It is so hard to believe that I’m pretty much at the the end of my cancer journey. I got my final treatment last Thursday. I have other appointments. I will get a heart scan and then see my oncologist in early December. I’ll make regular trips to the treatment center to get my port flushed until they finally decide to remove it. I guess that will be the true end of it all.
I’ll keep the port for a while, just in case a new problem arises. Lord willing, that won’t be an issue. But better safe than sorry. I’ll have a second mammogram on the breast that had the tumor some time early next year. I’ll see my doctors regularly for the next year or so, then, assuming nothing new pops up, I’ll be done with the cancer.
Of course, I’ll never be truly rid of it. I’ll spend the rest of my life feeling a bit like Damocles, always aware that there is a sword dangling overhead that could potentially drop at any moment. The difference, of course, is that unlike Damocles, I cannot simply choose to return to my carefree life. No cancer survivor can. Gosh, that sounds morbid, but I don’t mean for it to. I’m simply pointing out that a cancer diagnosis is always life altering. Once that diagnosis is made, things change forever. Or they do for most of us. Because even if the cancer itself never returns, there are other consequences of having beaten the disease. Like the damage that can be done by the treatments that might not show up until years later. It becomes something of a waiting game, always wondering if that sword is going to come crashing down one day when you least expect it.
The point, I suppose, is that we have to keep going forward in spite of the danger we might face down the road. I can’t just sit here and wait for the cancer to return or for my heart to fail or for any other frightening, unexpected, life-altering event. I have to live. I have to accept that things are different and always will be. I have to reject the part of me that is afraid of what might happen. It would be easy to live in fear. But I refuse to do it. Oh, I worry more now about little things. I mean, anything that “feels” wrong is enough to make me debate whether I need to talk to the doctor about it. Usually, I do. Because it would just be stupid not to. But I do not and will not let those concerns rule me.
God has given me freedom from the urge to worry or be afraid. To reject that freedom would be to reject Him. I won’t be foolish, ignoring possible problems, but neither will I let fears of what might (or might not) happen at some point in the future ruin today. I had cancer. It will take years – a decade – of not seeing it return before doctors will give me the title of “Cancer Free.” That’s a long way off. And those words don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things anyway. Because cancer doesn’t operate on anyone’s timetable. No matter how many times doctors and insurance companies tell us that we’re not at the age where we need to worry about it, there will still be women like me who get a diagnosis in their thirties – or even younger. There will be women like my mother-in-law who get diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that is generally considered a “man’s cancer.” There will be people who beat it and go for decades before it suddenly rears it’s ugly head once more. There will be children who barely begin to live before this damned disease takes their lives. And if it isn’t cancer, then it will be something else. Life just can’t be planned out like a business conference.
It is up to each of us to decide how we will live. Are we going to go through life with a massive chip on our shoulders, just daring God to knock it off? Or will we trust that He is always in control? That everything we experience, even the tragic, painful, or terrible things, are part of a grander plan that we cannot begin to see or understand? That’s the belief I choose. I cannot fathom how anyone could do otherwise. Life is not easy. As the cliche says, no one ever promised it would be a bed of roses. And even if they had, roses have thorns. It is our responsibility to grow and learn from every experience. Our responsibility to understand that the world does not revolve around us. We don’t have to understand everything. We don’t have to have the answers to every single question. We just have to keep moving forward, keep growing and learning and trusting. And if we can do that, I think most of us will find that life comes with much more laughter and love than tears and pain. Because peace doesn’t come from a lack of tribulation and storms, it comes from knowing that there is always a safe place in the heart of those storms. As one of my favorite expressions says, “God doesn’t always quiet the storm, sometimes He quiets His child.” Jesus said, “peace, be still” to the wind and waves, but He said it to us, too. Sometimes we just have to obey and let the waves and wind rage on around us.