On October 4th, 2013 I had colon resection surgery to take out a section of my colon that contained a mass that was causing some embarrasing bathroom problems – namely bleeding when I went number two. (I cannot believe I am saying that “publicly!”) I have had this issue for a long time but was told that it was hemorrhoids. (Again with the TMI. Headline: Lemon loses all concept of privacy!) “Eat more fiber,” the doc said in Seattle in 2003. But after ten years of this crap (ha! See what I did there?) I talked to my primary care physician, who I love and he sent me to a specialist. Long story short, that guy, who I will forever be grateful to despite him putting me through several deeply mortifying procedures, found the stupid tumor.
So, though a biospy said it wasn’t cancer, my surgeon begged to differ. Either way, it had to go, but he was pretty sure we were going to find bad news. I had surgery to get rid of that mass of evil tissue. I came through the surgery great. Three days after, when the docs came to my hospital room on morning rounds I was in designer PJs, with my hair fixed, earrings in, make-up on, yapping on my cell phone. They just laughed at me. Apparently this is not the norm after such a surgery. So I was in great spirits and ready to head home the next day.
I spent the next few days convelescing at home receiving visitors and cards and fruit baskets. I kept a stack of one-dollar bills handy to tip those flower delivery people since they seemed to be showing up every few hours for a while there. My incision was healing nicely and my strength was returning. I was feeling great. It had gone so well, I’d almost forgotten about the C-word. Until Sunday, October 13th when I got The Call. My surgeon woke me up Sunday morning with a call that I will never forget. One that took my very breath away. “Cancer,” he said. “Stage 3b.”
I really wasn’t expecting this. What with the constant praying and all. Of course the doc called during the one 30 minute period when my very caring and helpful husband had gone for a run. He had parked our 4-year-old in front of some cartoons and figured he’d be back before I even woke up. Wrong. It was a very difficult 30 minutes. Fear and despair washed over me. Hard. I felt like I was falling. But I was oddly calm. I called my mom and had to tell her this news that no parent wants to or should even have to hear. It just didn’t feel right or fair or ok. To be honest, all seemed wrong with the world.
This was one week ago. What a week it has been.
It has been a scary week. I mean…seriously!? I have to think about a world without me in it. And what it might be like for my kid to grow up without a mom? Oof. That one hurts. And what might it be like to die? Who wants to think about that at the age of 35?
It has been a sad week. I cry a lot. I do. It’s overwhelming. This is a complete life disruption and I’m sad about it. I just want to go to a bar and watch the Steelers play with my friends. Instead, I’m making oncology appointments.
It has been a wonderful week. Yup. It really has. I am learning SO much about how God can use this and how God IS using this. I am being plunged into this crappy muck, yes, but I’m learning what I and the people who love me are made of. I am learning how strong and kind and generous the people God has blessed me with are. I am learning what the bible has to say about suffering and trials. Check this out:
“…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5: 1-5
We rejoice in our sufferings? Crazy, right? Just how is this possible? Well, while I’m no expert, I have a little bit of growing insight thanks to some intense prayer, a lot of Scripture reading, and investigating some trusted pastors’ teachings (Tim Keller, Allistair Begg and John Piper to name a few.) Here is what I’m learning:
To know Christ, to be forgiven and therefore in a right relationship with God, means that we can know, FOR SURE, that God has not abandoned us. You got that? Icky, scary, ugly circumstances are not an indication of God’s leaving us or not loving us. That is an unbiblical view. While sin can lead to natural consequences and at times our suffering is a result of our sin, suffering is not a punishment and it does not mean that He has forsaken us. He has, in His infinite wisdom allowed this, and not by accident or neglect….by DESIGN. This is my path. This is my fight. This cancer is putting me and my faith to the test. Do I really love God and want to serve him? Or do I only seek to have Him serve ME? If we ditch our faith in the midst of these trials – that is what we’re saying…that we were only in this to see what God could do for us. Not to serve him no matter what.
I’m learning how cancer (or whatever you’re struggling with) can be a gift. I know, that sounds nuts. But really. No matter the outcome, I know I am going to be refined through this. In a way that I could never have been apart from it. What is truly important and what is unimportant – these things are becoming increasingly clear. Who is really in this with me – that is becoming clear, too. Also, God is meeting me in my uncertainty, leading me to encouragement and refreshment in new and deeper ways.
So, we’re just a week into this diagnosis. The chemo hasn’t even started yet. The lessons are just beginning. The story of this trial is still in the prologue. By no means do I think I get it yet. But this is where we are. And I’m already different.
“Here am I. Send me.” – Isaiah 6:8 (It’s not exactly the same kind of situation, I know. But what I’m saying is. I’m willing to walk through this.)
Besides, I’ve got this to live for.