We all have them. Our life stories are made up of them. Segments and seasons of our journeys adequately chronicled and punctuated, each ending half-way down a blank page, indicating to us and to the reader that another segue is about to begin. Not that what has been written up to this point doesn’t spill over into the next chapter; life certainly spills over. Rather we live with the understanding that some seasons must find their ending before a new one can find its beginning. Such is the case with my cancer. Yesterday both marked an ending of one chapter and the beginning of another one.
Yesterday, I made a final visit to my surgical oncologist, Dr. Habal, in Greenville. The evening prior, I made two honeybun cakes to deliver to him and the wonderful staff that supports him in his work. I also wrote a card, expressing to them my grateful thanks for their taking good care of me in this portion of my journey. For answering every phone call with energy, time, and grace. For handing me a tissue when need be. For being pleasant at every turn. For treating me as a person, not as a paycheck. For making sure that my “bad news” was delivered and processed in a good way, and mostly, for being willing to laugh at my jokes, cry at my words, and hug me as I left. Before my visit was over, I’d met everyone in that office, making sure to tell each one of them that, “What you do here matters. Every good and kind gesture is a gift you give to a family who has, possibly, just been given the worst news of their lives. Keep doing it; you do it so well.”
They thanked me, most of them through tears, and I felt incredibly blessed for having had this heart intersection—mine with theirs. I won’t return to their practice for another five months. In the meantime, I’ll begin living the next chapter of my cancer journey a little closer to home.
Introduce Dr. Bakri and the medical oncology team at Cape Fear Valley Regional Hospital. Over the next 4-5 months, I’ll be spending some time in their care as they manage my chemotherapy regimen. And while I am completely satisfied that my care will be given high priority and consideration, the “climate” in that place is a departure from the “climate” of Dr. Habal’s. It feels more clinical… more distant… more programmed… less warm. Perhaps it was the chemo chairs I saw lining a dimly lit wall; perhaps the patients bravely inhabiting those chairs. Maybe it was the dated wallpaper or tiled floors that added to my angst. Maybe it was the sobering reality that came from an hour plus discussion with Dr. Bakri—a reality that says “This is far from over and that reoccurrence is a strong possibility without treatment, 1/3 lesser with treatment.”
Reoccurrence. I hadn’t thought much about that. What I had previously thought was a relatively “done deal” (and naively so) is far from done, and the idea of having to undergo further needle pricks, stomach sickness, losing my hair in addition to losing my breasts—well, all was overwhelming. Rather than leaving that place with thankful tears and hugs all around, I left with my own tears of sadness and with a single man at my side who was feeling his own depth of pain.
My next chapter. I don’t much feel like baking a honeybun cake for anyone at this point, at least not yet. I imagine that once the mystery of it all unfolds, and I am a bit more comfortable in my taking up residency in one of those chairs, my heart will relax, opening up again to love and to invest in the hearts of those who sit beside me and those who are given charge over me. It takes a few pages to get into the meat of a new chapter. I’ll not write this one off yet, nor am I afforded the luxury of skipping it. Instead, I’ll plow through it, one word at a time… one sentence after another, one page at a time, until I see that ending half-page come into focus, indicating to me that another segue stands on the horizon. By the time I reach this chapter’s end, I pray that, like my fondness for the chapter titled Dr. Habal, I’ll have a similar fondness for Dr. Bakri.
To get there… to arrive at fondness…I understand that it’s mostly up to me. To my deliberate investment on the front end and along the way. To actively seeking out opportunities to interject God’s kingdom witness into my new environment, be it something as small as a smile or something as big as a conversation. Acceptance of a new chapter in my personal journey goes a long way toward making it matter… toward having it make sense. It’s the same with all of us.
Many of you are standing on the threshold of unimaginable change:
Physical change of address.
Death of a loved one.
Kids leaving home for the first time.
Caring for ailing parents.
Caring for an ailing spouse.
New ministry opportunity.
A new chapter is about to commence and, perhaps, like me, you’re having a hard time seeing past all the words, punctuation, and paragraphs that fill the upcoming pages. You want it to make sense, want to love it and claim it, live it and name it. But you can’t… not yet.
But you will… very soon. And if you’re intentional about investing yourself into the mix on the front side of the chapter, then you can be certain that when the chapter finishes, you will have lived it like you meant it. You will have done the hard thing of being engaged with your life—every letter, word, sentence, and paragraph. I imagine that some of the pages will live pretty “hard” for us. We won’t always feel like honeybun cakes and hugs and smiles. With every chapter comes a twist or two, a turn—an unexpected “reality” in the middle of daily expectations. I’ve had an ample tasting of the unexpected in recent days. But I’ve also tasted ample portions of something else…
Tons of grace, peace, joy, laughter, love, acceptance, sacred understanding, and a rich intimacy with God, family, friend, and stranger alike. These have been the blessings of my cancer thus far. And while I might have chosen for them to come to me via another route, I’m not sure if an easier avenue would have granted me enough desire to be as deliberate with regards to my investing. Pain and suffering have a way of bringing sacred desire to the forefront of our intentions. Pain can cultivate Godly perspective, and while I don’t believe for a second that God has allowed me this pain out of some desire to punish me or to get me in line with his will, I do believe that he can use this pain to shape me in order to influence those who will cross my cancer path in the days to come.
My next chapter. It has begun. It will continue for a season, and for as long as the Lord allows the ink to write, I’ll make sure to keep you updated… a few pages at a time. May the chapter you’re about to finish and the one you’re about to begin be filled with heavenly perspective and perfect Peace, Jesus Christ.
What you do here matters. Keep doing it; you do it so well! As always…
Peace for the journey,
Peace for the journey,
I have a confession to make… an honest, writer’s confession to bring to the table before one thought is brought to you this morning:
I have a lot I want to say; I just don’t have the words to say it.
They got lost somewhere in the middle of my night… somewhere between my Percocet and my pain, reminding me, yet again, that there isn’t a perfect guidebook regarding how this “thing” is going to go—how this cancer is going to unfold for me on a personal level. I’m five days post-op; still and yet, it doesn’t seem real. Instead, it seems as if I’m standing on the outer edges of my life looking in. As if I’m on the perimeter watching the drama unfold while others are meandering in and out of the scenes of my life with little notice of my side-line status.
I am the lead participant in my cancer, and yet I seem to prefer the shadows of it all—the “behind the scenes,” balcony approach to living it. To watching from the director’s chair, yet knowing that what is required of me is my “down below”—the getting my hands dirty and being willing to engage with every angle of the drama. And it’s frustrating… exceedingly frustrating because today all I want to do is to crawl away from it and live differently. Today I want to live without the reality of:
Drain tubes to empty.
Pain to manage.
Body odor to disguise.
Expectations to meet.
Uncertainties to ponder.
Decisions to be made.
The emotions of others with which to contend.
Today, I want a different option on the table… one that doesn’t require so much of me. One that is content to let me “sit this one out” while others do the hard work of recovery.
I imagine that there are a few of you who understand these feelings… those of you who, for whatever reasons, are living the harsh ramifications of your current realities. Those of you who, like me, want to crawl away from your “disease” and live with your pain in isolation. You may not be living with a diagnosis of cancer, but there are other malignancies that are eating away at your flesh—your heart, mind, and soul. What is happening to you on your “inside” is far worse than what is eating away at your exterior, and you’d like another option on your table for consideration.
I understand. I also realize that with each malignancy comes hard work. There is no “sitting this one out” where cancer is concerned. A life diagnosed (whether with cancer or with a less-clarified disease of the heart) is a life thrust into the limelight, and for our scenes to end with understanding, you and I must be willing to take to the stage, to read our lines through, and to act our part. We must fully live our stories and allow our stories to fully live through us. Should we live otherwise, then we live less. We finish with less.
Less understanding. Less joy. Less faith. Less laughter. Less hope. Less peace.
An outer-edge approach to today’s living isn’t in keeping with God’s perspective. Certainly, there will be seasons when we need to pull back, to investigate our heart’s pulse, and to assess our personal level of involvement with the day’s activities. Today is one of those days for me. But when it comes to assigning our “diagnosis” to someone seemingly more qualified—to relinquishing the hard work that has been entrusted to us to someone else’s guardianship—we must proceed carefully, deliberately, and full of caution. Why?
Because there are some diagnoses that best belong to each one of us. Some that we will be better able to live and breathe and have victory over than others. What’s eating you may not be what’s eating me, but I imagine that the contingencies of your particular disease are better handled by you than me. And maybe, just maybe, drain tubes are more in keeping with what I’m better able to handle today than you.
We are, each one, the lead participant in our stories. No one lives you better than you. No one lives me better than me. And I’m just thinking (perhaps not as coherently as I would like) that maybe the kingdom would be best served by our willingness to live within those personal boundaries rather than wishing for someone else’s. That maybe what happens in you and through you today (because of God’s grace and only his grace) will far exceed what could happen in me and through me should I be allowed a similar walk in your shoes.
Who can fathom the depths of our Father’s wisdom? The breadth of his understanding? The willingness of his heart to entrust his children with so much? This is a mysterious path of generous grace we’re traveling, and while I may not want to live with the reality of my cancer today, I want to live today with the reality of God’s generous grace. That’s the only option on the table worthy of any trade I might make. The only option capable of generating enough kingdom perspective in me so that I might willingly embrace my story—
Cancer and all.
Keep to it, friends. Keep to your story of grace, your malignancies, God’s diagnoses therein, and his healing. It’s likely to “wear” a little worse before it wears better, but in the end, you won’t have to wonder if the hard work was worth it. On the backside of your healing, you will live the fruition of your front-side investment, and it will live excellently. Live perfectly. Live in accordance with a kingdom joy and beauty that far exceeds what your mind and heart can currently conceive. As always…
Peace for the journey,