Surviving the Sour, Savoring the Sweet
Watching hair grow while it is being killed at the cellular level takes a lot of patience. Every morning I gaze at this bald head of mine in my magnification mirror and see new sprouts of life trying to live. I honestly can’t believe that it is even emerging considering the situation. But against all odds it is actually slowly growing. Two and a half weeks ago I got irritated by the stubble left over from shaving it with an electric shaver after round one of chemo. I jumped in the shower and put shaving cream all over my head, grabbed the Bic razor and took it down to the soft, very white skin – not a single hair left. But that didn’t deter this determined head of mine to produce new growth. Still, I see a little old bald man in the mirror staring back at me. Ya see, the hair dye can no longer hide all the white hairs that actually seem to be winning the growth race. Perhaps chemo is reveling the real me that I have been covering up for many years.
While not watching my hair grow, I have found that my extreme ability to sleep has paid off during the first two weeks of this chemo cycle. I really need to figure out how to make money at this sleeping gift of mine. I think that it is my single most untapped talent. I was told that insomnia is a side effect of chemo, but this girl did her best sleeping this round. My only lack of sleep actually seems to come the few days before the next treatment when I am feeling really good. I don’t know if it is nerves, or just the feeling of there being too much to do before the dark valley of chemo hits, but being wide awake at 5:00 am on a Saturday morning isn’t my cup of tea. So, I write instead of sleeping. This is the time I used to get up when my kids were little so that I could enjoy the stillness of the house and read my Bible. However, now that the kids are grown this time of morning had slipped ahead at least three hours. Chemo is bringing this early hour to back to light and I just have to go with it.
Well, I get to reflect on the sweetness of friends and family that have put love into action. Friends have signed up for meals, multiple times now. They bring healing through my front door and love to me and my family. It leaves our mouths speechless and our bellies full as we rest in this sweet love that sustains us. The amazing, and I mean AMAZING, meals keep coming through the door from an army of warriors, who also pray for us continually. A dear friend and her husband and kids have come to clean my house just about every week since chemo started. Who does that!? A friend who has experienced many seasons of deep sorrow herself, that’s who. As I lay in bed or on the couch the house-cleaning-angel and her worker bees scurry around dusting, vacuuming, and scrubbing toilets. I have had to suppress my feelings of embarrassment for the messes she gets to see as she graciously and generously loves me into healing. I am learning that pride has no place in deep suffering or in the circle of friends. Pride only gets in the way of what God wants to do for us and others. When we hang onto pride we also rob others of the blessing of seeing our messy lives. I know that when I get the opportunity to see someone else’s messy life (either emotionally or physically), I get a new picture of who God is and how He is at work.
And then there are other sweet treasures I have received in the mail or that have been dropped by the house, sent in a text or phone call. Gorgeous head coverings, lotions, necklaces, flowers, books, gift cards, encouraging text, loving phone calls, and cards from people who’s sweetness drips all over me. These treasures seem to arrive just in time to help me smile or laugh through some of the toughest days. It really causes me to reflect back on my actions when my friends have been in tough places. Did I show this kind of love to them? As times of suffering tend to do, I now have a greater compassion for other’s in tough places and want to put that compassion into action like so many of my friends are doing for me.
I am thankful for the uneventful past 21 day cycle. Very different from the one before. I guess it was a bit easier because there were less emotional ups and downs swirling around outside of the chemo treatment. Now I am heading into the crucial “round four” of chemo. More than half way done! The week after treatment I head back down to UCLA for a comparison MRI and an appointment with my oncologist. The doctors left the cancerous tumor in place as a marker to determine the effectiveness of the chemo treatment. This MRI will be the determining factor for the following two rounds of chemo. I have to confess that I am thinking a lot about it. I ponder questions like; “If my hair is growing during chemo, can the tumor be growing too?” Of course HOTY is hoping to see a complete eradication of the nasty little tumor. I, for some reason, don’t want to set my hopes on it. I have to be ready and willing for two more rounds of poison, which could happen even if the tumor is gone. If I start imagining that this round is my last, I will be like that stubborn donkey that you can’t get through the barn door of the oncology center next month.
My biggest challenge this time was getting my sour stomach and bowels to behave. God gave me this verse while my bowels were fighting the poison being dumped into them:
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. —1 Peter 5:10 NIV
(The part about being “firm” was just a little too humorous – while sitting on the toilet – and shows me that God wants me to laugh during the sour times, even if that isn’t what he meant…)
Actually, even though this verse is of great encouragement to me, the verses before it beg for attention and warn us what can happen to people during suffering:
…Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. —1 Peter 5:8.
Boy, I tell you what, the enemy likes to have a field day in our minds when we are low and suffering. He whispers lies to us about who we are, who our friends are, who our families are, and more. He jumps quickly on the weak and frail, the ones who aren’t looking and can’t recognize the enemy. I have had two or three very dark days now during each cycle where the devil tries to work me up. I look around and feel lonely (even with all the attention being given to me), worthless (even with all the love), and depressed (even with all the hope I have). I find fault in everyone around me and feel it is all my fault. Unfortunately for my enemy, I work at using the Word of God against him and he wins no ground. But, I am seeing the consequences of many young people who don’t have that ability, or the history of God’s faithfulness, and are being devoured by the enemy daily. They don’t have friends encouraging them, feeding them, or praying for them daily. They are lacking the love in action that pulls the weak out of the clutches of the enemy. My relationship with Christ, my friends, and family give me the ability to fight back. They strengthen the physical so that the spiritual can fight and win — and it is a big fight. It truly is a beautiful picture of the ability we have when our friends are struggling. We have the power to aid them in standing firm against the enemy of their souls.
I want to be that person, so I choose joy. Life can look so sour some times and most of us have real, life staggering reasons to be left sour. I don’t want to live in that place even though some times it seems easier to stay in that place. I choose joy – and I actually have to make that choice daily, sometimes minute by minute. I have to count it all joy and look for the sweetness, even when life doesn’t feel like it. I choose joy because I know that the God of all grace will restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast. His Word promises it and I can stake my life on His promises.
Eventually the little old man in the mirror will fade away as the God who knows the number of hairs on my head will lengthen and multiply those numbers. Ahhh! That is another sweet treat to come!
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:28-31 NIV