Thursday, February 5, 2015

on the path to the cancer ward

There's a chemical smell that hits you on the way to the cancer centre. Some bright spark of an architect put the building's main vents just near the entrance doors. Every time you walk up the path, the smell of chemo hits you. Once you've been to an oncology ward, you don't forget that smell.

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.

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)
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

To God be the glory. Amen.

If you'd like regular updates on how we're going, you can "like" this page on Facebook: Pray for Steve.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your realness and example through this painful journey you are walking together with Jesus, Jean. I'm sorry it's so hard. Lifting you up in prayer tonight. Love in Him, Ali Stone x

Abigail said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Your grace and humility, under the mighty hand of our good God, bring tears to my eyes.

Fiona G. said...

Dear Jean & Steve, praying that, just in those moments when you need it most, you will be flooded with peace, confidence and trust in God. And with practical help when you need that, too.

Rachach said...

Jean, thanks for writing this. It helps me know how to understand what you are going through and how to pray for you. The way you hold onto God's words really encourages me. I'll pray for you now. Love Rach

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this Jean - although my husband's battles are with chronic debilitating pain due to an unusual neuropathy there are many similarities in the emotions we are dealing with. You expressed them far better than I could and at the same time helped me keep my eyes on Jesus as we work through all this sorrow and uncertainty. You are an example of 2 Cor 1:3-4 and I am so grateful.

Jean said...

I am so glad it encouraged you Karen. Watching someone you love in pain is a heavy burden on the soul. I will lift you up to God in prayer right now. xxx