Or 13 pounds. Thats what we got off my abdomen today. I left the hospital feeling like a new person - like myself, by and large. But for the small pain where the numbing medicine was starting to wear off, and some yawns from the early morning wake up call, it could have been any other Friday.
But its not. Its a Friday in cancer world and that makes things different. It just does.
It makes something like putting on a dress feel like the best thing in the world. It makes a care package of tumeric and chai tea from your best friends' parents feel like the biggest blessing. It makes doing chores feel liberating and eating the worlds biggest slice of cake at your favorite coffee shop worth a few happy tears. Because in cancer world, you can't do these things every day. So you do them while you can.
* * *
Sitting in Bob Goff's back yard a few weeks ago, some new friends asked the story of my sleeve. I shared with them the meaning behind the owl, dove, and hummingbird nestled among the cherry blossoms - a scene that depicts my journey with Hodgkins Lymphoma so many years ago. One of the women commented that I was so young when I was diagnosed. That surely it changed how I live my life. I told her, yes, it did.
I can't help but wonder from this place in another road - a place where I am too far in to look back and see the start but not nearly far enough to see the promise of the end - just how my life will change when this is all over. I doubt I could get much more "devil may care" when it comes to planning for the future than I already am. I don't know how I could embrace the days more than I thought I had been. It seems to me that there aren't a whole lot of places where my outlook could change - but I know enough to know that this thought must be wrong.
This - like many others - is an experience I will only understand backwards.
* * *
I have often lamented that I didn't meet Sammy until after he had retired from his career as a pastor. I have desperately wished I could have heard him preach, learned at his feet, grown under his guidance. I came into his world too late for that. But, it seems, God wanted something else for our relationship.
Unintentionally, Sammy has become my spiritual director. What started as discussions over coffee about the next steps in my faith journey has become a relationship I rely on when things look bleak. In recent weeks, he's been a guidepost when I've most needed one.
I texted him desperately after days upon days of not hearing God's voice. God and I talk - a lot. But in the weeks following surgery, His voice wasn't coming. And my prayers weren't coming right. Rather than intentional and filled with gratitude they were nothing more than mumbled pleas for the restoration of my life or rote recitations of the prayers bore into my head in my Catholic school days. I was in desperate worry about the state of my prayer life. I worried God might be upset that my prayers were so scattered. That I had failed Him. That my faith was too weak.
Sammy patiently explained to me that there was nothing wrong with my prayer life. That this was all to expected. And that God doesn't need to hear long and thought out prayers. He explained that when our minds are wrapping themselves around the new landscape of life, completely remodeled by terminal illness (which he explained includes all cancer while the fight is on) we won't likely hear from God in the same ways we did during the good times. He will speak loudly to us, but in different ways.
Then he taught me a simple prayer. One so short but so powerful. The only prayer I will be able to utter at times.
Jesus Christ, have mercy.
This was all I would need, Sammy assured. It was enough.
As the nurse rolled me toward the procedure room today for my third surgery in as many weeks, tears came. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to be cut again. I didn't want to be numbed again. I didn't want to be laying on a table while more tests were done to see what was lurking inside me. I didn't want to wait for more results. I didn't want another single thing to fear.
I closed my eyes and tried to pray as the hospital hallways passed. But nothing came. Just a garbled mess of fear and sadness. Until I reached back and retrieved Sammy's prayer.
Jesus Christ, have mercy.
And like that, my breathing slowed. My mind quieted. The tears stopped.