One year cancerversary!
Exactly one year ago today my primary cancer doctor told me that I did indeed have Essential Thrombocythemia. I’m counting this day for my official diagnosis, rather than either of the confirmation days from the Mayo Clinic or the research hospital. As a proud observer of Bilbo and Frodo’s shared birthday, Overthrow of Sauron Day, and Towel Day, I’m not above manufacturing another holiday for myself. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to buy myself donuts, as I did this morning, as well as for my six month cancerversary (other acceptable excuses include fictional holidays and happening to drive past a bakery).
Also, I talked it over with my roommate, and I decided that if I ever am blessed enough to enter into holy matrimony, I am going to carry a dozen doughnuts down the aisle instead of a bouquet, because a. weddings are long and I get hungry, b. powdered sugar wouldn’t show up on a wedding dress, and c. doughnuts are cheaper than flowers and don’t wilt. But it will be classy. I will put the doughnuts in a giant Mason jar or fashion a doughnut box out of recycled pallets, or whatever the hip do-it-yourself thing is at the time of my wedding.
Actually, the Mason jar thing sounds completely feasible. I’ll tie a color-coordinated ribbon around it. Done and done.
Although my diagnosis was one year ago today, it feels like I’ve had cancer for much longer. I think this is probably because it’s actually been three years since the doctors first began talking about cancer as a possibility, between my sophomore and junior years of college. To tell the truth, it was a bit of a relief to get the firm diagnosis after the uncertainty and waiting.
It’s been a long year. I don’t think there’s ever a convenient time to find out you have incurable chronic cancer, but I can tell you that if there is one, it’s not the first year after college graduation. On top of figuring out student loans and apartments and generally being a grown-up I have tried to sort through this mess that is my health, and I haven’t succeeded terribly well.
But I also know that, even if it has not been the best of times, it certainly has not been the worst. I’ve been so blessed this year. I’ve had the opportunity to work and learn at a job I love with people who care about me. I found an amazing church without any of the church hopping horror stories I’ve heard people share. And while I still deal with frustration about my cancer-related fatigue (and other symptoms), I no longer bear the weight of guilt I’ve carried for a long time for not being able to do everything I saw others accomplishing. God has given me the grace to release that burden.
One year of cancer is over. Another begins. I think the hardest thing is the hopelessness I feel. I don’t know how to hope or dream or plan for the future; it seems like all roads lead to cancer right now.
One of the Psalms we read this Sunday in church was Psalm 105:4–
“Search for the Lord and His strength;
Continually seek His face.”
My strength is not enough. I know this beyond any shadow of doubt after five years of tests, three years of waiting, and one year of cancer. And that is why I’m overcome when I think back over the past five years, every test and appointment and fainting fit and blood draw. God has strengthened me in ways I didn’t see at the time, in ways I didn’t even know to ask.
On my best days, when I rest in the peace of Christ, I am so aware of the unique blessing it is to approach God in this way. You see, I often want desperately to be self-sufficient so that I don’t have to bother anyone. And here I am, faced every day with the knowledge that the very marrow of my bones is incapable of doing what it is supposed to do.
On my best days, I am grateful for the way that God is at work in the midst of this terrible thing, the way that He is using it to the glory of His name. I know and can even imagine that this sorrow will be turned to joy. I know that I am learning, that I turn to Him more quickly now than I ever have.
On my worst days I am overwhelmed by fear and pain. Often I wish it was over already because I don’t know how to carry it anymore. And even then, when I’m wretched and full of self and too stubborn to ask, God sustains me.
It’s been exactly one year since I was diagnosed with this cancer. I don’t know much more about it: what chemo will be like, when I’m going to die (there are a lot of books I need to read coming out this fall, so it better not be soon), or how this will impact my future. But I pray that cancer keeps me continually seeking His face and finding hope in the surety of His love. What I thought I knew a year ago I am certain of today.
He’s always been faithful.