People try to make me a fixed star, but I am a wandering planet.
-from the movie Luther
Hearing that Jennifer Arnold has a rare cancer brings back all kinds of emotions. I too had that rare cancer. I was stage 3 Choriocarcinoma. When people ask what type of cancer I had and I tell them I usually get a blank stare. They’ve never heard of it. It’s scary having something no one has heard of. I remember thinking: why can’t I just have a normal cancer? As if cancer were normal. This is why I’m glad no one can read my mind. I’m praying for Jennifer and her family. Praying for her healing.
Going through old photos recently has been like looking at someone else’s life. Except it’s mine. I have no other story except this one. I am not the same person I was before. A pastor at my church has asked me to give a testimony on Christmas Eve and I’ve accepted…
[insert heart palpitations and nausea here]
Part of me wants to say no. I go back and forth about it every day. I’m scared to do it. I keep thinking of nightmare scenarios…like what if I say the word douche accidentally? Or what if I do my really ugly cry and can’t stop? I cried through a meeting the other day at church! Who does that!?
In thinking about what my testimony should be I’ve been thinking about what’s changed in me. I mean there’s the obvious….I went from girly to boy-ly. The rest….well, I’m struggling with how to put it into words.
It’s hard to pinpoint what changed and when. It’s like staging when I step back and look at it all:
“B.C.” Before Cancer: I was a happy person before cancer. I was motivated and hard working. If I work hard enough, everything will be perfect…one day.
Surgery Trauma: Suddenly I was thrown into the world of cancer. I thought I was pregnant. I don’t think cancer should result from the thought of pregnancy. It’s like taking the hope of the world and then turning it into doomsday. They were just going to go in with a camera and look around. I went under anesthesia and I woke up in ICU, looking all ragged and with someone else’s blood. Kind of like Frankenstein. The whole idea of “looking around” was all false advertising.
Chemotherapy: I started chemotherapy before I’d even had a chance to comprehend what had happened. And for the first time, I found that I had physical limits. I was forced to stop. I was reduced to accepting help. Pride goeth after a fall sometimes.
New Chemotherapy: The first line of chemotherapy was unsuccessful. So a second line started. I think that’s about the time I just stopped caring what they did to me. It seemed much easier to just surrender. I just found myself praying: Dear God, just don’t make it too painful.
Bald: With no hair, I was reduced to the most basic, barest human form. There was no hiding. There was no vanity. Everything was suddenly simplified.
Stillness: Forced to be still, I could see the world swirling around me in its frenetic pace. As I sat on the sidelines something was slowly dying inside of me: old wants, old needs, old attitudes, old habits. Something had to die inside for something new to have a clearing to grow and thrive.
On Steroids: Sometimes I prayed for “up” days where I would have a burst of energy, to return to my own frantic life. Steroids helped. Sometimes I went overboard and paid for it for days after. What I’ve learned: frantic & busy = ego issues.
New New Chemotherapy: And then the third line of chemotherapy. A last resort. It fried my brain. Some days I would gain 4 pounds of toxic fluid. I might as well have had electro-shock treatment. Maybe I needed it, because finally my mind was starting to catch up with my heart. Only I don’t fully know when my heart changed. I think I may have had a heart transplant, scratch that….multiple heart transplants. (Who knows…..there was that one incorrect report that said I had a lung removed.) Observation: If I met myself on the street in that last photo I’d run the other way.
Magnitude: In the quiet humming of a CT machine, I came to the conclusion that God does not cause suffering, but he uses it to reach us. I made new friends in the other patients. Many of them didn’t make it. A woman contacted me to tell me her aunt woke up from a coma and one of the first things she asked was how I was doing. She passed away soon afterwards. I found myself crying in the shower at the magnitude of it all.
Mercy: And then suddenly, out of the blue, there was mercy. Some say science. I say God. And then I began slowly moving back towards strength. But I still ached over the pain I saw in others.
Healing: I found myself increasingly unguarded. It’s easier than you might think when you are reduced in size, ego, vanity, and pride. I found more and more things increasingly petty.
I surrendered to a simpler life, only it didn’t feel like surrender. It felt kind of awesome. Little things became big things. I found God everywhere.
And God was like: yay, finally, you noticed.
A New Normal: Every day became another day. I became grateful for the opportunity to attend doctor appointments. Some people no longer had that chance. I found myself overwhelmed with thankfulness.
Today: I’m still here. And I’m grateful. And I still cry in the shower at the magnitude of it all. It’s not a sad cry it’s more of a this-is-huge cry.
I’m not the same person I was before. I was emptied out and filled back up. Only I wasn’t filled up all the way. And that little bit of emptiness is good to have. It makes me a voracious reader and observer. I’m constantly looking. I’m always wandering. I’ve always wondered where I fit in, but maybe my purpose isn’t to fit in. Now I’m just more open to listening to where I’m supposed to wander.
“Oh God, give me more moments like this – moments where I am fully present to you and to other in love. Moments when I am connected with what is purest and most authentic within me and able to respond to your presence in that place. I want to live my life in such a way that there is more of this!”
–Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms
Oh, and about that public speaking thing. Yeah I’m still nauseous. If I could clone myself I’d make the clone do it. I opened up my new Guideposts this afternoon and the first article I came to was called “My Fear of Public Speaking.” It’s about a woman being asked to share her story in church.
She says: My knees will buckle. I’ll throw up. Sweat like wild. I’ll pass out. I’ll embarrass our church.
And her pastor says: Concentrate on the message, not on yourself.
Concentrate on the message. Not on myself.
Writing that on my hand today.
(You can read the actual testimony here! I made it through!)
P.S. It certainly looks like I have perfected the “selfie”…..I should technically be embarrassed at ALL the photos I took of my cancer-self. But I won’t be. That would be petty.