Monday, January 13, 2014

Three devastating words = unexpected blessings

Nine years ago today a doctor said those three words that everyone dreads, "You have cancer."

He was surprised by how calmly I accepted the diagnosis. But honestly I had suspected it for several months, even though four other doctors incorrectly diagnosed my symptoms as an infection or allergies. The pronouncement that I had fast-growing lymphoma and had to be treated right away was not as shocking as how completely my life changed overnight.

I was used to juggling several jobs/projects at one time. I guess it gave me some kind of weird "high" to be overly busy. I was definitely a control freak, burning my candle at both ends, and that came to a screeching halt. Now my focus was CT scans, PET scans, heart scans, blood tests, IVs, dealing with the effects of nuclear bomb strength chemo, and surprisingly, trying to comfort all the distraught people around me. I had thought others would comfort me, but I quickly learned that unless one has gone through this particular trial, most people don't know what to say to a cancer patient and so say nothing, and in many cases, avoid them, as if they're already dead.

At first it really hurt, but I realized I had done the same thing on occasion, and I'd always considered myself to be especially sensitive and empathetic. I learned so much about what to say and what NOT to say to someone going through the long dark scary tunnel of cancer treatment.

The very best thing that happened in the way of comfort was the cards I received from all over the country, some from people I'd never met. When the first ones came, I taped them to the back of the front door, like I've always done with Christmas cards, so I could look at them and "feel the love." When that door filled up, I taped cards to my office door. When THAT door filled up, I taped them to my bedroom door. I felt lifted up on wings of prayer, and it was so helpful, especially on those days when I wasn't sure if I'd survive the effects of chemo, let alone cancer.

Another unexpected blessing didn't feel like a blessing at first. I was so sad that life was going on without me, and it seemed that no one missed me at all. I had come to see myself as an indispensable, irreplaceable part of several organizations, and the shock that they could function without me was humbling, to say the least. But no one is indispensable. We may be missed, but life goes on. We're but a speck in the universe; there's no place for inflated egos. On our brief sojourn here, we should focus on others and what we can do for them, not try to "make a name" for ourselves or step on others while we claw our way to the top of the heap.

Which leads me to the greatest blessing of this cancer journey. B.C., before cancer, I only thought I had faith in God. But it took a humbling, completely helpless experience to bring this control freak to the realization that there are some things she cannot "handle" at all. I remember crying out to Him the first time the "chemo wave" hit me, that I could not endure this, and please have mercy on me. (Thankfully this doesn't happen to everyone, but since I've always been very sensitive to meds and once had a 12 hour LSD-type hallucination from 1/2 a baby aspirin, it's no surprise the strong poisons needed to kill my lymphoma turned me inside-out and burned me up. It was a horror I wouldn't wish on anyone.)
At the cancer center--my chemo chair

For the first time I understood what Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12 meant when he was given "a thorn in the flesh": "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." All my life I had *prided* myself on my own strength of character and determination (i.e. German hard-headedness) but I learned humility and true faith by being brought to my knees in despair and weakness. When I feel that pride creeping back in, all I have to do is remember that day when I was burning up from the poison and could only cling, weeping, to God's hand through the fire. He was my only comfort, and He was all sufficient.

For nine years I have thanked God for bringing me through that private hell. Even though I feel "survivor's guilt" when someone I know has lost their cancer battle, I try not to take even one minute of life for granted now. There must be a reason God spared me, and I don't want to waste a moment of this precious time He's given me.


  1. Wonderful article about your experience. I am a cancer survivor too RubyBeets

    1. Thanks, RubyBeets! I'm sorry you had to go through that dark scary tunnel, but SO thankful you're a SURVIVOR! :)

  2. I just started reading your blog. I relate to how you think. I'm so very sorry that you went through this. While we haven't personally dealt with this in my immediate family, we know too many who have. And while we haven't gone through that hell, we've been in our own hell. It does make you think about everything differently. One week I take 3 choirs to UIL and 2 days later, Jason has his stroke. I never go back to teaching again. 30 yrs.of teaching. What a shock it was. I'm thankful that you held on to God's hand and survived to tell your story. I look forward to reading your other posts. Take care. Danielle

    1. Thanks so much, Danielle. You DO understand better than most how life can change in the blink of an eye. Your courage and determination through Jason's journey inspires me, girl!!! :)