“Your scan looks beautiful,” said Dr. Tsung, my youngish, kind, tall surgeon.
It’s like letting the air out of a balloon – the pressure relieved by good news. No new tumors. Thank you, God. Thank you.
I’ve been in this position so many times. The one where you wait for a doctor to give you news that will drastically alter the trajectory of your life. Those moments are so full and frightening and taxing and stressful. I’ve had to wait hours, days, and even over a week for results. By no means do I have this down, because this sort of thing is always going to be hard. But here are some things I have learned along the way. Perhaps it will help you the next time you face the uphill battle of waiting for important news.
First of all, you really do have to begin with what you believe. If you believe in nothing, that’s entirely up to you, and you can move forward doing basically whatever makes you feel better. Some things to consider: some people like being alone, and others prefer to be surrounded by a support network. Wherever you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, pay attention to your wants and needs and try to adjust your social schedule accordingly. An introvert does not benefit from constant companionship and an extrovert will quickly become depressed if left alone for too long. When we’re out of our element for any length of time, it stresses us and more stress is not what is needed in times of worry. I would also recommend engaging in activities you find to be energizing or calming such as exercise or an activity you enjoy. It’s also good to keep a normal routine – you can’t and probably shouldn’t take a few days off work and sit home and worry. Some of my best work has been done when I’ve pushed my upcoming doc appointment out of my mind and focused on something totally unrelated. Keep your mind occupied by work or mindless tv. Not a bad time to binge on Lost episodes if you were living under a rock circa 2006. I’m not even joking. Good, well written tv shows have basically gotten me through cancer. Ok, more so God, my friends and family have gotten me through cancer, but Scandal and Revenge have helped me forget about cancer for a while. Just turning your mind off can be helpful. This strategy immediately gets derailed when there is a cancer story line added (assuming a cancer diagnosis is what you’re waiting to hear about.) In which case, you can skip that episode or…just watch Lost, ok? No cancer scares on the island from what I recall.
If you’re not sure what you believe, it’s not a bad time to think about it. Have you wondered about heaven and hell and God and what happens when you die? Of course you have. But, like many people, you’re jaded by organized religion (Understandably! Some real idiots out there in the name of various religions, eh?) and/or you haven’t landed on anything that fully makes sense to you. I encourage you to pick something and learn about it. Just start seeking for spiritual meaning and ruling things out. I can pretty much guarantee you will find yourself down a rabbit hole of interesting ideas and philosophies. My own journey led me from kind of half heartedly hoping that reincarnation is real and that I could come back as something that flies if I behaved myself, to believing that Jesus is the real deal. It just made sense to me, eventually, that God is perfect, we sin against Him (we do…all of us) and there needs to be a sacrifice to pay for those sins, and Jesus is that sacrifice – God’s son. He sacrificed the most valuable thing ever, to demonstrate His love for us. Now, because I believe that is true for all of us, not just “my truth” or “true for me”, I hope you will discover that, too. But I sincerely think that simply taking the step of exploring whatever intrigues you will lead you closer to the truth – whatever the truth of this astonishing miracle of a universe we live in is. Taking an honest step toward discovering what all of this is and how we got here and what we’re meant to do – it’s always a step in the right direction. Seek and you shall find.
Now, for those who consider themselves to be Christians. Coming from the perspective of a Christian worldview, there are certain Biblical ideas and instructions that are very helpful to one experiencing great worry. The first is that God commands us not to worry. Isn’t that interesting?! I have thought about this a lot, because I find it to be such a loving instruction to us as His children. If you are a parent and you think about your child, and you imagine your child worrying, it’s heartbreaking, right? I remember my mom asking me what I worried about once when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I told her, and I recall this very clearly, that I worry that the United States will go to war and my dad would have to go to fight. I regularly worried about this. Having been born in 1978 and having several family members who fought in wars, I heard enough references to war to know that it was very, very bad. I often worried when I saw the news and heard about various tensions throughout the world, it being the cold war and all, When I expressed this worry, my mom laughed and told me that my dad was too old to be sent to war. I was immediately relieved. I am sure if my mom could have read my mind and saw that I was harboring that worry for years, that she would have alleviated it immediately, as she did that day.
I imagine God is troubled when we worry, partly because we spend time worrying that we could be spending doing about 10,000 more productive things, but also because He loves us and doesn’t want us to live in those confusing emotions. He also wants us to trust Him. We might talk about God and go to church and express a belief in Him of some sort. But do we really trust Him? The rubber definitely meets the road with faith when you’re sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for the doctor to come in and point you down one of two roads – one, that you really don’t want to go down.
Being through what I’ve been through – Two cancer diagnoses, multiple surgeries, two chemo protocols, dozens of side effects – I have a lot of experience in that waiting room. And my time with God, in those moments has changed. I used to think just “no please, no, let it not be cancer, no, please, no, let it be ok.” While a part of me still thinks that way, there is another, emerging part of me, that is calm, willing to hear whatever the news is, willing to go down whatever path is the one God leads me down. I am increasingly challenged to believe in God’s goodness. I am still tempted to believe that bad news means that God is not real, or if He is real, He’s not good and He does not love me. The deeply flawed, human side of my heart and brain turn so quickly from God when He does not act as I would have Him act. That hurts to write that sentence because it reflects such arrogance and short sightedness. We can believe that this being created this entire earth – He invented water, and fire and jellyfish and geysers and the Northern Lights and our incredibly intricate nervous systems. We can believe that, but not that He’s in control, that He will facilitate our lives in a way that is ultimately for our good? Sometimes, believing in God seems a little crazy. And I get why people think it is. But from a logical perspective, it’s actually crazier to kind of vaguely believe in Him but not trust Him with these difficult things.
We do this, because we’ve probably felt betrayed by God at some point. We lost someone that we loved, usually. That is usually the thing that pushes people to the point of refusal to believe that God could possibly be good, when such a wretched loss has occurred. Our hearts are so beautifully designed to love and engage with others, that a loss of love – by death or abandonment – changes us, searches in a rage for someone to blame, shuts off our willingness to trust this being in the sky we call God. But I know people who have experienced unspeakable loss – second trimester pregnancies ending suddenly, car accidents taking away fathers, cancer stealing yet another young life, blindsided by an affair and demand for divorce – and some of these people have the toughest, most serious faith I’ve ever seen. Because they’ve been through the wringer, and they didn’t let go of God’s strong hand.
So, at some point along the way here, I decided, years ago, that I was all in, as far as God goes. So, when I sit there, waiting, I remind myself of all the good in my life, the history of God’s faithfulness, the truth that He has brought me safe thus far, as that old hymn reminds us, and He will lead me home, as He sees fit. This is the only way I know. It’s not an easy way, but I believe it is the best, truest, most sensible way. I was willing to hear bad news on Friday, when I went to see Dr. Tsung. I was willing to hear that things were not going well. I had high hopes, of course. But I was willing to hear what I didn’t want to hear. I was willing to let go of my timeline of chemo and my deep desire to “get back to my life.” I was willing to accept that I might not be able to go ahead with plans I have for once all of this chemo is over. I plan to run in a relay in the Pittsburgh Marathon, I am toying with the idea of doing another triathlon. I want to go on a short missions trip. I am planning my 10th anniversary trip. I want to visit friends I haven’t seen in a while. I plan to orchestrate a huge capital campaign to build new and better facilities for the organization I serve. I want to redo the retaining wall and landscape that part of my front yard. I wrote a book and now need to get it published. I have plans, yo!!
But I sat in the doctor’s office and offered up my plans and hopes, while I waited. Not my will, but yours, be done.
The nurse took my blood pressure while we waited. I typically run at a 120/80 and in times of anxiety, more like 140/90. My blood pressure was 100/62. I actually laughed out loud. I silently gave God a high five, thinking “Wow, I’ve come a long way!” I was in awe that I was actually that calm – that it wasn’t just an act, that I honestly wasn’t being ruled by my anxiety. It was physiological evidence to me that I was really doing it – really trusting God.
The clear scan, to me, was just the icing on the cake. The cake (I don’t like this whole metaphor because clearly the icing is the best part of cake) was that I could actually trust that, no matter what the doctor said, God’s got me, and He’s in complete control. Had the news been different, yes, I would have been deeply disappointed and probably a little scared. But I know that I am able to recover from those difficult emotions, release my plans and lean into trusting God. I pray with everything in me that I never have to fight cancer again, once we are done with these chemo treatments – they are pretty terrible. The idea of going through all of this again just sends a chill through me.
But, whatever God sees fit for me…I’m in.