6:45 pm, Monday, August 8, 2022
It has been a long day. I just finished chemo. I am in the Roswell Cancer Institute imaging clinic, waiting to be called for a brain scan MRI. David left to get groceries and prepare a late supper. I am disappointed, discouraged, teary-eyed, and, to make matters worse, a bit embarrassed.
As I wait, I take the advice I gave to clients for years and have blogged about more than once: start journaling about the angst.
I have been complemented by family, friends, and medical team on how well I’ve handled an abundance of difficulties throughout this process. And yes, I have felt validated respected and brave for my “handling it all so well.”
And yes, I have attributed my persevering, positive attitude to my dependence on God’s faithfulness towards me no matter what happens.
But over the last two days something started to emotionally unravel. It started with overreacting to my husband’s innocuous comments yesterday but thankfully having it all resolved quickly, more thanks to him than me.
I want to blame this emotional roller coaster on the steroids I am taking to heal the liver from an unfortunate turn in the immunotherapy treatment.
But…. Something other than steroid-craziness is going on.
My ‘end-of-the-rope’ was bound to come but I thought it would come at the ‘end-of-the-road’ when all treatment options have been tried and failed, therefore reclassified as terminal. Another counselor told me once that when you reach the end-of-your-rope – the point where you cannot climb back up but cannot lower yourself further – it is time to let go and trust in God. I love that image. I have rehearsed that end-of-rope/end-of-the-road moment too many times to count. In that future scenario, when told there is nothing else that modern medicine can do for me, I picture myself demonstrating great faith and even love and gratitude for my wonderful medical team. I become some kind amazing hero of faith in my eyes and in others. Ah, the follies of ego!!!
But I am having an end-of-rope moment now. This morning, I had an unexpected call from my oncologist to come in for an unscheduled visit. I was hoping he wanted to discuss weaning me from steroids. The opposite happened as my liver enzymes had gone up. He has increased, slightly, my steroid dose; meaning less sleep and immunotherapy still off the table.
I had an unexpected reaction to the consultation. I got visibly frustrated and hurt. Tears!
The irony and hypocrisy of the reaction is that yesterday I had complained to friends of hearing of cancer patients reacting similarly, being unreasonable and unfair to their medical providers.
Not that I went ballistic. Hospital security was not called. But I had tears of frustration, and I over-questioned my healthcare providers. I argued about use of words. “You say ‘increase’ in liver enzymes but I say, ‘slight uptick’ when I look at the graphs.” After spending more time with me than I deserved I patted my oncologist on his hand as he was leaving, an apology, of sorts. But it did not end there: as I was led to the chemo chair, I was told that my oncologist had just ordered in addition to the chemo an hour of saline for low sodium before the infusion. Come on! My feet were already in a crazy swollen state of discomfort I questioned the purpose of this. I asked the infusion nurse several times to call the oncologist finally reconsidered and gave me what I wanted. (If the low sodium was acute, he would have won that skirmish for sure).
Back in the imaging waiting room, the technician finally called my name for the MRI. As we are walking to the imaging room, he said the scan would not take an hour, as I assumed, but only 15 minutes. That simple correction somehow, in some way, flipped the mood switch. Delighted, I became my friendly chatty self as I sensed that joy was beginning to take hold again.
The Lord heard my lament and gave me hope. David is thankful to see the smile back on my face!
9:00 am, Tuesday, August 9
But I cannot leave it at that. It is tempting to think of God smiling at us with approval when we are behaving graciously and mercifully to those around us especially when we are suffering and amid disappointments. Conversely, we imagine him clucking his tongue when we are miserable, irritable, and faithless. The thing about that is that it does not typically lead to a heart change. Why? Shaming is not affirming or inspiring. It gets us stuck in a spiritual arrested development. Spiritual maturity on the other hand fills us with the knowledge of God’s love that surpasses our understanding (Ephesians 3:19).
He made us to trust in his unfailing and never changing love. It is who he is, and the operative word is grace (unmerited favor).
Neither you or I can make God love us more or less by what we do when we have already thrown our hat in the arena of God’s faithfulness. And in a mysterious, wonderful way we are changed and willingly motivated to continue the good fight of our faith. (1 Timothy 6:12) We can let go of the end of the rope.
And, as Paul writes, “No eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things which God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9
This is something to fight for, something to live for!