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I stumbled upon George Bellows's painting, "Dempsey and Firpo".

Considered by many to be the greatest American sports painting it captures the dramatic moment in the 1923 World Heavyweight Championship fight between Jack Dempsey (the reigning champ) and Argentinian Luis Angel Firpo, nicknamed "El Toro de las Pampas" ("The Bull of the Pampas"). 80,000 fans paid to see the fight live.

The painting is straightforward – something is at stake, there is a violent battle, there is a victor and the vanquished. Something about the scene pricked my interest and, as God so often shows up in the simple affairs of our lives He was there. Next to me. Together we lingered on the painting and He whispered, “It is your story Craig”, which I loved hearing but having felt like both fighters I needed help with the interpretation.

My initial read was, “I’m the victor in the ring having just connected with a swooping haymaker that launched my opponent out of the ring into a row of reporters. Yeah!” I’m still standing! I’m in the ring bruised, bleeding, battered; I’m winded and wobbly from the body blows, a little foggy on how many rounds are left but I’m good. I’m still standing!” “Frap” you cancer!

Curious about the fight and the painting I found the scene was in the first round, the Champ, Dempsey, was sent into orbit out of the ring, seriously gashing his head on a typewriter in the row of ringside reporters.  Whoa, the hero is getting his butt kicked? What kinda story is this? Dempsey takes a full eight count (and some would say a very, very slow eight count) to get back into the ring and staggeringly faces his opponent.

Then in the second round, in a dramatic reversal it’s Dempsey that plasters Firpo, flooring him seven times and with a minute left in the round clobbers Firpo, knocking him down and out to retain the Championship.

Now the picture hits deeply. I’m Dempsey flying out of the ring? Okay, that’s a twist on my original interpretation but yeah; I’ve been beaten up pretty bad, real bad. I hear a "Hold on Tiger..."

The story doesn’t end with the picture. There’s more, there’s always more to the story. The rest of the story is that Dempsey and I climb back into the ring and with a fierce and holy rage overcome my/our opponent. It’s an epic battle and a glorious victory. Victory, in the end is mine. In that moment, focused on the print in a high end art store I can feel the affirming smile of God throughout my entire body and being. I wanted to yell with God as loud as we could, "Yes! Yes! The story ends gloriously! Given the setting we tempered our excitement to a conversational volume and a simple, "Cool, very cool.".

Victory in the end will be mine!

The physical, spiritual, relational and financial hits of a vigorous cancer can easily launch one into hopelessness and despair. Unless you’re healed or go into remission it’s an inescapable battle that lasts far longer than you’re prepared for with unimaginable ups and downs. But there have been so many transcendent moments in the presence of God where battle, pain, fear and death fade into a “peace that passes understanding” and the story moves from my suffering to my loving others. It is, for now, beyond my ability to fully describe.

My Story is that God has come, I feel good, strong and in many ways “Back”.

I have been places and experienced things that give credibility to the message that God is good, so worthy of our full-hearted worship and adoration; that in His presence all we bear, fear, suffer and grieve is recalibrated and grows strangely dim. In Him there is comfort, healing and the passion to pour into others a supernatural grace only available at the Cross. I worship our God with all my heart.

Specifics:

·      I’ve been in the current stage two Clinical Trial for a year. The investigational drug ABT-199 has been great for me. My cancer, though incurable, is kept at a lower threshold without some of the horrific side effects I’ve had with my other treatments.

·      I now fly to Houston quarterly instead of weekly or monthly for testing and restaging. On a monthly basis my local Oncologist does blood work to early alert my Houston team on any sudden change.

·       I’m pretty close to the “R”” word. “Remission” would be a wonderful word to hear when I return to M.D. Anderson this June. I will be very emotional at that moment. The culmination of so many prayers over such a long season.

·      To be in remission I have a couple of lymph nodes that need to shrink a little bit more and some improvement in my blood. Even in remission the descriptive medial term for my prognosis is “Wait and watch”.  Their prediction is the cancer will return, mine is that Jesus returns sooner.

·      Lori and I are trying to address the trauma and PTSD that can immobilize us with anxiety, loneliness and malaise. LiveStrong Cancer Survivor Courses, trauma yoga, breathing techniques, a lot of surrendering to God, counseling and the love and support of others is huge.

Your prayers, friendships, conversations, support and love have pushed us through the gauntlet of Stage 4 Leukemia to a hair’s width from Remission. It would not have happened with out your prayers and love.

Love you, thank you, Craig and Lori McConnell

 

 

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