I've been asked it almost every week since this began - is this time just like the last time? I already went through chemo once - so don't I know what to expect?
For years, my last cancer experience lived vividly in my memory. In so many ways, it defined me. It gave my life purpose and meaning and, frankly, offered a convenient facade behind which I could hide all the less heroic parts of myself. If everyone focused on my status as a cancer survivor and the details of that journey they would overlook the fact that my painful childhood had bred a codependent potential-alcoholic with abandonment issues. And who wouldn't want to tuck all that away?
Two years ago, when God dropped the bomb that I needed to step away from my cancer story and take a real look at what else was going on, I realized I had a lot of work to do. And as I did, I realized there was a lot more value to those other parts of my story - that they needed attention too. And slowly, bit by bit, those vivid details of my first cancer journey faded, until they seemed like what they were - a memory.
So its hard to draw a comparison. Because I don't remember that last time much anymore.
* * *
I sat outside on the deck today, hoping the sunshine and a book would take my mind off the fact that my belly has already swelled up enough once again to talk to my nurse tomorrow about another draining. As my hands wrapped themselves around my round abdomen, I looked to the sky and heard a scratching sound. My eyes scanned the yard for a critter, but found none. The sound came again, and I looked toward the roof. There sat my cardinal. Apparently he likes it around here. I'm hoping maybe hes taken up residence here.
* * *
There are a few comparisons I can draw between this time and the last. The addition of a major surgery is one. The last go around, I was diagnosed after they removed a single lymphnode - I was out of work for a day. It quickly became apparent that this surgery was quite different, and adding a 6+ week recovery from it on top of chemo - well, lets just say its been different.
Then there is the speed at which all of this occurred. I went from healthy to a cancer diagnosis in under a month. Two weeks after surgery we were starting chemo. Last time I had months between diagnosis and the start of treatment to let it all sink in. This time - honestly - I'm not really sure its all sunk in quite yet. Its all happened so fast.
Add in all the intervening procedures - from being drained weekly to removing the extra port to blood work - and my treatment schedule has been much more rigorous than the last (which simply involved one infusion every other week and seeing my doctor on the weeks in between). Even on good weeks, I feel like I am in the hospital constantly. I guess because I am.
But the biggest difference - it seems to me - is the fear. I didn't know enough to be afraid last time. When they told me my biopsy came back malignant, I smiled at Evan and said "that's the good one, right?" I truly had no idea. This time, when Dr. Boardman came in following surgery to tell me what she found, the only thing I could say to her was "I don't want to die." This was the only thought I had for the first three weeks following surgery. I don't want to die. Everything went black and I begged God to let me live. There were people around me, but it didn't really matter. I was engaged in an ongoing monologue - a plea for my life.
I don't want to die.
The fear this time was much more real.
* * *
Unlike last time, my relationship with God is deeper. Since those three black weeks he has assured me that I am not going to die. That all the work of the last two years isn't lost. This is simply meant to deepen it. Its the missing piece. Another step.
Unlike last time, even as I sit in this mess of confusion and sadness and grief, I am vividly aware of all that God is doing in this space.
Unlike last time, just like the cardinal, God has taken up residence around here. And I know even the pain of this experience will be redeemed.
Unlike last time, I know enough to watch what is really happening here.
God's will is being done.