I finished cancer treatment over two weeks ago and have returned to my home in Juneau, Alaska.
I left Alaska in January of this year with a vision of myself as a healthy woman with exciting plans of seeing family and friends on the east coast and then a two month ministry in the Middle East; a routine that has gone uninterrupted for the last 8 years. On February 26th those plans were profoundly interrupted with a sudden diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer. For those of you who have walked this path or cared for someone who has, you know the common expressions: “Everything changed in a moment’s time. The rug was suddenly pulled out from under me. I went from living a life to surviving for a life, and etc…”
David, who likes the country western star Alan Jackson, shared the lyrics from the song Jackson wrote and recorded for Denise, his wife of 33 years, after she had completed her cancer treatment:
Ain’t it funny how one minute your whole life’s looking fine
And a short few words later it all just comes untied?
You can’t believe you’re looking at what was always someone else,
Now it’s staring right there at you, yesterday you couldn’t tell. (1)
Once the shock was processed then came the emotions: some sadness, some anxiety and some frustration, guilt and worry.
Then the anger starts to surface, lookin’ up, askin’ why
Then you realize He (God) probably wants the best the same as I.
But there were two other emotions that couldn’t be laid to rest. They would show up in unexpected ways and times. Gratefulness and humbleness were two friends that would visit uninvited so I began looking for them in unexpected places and, seeing them often, would greet them by name. Calling a thing by its name whether that thing is a person or abstraction carries its own blessing and power. Why are we embarrassed when we can’t remember someone’s name when we see that person? It’s because we intuitively know that saying the name out loud will validate that person as significant and valuable in relation to us. “Oh wow, you remembered my name!” Of course I did because you made an impression on me and I gave you enough care and consideration to file your name away. Unspoken thoughts perhaps, but none the less operating to create meaningful relationship. Well, it happens much the same way with abstractions. You name an abstraction in relationship to yourself enough times you will begin to feel its connection and power in your life: love, kindness, endurance, thankfulness, to name a few. The New Testament has a list and refers to them as the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5: 22-23, Colossians 3:2-17) If you have read even a few of my previous blog posts you will see these two not-so-now-abstract feelings pop up a lot.
More Alan Jackson:
And the seconds turn to minutes, and minutes wouldn’t last
And the hours, days, and weeks and months, seem endless and too fast
And the blessin’s poured from Heaven, like the rain on that first spring.
But now, there is a new challenge in my life.
The treatment protocol for my particular cancer is complete. Now there are new thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I’m learning to live “the new normal.” I like to compare this state with how I felt when I had my first baby. Lots of attention from medical staff during pregnancy, delivery, birth and the few days in hospital and then, “voila”, the release into the world with my new human responsibility to figure out how to do this thing of living with baby without the hand holding.
Now, I don’t want to overdo this analogy because in reality there is support after birth and there is support after cancer treatment. After all, there are the checkups and the knowledge that if anything goes haywire I can pick up the phone and say, “help,” and I will get it.
But since being home I have experienced some trepidation of my future health possibilities, some crankiness and anxiousness reserved for the person who deserves it the least. (You husbands out there will be happy to know that he doesn’t take it lying down. He emailed me one of my own past blog posts the other day as a reminder of, hmm… I am not sure but I think it was a clever way to say, “Hey, be nice” or “be true to your blog post”. Fair enough.) Now, all of the above reactions are not uncommon for cancer patients and survivors. There are plenty of studies out there to point to an increase of depression in cancer patients after treatment so it does not surprise me that I may be having a few ups and downs since being done with treatment and realizing my cancer care providers are a couple thousand miles away. But, I am now having to learn to live this “new normal” and start fine tuning my radar for gratefulness and humbleness in many different places and circumstances and when finding it, start naming it. I need these and other “fruits of the spirit” to wash over, overwhelm and subdue the fearful musings and emotions about an unknown future. The hand holding treatment days may have come to an end for now but the Spirit didn’t go away. The Holy Spirit is with me reminding me that there is a boatload of gratefulness to be named out loud.
So, I’m going hunting in new territory and I won’t be alone.
(1) ‘When I Saw You Leaving’
Writer: Alan Jackson
Copyright: Tri-angels Music, Emi April Music Inc
 Help for those of us of the middle class, that is. It should be like that for everyone but sadly we know it isn’t. And that is not because no one is willing to help. In many places there are those willing to lend a hand. The problem many times is that the marginalized have a lack of confidence and trust in the system to get what is needed. But then again there are many places in this world where those willing to help are few and far apart. This is all grist for future postings.