So my third cancerversary has passed. Three years since my diagnosis. I’ve had a couple of those, “not much I can do,” conversations with my doctors lately. If you’ve never had one of these, they all basically go like this.
Doctor: “So how have you been?”
Me: “Really bad, actually. I’m in a ton of pain on a daily basis.”
Doctor: “Right…but that’s just you. That’s kind of your baseline.”
I even got an edgy, “I wish I had a magic wand, but I don’t, so.” which I attributed (after the Holy Spirit poked me in the ribs a few times to get over myself) to the fact of doctors being broken people who also have bad days.
I can sympathize. I’m sure it’s not easy to continuously see a patient in my situation. I understand that at some point they really are out of options.
Here’s one thing to expect if you find out you have cancer: People will drown you in recommendations for cancer related media. Books, movies, cancer tv shows–which are apparently a thing someone thought the world needed–podcasts, etc. The point I’m trying to make is that there are fictional hospital stories everywhere.
Like any other stories categorized by a similar setting, hospital stories seem to have a few other things in common. The doctors are always determined and rough around the edges and really caring deep down and brilliant and funny and hip. They never give up and medical science is super cohesive and straightforward and everyone is on the same page except sometimes the one stupid guy who gets his just deserts in the end and sees the light. And the patients always get better except when they don’t and then they die.
Spoiler warning: this is not how real life is.
Sometimes one doctor will tell you that you should never have kids because of your cancer, while another doctor will tell you that you should have a billion kids and that health concerns aren’t a good reason to forgo pregnancy. Sometimes the same doctor will tell you both things and confuse you for life.
Sometimes everyone involved–techs, specialists, chemists, pharmacists, pathologists, etc.–will shrug their shoulders and say, “this is our best guess. But it might permanently damage your lungs.”
Sometimes everyone is the stupid guy and no one has a brilliant, last minute breakthrough.
Sometimes the patient doesn’t get better or die. Here I am, chronic and incurable but not imminently terminal.
I’m in between, in an indefinite holding pattern of daily pain that current medical science has been unable to assuage. My doctors are honest in their lack of options and optimism. And many, many godly people have prayed for me, that my body would be cured of the cancer and the migraines and all the other problems. But I’m still sick.
I’ve prayed for myself. And I heard the Holy Spirit say, “No,” or maybe it was, “Not now,” but it definitely wasn’t a yes. This is a story where I wake up every day, probably for the rest of my life, in a fair amount of pain. Where I can never pursue the career I would like to because of my illness. Where every decision and situation is complicated by a hundred tiny factors that all add up to cancer.
Sometimes people ask me what I do to cope, and I usually say reading helps, or I watch a lot of sci-fi, or I divide my day down into five minute tasks that feel achievable, or I have a good cry and I eat a hazelnut chocolate bar. And those are all true. But really the only reason I survive is Jesus.
I still have cancer and migraines and depression and anxiety and my body hasn’t been cured. But I know that Jesus is hearing my prayers and the prayers of my brothers and sisters in Christ, because He is healing me. I know that He is, because if He were not I could not open my eyes in the mornings. I feel a bit like a broken record, but it’s the only thing I have worth saying.
On days when I would not be surprised to learn that the final spike of the First Transcontinental Railroad was being driven through my left eye; on days when I have to focus on inhaling and exhaling instead of the aching in my bones; on days when the thought of living a whole life like this, with no relief, makes me feel insane–on all these days and the days in between, Jesus carries me and comforts me. Everything I have comes from Him.
Even when the doctors run out of ideas and I run out of stamina, He is rich in love and grace. Second by second, He renews my strength.
Great is His faithfulness.
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”