I’m not a big numbers person but there are a few numbers I wish I would have kept track of on this little cancer adventure. Like the number of needle pokes. Or the number of miles I’ve put on my car going to appointments. I also wish I would have counted the times I’ve had to lay on table exposed to whoever happens to walk in the room that day. What used to be totally humiliating has become tolerable and numbingly routine. Maybe I should be glad for that but I find it kinda sad, too.
I have tried my best to find humor in the moments that were most uncomfortable. Like the day I was in an MRI machine when it broke. Keep in mind I was facedown, arms outstretched over my head with my girls hanging through an opening in the table. The operator took me part way out of the machine, then left the room to get help. I couldn’t see the clock but I’m pretty sure she was gone about 30-40 minutes. I started to think they’d forgotten me or that I was actually on some sinister version of Candid Camera. When it was all said and done, I had all the scans twice, including two injections of contrast, which as you may or may not know, makes you feel like you’ve peed all over the table. Super fun. An hour and a half later I was out of the tube from hell. I left, kicking myself for not filling the prescription for Valium they had given me to take before the MRI.
My hair situation has also brought equal amounts of humor and humiliation. The first cut, the clumps falling out, the first shave, the first time going without a hat in public, all of it. I’m currently rocking what my kids lovingly refer to as my salt-and-pepper badass look. All I need to do now is to get a few tattoos and trade my tiny nose piercing for a large hoop and I’ll totally fit the part. Stay tuned.
Last week, I had another one of those appointments where I found myself laying in a room alone, waiting for the doctor to come in and inspect me in preparation for radiation, which begins today. While I’ve gotten more used to those moments, for some reason this one was a little more difficult. It might be because I’ve been feeling pretty good lately and the thought of starting a new phase of treatment is tough, knowing I’ll likely feel a little worse over the next few weeks. As I laid on the table, head tilted to the side, my arm lifted over my head, I prayed two things. First, as I felt the twinge of vertigo kicking in when the ceiling tiles started to spin, I prayed, “God, do NOT let this happen. I’m humiliated enough the way it is. I do not want to be the puking patient.” Second, I prayed, “God, I know you’re there, but sometimes I just need to know that you see this. That you see me. And that you don’t like this either.”
I left my appointment and headed to my car. I sat down, checked my phone and saw a text from a friend. He had sent me a recording of a song that had been cut by the group he sings with. The title of the song is Jesus Wept. I co-wrote it with my dear friends Sue and Joel. We wrote the song in the midst of the nightmare that was 2020 and throughout the lyric, we listed some things that grieve the heart of God. As I sat listening, I was struck by two lines in the chorus. “For the wounds that scarred our past and the brokenness to come, Jesus wept.” And I felt seen.
I like to think when Jesus wept, He wept for chemo treatments and needle pokes and mastectomy scars and humiliating appointments when I’m stuck in an MRI machine. I think He grieves over the fact I have cancer. I am certain He didn’t create me for this, but I am equally certain He knew it would happen, and He knew it would be redeemed. I can’t explain the mystery of all that, but I believe it to be true. Sitting in the parking lot that day listening to the song, it brought me great comfort to know my Savior weeps for me. I thought about the two friends I wrote the song with, how I have witnessed their unimaginable suffering, and how Jesus weeps for them too.
I’ve learned to find comfort in my own tears as well. I now see them as the way God washes away hurt and fear and sadness, and in the process, He improves my vision to see things more clearly. To see the things that matter. To see other people’s pain. I am grateful for that. I also like to think He's using my tears to grow something good in me. As if He somehow takes the crap we go through and the tears we shed and turns it into holy fertilizer and rain. Then you just need some sun. And the sun is coming out today.
For the next five weeks, I will lay on a table every day, praying those little rays of sunshine (my new name for radiation) do their job on the soil that is my body and life. I know the purpose of radiation is to kill cancer, and I'm certainly praying for that, but I'm also choosing to see it as something necessary to grow something in me. There might be more crap to step in, and I'm sure I'll water it with a few tears along the way, but I'm okay with that. After all, that's how good things grow.