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Cancer Lessons

I fear horror movies. I scream, loudly, in fear when anyone sneaks up on me. Otherwise, not much scares me. I have spent my life finding a way around or through anything that life has dished out. I am a “we can do this” kind of person. Then, I woke up in a private recovery room and was told I have colon cancer. Surgery and tests determined the cancer was staged 3b. I focused on what could be done as I met my oncologist. One of my first prayers was:

"God who breathes life, fill my body with all the good things. As chemo begins, let it wash away all the presence and possibility of cancer. Even as it takes some of my good health, I let it go with a blessing, confident it will be renewed. Renewed by a fresh breath of God, by good foods and vitamins and good faith and comfort from so many. I claimed Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. I wrote in my journal: I have all I need already to do this, to fight this—body and soul. The light and air, God and God’s people, my family and friends and friends to be and I am certain even strangers. The doctors, nurses and staff and medicines will all come together to transform this cancer."

I was not afraid of the chemotherapy. Even when it put me in the hospital, my focus was on coping and enduring. But at some point, paralyzing fear crept in. It was the fear of dying. Fear of missing out on my favorite part of life: my family. Fear of the hurt it would cause my family. I know we are rarely ready to die, no matter how many good years we have had, and 56 just was not enough! Answers to the “why” questions are few. It usually leads to thoughts that go in circles. My response to “why me?” is “why not me?” Bad things happen to all people. What I realized is my lament is less about what is or why it is, and more about what I want that I know is not promised. Healing is promised, cure is not. But that is what I want: to be CURED. I followed the lead of the writers of the Psalms and took my lament to God. I yelled a bit. I begged a lot. I told God exactly what I want. My body was breaking, and my pride followed. My confidence was exposed as fragile. I came across a quote: “May I break in interesting ways.” It led me to ask the question of what needs to break in me? What must break in me to allow transformation?

What I learned through lament is the answer to fear, the way out of the spiral, is trust. I have always been fiercely independent. My most spoken statement is “I’ll take care of it.” That is what needed to break in me. I have had to trust that someone else will take care of it. And you have: notes of encouragement and promises of prayer, gift cards that fed us and an occasional pot of soup, text messages and emails, co-workers that carried the load, family that did the laundry and changed my sheets and cleaned up messes even in the middle of the night. Too much to name, and so much to be thankful for and humbled by. Trusting God and you led me back to hope.

Fear does not negate hope. Hope is found within fear. It is not a colored ribbon bumper sticker. Those are symbols of support or survival. But hope for me is gritty and sometimes dark. It is found in the bottom of a puke bucket, a bowl of crackers, a slew of pills, the bio-hazard symbol on the poison chemotherapy that somehow works for good. It is a reminder nothing is totally useless. In the right context even poison can bring hope. Hope is not pie-in-the sky optimism but optimism as a conscious choice when fear and anxiety are banging on the door of the heart and mind. Hope is in the words shared: you are strong, you can do this; words that say what I do not feel.

If this is posted on June 10, that will be the day the infusion pump with the last of the chemo treatment is removed. As I have moved through this journey, as I have gotten closer to the completion of this treatment, I have felt more at peace. I have gotten better at being still, letting others carry the load. The story of the crossing of the Red Sea includes these words in Exodus 14:14: The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still. Moses shares these words as the Israelites stand with the sea blocking their path in one direction and Pharaoh’s army approaching from the other. Words I have claimed for my own.

Be still of body…let the chemotherapy work and let my body heal

Be still of mind…do not be anxious

Be still of soul…trust and rest in God

Once one is diagnosed with cancer, the journey lasts a lifetime. There will be more testing and imaging to watch for recurrence in the years ahead. With what I have learned so far, I will leave this part of the journey with this scripture written on my soul: John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

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