It’s a cold, snowy, “very normal” late February day here in the Pacific Northwest. Yet if truth be told, this past month has been as far from ‘normal’ as anything I’ve ever experienced– and today, the treasure of this very normal, cold, snowy February morning is…well… it truly is a “treasure.”
This past month has only been a few weeks long– yet it feels uncannily as though a full year has just crawled by in slow motion. It all started with one of those time-stopping phone calls that none of us ever wants to have to deal with.
“Susan, this is Dr. Sublette with the results of your biopsy. Well…” [silence and then an audible sigh] “…I’m afraid the news isn’t as good as what we’d hoped…” And like the thousands upon thousands of others who’ve gotten that same phone call, I stood dumbfounded like they all did, in utter disbelief.
I suppose there’s an inevitable element of denial that immediately surfaces when someone hears the news that they have cancer. I didn’t feel panic, or fear, or shock. As my gynocologist rambled on about the necessary treatment, plans, referal to oncologists, surgeons, tests, appointments etc., I took necessary notes and asked all the right questions. And when I hung up the phone, my husband and I stood looking at each other, stunned.
During the long days (and nights) that followed, every detail of my Faith came to the forefront of my heart and mind, as vitally as it had ever been in the deepest adversities of my life. Everything I believed was either black or white. There was no fuzziness. For sure, I had never before faced such a close encounter with my own immortality, and the absence of fear was startling.
Just as I had hoped it would be, the first concern in facing a great big unknown ahead of me– and a horizon full of question marks– was that God would somehow be gloried in my adversity, whether I ended up living or dying because of it. At the same time, I wondered what that meant– for God to be glorified– and how it could happen. Did it require something of me? Did I have to start concentrating on keeping a stiff upper lip for the sake of others, even in the moments ahead of me when I might be afraid, or discouraged, or in pain… or in whatever suffering might be ahead?
Ironically, as much as we may want God to be glorified in our lives, the very nature of God Himself tells us that His glory is really something that’s completely outside of our control– just as this cancer itself was for me. For sure, there may be many ways in which God might be glorified because of this present adversity– and yet truthfully, I will probably never see them. Honestly, I don’t need to. My desire for God to be glorified does not presuppose that I need to see it in order for it to be real, nor do I have to do anything in order to make it happen.
I do believe God will be glorified in my life, whether in my living or my dying– but when all is said and done, I need to let go of the struggle of trying to make it happen. Because I can’t. Only He can. So all I could do was keep myself centered in Him, embrace my adversity, and move forward.
Truthfully, it was hard to believe I really had cancer until we headed off for the 2 hour trek over the snowy mountain pass, and arrived at the huge building with the name Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Passing patients in the halls, elevators, and waiting rooms, I kept thinking, “They’re all here because they have cancer. But I’m just here because…” Because why…? I didn’t know…
It was a long, arduous day of tests and appointments, and at one point, trying to formulate a picture in my mind of a few random cancer cells lurking in my abdomen, I asked the surgeon, “Is uterine cancer slow growing, like prostate cancer is?” She replied, “Everybody’s cancer cells are individual. We rate the speed of growth by grades 1, 2, or 3– #1 being slow growing, and #3 being very fast growing, very aggressive. Your’s is a 2.”
It shouldn’t have surprised me. But in that sudden moment, reality hit me hard, and I knew I was here because I did, in fact, have cancer. I am here– at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance– because I have cancer.
By the end of that long day, both Dan and I were exhausted, and after spending time with our kids and grandkids, I was grateful that we could return home. The following week, once again Dan and I trekked over the same snow-covered mountain pass– this time our daughter Sarah with us– to face the 4 1/2 hour surgery that would hopefully get rid of my cancer.
I thought I’d known this before, but by now I was convinced that we can’t trust our emotions. We just can’t. On one hand, there were friends who so confidently told me, “Don’t worry! I have a really good feeling about this. You’re going to be just fine!” At the same time, there were fearful friends who hugged me hard, and even some who told me horror stories of others who had died from this same cancer. Frankly, both Dan and I braced ourselves for news that the cancer had spread, as there were some long-standing, serious symptoms that concerned us both, constantly eroding our optimism and causing both of us to “prepare” ourselves for the inevitable. We had good days of optimism followed immediately by difficult days of dread over what was ahead. Our emotions were as fickle and unpredictable as the weather– fickle enough to convince me that no matter how I “feel,” my life is unquestionably held in the strong, consistent, Sovereign Hands of Almighty God. And that’s exactly where I want it. We have no guarantees or promises of what’s ahead, just around the corner. And life is amazingly fragile. But it’s in God’s Hands.
I was glad to be in Seattle for the surgery– my family was all blessedly close (…and frankly, I figured the chance of decent coffee during the hospital stay had to be good.) I felt so very grateful for my family! At home, when I had been pondering– if it became necessary– what I would say as my “good-bye” to each of my kids (including their spouses), my grandkids, and my husband of almost 40 years, I was startled that there was nothing for me to exhort them with, in order for them to live well after I’m gone.
“Cherish your wives…”
“Respect your husbands and be devoted to them…”
“Teach your children to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength…”
They are already doing these things very well without my help or my nudging. If I were taken from this life, my kids and grandkids would go on very well without me, and that’s exactly how I would have hoped it would be. And I did not need “cancer” to let me find out how deeply my husband Dan loved me– I already knew it so completely through his expressions of love and devotion in the almost 40 years we’ve shared together. And with that– and the prayers of so many wonderful friends– I headed into surgery.
Several days later, the doctor called with the pathology report of their findings. I’ve got to confess that I was incredibly surprised to hear that gratefully, the cancer had not spread! Praise God! All of it had all been successfully removed in the surgery!
“However,” the surgeon added, “we found that the cancer was not a 2 after all, but a 3. It was a very fast growing, very aggressive form of cancer!” Consequently, I will need to take measures to prevent this cancer from coming back, as it apparently does 15-20% of the time. It appears that for me, cancer will remain just enough of a threat in my life to keep me in a very humble state of absolute dependence upon God for His continual sustaining power. Which is no different than it was prior to this diagnosis.
Dan and I were incredulous, realizing the acute precision of timing in the discovery and treatment this fast-growing cancer! The cancer was aggressive… and yet it was still contained! What perfect timing! We were completely awed at this evidence of God’s truly amazing grace!
Life has no guarantees. I may never deal with cancer again in my life time. On the other hand, the aggressive nature of these cells indicates that the cancer could return. But whether I live or die, I am convinced that my life– like yours– is firmly placed in the Hands of a Sovereign God who does all things well.
And for now? I’m spending this snowy, peaceful day quietly recovering from a painful surgery. And I’m very eagerly waiting for the next chapter in our family news–the happy arrival of our tenth grandchild who will make her grand entrance into this world any day now. And I’m giving myself the luxury of believing– at least for now– that one day in the future, I really will get to see my granddaughters dressed as brides after all… and I’ll watch my grandsons become the men that they were destined, and are being raised, to be. For the glory of God. All for the glory of God.
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