People not interested in hearing medical talk don't read the next paragraph. You know who you are. (So do I.)
On Monday we met with the surgeon. She's a real scientist/researcher type. Between her and the research radiologist, we now have a headful of statistics. There's a 20% chance of mortality in 15 years, 30% recurrence rate, 20% chance of lymphedema for the rest of my life if I have a dissection of the axilla (armpit), something less than that for permanent impairment of the shoulder and permanent numbing of the armpit. There's a 7% chance of needing a second surgery because the margins weren't clear on post op pathology, and a 2% chance of needing a second surgery because the post op pathology found cancer in the axilla. These are the statistics I remember and might even have one of them wrong, but it shouted to me that this thing isn't over now, or after surgery, or in the summer when the radiation is over. Of course, I knew that follow up care was years out, but this made it all very real. So I quietly emoted for awhile. I talked to the Lord. Then I listened to Walt who can not contain his joy that today is my last chemo. And, of course, he's right. I know I don't like chemo and today will be the last round. I will rejoice! The statistics are good to know to be informed, but we are humans and need to live one day at a time. Today is a day to be thankful that one uncomfortable phase is ending.
Come on back you non-medical people!
This week I finished the best book I've read with cancer (thank you, Marge Connolly). It's called Lessons from the School of Suffering. Written by Rev. Jim Willig, it is his journey through cancer to the glory of heaven. Tammy Bundy wrote the last chapter after his death. This amazingly real account of a Christian dealing with pain and fear moved me. His diagnosis from the beginning was worse than mine - he had kidney cancer metastasized in the lung at first diagnosis. He felt free to ask the Lord, "Why couldn't they have found this before it went to the lung?" This and, "I thought you needed priests? What could be the benefit of ending my life decades before I'm done with my ministry? How could this be your plan?" There is so much mystery in suffering and death. His ability to say exactly what he was thinking and feeling to the Lord was just what I needed to hear. He was a good holy priest, yet he struggled with the problem of suffering. He would never have chosen cancer, and yet it is how he gave his greatest testimony in the end of life. We don't believe God gives us these bad situations, but we know he could miraculously cure them if he so desired. I can only think that our death is so different than how most humans think of it. We should remember now and then that we move from the imperfect to the perfect. Enough with this resistance to change stuff! We need to trust that God's ways are perfect and they often are not our ways! Anyway, Fr. Willig said throughout his suffering he was never alone because Christ was there with him. I know that feeling. He felt he learned over and over again this lesson on how to live:
- Be humble
- Trust God completely
- Surrender everything to God
We don't need cancer to learn this, but Fr. Willig admitted he was learning it more deeply because he was in "the school of suffering". During his two years of fighting cancer, he came up with three new goals on what he wanted to do with his life. I want to join him and use them seriously to evaluate my life into the future:
- Love God as much as possible
- Help others love God as much as possible
- Love others as much as possible
What could be better than this? I thank God for Fr. Willig's life and death that has brought me closer to the heart of the Father. It has given me encouragement to come forward with my fears and my questions so I can experience the real surrender of those things as I leave them at the foot of the cross. Prayer really does change things, even when it isn't how we expect the change to be.
And so today, I have decided to take all the statistics and summarize them into one sentence. Stuff happens. I have a life to live one day at a time and that includes the three goals above and I get there by living the three lessons above. Cancer or not, that's a great life in growing in unity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So, we leave for the hospital in a little while. I have an ECHO test this morning to see if the chemo has damaged my heart. I hope it hasn't. I don't want the breathlessness I have to be permanent. Come, Lord, hear my prayer! Then we'll go have my LAST CHEMO! Yay!
I remember a movie, some older person with a memory can comment and give me the name, where Dom DeLuise was almost drowned in the ocean. He starts out in the deep waters screaming, "Save me God and I'll give you all my money!" As he starts getting control of the situation he changes the prayer to a 50%, than a thousand, and then he is washed ashore and thanks God. I don't remember if he then takes credit for how he saves himself, but that is what a lot of us do, isn't it? Well, I pray this does not happen to me. I am ending chemo and it was brutal. Though there are pagans I'm sure who get chemo, I do not know how they endure it. I had God at my side every moment and I am eternally grateful. I know how time can erase the intensity of emotion. Oh Lord, let me never forget the loving way you brought me through this. I want to be forever grateful.
So I should be feeling better and better for the next three weeks. Then, I get surgery on the 18th. I'll post before that. I have a lot of thoughts on surgery : )
Have a good Lent. Lean in to Our Lord's great sacrifice. It is awesome that he suffered willingly out of love for us and obedience to the Father. A love we don't deserve has been given to us. Blessed be his name forever!