Category Archives: cancer volume I



This morning, I found myself wishing that I was anywhere else but there… in that sterile environment, awaiting my turn at the scan machine. The milky cocktail I was given to drink (at least a quart by my estimation) messed with my stomach, more so with my mind. The “IV”? Just another reminder to me that pricks and pokes and prods will be the order of the day for the season to come.
And it was cold. And I was shivering… even through the two layers of warm blankets kindly extended to me by the radiologist.
Tears found their way down my cheeks on several occasions, and when I went into the round doughnut to play “dead” for at least forty minutes, my arms were strapped to my side. I had to remind my radiologist of my recent double-mastectomy that currently limits my range of motion. Holding my arms in the normal posture (over my head) was out of the question, thus the large velcro binding that fastened them to my side. And while I know in my head that this is nothing compared to what is coming in just a few days, it all felt too much, too scary, too “out-of-the-way” for the path that I’m on.
And I wished that it was over. All of it. That, perhaps, I could skip this “layer” and let my heart “catch up with the last layer” before moving on. That what is would quickly morph into what was and that my life didn’t have to walk this particular bend in the road.
But then ten o’clock arrived. Needles were removed; warmth re-established; hunger abated by a cookie at the cancer lounge before my departure. And I was thankful for the finish, for completing this layer and for its finishing work in me. I’m not keen on repeating it, but something tells me it’s now woven into my story and should it require an encore somewhere down the road, it will hold less mystery and more normalcy for my pilgrim heart.
Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for allowing your heart to walk this layer with me. I want to leave you with a beautiful “gift” my Uncle Bill gave to me this week… another poem! Laura, I know you’re laughing out loud, because you know my penchant for poetry in general. But this one is special—written from a tenderness and depth of understanding that pulls at my pain while alleviating it… all in the same breath.
What layers are you living this day, my good, kind, and compassionate friends?
Live them with the end in mind. As always…
Peace for the journey,
Layers –
whether it’s a cake
or a life,
Time takes time
to do its thing,
Chapters, changes,
Sometimes they stack up
too fast, too high,
and when we try to peel them back
the new ones get in the way,
Lord, please hold the next one –
I would like to catch up
with the last one.
I’m lost in the
From a far,
the strata of my life is textured
with beautiful pain
that cries me to sleep
into a perfect dream,
a dream of
of colors that will not quit,
of sound and scent
that usher me toward the Holy
and helps me lean into the morning,
into the
of a new day
where awareness whispers
My gratitude is greater than my pain,
my attitude is whole, and I shall remain…
Elaine – now and forevermore –
layered with a joyous childhood,
enriched through study,
toughened by circumstance,
blessed with romance,
fulfilled by family,
and completed by faith –
yes, I am Faith Elaine Killian Woods Olsen,
and don’t you forget it!
In those five names,
there are enough
to carry me for a thousand years.
{written by Bill Killian, Sr.
a poem for Elaine Olsen, my niece
Sunday, September 19, 2010}



We all have them. Our life stories are made up of them. Segments and seasons of our journeys adequately chronicled and punctuated, each ending half-way down a blank page, indicating to us and to the reader that another segue is about to begin. Not that what has been written up to this point doesn’t spill over into the next chapter; life certainly spills over. Rather we live with the understanding that some seasons must find their ending before a new one can find its beginning. Such is the case with my cancer. Yesterday both marked an ending of one chapter and the beginning of another one.

Yesterday, I made a final visit to my surgical oncologist, Dr. Habal, in Greenville. The evening prior, I made two honeybun cakes to deliver to him and the wonderful staff that supports him in his work. I also wrote a card, expressing to them my grateful thanks for their taking good care of me in this portion of my journey. For answering every phone call with energy, time, and grace. For handing me a tissue when need be. For being pleasant at every turn. For treating me as a person, not as a paycheck. For making sure that my “bad news” was delivered and processed in a good way, and mostly, for being willing to laugh at my jokes, cry at my words, and hug me as I left. Before my visit was over, I’d met everyone in that office, making sure to tell each one of them that, “What you do here matters. Every good and kind gesture is a gift you give to a family who has, possibly, just been given the worst news of their lives. Keep doing it; you do it so well.”

They thanked me, most of them through tears, and I felt incredibly blessed for having had this heart intersection—mine with theirs. I won’t return to their practice for another five months. In the meantime, I’ll begin living the next chapter of my cancer journey a little closer to home.

Introduce Dr. Bakri and the medical oncology team at Cape Fear Valley Regional Hospital. Over the next 4-5 months, I’ll be spending some time in their care as they manage my chemotherapy regimen. And while I am completely satisfied that my care will be given high priority and consideration, the “climate” in that place is a departure from the “climate” of Dr. Habal’s. It feels more clinical… more distant… more programmed… less warm. Perhaps it was the chemo chairs I saw lining a dimly lit wall; perhaps the patients bravely inhabiting those chairs. Maybe it was the dated wallpaper or tiled floors that added to my angst. Maybe it was the sobering reality that came from an hour plus discussion with Dr. Bakri—a reality that says “This is far from over and that reoccurrence is a strong possibility without treatment, 1/3 lesser with treatment.”

Reoccurrence. I hadn’t thought much about that. What I had previously thought was a relatively “done deal” (and naively so) is far from done, and the idea of having to undergo further needle pricks, stomach sickness, losing my hair in addition to losing my breasts—well, all was overwhelming. Rather than leaving that place with thankful tears and hugs all around, I left with my own tears of sadness and with a single man at my side who was feeling his own depth of pain.

My next chapter. I don’t much feel like baking a honeybun cake for anyone at this point, at least not yet. I imagine that once the mystery of it all unfolds, and I am a bit more comfortable in my taking up residency in one of those chairs, my heart will relax, opening up again to love and to invest in the hearts of those who sit beside me and those who are given charge over me. It takes a few pages to get into the meat of a new chapter. I’ll not write this one off yet, nor am I afforded the luxury of skipping it. Instead, I’ll plow through it, one word at a time… one sentence after another, one page at a time, until I see that ending half-page come into focus, indicating to me that another segue stands on the horizon. By the time I reach this chapter’s end, I pray that, like my fondness for the chapter titled Dr. Habal, I’ll have a similar fondness for Dr. Bakri.

To get there… to arrive at fondness…I understand that it’s mostly up to me. To my deliberate investment on the front end and along the way. To actively seeking out opportunities to interject God’s kingdom witness into my new environment, be it something as small as a smile or something as big as a conversation. Acceptance of a new chapter in my personal journey goes a long way toward making it matter… toward having it make sense. It’s the same with all of us.

Many of you are standing on the threshold of unimaginable change:

New job.

Physical change of address.




Death of a loved one.

Kids leaving home for the first time.

Caring for ailing parents.

Caring for an ailing spouse.

New ministry opportunity.

New church.

New sickness.

New relationship.


A new chapter is about to commence and, perhaps, like me, you’re having a hard time seeing past all the words, punctuation, and paragraphs that fill the upcoming pages. You want it to make sense, want to love it and claim it, live it and name it. But you can’t… not yet.

But you will… very soon. And if you’re intentional about investing yourself into the mix on the front side of the chapter, then you can be certain that when the chapter finishes, you will have lived it like you meant it. You will have done the hard thing of being engaged with your life—every letter, word, sentence, and paragraph. I imagine that some of the pages will live pretty “hard” for us. We won’t always feel like honeybun cakes and hugs and smiles. With every chapter comes a twist or two, a turn—an unexpected “reality” in the middle of daily expectations. I’ve had an ample tasting of the unexpected in recent days. But I’ve also tasted ample portions of something else…

Tons of grace, peace, joy, laughter, love, acceptance, sacred understanding, and a rich intimacy with God, family, friend, and stranger alike. These have been the blessings of my cancer thus far. And while I might have chosen for them to come to me via another route, I’m not sure if an easier avenue would have granted me enough desire to be as deliberate with regards to my investing. Pain and suffering have a way of bringing sacred desire to the forefront of our intentions. Pain can cultivate Godly perspective, and while I don’t believe for a second that God has allowed me this pain out of some desire to punish me or to get me in line with his will, I do believe that he can use this pain to shape me in order to influence those who will cross my cancer path in the days to come.

My next chapter. It has begun. It will continue for a season, and for as long as the Lord allows the ink to write, I’ll make sure to keep you updated… a few pages at a time. May the chapter you’re about to finish and the one you’re about to begin be filled with heavenly perspective and perfect Peace, Jesus Christ.

What you do here matters. Keep doing it; you do it so well! As always…

Peace for the journey,


a day worth celebrating

Quietly, we waited for her. Our hearts tethered to one another in a way we’ve never known… never tasted throughout our thirteen years of marriage. Few words were spoken between us. They seemed less necessary in those moments—almost intrusive. Instead, we just looked at one another, knowing that in a few moments, our lives would take another turn—a reality we knew was coming, yet one not adequately prepared for—
the look of my new body.
Tenderly, Nurse Beth unwrapped my dressings. Beneath the bandages was a week-long hidden mystery—a fright I refused to address in the days preceding its unveiling. It wasn’t as hideous as I had imagined. It was what it is—
a new me packaged a little differently in an old flesh.
Together we cried. I knew that we would. And when I looked into his eyes, I saw something I didn’t think was possible. I saw a deeper love, a renewed love, a love that courageously took my heart, yet again, as his own, and spoke a rich renewal into the deepest fiber of the deepest part of me.
My man loves me, and I love him. Today we celebrate the gift of life—both his and mine. Today he turns 43. Today I share that life with him, knowing that my cancer has not gotten the best of me and that, God willing, we’ll have several more birthday celebrations in the years to come. He tells me that it is enough of a gift—that he doesn’t need stuff. He just needs me—the new me, and that I am his birthday blessing.
Friends, the results of our Dr.’s visit yesterday confirms the preliminary conclusion from surgery. My breast cancer is staged at a IIA level (tumor is between 2-5 centimeters but hasn’t spread to the axillary lymph nodes). The three sentinel lymph nodes (the first lymph nodes closest to the tumor before it spreads to the rest of the body) that were removed and tested for cancer all came back clean with no signs of spreading. Accordingly, radiation will not be a part of my follow-up treatment plan. A chemotherapy regimen will be determined in the very near future and underway after I’ve had a few weeks of healing.
Just yesterday, I was asked by a friend as to the reasons behind my choice for a swift, aggressive approach to treating the cancer. My answer (although I’m not sure a question like that really warrants an answer) was firm, swift, and full of conviction.
I want to live.
The reasons are three-fold.
#1. I am committed to the spiritual growth of my family. I want to give my children some years… some more time to get grown and to get established in their faith. I want to be part of that shaping process. I don’t want my kids to receive their modeling from outside influences. I want to be that influence because I happen to believe that Godly parents do more to further a child’s heart toward a life with God than alternate persuasions.
#2. I am committed to the earthly tenure I’ve been given. Life is a precious gift and worthy of preserving. I am convinced that I was created with a good…a God-purpose in mind. For as long as I have breath, I am wholly devoted to that purpose—to preserving the temple that is on loan to me so that I can live out…
#3. My commitment to know God more with each passing day and then, out of that knowing, lead others to know the same. I want to do more for God’s kingdom, more toward advancing the cause of the Gospel. I know that his truth can march on without me, but it feels right and good and holy wonderful to be part of the story—the telling of it and living it therein.
That’s why I chose and will continue to choose to face my cancer with a fightin’ spirit. That’s why a double mastectomy was an easy choice for me. That’s why chemotherapy and any other therapy will be embraced without reservation in the days to come.
Not because I am attached to my flesh, but rather because I am attached to my life—a God-fearing, gettin’-down-to-Jesus-business, kind of life. If I’m living for any other reason—if I choose to aggressively fight my cancer so that I might extend my life in order to enjoy the fleeting, temporal/fleshly pleasures of this life—then I have chosen poorly, with wrong motives at the helm. This world has nothing for me; like the Apostle Paul, for me “to live is Christ; to die is gain.” Either way, I get God, and that, my friends, is the proper perspective from which to view each new day that is granted to our care and guardianship.
Today, my husband’s birthday is granted therein. And while I haven’t been able to do any shopping along these lines, I’m thinking many kind and good thoughts toward him. He’s been an unimaginable friend and lover to me in these last few weeks. Thirteen years ago, God saw better my need for him than I did. God pushed me to the altar to accept the gift of Billy. And just this morning, he took my hands in his again, helped me into the shower and cleaned my ailing flesh.
And I have never loved him more. And he loved me back. And I am grateful for this man who willingly chose me and allowed me to take his name as my own. As a way of honoring this special day, I want to share with you a poem my Uncle Bill wrote in honor of Billy’s birthday. I imagine your knowing my man more intimately would render greater appreciation for the tenderness of Uncle Bill’s words, but this isn’t just for you, friends. It’s mostly for my Billy. Would you join me in celebrating the gift of his life this day?
{the killian siblings from l to r, Uncle Bill, my daddy Chuck, Aunt Patty, Uncle George}
Billy at 43
Lord, it’s Sunday morning,
and Billy has to preach –
boy turns 43 on the 10th.
Wife and four children –
facing mighty tough times,
but, Lord, it’s Sunday morning,
and Billy has to preach.
Help him to carve out the truth –
the truth from his text
and his subtext. Prayin’ for him,
Lord; if he gets the Sunday off,
he’ll still be giving it up for others –
man of compassion like this
doesn’t shut down when hurtin’ –
so, Lord help this Billy man,
cause on Friday he turns 43.
Lord, when I was 43
I just done sobered up,
never coulda faced
what this preacher man handles –
a new parish, a family in pain,
and his own heart broken
but with a faith that sustains.
And here we have
his former parish
coming out in droves
to say We love ya,
and family and friends
from around the world
are holding this holy home
in a protective love that releases
the deepest cry,
and it is that cry, Lord,
that will see us through.
Yes, as I was sayin’ –
it’s Sunday morning, Lord,
and Billy has to preach.
{william killian
written for billy olsen
for his forty-third birthday
faithful husband
and sweetheart
to my precious niece
sunday september four
two thousand ten}
It’s Sunday morning, Lord, and we all have to preach! Help us to preach you well. As always,

Peace for the journey,

the mysterious path of a generous grace…

the mysterious path of a generous grace…

 {photo compliments of Shirley}

I have a confession to make… an honest, writer’s confession to bring to the table before one thought is brought to you this morning:

I have a lot I want to say; I just don’t have the words to say it.

They got lost somewhere in the middle of my night… somewhere between my Percocet and my pain, reminding me, yet again, that there isn’t a perfect guidebook regarding how this “thing” is going to go—how this cancer is going to unfold for me on a personal level. I’m five days post-op; still and yet, it doesn’t seem real. Instead, it seems as if I’m standing on the outer edges of my life looking in. As if I’m on the perimeter watching the drama unfold while others are meandering in and out of the scenes of my life with little notice of my side-line status.

I am the lead participant in my cancer, and yet I seem to prefer the shadows of it all—the “behind the scenes,” balcony approach to living it. To watching from the director’s chair, yet knowing that what is required of me is my “down below”—the getting my hands dirty and being willing to engage with every angle of the drama. And it’s frustrating… exceedingly frustrating because today all I want to do is to crawl away from it and live differently. Today I want to live without the reality of:

Drain tubes to empty.

Pain to manage.

Body odor to disguise.

Expectations to meet.

Uncertainties to ponder.

Decisions to be made.

The emotions of others with which to contend.

Today, I want a different option on the table… one that doesn’t require so much of me. One that is content to let me “sit this one out” while others do the hard work of recovery.

I imagine that there are a few of you who understand these feelings… those of you who, for whatever reasons, are living the harsh ramifications of your current realities. Those of you who, like me, want to crawl away from your “disease” and live with your pain in isolation. You may not be living with a diagnosis of cancer, but there are other malignancies that are eating away at your flesh—your heart, mind, and soul. What is happening to you on your “inside” is far worse than what is eating away at your exterior, and you’d like another option on your table for consideration.

I understand. I also realize that with each malignancy comes hard work. There is no “sitting this one out” where cancer is concerned. A life diagnosed (whether with cancer or with a less-clarified disease of the heart) is a life thrust into the limelight, and for our scenes to end with understanding, you and I must be willing to take to the stage, to read our lines through, and to act our part. We must fully live our stories and allow our stories to fully live through us. Should we live otherwise, then we live less. We finish with less.

Less understanding. Less joy. Less faith. Less laughter. Less hope. Less peace.

An outer-edge approach to today’s living isn’t in keeping with God’s perspective. Certainly, there will be seasons when we need to pull back, to investigate our heart’s pulse, and to assess our personal level of involvement with the day’s activities. Today is one of those days for me. But when it comes to assigning our “diagnosis” to someone seemingly more qualified—to relinquishing the hard work that has been entrusted to us to someone else’s guardianship—we must proceed carefully, deliberately, and full of caution. Why?

Because there are some diagnoses that best belong to each one of us. Some that we will be better able to live and breathe and have victory over than others. What’s eating you may not be what’s eating me, but I imagine that the contingencies of your particular disease are better handled by you than me. And maybe, just maybe, drain tubes are more in keeping with what I’m better able to handle today than you.

We are, each one, the lead participant in our stories. No one lives you better than you. No one lives me better than me. And I’m just thinking (perhaps not as coherently as I would like) that maybe the kingdom would be best served by our willingness to live within those personal boundaries rather than wishing for someone else’s. That maybe what happens in you and through you today (because of God’s grace and only his grace) will far exceed what could happen in me and through me should I be allowed a similar walk in your shoes.


Who can fathom the depths of our Father’s wisdom? The breadth of his understanding? The willingness of his heart to entrust his children with so much? This is a mysterious path of generous grace we’re traveling, and while I may not want to live with the reality of my cancer today, I want to live today with the reality of God’s generous grace. That’s the only option on the table worthy of any trade I might make. The only option capable of generating enough kingdom perspective in me so that I might willingly embrace my story—

Cancer and all.

Keep to it, friends. Keep to your story of grace, your malignancies, God’s diagnoses therein, and his healing. It’s likely to “wear” a little worse before it wears better, but in the end, you won’t have to wonder if the hard work was worth it. On the backside of your healing, you will live the fruition of your front-side investment, and it will live excellently. Live perfectly. Live in accordance with a kingdom joy and beauty that far exceeds what your mind and heart can currently conceive. As always…


Peace for the journey,

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update on "wifeforthejourney"

update on "wifeforthejourney"

I have received a gift that far exceeds being the guest blogger on my favorite website: the gift of Elaine.
From the day her father (unwittingly) introduced us on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary some fourteen years ago, through marriage, parenthood and pastoral ministry I’ve always known Elaine was the best thing I have going for me. Last Monday August 23, 2010, I sat in a doctor’s exam room, listening in shocked silence as a PA told us that the result of Elaine’s recent biopsy was cancer. I felt a chill like someone had poured ice water over me. As a pastor I had been with numerous families in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis, stood at many a bedside in both pre-op and post-op with cancer survivors and done multiple funerals for cancer victims. Suddenly I’m on the other side of the hospital bed and I was having my own “you-don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-until-it’s-gone” moments.
How could my wife have cancer? Elaine’s answer at the time was, “Billy, instead of me saying ‘Why me?’ I should be saying ‘Why NOT me?’ Since when does my being a Christian mean that I’m exempt from suffering?” See why I think Elaine is the best thing I have going for me?!?
A little more than thirteen years ago I asked Elaine’s parents for their blessing because I wanted to ask Elaine to marry me. When we married in 1997 I had my sights set on being with her for the rest of my life, and yesterday I learned that a golden anniversary is still in my future!
During a post-op meeting with my wife’s surgeon yesterday afternoon, I found out that everything is looking positive for Elaine’s “long term.” Though there are final test results to come, the preliminaries all seem to indicate that her cancer has not spread. Though Elaine will still have to endure chemotherapy, she may be able to avoid radiation. And even though she’s stuck with me as her chief nurse, today they told me I could take her home.
Thanks to every one of you that has prayed, loved, cared about, supported and encouraged Elaine. She has needed you all for this season, and still does. Jesus has always been her “peace for the journey”; today I’m celebrating that I have her as my wifeforthejourney.
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