At the end of last April I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Prior to hearing those life-changing words I hadn’t faced the possibility of seeing what was, perhaps, a glimpse of the beginning of the end of my life. And while that may seem sort of melodramatic to someone who hasn’t heard that they may have or indeed have the “C” word, that’s how it felt to me at the time.
I remember climbing into my car in the hospital garage and fumbling in the glove compartment for a tissue as the tears began. It was a little much needed stress-relief in the midst of overwhelming thoughts and feelings. However, my sorry-for-me-moment turned out to be rather brief.
I was interrupted by a woman rudely pounding on my window to enquire if I was about to leave or not! I stared at her in surprise and eventually managed to mumble something about leaving soon while wiping my tears away.
Soon afterwards I vacated the coveted parking place. There would be plenty of time for a meltdown in a more convenient location.
Although I was wrong about this encounter with cancer being the beginning of my end, I was correct in one sense; life as I had known it up to this time would never be quite the same. And after all, how could it be? The road to recovery from breast cancer is grueling and there’s no way to avoid the possibility that this. might. be. it.
Everything from the initial diagnosis, to receiving your prognosis, to having your treatment plan laid out before you, underlines the fact that although it’s good to be hopeful… there are no guarantees of a full recovery. All you can do is wait, and hope, and pray in the midst of pain, and sickness, and fatigue.
In addition, months of treatment and hanging out in waiting rooms with other cancer patients is eye-opening and sobering. Hearing their stories and seeing their discouragement is heartbreaking. Each aching body and hurting heart has touched my own. Many are facing cancer for the second or even third time. I can only imagine how difficult that must be.
But imagine it I do. And that has posed a problem. I first became aware that this was an issue a couple of weeks ago when my oncologist stated emphatically, “you no longer have breast cancer!”
One might have thought that my immediate reaction would be joy and relief and…. one would have been wrong. While it was nice to hear her say that I was cancer free, I found myself not really believing her.
Because how can you really know?
- For instance, in my extended family a dear loved one fought off breast cancer twice only to succumb later after it spread to her bones. And this was after she had passed the five-year remission mark.
- Then there was the sweet woman sitting next to me in the radiation waiting room who told me that she had enjoyed one whole month(!) of being cancer free after her treatment for lung cancer before finding out that she has brain cancer.
- Also, shortly after my diagnosis, a beautiful young woman reached out to me to encourage me with her story of God’s faithfulness after twenty years(!) of battling one cancer after another, including the one she was currently fighting. While her testimony of peace and rest in our Lord’s love and faithfulness was encouraging, I began to have the disquieting thought that this might become a much longer-term situation than I had bargained on.
I’ve noticed a sort of weird waiting thing going on in my head. On one hand I am relieved to know that I no longer have cancer but on the other… I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Maybe it’s because I’m not done with the cancer treatment. While the most intensive treatment of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are behind me, I still have several months of chemo infusions left in addition to other scans and tests to be sure that all is well. Each test serves as an unwelcome reminder that while I don’t have cancer, the folk in charge are still monitoring things just to be sure.
I’ve been praying about this a lot because I really, really don’t want to dishonor Jesus by not being grateful for my healing. I am. Very. But I can’t pretend to be all hallelujah about the situation either, which is what I’ve spent most of my life doing… faking victory.
So imagine my thoughts when I read the following in Psalms yesterday:
“Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.” Italics mine. (Psalm 64:1 ESV)
In my case, dread of the enemy is dread of a cancer recurrence.
I’m coming to the realization that I have a choice. I can continue to stew in uncertainty and fear that the cancer will return or I can trust Jesus with it. That means choosing to live in His joy and peace for today and all of the rest of the tomorrows God may give me.
I think this is where my “fight” against breast cancer is really beginning…