It’s the beginning of the 23rd week since my cancer diagnosis and the 17th week since chemotherapy.
This week should be the end of the taxol-carboplatin-avastin treatment cycle. I have no doubt that my platelets have rebounded enough for the treatment to proceed. What’s next will be some scans to see the extent that the cancer cells have melted, and then the maintenance cycle begins.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that first day of diagnosis. Stage 4 lung cancer is not good news, and I found myself thinking of the dumbest things that weekend after diagnosis in mid-February. I thought about how I needed to clean out closets and the attic and the basement so my girls wouldn’t have to do those things, about giving away my books and materials at school, about preparing the right words to tell everyone what I faced. It was all very focused and non-emotional.
I didn’t think about saying goodbye to the people I love. I didn’t break down and cry, and I didn’t rail against what appeared to be a very scary and short future. I moved step-by-step through the minutes and hours and days. I reminded myself that none of this surprised God and that He had always been faithful in the rough patches of my life. I just breathed in and breathed out, and I prayed to be a good witness of His goodness no matter what. When I felt those moments of panic creeping up, I refused to allow them to take root because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop the fear if they did..
I was in a complete fog most of the time. If I was methodical and unemotional, it was due to utter shock. I kept thinking that someone must have made a mistake. Surely, this was not true.
When the diagnosis changed from stage 4 lung to stage 4 unknown primary, I felt as if I had received a precious gift. Stage 4 is not good, but stage 4 unknown primary somehow wasn’t as bad, for some reason. For the first time, I allowed myself to believe that I would get through this, that I wouldn’t have to clear closets or the attic or the basement (sorry, girls!), that I still had something to offer at school, and that whatever I said was going to be fine. I was still focused and not very emotional, but I was overcome with gratitude for the many, many, many precious words from those I have known through the years.
This weekend I have been struck by the reality that the chemotherapy will not have removed the cancer even if everything has melted away. I will still have stage 4 cancer of unknown origin, and I will continue treatment to keep it contained and prevent it from growing again. I won’t be in remission; I still will face each moment knowing that my life is forever changed.
The truth is that there is no right way to handle this. Focused or disorganized, controlled or emotional, organized or erratic, poised or angry—there is no wrong reaction. The events of this week, both what happened to people I don’t know in Aurora and what is happening to people I love in Brentwood, confirm that life is fragile and there are no guarantees. Our only hope is in the One who died to save us.
Today our pastor taught from Colossians 2:6-8: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”
I do want to be a witness of His goodness, to live my life in Him, to be strengthened in my faith, to overflow with thankfulness, and to depend on Him. If having stage 4 cancer of unknown origin does those things in my life, then I can look back on the last 23 weeks and praise God for His unfailing love.
On Thursday morning, July 26, I’ll be posting again after the bell-ringing final treatment, and then I’ll be moving ahead to the next cycle.
At church this morning we sang one of my favorite hymns, “Be Thou My Vision.” I close with these words from the final verse:
- High King of Heaven, thou Heaven’s bright sun,
- O grant me its joys after victory is won!
- Great heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
- Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.