's too easy to give up and let go. So don't.

I pray this test of your body and soul will find you in good health for many years to come.

Ask your oncologist if you can get the targeted cancer drug called Tarceva. Side effects are minimal. It may save your life. Godspeed, Professor.

Dear Professor Stuntz,
Your post raises many of the questions that occured to me while undergoing my treatments (three surguries, five months of chemo, a month of radiation.) I never had time to wonder why me. I was too concerned with what-am-I-going-to-do-next? I directed my entire energy towards activities that would promote healing, determined to do everything possible to give myself the best chance of survival. I followed my doctor's instructions, I radically changed my diet, I began to meditate, and I renewed my spirituality. I discovered that cancer was a gift, one that made me understand my life's purpose in a way that would have been impossible without the disease. And I have come to the conclusion that the things I judge as bad are, with my limited understanding, perhaps not as bad as I think.

I can assure you that you are not alone. As far as making you ugly to those who love you, it will not happen. Cancer may, however, surprise you. There were some we thought who loved us and they did not, and some who indeed loved us and we had no idea until my diagnosis. And most certainly good will come of it. To you and those around you.

You may want to read "Love, Medicine, and Miracles" by Dr. Bernie Siegel.

I was moved by your sincere words and I'd like to suggest you this beautifully written book called "Tuesdays with Morrie" from Mitch Albom.

"The truth is . . . once you learn how to die, you learn how to live."

Best wishes for the future!

Professor Stuntz,

I was one of your students at HLS ('02). You were my favorite professor and a major influence on my decision to become a prosecutor.

You are handling this with the same class, prudence, and thoughtfulness that you bring to your work. I wish you the best; you will, of course, be in my prayers.

Michael Nunnelley

Professor Stuntz, I suspect you are about to discover that you are much stronger than you ever dreamed. You've got the right attitude for the battle that lies ahead.

BTW, "chemo brain" is a very real phenomenon and can be a significant problem for people who need mental sharpness for their work. It's something many oncologists fail to recognize in their patients undergoing chemotherapy.

You've got a lot of company "out there" and we all pull for each other!

What a beautiful and moving post.

For what little it might be worth, here are a couple of recent cancer-related stories that caught my eye:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=fasting-may-bolster-healt&sc=rss
and http://livinlavidalocarb.blogspot.com/2007/09/german-wurzburg-cancer-trial-shows.html (by a low-carb cheerleader, but with links to interesting studies).

Prayers up for you and for family.

Hi, Professor Stuntz,

Thanks so much for this. As always, your reflections are a great encouragement to me on so many levels. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Blessings,
Jen

I will pray the Blessed Virgin Mary for you Prof. Stuntz

Dear Professor Stuntz,

I had the privilege of hearing your presentation at this year's Law Professors' Christian Fellowship conference a few months ago in NYC. I admired your thoughtful paper and the inviting and considerate way you handled questions and opposing views. Thank you for being such a good example for young law professors like me.

Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to hold you up and provide for all of your needs.

Warm regards,

Jeff Hammond

Just to let you know--cancer is a scary word, but I have found that it means very little in many cases. I was told seven years ago that I had a rare lymphoma (I am now 39). Of course many thought it was a death sentence, and it was pretty depressing. I did research and joined illness groups. I am still fine (even though my cancer has progressed), but it has not been bad. There is not a cure for me, but it has become more of a irritant than anything else. Good luck in your fight, but I did learn that cancer is not a general term--everyone has a different situation.

Bill,

I really hadn't kept in touch with you since Christ the King in Cambridge. Actually, I surfed in here from Andrew Sullivan's blog. I'm so sorry to hear about your cancer, but I praise God that your sense of perspective about this misfortune may be an inspiration to others.

And I know you'll keep battling. God bless you.

Philip Reed

I was in your Advanced Crim Pro class in fall of 2000, when you first came to Harvard. We never spoke much, but I always remembered you very warmly, and years later clearly recall remarks you made about the legal profession and life choices. Over the years, they've actually been small but real reminders at points when I've felt rudderless. You were a master of wise digression. I can honestly say that some of your relatively offhand statements positively influenced the way I think of life and the profession.

Your humility and decency may prevent you from viewing this through the lens of deservedness, but in considering "the rottenness to which the rest of the world is subject," I wish you'd been given a pass. Thanks for continuing to teach me, and all the best.

Prof. stuntz
You are never alone and your beauty of spirit truly shines through!
Every fragile moment is a gift after all.
God Bless you!

I came here via Andrew Sullivan's blog. My wife passed away from breast cancer in December, so this brings up some relevant issues for me. I was struck, however, by the quote from Gene Hackman's character in "Unforgiven", specifically the part about building a house.

When my wife was ill I kept recalling a line from Rainer Maria Rilke's poem, "Herbsttag" ("Autumn Day"): "Wer jetzt kein haus hat baut sich keines mehr", ("Whoever has no house now, will not build himself one").

I wish you all the best.

Good luck. I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer four years ago. There are no guarantees, but there is hope and there are doctors and there are many, many things your cancer cannot take from you: The love of your family and community, your pride in the work and the good you've done, and the power of your own belief that you have done right as you were given to know what right was.

So fight on, new friend. May you have my luck for a few years still.

You're stronger than I with your calm determination. This mental attitude will serve you well. I'm a cancer survivor as well. Going on 6 years. You understand the answers to some questions I didn't want to ask, and only now am I becoming less repelled and enraged by the answers. Deep down, I suppose I knew those things all along. You'll be in my thoughts. Be well.

Professor, I came across your blog through an unconventional channel...through a church newsletter which I've never received before, and which I most certainly would have never read, (least of all, having read it and feeling compelled to go online to find your blog.) However, I was terribly moved by your sturdy, intractable faith. So much good has come out of your continuing ordeal. A tiny portion of that is how it moves ordinary people's lives such as mine in mysterious ways. I thank the Lord for you. In my short years at Harvard, I never came across a true teacher of life as I have through your wisdom, and it is an amazing, amazing comfort to know that champions of faith like you exist. I will most certainly keep you in my prayers. Know that a wider body of believers are praying for you. Thank you for showing such beauty through your life.

Bill:

One of your other former students, Rita Bolt, forwarded this to me. It is a wonderful witness. At the end you ask:

"But I do need to know some things. Three, to be precise: first, that I’m not alone; second, that my disease has not made me ugly to those I love and to the God who made me; and third, that somehow, something good can come from this."

I do want to let you know that you are not alone and you are not ugly to those who love you like me. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that you were my professor, and my friend, at UVA. You have been and remain an inspiration to me. As for the third above, good has and will come from this for God has already greatly blessed many of us through your witness and service. You will remain a blessing to us for as short or long as you live, and your wisdom and witness will live on long after you. Thank you for all that you are and all you have done in Christ's service.

Bill - You are in my family's prayers every day, and in my thoughts regularly. I remember with gratitude the time and encouragement you gave me years ago when I was trying to break into law teaching. I have talked to many young people since then who have also been strengthened in their walk in Christ by your teaching and example, and encouraged by you to work out their discipleship in the law. God has had good use out of your years here, and I am praying He will have many, many more. Grace and peace to you always, Bill.

Dear Mr. Stuntz:

Hi. I read about your brave story from June 2008 issue of Redeemer Report from NYC Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Dr. Tim Keller) and I would like to share that there is a new revolutionary cancer therapy that are saving many lives without the terrible side effects of chemo, radio or surgery. The outcome is unbelievably good, many are completely cured including the most deadliest pancreatic cancer of stage 4.

This is done by Dr. Gonzales at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of NYC. You can find out from web search that his method is in the process of being adopted by NIH. The new method uses natural enzymes that literally eat away cancer cells fast. Here is the reference:

Gonzalez, Nicholas J., Isaacs, Linda L. (2007) “The Gonzalez Therapy and Cancer:

A Collection of Case Reports,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 13: 46-47

Here are other references:

• Beard, John (1911) The Enzyme Treatment of Cancer and its Scientific Basis.

London: Chatto & Windus (out of print)

• Cichoke, Anthony J. (2000) Enzymes & Enzyme Therapy. Los Angeles: Keats

Publishing

• DeFelice, Karen (2006) Enzymes for Digestive Health and Nutritional Wealth.

Minnesota: Thundersnow Interactive

• Diamond, John W., Cowden, W. Lee, with Goldberg, Burton (1997) An Alternative

Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer. Tiburon, California: Future Medicine

Publishing, Inc.

• Elkins, Rita (1998) Digestive Enzymes: The Key to Good Health and Longevity.

Pleasant Grove, Utah: Woodland Publishing

• Gonzalez, Nicholas J., Isaacs, Linda L. (2007) “The Gonzalez Therapy and Cancer:

A Collection of Case Reports,” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 13: 46-47

• (1999) “New Enzyme Therapy Heals a Toxic Gut,” Health Sciences Institute Members

Alert. Vol. 3, No. 12: 1-7

• Minton, Phillip (2000) The Immortality Enzyme. White Bear Lake, Minnesota:

Winning Publications, Inc.

• Walker, Morton (2005) Natural Cancer Remedies that Work. Lexington, Virginia:

Online Publishing & Marketing, LLC

These are taken from a book 'The Missing Ingredient for good health' by Lee Euler which I think everyone should read.

Goodluck and God bless you.

billy b.

Dear Professor Stuntz,

I sat next to you a few times in seminars and found you both gentle and brilliant. A classmate just alerted me to your ill health. My best wishes are with you as you face this challenge.

Abby Wood
HLS '07

I really liked your post.I felt sad readin' your article.Is everything okay now.?

I don't know you but my cousin, Jason Workmaster, is your friend. My wife and I will keep you in our prayers. Good luck and God bless.

Best of luck to you fighting this terrible illness. One day a cure will be found. You are in our prayers.

I am going to pray of you. Your words of courage and wisdom inspire those of us who are at times too weak in our faith that we relentlessly ask God why.

Hi - Thanks. I sincerely mean that - Thanks. When we give our lives to Jesus, we become His property. So easy to write, so difficult to live. We are taught to look for explanations, reasons why, but in our walk of faith the challenge it to simply trust, again so easy to write, not so easy to live out. We serve a wonderful God who makes lemonade out of lemons, who's love is without bounds and cannot be earned. May God Bless You and watch over you, may He smile upon you and your family and give you (and them) Peace. He is our Deliverer. Praise His Name. Thank you again. Love Christ Phil

Your strength and mindset are profound. We are all here for a very short period of time in the big scheme of things. You are extremely rational and collected and a source of inspiration to anyone who reads your blog. Thank you.