This cancer is absolutely the weirdest thing for me. For those of you who know me and my life, saying anything is the weirdest is definitely saying something.
Like most people, I’ve experienced my share of illnesses, losses, and tragedies. In those cases, there occasionally were moments, usually late at night upon awakening, in which I would ask myself, Is this a dream? There have also been those moments in which I “forgot” reality for a brief period before everything came crashing back.
Cancer for me is nothing like either of those experiences. Not for one single moment, not ever, have I been unaware that there is something in my body that shouldn’t be here, that chemotherapy drugs are at work killing what wants to destroy me, that the physical side effects and symptoms have a definite cause that can’t go away yet, and that inside my body a battle is raging. I think of my cancer as if my lungs are wearing a huge furry coat with a thick furry lining covering every cell and atom in and on and through my lungs and bronchial tubes and lymph nodes. While reading those words might make you think, oh no, honestly it’s not something that strikes fear in my soul (prayer at work, of course).
This is my experience right now, and I work to keep myself focused on right now. I try not to think of what’s going on inside, but I can’t ignore the fact that something is happening. I imagine my experience is similar to others who have had a serious diagnosis, but I also realize that everyone’s experience is different. I’m not trying to make some broad generalization here or to say that I have particular insight into “cancer.” Trust me, I don’t.
Random side note: Whenever I have to call the oncology office because of some ailment after treatment, the nurse at some point will ask me, “Are you in distress?” I have to answer honestly that I’m not. I may be uncomfortable or bothered or achy, but I’m not in distress. Since people who know me know how I love words, they won’t be surprised to know that I looked up the definition of distress and discovered it means “extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain.” It’s derived from French with a Latin origin meaning “stretched apart.” Distressed…stretched apart., now that’s a great word, and I’m going to use it as a checkpoint for my state of mind: I don’t want to act or think I’m “distressed” when I am really just annoyed or irritated or frustrated. I’ll save distress for true distress.
Anyway, back to the weirdness of my experience. I think that what has been amazing to me since February 17 has been the intentional interaction I have had with so many people. Students catch my eye as I walk down the hall, or they write a note. People blow the horn and wave in the parking lot. I hear, “We’re praying!” all the time. Friends (and people who think they are acquaintances and don’t realize that they are friends) nod or smile or text or email or write. Interactions may be brief, but every single one is powerful. Every point of contact reminds me that while this cancer is real and destructive, God is also real and definitely not destructive. He is providing for all of my needs before I even recognize that I have needs. He anticipates when I’ll be feeling sorry for myself, when I’ll need a laugh, when I need reminding that I’m not alone. He uses friends and strangers and acquaintances and friends of friends to remind me of His presence, and in the quiet of my soul He speaks to me and tells me that nothing else—nothing weird, nothing at all—matters because He is right here right now.
I HATE writing about myself. I also don’t want to give a false picture—this is hard but God is SO much bigger. In truth, my picture of God has radically changed because of this. I honestly don’t think about how this will end because I know that God is in charge of the beginning, the middle, and the end. For me this experience gives me the truth of who He is, and I honestly wouldn’t change the experience because of the deepening view I’ve had of God and of myself.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
He is able to do immeasurably more that anything and everything I can imagine—and I believe that includes the weird. To Him be the glory for ever and ever.