Last time I wrote I had just began the descent down the large mountain I was required to climb- an ascent that took me 6 months to accomplish, and it will probably take me at least that long to descend. So I guess I am to keep writing until my feet touch stable ground again or I run out of breath?
Since my last writing I have had my 31st birthday. In some ways I feel so old….and in others still too young to have cancer. But I am reminded through a devotional a sister sent today: “Where I see pain, God sees the birth pangs of holiness. Where I see injustice, God sees eternal rewards. Where I see weakness, God sees an opportunity to impart His strength. Where I see defeat, God sees surrender. Where I see a baby in a manger, God sees a King on a rescue mission. I may not understand His ways, but I can never question the heart of a God who is willing to go from a King in heaven – to a baby in a manger – to a criminal on a cross – all for me.” How glorious the Christmas season always is. It’s my second favorite time of the year- only second to Easter.
A few days after my last writing my surgery-site infection proved itself. Although I had two ultrasounds and went through a rather grim investigation with a needle larger than Al’s ever seen in his life, the doctor continued to assure me that there was no fluid present in the infection. If fluid were present it would have to be drained, or else it would not heal. And after two weeks on antibiotics with no response, I was beginning to wonder. Well, the Thursday night before we were to leave for our cruise through the Caribbean, my suspicions were confirmed. As I was sleeping my incision line opened just enough to let out the fluid that was causing the infection- and it poured and poured out. I was not only amazed, but relieved. I could only imagine if that had happened on the plane or the ship! So Friday morning I called just to let the doctor know that there was fluid in there after all. He immediately wanted to see me. I was worried about that because up until the day before, I wasn’t even sure if he would approve of me going on the cruise. We were all taking my healing a day at a time. So Al and I went in to see Dr. Sales again. Dr. Sales’ solution to the problem was to force his gloved finger through the tiny hole to make it large enough to get his suture removal tools in there so he could remove the internal sutures (if that makes you squirm, don’t worry- that severed nerve in my armpit guaranteed I had no feeling through all of this). Dr. Sales did his work and ended up revealing a cavity with an opening about as large as the space between your index finger and your thumb if you touched the tips of them together (go ahead- try it). The “hole” as we affectionately call it, was about an index finger’s depth and it ran almost parallel to my scar line. I thought for sure Al would get queasy, but he watched intently with his only comment of “oh, interesting”. Dr. Sales showed Al how to pack the hole, and gave specific instructions. He said he did not want to be the one to tell me I could not go on the trip- so I got a green (well maybe yellow) light to go. But I could not get wet in the ocean with an open wound- that was certain. The hole is about half healed now. I can’t start radiation until it is totally healed. The whole thing sounds a little weird and gross, and I guess it kinda is. But, we also laughed our way through it, and even the doctor and nurses were joking about Dr. stuffing a turkey as he was doing his thing. Humor is sometimes the only thing we have left……..
So Al and I set out to cruise the Caribbean on a week long journey sponsored by my parents. Al’s Mom stayed with the kids. We were fortunate enough to get a cabin with a balcony on the ship, and we saw all kinds of ocean creatures: flying fish, a brilliantly blue Marlin, a huge sea turtle, a couple of sea snakes, and even a pod of dolphins. That in itself was a once-in-a-lifetime kinda experience. Caring for my hole was a twice a day task…and one that was not easy to manage on a ship in the middle of the Caribbean. But we did it- and by the grace of God managed to do it with laughter. We went on shore excursions at every port, and of course I had to exclude myself from the ocean activities. I did climb on Al’s back as he carried me to a spot where the water was only waist deep on a sandbar off the coast of Grand Cayman. We, along with 100 or so other tourists, got to touch and feed the stingrays that hang out there. That was pretty neat. But the ocean swells were getting bigger and bigger and I was losing my balance. I was afraid the hole would get wet, so I had to get back on the boat pretty quick. Even watching those stingrays was amazing. The females are 2-3 times larger than the males. It’s interesting that the same pattern can be seen throughout nature- and that the same dance of mating/relating runs across species. I once had a biological (Darwinist) behaviorist/ psychologist as a professor for an undergraduate experimental psychology class. What a load of crap he taught! But how often I have thought of him and his beliefs since then……….
So I think Al and I had a good time. We sure did shoot a bunch of rolls of film. My body got real tired and I had a hard time keeping up. We would start out at the front of the tour and somehow always ended up in the back. But the most important thing is that I did it! And I didn’t gain any weight on the cruise- I think the daily activity kept my metabolism confused. Al enjoyed snorkeling in the 2nd largest reef in the world. And we got to visit Hell in Grand Cayman. We also saw Mayan ruins at Tulum and outside of Costa Maya. The ship was nice. The ocean was awesome! It was neat to watch the water from our balcony and to contemplate the parallels with my own emotional journey. We saw rough waters and calm waters. And we didn’t get sea sick. We met a comedian (David Naster) who performed on the ship. He did a workshop of the importance of laughter during difficult times, and he touched on illness several times. He likes to tell humorous stories that people dealing with cancer have shared first-hand. I definitely have some stories to send him…..
Not that I’ve laughed my way through this. But I’d say we’ve had an equal share of laughing and crying. The weirdest thing has been watching other people go through cancer. They talk about how it has changed them for the better- how much richer life is. For the most part I still inhale my food without tasting it. I have thought the thoughts dozens of times, “what if this is my last day on earth?” But my actions don’t change. I guess that’s why I need Jesus so much. And yet….this journey hasn’t been in vain. It has changed me. I don’t exactly know how, but it has. I’ve been wondering a lot lately why I am not more excited, why I am not downright hysterically ecstatic, when I share with people that there was no evidence of live cancer in my body. It’s not that I am not grateful. It’s not that I’m not relieved………
I had two epiphanies this past week. The first came in a quiet time with God. He brought me to a place of trust and surrender through this journey (even if that meant death). And although medical science and men’s knowledge aided me in my journey, my life is still ultimately in His hands. And so my solemness is not a lack of praise to God, but rather a continued (yir’ah) reverence of God. He wounds, but He also heals (Deuteronomy 32:39, Job 5:18, Hosea 6:1). Do we rejoice in one and not the other? Is His glory or purpose to be praised more in one than the other? Yes…..I am happy….relieved….blessed. But still to Him be all glory and honor. The second epiphany came as we watched Lord of the Rings: Return of the Kings. If you haven’t seen it yet, be forewarned that it is a much deeper and emotionally rich film than the previous two. Anyway, there is a scene when Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are sitting at a table back at The Shire. After everything is said and done, they have climbed mountains, faced death, gone through mistrust and back again to loyalty, they are all four staring at one another eye-to-eye, back in the cozy and festive community of The Shire. There are no words between them, yet in their gaze you sense their predicament- we have been gone over a year, we have seen things in that year that these merry neighbors of ours will probably never see in their lifetimes, we have seen things perhaps even unutterable, and although our task is completed and the world saved, we have been forever changed. Do these people around us, who have gone about their life as usual this past year, know and understand the magnitude of all of this? Can they appreciate our need to sit and contemplate and understand that we can’t start dancing on the tables just yet? And after this long pause of wordless reflection, the Hobbits raise their mugs and toast to their unity and friendship. I feel like I imagine Frodo must have felt when he returned to The Shire. Happy. Relieved. But forever and deeply changed….even to a point when it cannot be put into words.
Now that I am heading back down, the sun is behind me, casting my shadow in front of me. At least the shadow isn’t behind me, chasing me up that hill. But as is common with cancer survivors who enter remission, every little ache and bodily change will be viewed with suspicion as a symptom the cancer has returned. On our trip we learned that the philosophy of the people in Jamaica is that “no one is promised tomorrow”. I have learned that firsthand. And yet Bob Marley, the country’s musical icon, died of cancer. So I am sure I will remain very aware of the shadow in front of me, and I can only hope that I am not called to turn back up that mountain. But even if I am…….I am fully confident that God will give me everything I need to do that.
So I don’t know- this Christmas seems odd in ways. We didn’t have time to put up the full Christmas decorum, but we got the essentials- the tree and stockings. Presents spill out from under the tree, as they usually do. And we plan to attend Christmas Eve services, as is tradition. It’s been a wonderful time of reflection and admiration for the Christ child. So all of that has not really changed. But something seems odd- not really missing- not really out of place. Just odd………
We hope that your Christmas is blessed and that Jesus is the center of all your festivities this week and the rest of the year.
In His Love~
P.S. While I was typing this there was an earthquake in San Simeon. We here in Bakersfield definitely felt it! Me and the kids were home. Al was in Northridge. He was at a red light and also felt it- thought it was the wind at first. We had our ceiling fans, pictures, hanging plants, window blinds, etc. noticeably rock back and forth for several seconds.