Each day most of us speak hundreds of words. In turn, we have days when thousands of words are thrown at us. All too often we cannot recall or retell some of those words after the fact. But there also come certain moments -- serious, funny, happy or sad -- in which we can remember the text and the context. The words may have come quickly enough. Sometimes the only reaction is the sucking in of the tummy barely noticeable even to self. This is happening as mind, heart and middle hear -- and sort out -- the message. You realize what you have heard, and what it means or could mean.
On December 27, 2006, I had my first interview with the doctor. In his office, on December 29, there was a procedure which allowed the doctor to gather tissue for a biopsy. My third interview was on January 2, 2007. Once in his office, the doctor came in, sat down, looked at me and said, ''Father James, I hate to give you bad news so early in the New Year, but the biopsy shows that you have cancer.'' As simple as that.
He was not trying to be cruel, or unkind. As he was speaking the words, what he was saying, and the impact of his words, dawned on me. I admired his forthrightness. Cancer! Imagine. The big ''C'' word. Things began spinning around as he continued. I left the office. I have never felt better in my life, and I have cancer!
The announcement set off medical procedures to react to the news. Every two or three days found me having tests -- at the lab, at the hospital, at the doctor's office There seemed to be no point in making any kind of public announcement to the parish since there was only one fact to announce.
I was grateful to celebrate Epiphany, one of my favorite days. The parish potluck supper had a kind of bittersweet taste; all those nice folks and good food, and me hugging my knowledge.
The doctor then made a decision to operate, and with that in mind I wrote a column for our Sunday bulletin explaining that I would have surgery on the following Wednesday. On Friday afternoon a call from the doctor's office noted another appointment and a possible change in plans. The doctor wanted another test which involved minor surgery. Words. ''We want to see if we can discover whether or not the cancer has spread.''
A little bell went off in the back of my head. ''What did you say, doctor?'' ''We are going to do a node dissection to see if the cancer has spread to any of the nodes.'' The little bell rang several times over the next few days, remembering friends; friends who had survived cancer and friends who had not.
A priest-friend drove up from Austin to assist in the parish. He came to give me the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. He brought six members of the parish staff with him. It was a very special bit of time.
The doctor had noted that this first procedure would be minor surgery. Surgery it was. Minor I am not so sure! I was hospitalized from Wednesday until Monday. As I was released, the doctor said, ''I want to see you in my office on Wednesday.''
Again, I sat waiting for the word. This time the doctor said, with just a touch of eagerness in his voice, ''According to the biopsy, we are reasonably certain that the cancer is contained within the prostate.'' Within a few seconds, I quickly digested the impact of the words -- again mind and heart and gut responded.
Mentally and emotionally I was hopping and jumping around the room. While my insides joined the action, I murmured something profound like: ''My, isn't that good news!'' It took a full day to realize how good the ''good news'' was. ''You need some healing time, so we will operate next week. I want you in the hospital a full day to prepare.''
Clear Jell-O, clear soup, clear tea, and clear water for a whole day. ''We will give you this shot and in a little bit you will feel drowsy. Then we will go downstairs. ''Ok, Jesus, . . . please take over.'' A day in the intensive care unit and a day on the recovery floor, aware only that lots of caring folks were about, doing helpful procedures.
A day of full consciousness and a visit from the doctor. ''Well, Father James, you told me you had people praying all over West Texas, in Wyoming, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Cambridge. You reminded me that they were praying not just for you but also for your doctor and his helpers. I think we got all of the cancer. I know the Lord was with us. I never fool myself about that.''
He went away. But I had heard him. He said, ''I think that we got all of the cancer.'' I had things sticking in my shoulder, both arms and my groin. Tubes were plugged in here and there.
What the hospital staff did not know, and what the doctor missed, was the patient in the bed singing and dancing -- in between praying and shouting -- ''Hallelujah! Thank You, Jesus!'' All this action while lying as quietly as possible because every physical movement seemed to mean hurt. But head and heart and the inner man were jumping around in celebration.
In the space of one month, three words, words that spoke, words to take in and digest, words to hold close -- Thank You, Lord!
MSGR. COMISKEY, a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, ordained in 1950, writes from Kansas City, Mo.