I can remember sitting in a college class devoted to the study of Shakespeare. For weeks, we read the numbered sonnets, dissecting every image and metaphor crammed into each fourteen line poem written in iambic pentameter. When we finished, the professor calmly closed his textbook and said in his matter-of-fact way, “Basically, Shakespeare wrote these as a study of time.” I’m not sure why I remembered that so many years later, but it serves as a reminder that time certainly is of universal importance, particularly if you wonder if yours is limited….Or if you have to wait for something.
I certainly have come to understand how the medical establishment works. The best doctors have the heaviest patient loads, which means their staff is constantly processing test results and charting medical records. My urgency to know what my scan showed didn’t necessarily move me to the top of the list. I am just another name on a stack of folders. I gave myself the lecture about patience. Besides, as I have also learned, a call to come in before the appointed time is rarely encouraging. It means that treatment needs to begin right away because something has been found. No news is often good news. But there is a fear that feeds on poor waiting.
And so, when the phone rang only three days after my date with the PET machine, I was terrified to hear the voice of my doctor’s assistant, his best nurse, on the other end of the line. I tried to remain calm as we exchanged pleasantries.
“I didn’t want you to have to wait,” she said. “I got your results.”
“And?” I asked, holding my breath. My mind reeled with the possibilities as I whispered one last plea to God. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest.
“Your scan is clean. There is no evidence of disease.”
“None?” I stammered.
“None. You are currently cancer free.”
Suddenly, as though the dam had been breached, and I was no longer able to hold back the emotion, I cried... not the pretty crying like in the movies, where a lone droplet rolls down the cheek. No, I burst into tears, which temporarily left me speechless.
“I am so happy for you,” she said, loud enough for me to hear her over my sobbing. “It is always so great to deliver good news.”
“So grateful,” I managed to say. “Please thank my doctor for me.”
“I certainly will. And we look forward to giving you a copy of the report when we see you in two weeks. In the meantime. Go celebrate.”
“Thanks. Yes, it is time to celebrate.”
I sat for a long while, staring at the phone, trying to process it all. Like a man who had been strapped to the electric chair, and at last minute issued a pardon, I had been given a chance to live again, permission to exhale. After two years of illness, thirteen months of treatment and testing, I was healthy, restored in large part to where I once was. The implications of that were enormous. I was overcome with gratitude, relief, and wonder. My cup runneth over with joy.
I have been thinking a lot about what I want to say here about this disease. Scientists have spent a great deal of time and money analyzing the biological and chemical makeup of the illness we have labeled as cancer. It is a crafty devil. The abnormal cells replicate quickly, gobbling up the normal cells in the process of fueling their growth. When a taxed immune system can’t keep them in check, they take over, eventually causing failure of major systems in the body. I know that's a bit simplistic, but essentially it works that way.
Cancer is the ultimate wake-up call, the body’s way of telling you that something in your life is killing you, and you had better pay attention or the consequences will be grave. Perhaps it is divine intervention, a “God slap,” which forces you to stop and look at how you have treated yourself and your body so that you can adjust accordingly.
Let’s face it: we have all had experiences that cause us to stop and reset, opportunities to learn and change our behavior. Having cancer has done that for me. It has taught me to honor and love myself, to appreciate the miracle which is my body, the vessel for my soul. It has helped me to see that everything I eat or drink or breathe or touch has a direct effect upon my health. I have learned that stress is lethal, especially if it is chronic and ongoing. I have learned about affection and loyalty and friendship and strength. Cancer has allowed me to see myself as a spirit, first and foremost, a beloved child of The Father. Sheathed in a holy armor worn into battle, I have developed a greater understanding of who I am and what I believe. I have grown in my relationship with The Almighty. For this has been the most difficult, the most painful, the most challenging, and the most magnificent year of my life. And I am grateful for the transformative power of this journey from darkness into light.
Yes indeed, last night we celebrated. We went out on the boat, across the lake to a nearby restaurant. I had wine, a treat I hadn’t allowed myself to enjoy for over a year. My friend spotted someone she knew and introduced us, adding that we were having a little party to commemorate my good health report.
“Praise the Lord,” the woman said, outstretching her hand as she reached for mine.
“Absolutely,” I replied.
I thought of this for a moment. Nobody says “praise the doctors or praise the chemo meds” when they hear of such news. They proclaim God’s goodness. And perhaps that is why He manifests such miracles in our lives, to show us that He is real and kind and present, to give us an opportunity to share His love as we have experienced it. We are, always, witnesses. Divine ambassadors.
We pulled the boat up to the dock right at sunset. The sky turned orange and gold, a reminder of just how beautiful this world truly is. I stopped for a second to take it all in. Life has suddenly become about moments, and the simple ones are the most meaningful. Nearby, a young woman sat on a bucket, her fishing line dangling in the water.
“Wow. How could you have been in a boat and not have your hair mess up? It looks great.”
I laughed. It was the kind of thing one woman might say to another. “That’s because it’s a wig. I was in cancer treatment and lost it all. What I have is growing back mighty funny.”
“Oh,” she said, taken aback and obviously embarrassed, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” I said. “Got the phone call today. I am cancer free.”