Tomorrow is Oncology Day
Posted August 3, 2016on:
There hasn’t been much happening on the cancer front in the last two weeks. The official two-week healing period after the sentinel node biopsy ended on Monday, and I feel back to normal. I am allowed to lift heavy objects again, which allowed us to assemble my son’s new IKEA bed and mattress. We’ve also continued to explore London, including the gift of a ticket to see my first show–Jesus Christ Superstar in the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. What a joy!
I’ve been working hard at my new church, spending lots of time meeting with staff and church leaders to help me orient. There is so much I am excited to do here. After three weeks, I am finally starting to get a sense of what projects will need to come first, and how to go about doing them. It’s frustrating to be eager to dive in, but always held back by the knowledge that treatment is coming. I can’t quite plan or commit to anything for the fall yet, because I don’t yet know my treatment schedule or how I will feel as a result.
In some ways, I feel like I am in denial about the reality of chemo and surgery ahead. I just don’t spend much time thinking about it. There’s nothing I can do to speed it up, procrastinate about it, get around it, prepare for it, or avoid it. So, I am doing the things I can–working, building relationships, enjoying London and trying to unpack our boxes. Most hours of most days, I don’t think about the cancer at all. It’s not that I am ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there. I just don’t generally dwell on things I can’t act on. Most hours of most days, cancer isn’t something I can impact and it doesn’t impact me, other than adding the phrase “as long as my treatment doesn’t interfere” anytime I schedule anything for the next six months. Consequently, I don’t think about it.I feel great, I look fine, so I and the people around me can forget about the cancer.
Tomorrow, that changes. Tomorrow, at last, I meet with the oncologist. I am expecting (hoping!) that he or she will present me with a schedule for my chemotherapy for the next 4-6 months, along with a list of the drugs I will be taking, all of their side effects, and everything that is going to be unpleasant about the next year of my life. I expect it to be sobering, daunting and hard.
In many ways, I’m glad and grateful this day is finally here. The sooner I start treatment, the sooner I finish treatment. I am eager to get this over with. I want the cancer out of my system NOW. So far, everything I have done is diagnostic. I am looking forward to procedures that actually move toward healing.
In other ways, I’m terrified. Once this starts, there will be no denying that I am a cancer patient. When chemo leaves me tired and feeling lousy, there will be no escape. When I look in the mirror and see a bald head, I can’t pretend all is fine. When there is a port in my chest 24-7, there’s a constant reminder of the dangerous cells lurking in my body, and the equally dangerous chemicals fighting them.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself again. All I’ll get tomorrow is the schedule (at best–though I’ll volunteer to get my port put in if they’ll do it right away). The hair loss and sickness won’t come until the first treatment. I’m hopeful that, after tomorrow, there will be one more short respite before the storm, a few more free days before cancer is a part of every day.
I’m preaching this weekend about worrying. In Luke 12, Jesus speaks the famous words also found in the Sermon on the Mount about “consider the lilies of the field” and the “birds of the air” (though in Luke he calls out the ravens specifically). Jesus tells us that if God cares for birds and flowers, God will also care for us–which means we shouldn’t spend so much time and energy worrying about things. He says, “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Instead, strive for God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:25, 31)
I’m telling myself that maybe this denial is just faith, just following Jesus’ instructions to let go of worry and look only to God. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I could discover that it was really just denial after all. Whether it’s tomorrow or somewhere down the road, I expect to have lots of moments where worry and fear catch up and threaten to overtake me. I am trying to tell myself to “strive for God’s kingdom alone,” and let God and the doctors deal with the cancer. We’ll see how far that mantra goes once reality strikes, whether that is tomorrow or still some future day, when treatment interferes with my life, my schedule, my plans, my independence, my stomach, my hair, my energy, my courage.
I’m counting on you all to be there for me when that day comes, to point me back to God and striving for the kingdom again.