One of the comments I first heard after my diagnosis of breast cancer was "Cancer is the gift you never wanted." While it may seem strange to refer to it as a "gift", there are some valuable lessons it can teach you and change your life in some positive ways.
I hesitated about writing this blog because I know there are people here who are facing chronic illnesses and in some cases battling for their lives. Others are caring for loved ones who are going through this. Some of these people are a part of a group I have here at CB and I pray they understand where I am coming from and why I am writing this blog. I am not trying to say cancer or other chronic illnesses are "good". I am trying to say that God is "bigger" than these things or any other type of "dark path" we end up traveling in life and out of this nightmare some amazing things can still happen. I think this is an important message to understand.
On March 2, 2008 the physical impact of chemo kicked in. The powerful drugs they use to counteract the effects initially wear off in less than 48 hours and you're left dealing with the mess. For me, it was like a bomb had gone off within me. My white blood count was had taken a severe blow and was at dangerously low levels as the drugs I was given systematically targeted and destroyed fast growing cells including those in your stomach, mouth, nasal passages and of course, your hair. I shaved my head 12 days later once it started to fall out because I knew I would not be able to bear watching it come out.
The powerful drug they gave me to rapidly stimulate the reproduction of white blood cells caused pain in my bone marrow like I had never known existed. Twenty percent of the population has this side effect. I was one of the "lucky" twenty-percent. There is nothing they can give you for this pain. Nothing. They tell you that up front. "We can't help you. Do a tylenol and ibuprofen flip. That may help take a little bit of the edge off but you're just going to have to pretty much ride it out and remember it will subside after a few days." Great. I prayed...a lot. I came here...a lot.
One of the first things cancer taught me was:
1. You can't do this on your own.
I've met people who have tried to do that. They have ended up regretting it. A few of them found themselves struggling with suicidal thoughts a year or two later. Many of them struggle with anger and depression. The people who seem to have ridden the storm the best are those who admitted they couldn't face this alone and created a support network.
I had a lot of little support networks going. I connected with other cancer survivors. I connected with friends and family. I connected with co-workers even though I was not working at the time. I set up a webpage they would all visit regularly and leave messages on. I opened myself up and other people would talk to me about their battles or their loved ones. I had a network of people at church and of course, I had my own little network of people right here at CB. Some of my friends here did not realize it but they were a crucial part of my getting through this battle.
As Christians, we need to do our best to connect with other Christians. Far too often we try to hide our struggles and make everyone think we're just fine. Stop doing that. Ask God to "introduce you" to people who can walk along beside you...especially when you're on a dark path. It just makes the road a little bit easier when you're walking it with a friend or two or three or more. He did it for me and he'll do it for you. In fact, much to my surprise, he gave me a small entourage of people who continue to fight for me...and I fight for them. It is reciprocal you know. If they're willing to be there for you now, make sure you're there for them later!
2. You are stronger than you think.
I came away from treatment with a huge respect for the human body and what it can endure. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made! Please do not confuse this with relying on your own strength rather than on God. That's not what I'm talking about. What I'm trying to say is God has given us the resources to endure far more than we think we are capable of doing. Remember that and make use of them. We have a lot of coping mechanism actually. Some of them are positive and others are negative. Grab a hold of the positive ones and use them! One of the most valuable coping mechanisms I've used is humor. Laughter is healing and believe me, you can actually laugh in the midst of the storm. The Bible tells us that in God's presence, there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) so get into the presence of the Lord! It also tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). If you want to be strong, get into God's presence!
3. God Turns Our Darkness Into Light!
I've said this a lot this past year. I'm sure people get tired of hearing it but I never do and I hope I never will. During my darkest chemo night, all I could do was repeat these words over and over again
You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;and he did. Though the path has at times been very, very dark I have seen his light ever before me and and I've seen other lights of people who have chosen to walk beside me bobbing along in the dark as well. He has been with me every step of the way. He's taken my darkness and turned it into light for others as well. Some of you have shared that with me. To me that is the greatest thing of all. It makes it all worthwhile!
my God turns my darkness into light. Psalm 18:28 (NIV)
4. You will not walk a dark path forever.
I have always loved the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. I remember turning to it as a young wife and mother whose life was in turmoil and the words leaped out at me "This light affliction is but for a moment." I grabbed onto them and have hung onto them ever since never dreaming how they would soothe my soul more than twenty years later.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)
I could say much more but I will stop here. I think you get the idea. Do not let the enemy rob you of your joy and do not let your hope be taken away. Remember, God is faithful even when we're not and he will never abandon us...even on dark paths.
But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more! Psalm 71:14