Every two weeks, we drive to Steve's appointment in heavy silence. We drag our feet up that path while I try not to breathe in. We sit in the chairs in the hallway; he stares into space while I fight back tears and fight down panic. A nurse calls his name, shows him to a chair: a green vinyl recliner, more suited to watching TV than to having poison pumped into your veins. We wait for the slow drip-drip! drip-drip! of the drugs.
The aim of Steve's chemo is curative. Or so they keep reminding us. I think it's to help us "stay positive". It doesn't help much. Doctors are relatively confident about colorectal tumours, and that's how they're treating Steve's small bowel cancer; but no one knows much about this rare disease.
Except God, of course. He knows every cell in Steve's body, and he is not at the mercy of statistics or uncertain prognoses or rare cancers. And so we fight to trust him.
And it has been a fight. Steve grieves the half-life he's forced to live. From days full of active ministry, to days lying on a couch, watching the cricket, and occasionally playing a game with the kids or getting some shopping or going for a slow walk down the street: it might sound like a holiday, but if so, this is no Hawaii.
The side-effects of chemo - nausea (controlled by steroids that give you sleepnessness instead of vomiting), numbing fatigue, brain-fog, peripheral neuropathy (tingling and numbness in fingers and toes), and a throat spasm that turned out to be a rare reaction to one of the chemicals - are hard to endure and hard to watch.
The last month has been easier for Steve. Two cycles ago they took him off one of the two main chemo drugs (he's still on the most important one) and the symptoms have reduced. He's past the worst of the chemo. Two more treatments, and that's the end for now. He is already easing his way back into work, and is coping well.
There will be further tests over the next few years to check if the cancer has returned. Waiting becomes our new normal, and we try to live as if we're not waiting. The kids go back to school, and I enjoy the space and silence. I begin to do more chores and start work on a talk. We plan a family holiday.
I've discovered that grief travels in three directions: past, present, and future. The trauma of what we've gone through; the struggle to accept our changed lives; fearful anticipation of what is to come. Sadness is like a backpack of rocks you carry around: you forget it for a while, stop and enjoy the view, but always it's there, and there are days when it feels too heavy to bear.
In the dark times, when I can't feel my way, I am often surprised by the strong light of God's word. Here's the passage that has lit my way recently:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Humble yourself under God's hand. Cast your fears on him. Resist Satan's attempts to undermine your faith. Remember you're not alone. Remember this is just for a little while. Remember God will lift you up and restore you and make you strong
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:7-1)
To God be the glory. Amen.
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