Since being blindsided by my cancer diagnosis, I have had a hard time taking pleasure in anything. There is a big, black shadow coloring everything I think and feel and say and do. I really struggle with it, because it’s so unlike me. I’m generally an optimistic, happy person full of faith that everything is going to be alright.
Or I guess that’s the kind of person I used to be, because I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again.
Things have actually been going well for me this month. A freelance writing job I have been pursuing for half a year finally came to fruition, and another part-time, from home job was dropped into my lap unexpectedly by a sweet friend.
My kids are doing well at school , both academically and socially, they’re happy. My daughter is taking aerial dance classes (one of those things I wish had existed when I was a kid!) my son has finally found a sport he loves in tennis. On Mondays I take them both to their classes and then visit the library.
Our public library is exceptional, my kids went to all their weekly story time groups for years and I’m in there once a week checking out books for all three of us (I have a huge canvas tote that reads Bookbunny on it, because I am not a worm) that I lug in and out filled with books on each visit) so it’s kind of like a nerdy version of Cheers for me. Everyone there knows my name.
Last week after I unloaded all our returns, gathered up all our holds and some new books for the kids, I went back to get my daughter from the aerial dance studio. We had a thirty minute wait at tennis, so we went upstairs in the clubhouse and played with the resident cat. I refuse to ask her real name because we call her Fuzzy Dunlop. If you’re going to have a cat at a tennis club, that should be the cat’s name. I really don’t want to know what it actually is.
It was nice and cool (by Florida standards) as we were sitting on the balcony, petting the cat, watching my boy play tennis as the sky turned pink from the setting sun. I thought, you know everything would be coming up roses, if I didn’t have freakin’ cancer.
My kids have a great life. I mean seriously. They have a sibling, they have a wonderful dad, they have a nice home, with their own rooms and a playroom full of toys. They’ve lived in the same house essentially their whole lives (we moved in two months before my son’s first birthday) and we live near some of the prettiest beaches in the country. They have friends they have known since they were babies. They go to one of the best charter schools in the US, and they will be in the same close-knit school system until they graduate. They’re known and loved by the children’s ministry staff at two different churches. I work from home so I am always there for them when they’re out of school. They don’t even have to take the bus. We spend all summer going to the pool and the lake and the beach and I work around our summer fun schedule.
I’ve labored so hard to craft this life for them. I have succeeded in giving them the life I wanted. They are so secure and so confident. They’ve got the stability I always craved, when I was growing up with a single mom, moving every year, always being the new kid, sometimes coming home to an empty house after school. I’m not perfect, they bicker and snipe at each other constantly and I lose my temper, I have to nag them about the same things all the time, they each have their ways of pushing my buttons and making me lose my cool…but their life is safe. They always know what is coming. They are so sure of their world and their place in it.
The Fear Within
And I am terrified that cancer is going to drop a big cussing nuclear bomb on that certainty.
No matter how much effort I put into creating it, cancer could obliterate it. Just knowing that if my Oncotype score comes back intermediate or high and I have to have chemo, they’re not going to be able to be protected from the reality of what’s going on. I am not going to be able to fake my way through the side effects, the hair loss, the nausea, losing fingernails, rashes, exhaustion…I mean, leaving aside the possibility of dying for right now (because the awfulness of that is too vast and horrifying to even look at from the corner of my eye) my mortality is going to suddenly come into question. At their age, or any age when they’re still dependent on me, that is just not fair. And I am powerless over it.
I feel guilty that my faith is not sustaining me more right now. This situation is what faith is for, right? It’s to give people comfort and strength and hope in times of trouble. I have had faith and hope through horrible, trying times, I have prayed my way through so many storms, and clung onto Jesus as my strength and my refuge. But right now I feel adrift, tossed and tumbled by the waves.
And that makes me feel like a very poor example indeed. I don’t know what to do about it either, aside from continue to rely on all the wonderful people who are praying for me and keep believing that even if I can’t feel the Lord, that doesn’t mean He’s not right here holding me up.
She Was With Me
When I was 8, I almost drowned. My mother and I were in a whitewater rafting accident, there were record breaking rapids on the American river that day, they closed the river to rafters 30 minutes after we set off. Near the end of the course, we went down a curved rocky slope with water rushing over it, and the raft flipped. My mom’s boyfriend had the presence of mind to jump free, so it was the two of us stuck under a raft, which had a very heavy wooden frame and full cooler strapped onto it.
I didn’t even know she was with me though. I was so frightened, it was dark and I thought I was alone. Every time I bobbed to the surface and opened my mouth to scream for help, the current would smack my head against the wooden frame, and suck me back under. Over and over again, my head would surface in the hot darkness under the raft, I would open my mouth and get out “HEL-” then whack against the wood again until I finally passed out.
(Honestly, I kind of feel like life has been doing that to us. Every time we think we’ve got our heads above water, something else smacks into us and sucks us down)
When I came to, I was on the sand next to the river with my mom and she told me she’d grabbed me by the ends of my hair as I’d floated by her unconscious, and just reeled me in, wrapping my hair around her hand as she fought the current to get me back.
When I told her I’d been under the raft trying to scream for help and that I’d thought I was totally by myself, she started crying because she’d been there. It broke her heart that I thought I was alone, she said “Oh no, my sweet little girl, I was there with you, holding you the whole time.” I couldn’t feel her through the life jacket. I couldn’t feel her. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t there.
And So Is He
It’s that of which I need to remind myself of now. That certainty that I was alone when I wasn’t. When I feel hopeless and scared, and like God is not in charge just because I can’t feel His presence. That doesn’t mean He’s not there.
There have been times when I knew I was so wrapped up in Jesus’ arms, or so held gently in the palm of God’s hand it was an actual physical sensation. I felt the total blessed assurance of God’s love and God’s goodness and God’s direction in my life.
Now is not one of those times, so this is always something I try to remember.
Even if I feel apart from God, I’m not.
Even if I feel hopeless, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope.
My feelings are not the facts.
That said, there have been quite a few hard times in my life when people said
“You’re strong, you’ll get through this.”
And even though they meant well, it was an expression that always rankled me because of course I’d get through it. My mom dying, my husband being deployed, ugly, baseless high school rumors, bullying, miscarriage, being laid off, being suspended from college in my senior year, losing friends to senseless tragedies, all manner of personal crises, these are all things that you get through, because you don’t have a choice. Not getting through them would be dying and obviously I wasn’t going to die from any of those things.
But now? People still mean well, and people still say
“You’re strong, you’ll get through this.”
But it’s cancer…there’s no of course about it. I might. That’s the best we can say. Strong or not. I could be the strongest bravest bunnygirl in the world. But getting through this? Eh. It’s only a maybe. And that’s what really scares me.
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