Today

Today, I know where I stand. I feel tired, but otherwise well. I am home with my family, where I am cozy and comfortable and known. My body looks familiar in the mirror. Though it carries more weight than I like and has some unsightly places, it has always been here, and it is mine.

Tomorrow, everything changes. There are blanks I can’t fill in. I don’t know how well I’ll come through surgery, though I have every confidence that I will come through. The pain is inevitable. I don’t know how it will feel exactly, but It will be difficult to handle.

It will take me awhile to be brave enough to look in the mirror; I will not like what I see. Even the excellent work of skilled surgeons will be difficult to look at–cut, bruised, and wounded–unfamiliar.

I will experience floods of emotion. Grief will be the overwhelming one. Add to those core feelings fatigue, exhaustion, and pain. This family’s about to scale a mountain.

So today, we will make an effort to be normal, even though normal is clouded and tainted by tomorrow. We will worship with our church body, then pack for the hospital and make sure all is in order. I’ll go early to bed, and pray for sleep. I will be as ready as I can be.

I take captive these thoughts of fear and grief and loss. I know that all will be well and very well. I can see the sun on the horizon and I know that the Son travels with me.

Today is grim. Tomorrow is unknown. The future is very, very bright. Lord willing, this trial will yield for me a long and happy life, cancer free. These difficult days will become a blur, and I will have to read this to remember how I felt this morning. Time is fleeting, and Mercy is sure.

Grief

There are so many feelings that come with a cancer diagnosis. Fear, anxiety, and anger are just a few of them. The one that caught me off guard, though, is grief. It has been my most prevalent emotion.

Grief is usually associated with and assigned to death–having lost someone significant in one’s life. It certainly is that. However, I think many times people experience grief related to other losses and struggle to work through it because it isn’t named appropriately.

At my first oncology appointment, I filled out a mental health questionnaire. They wanted to know what I was feeling and offered a number of options. I was to check the appropriate boxes. None of them fit. I wasn’t fearful. I wasn’t anxious or depressed or angry. I added my own check box and wrote “grief” next to it. The nurse looked at my sheet and told me I couldn’t do that, so I crossed it off and said “Well, I will have to leave it blank. The only feeling I am struggling with is one you won’t allow me to recognize.” I wasn’t rude, just matter-of-fact. She considered my response for a moment. “You know, you have a really good point. I’m going to see about adding that one.” I hope they do. It may give others a word for what they are feeling.

I wasn’t prepared for grief. Maybe that’s because the nature of grief is that it is tied to unexpected loss. We can grieve over broken relationships. We can grieve over illness that leaves us without function or leaves us with unsightly scars. We can grieve because we missed an opportunity. We can grieve that our loved ones left this earth without the assurance of salvation. We can also choose to not grieve at all. That leaves even deeper scars and open wounds that won’t heal.

Someone, somewhere developed a model that puts grief into five stages. That may well be true. It certainly seems accurate. What I didn’t realize until lately is that grief is cyclical. We grieve awhile, maybe even moving through all five stages. Things get better and we move on. Then, suddenly, something triggers a memory and grief comes flooding back again. We repeat the process. Does that mean we didn’t grieve “properly” the first time? I don’t think so. I think this cycle is God-given. If we were to feel the full weight of our loss and have to process every bit of it at one time, we would be swallowed up and maybe lost. By working though our grief in layers, the wounds can heal and eventually stay healed, even though reminders and scars will remain–and often we want them to.

My grief over breast cancer resurfaced a couple nights ago. My sister-in-law (and dear friend) came over to take some pictures of me before surgery. I have a project in mind and wanted some photos that depict my thoughts and feelings about losing what has long been part of me–my breasts. I wanted tasteful, nuanced photos that I can keep for myself and my family as reminders of where we’ve been on this journey.

I never dreamed it would be so painful. She prayed for me before we started, and we both wept. During the photography, we laughed, and we wept again. The pictures are exactly what I wanted them to be, but I don’t look at them. It’s too hard. There will be a day that I can look back at these photos with appreciation, glad that we took them. Today is not that day.

This latest cycle of grief is winding down, and I’m gaining ground. I know there is much more to come, but I know that the One who gave me life and created my soul will not let me be overtaken.

Friends in Low Places

It’s been a rough weekend. My “normal” lately has been constant mental and physical fatigue, but the last two days have brought things that have just been more than I can handle.

Small things have become big things, and big things have become bigger, thanks to my reduced tolerance for stuff that rocks my boat. Last night I apologized to my husband for my over-sensitivity, even while begging him to be so careful, so kind, so gentle. It’s not fair that he has to tiptoe, but none of this journey is about fairness, and I’m learning I have to guard myself in every way possible in order to survive.

It may appear to some that it shouldn’t be this hard yet, since I haven’t even started treatment. Some have responded to me as though they don’t really believe I’m fatigued and only functioning in low gear. It takes a lot of energy to fight cancer, and I’m told mine is the most aggressive of its type. I am my harshest critic, and I struggle to allow myself to rest. I tend to listen to the voices around me (real or imagined) and think that I should be able to buck up and do all that I am used to doing.

Then, I look at our last year. Two close family deaths. Two of our three sources of income quite literally taken from our hands, through no fault of our own. My major surgery in June. It’s been a rough haul. It’s no wonder that when I heard the cancer diagnosis, my body, mind, and soul all said “Nope. Can’t do one more thing.” and shut down.

Generally speaking, I’m doing okay with the cancer diagnosis itself. I truly am surrendered to whatever path God leads me down, confident that He has great things in store at the end of it–for me and for others. I am preparing myself for a rough winter, and most days I find joy and contentment in my life.

Every so often, though, everything comes rushing in and something reaches the core of my being and all of that comes crashing down. It’s like the old Garth Brooks song. I find myself with friends in low places. Grief, despair, fear, bitterness, anger all rush to make me comfortable there and beg me to stay.

And then, after I wallow a bit in my own muck, I am reminded that I have the greatest Friend of all–even in the low places, and He calls me up and out and back to LIFE.

Isaiah 40:29-31 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.

It’s a new day, and it’s going to be a good one.