At the beginning…
That’s where I am… at the beginning of Round 2. Looking at the big picture, some might say I’m in the middle. Surgery was Round 1. Radiation is Round 2. Round 3 will be a medication taken for 5 years plus periodic scans. However, I’m taking this day by day. It’s a new challenge, and it’s just beginning.
I’m not sure why beginning 5 weeks of radiation treatments has been more difficult for me emotionally that going into surgery. I’m trying to remember the positives (and there are quite a few!).
a. The duration of treatment is only 5 weeks.
b. No chemo was necessary.
c. Surgery is already over. Round 1… check!
d. No surprises were found during surgery (other than the fact that there was a greater area of pre-cancerous cells than expected).
e. My family and I have had lots of support from our family, friends, and church family in the form of prayers, encouragement, cards and notes, meals, gifts, and offers of help.
f. My husband and children have been a wonderful help and encouragement in so many ways.
g. And, most importantly, I have had a lot of spiritual comfort and peace, knowing the Lord and enjoying His presence in my life and in every joy as well as in every difficulty, and knowing that I can trust in Him.
So, why am I struggling more emotionally with Round 2 than I did with Round 1?
That’s a good question. I’m trying to figure out what is going on inside my head and my heart. One of the best ways for me to sort things out is to write, so here I am. As I’ve been considering everything, here are some of the possibilities of thoughts that are running through my unconscious mind, sometimes bubbling up into a greater level of awareness and nibbling away at my peace of mind.
- I have found it impossible to dismiss my Dad and his almost 5 year cancer battle from my mind. I know how badly he was burned during his radiation treatments and the internal damage that was done, resulting in a major surgery involving two surgeons and representing two areas of specialty. Believe me, you don’t want to know any more than that. To say that the side effects of radiation for him were awful would be a gross understatement. Horrific would be more descriptive. Poor Dad.
- I am very fair skinned, like my Dad. I also have very sensitive skin. Plus, everyone I know who has had radiation and has actually shared any of the details about their experience was also quite burned.
- Since the recovery from my surgery lasted longer and was more difficult that I’d thought it would be, the thought of another period of not being at my best physically and another period of recovery is not exactly attractive.
- My family needs me to be healthy and functioning well, and I have just seen what results from several weeks of not being at my best. (I’m still trying to catch up, too!)
- I’d thought that taking a little break between surgery and radiation (because I’d be going into a new deductible year anyway and also wanted to continue to recover and to enjoy Christmas) was a good thing. And, it was a nice break. Now, however, it seems as though it’s given me more time to build up a mountain of dread. Reading the radiology release form (that lists all of the potential side effects of my treatments) before I signed it didn’t help. I knew about the common side effects like the burning and fatigue, but reading that rare side effects like heart damage are possible just increases the concern.
- Finally, one of the most difficult things about my recovery from surgery was not being able to tolerate wearing normal items of clothing, making it difficult to go anywhere and to cover up (as the only female in a house with 7 guys) without being uncomfortable or causing damage to areas that were healing. I am not looking forward to another experience like that.
In addition to the above concerns, today has been a disconcerting day. When I woke this morning, my right eyelid was very swollen and tender, although there are no signs of infection, no crustiness, or anything like a sty. It is still swollen and tender, and I am concerned because my vision in that eye is slightly affected and I have a genetic eye disease called Fuch’s Dystrophy that will likely require corneal transplants at some point in the future. However, I knew that my eye could not be the priority today. I had an appointment to get my tattoo dots that guide placement of the radiation so that I can begin treatments tomorrow.
For this pre-treatment scanning procedure, I had to lie on a table in a large room while the techs monitored from outside and a large machine plotted my radiation plan. I was told that parts of the machine would descend and come close to me but would not actually touch me. One large robotic type arm held a pizza shaped techie flying saucer, and another held an oversized cookie sheet object that looked like an x-ray screen. There was another arm with some other type of apparatus, but I didn’t get a good look at that one. I was supposed to keep my head turned to the right and not to move any part of my body at all. These machines and arms rotated around the table, clicking and whirring for quite some time. The table itself also moved, sometimes jerking to the side or sliding forward or back. I’m not sure how long I was on the table for this procedure, but I know that my appointment was at 1 p.m., and I didn’t leave the building until 2:30. It was a feeling of total surrender to lie with my neck and shoulders immobilized on the table by a built in form (I would definitely not call it a cushion). With my arms over my head, hands grasping two large pegs, legs supported by a “block” to help me keep them still, and head turned to the right, I was certainly not in control of the technology, the time, or the position. I’m also not in control of the results.
Later, at home, I looked at the irregular line and dotted lines drawn by the technicians to mark placement of the tattoo dots and I’m not sure what else. I have questions about these marks that I will ask tomorrow, just before my first treatment. I don’t know these people (radiation techs) at all, although I am sure that will change. And yet, I must trust them to know what they are doing. It truly is a helpless feeling, although I know that I am never alone. There is Someone who knows me well, and He will be with me through it all.
I am aware that sometimes I think about things too much, but that has not been the case this time. I’ve kept squashing down my concerns over the holidays, trying to convince myself that the optimism and faith which marked Round 1 would return when needed. However, deep inside, my overwhelming thought about radiation is, “I don’t want to do this!” (as though anyone would!). Failing to deal with my concerns has not made them disappear. They were put away for a time but still very much alive. However, now that all of my worries are not under the surface any more, I have recognized them. I have acknowledged their destructiveness (nibbling away at my peace). Most importantly, I have been honest with myself and with my God about how hard this is.
At the same time, I am constantly making perspective adjustments, remembering all of the positives that have already been mentioned concerning this situation. I am also quite aware that many many people in this world have pressing difficulties that are far more grave. I see my blessings in every area of life… spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally… and in terms of relationships and of needs met and the provision of abundance far surpassing the basics. I am very blessed!
So, if I continue to live in awareness of great blessing and in acknowledgement of God’s great faithfulness, why am I still struggling?
Simple. I can’t do this on my own. I’m human. I can’t turn off my brain. I’ve let those thoughts of all of the things that I cannot control build up over a period of time without dealing with them. Today, I acknowledged them. Now, it’s time to give them away. It’s time to do what Jesus said.
~ Matthew 11:28 – 29
Honestly, I didn’t realize until today that I’d been trying to carry these burdens and worries by myself. I just knew that I was having difficulty entering into Round 2 with the kind of positive, fighting spirit that I had in Round 1 and that I need for every day of my life. Acknowledgement of God’s faithfulness and quoting scripture promises to myself are both good things… but that’s not what I needed the most. I needed to see what I am fearful of and get honest about it. Next, I needed to tell it to my Heavenly Father and to give all of those things to the Lord. Then, I need to keep on giving them to Him anytime they bubble up in my mind. I don’t just need reminders of who He is and the truth of His word (although both are important). My greatest spiritual need is that I also need to spend more time in His presence, confronted with my own weakness and confessing my need for His strength. And here’s a beautiful promise for anyone who embraces thankfulness and lets go of fears (in His strength, made perfect in our weakness), giving both the blessings and the trials of our lives back to the Lord…
…6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~ Phillippians 4:6 – 7
The truth is that facing any major difficulty just feels like destruction and chaos. It brings us face to face with the fact that control over life’s circumstances is an illusion. However, in this circumstance and in everything that today brings and that the future holds, I am so thankful that I know the One whose power is greater that any destructive force. He has promised to bring order out of the chaos of this world and to work everything together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). There is purpose and there is an order to all of life that goes beyond what we can see right now.
In the story of the death of Lazarus and the miracle of the power of resurrection through Jesus Christ, Jesus said something very important. Just before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus responded to Mary’s concerns (found in the 11th chapter of John) with this statement,
“Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
The glory of God in death? In cancer, or surgery, or radiation? In loss, in illness, or in extreme difficulty?
Yes to all of the above… and yes to every possible circumstance.
That doesn’t always mean that we will see the resolution of any problem in exactly the way we would desire. It may be that I am indeed facing some physical difficulties that will be most unpleasant and be a challenging time for me and for my family. However, if I knew, for example, that this time period would produce in our six sons a new appreciation for the fragility of life, a greater depth of compassion and reliance upon the Lord, and stepping up to a new level of maturity, would I think differently about this temporary trial? Again… YES.
Right now, I don’t know what kind of fruit this journey will produce in my life or in anyone else’s life. But, I do know that there is purpose and there are spiritual lessons and stepping stones that will have an impact far beyond anything that I could ever dream. Because God is with me, He will cause this to work together for good… not just my good or my family’s good, but beyond… in ways that I can’t even imagine. All this has nothing to do with me but rather is all about God’s continual work in this world and His great love for mankind. And yet, again, there is a promise for those who endure trials (even though we are not doing so in our own strength).
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~ 2nd Corinthians 4:17
Eternal glory. Wow! That’s amazing! That’s the work of God.
Knowing these truths and knowing Him, being reminded that there is much more to everything in life than just our individual perspective or concerns, I feel so much better. One step at a time, God has walked me through my valley of worry to the place of His peace. The journey looked something like this:
The honest expression of internal turmoil
+ blessings appreciated
+ thankfulness expressed
+ truth applied
+ burdens shifted to the One who can really carry them
(and turn them into something beautiful… in His time)
= peace that surpasses understanding and goes beyond circumstances. *
* NOTE: This precious peace is renewable daily (moment by moment) through repeating the journey of recognizing God’s sovereignty and turning it all over to Him.
(The author’s recent practice of trying to push down worries with human knowledge of divine truth does not transfer the burden of worry to the appropriate and supreme Lifter of Burdens and is not recommended.)