Since 1994, Keith and I have been keeping a list. On it, we rank the worst days of our life. This list was born on a very bad day. That day, we sat in Burger King slurping diet Coke and dipping fries in catchup, reeling after a day in court. We decided that although this was definitely in our top five, it was not number one. For us, the worse day of our lives at that point was the day our two-year-old climbed up the front of a TV and pulled it over on himself. The resulting head trauma, life flight trip, and time in the ICU were (and still are) pretty traumatizing.
For us, this list has given us a way to put bad days into perspective. A way to sort out and categorize tragedies and trials. When we were selling our house and the buyer backed out… it was bad, but it didn’t make the top five. It was a challenge but not a tragedy. When days at work grind, when relationships splinter, when life gets overwhelming, we return to our list. It has become a touch point for us.
Last year, when Keith’s medical issues pressed into our lives, we amended the top five. Things fall off the list. It’s funny to me, I don’t even remember what they were. Suddenly, in the face of a dire diagnosis, things shift and change. As life moves forward, things that once seemed dire are seen in a new light. This list also reminds us that difficult days can be lived through. On that long-ago night when we sat in the ICU with our baby boy, we did not yet know how life moved on, but now we do. Our list has been a powerful teacher.
This week, we’ve amended our list. For the first time in many years, we have a new number one. I have kidney cancer. I can’t even believe I am writing this. It feels entirely surreal. If it weren’t for the fear I see in the eyes of the people who love me best, I wouldn’t believe it. The reality of the diagnosis is jarring. There will be surgery in a couple weeks, but the prognosis is very good. Miraculously, they found it early. There is good hope for a cure.
Once, when I was in college, I took a course about the biology and psychology of cancer. Of all the things I learned in that class (and there were many) the thing that sticks out today is a question one of the students asked, “What makes someone a cancer survivor?” “I mean, do you have to survive the treatment, is there an amount of time?” The ancient nurse who co-taught the class replied, “You are a survivor if you make it through the diagnosis.”
So, we survived the diagnosis. We’ve called and shared the news with loved ones near and far. I’m not really sure what we do now. Last night, Keith and I sat in a lovely restaurant, holding hands, talking about this place. We are definitely still in shock, but we made some commitments.
We are going to do this as honestly as we can.Sometimes, it feels like there is pressure to perform in faith. To act and speak in ways that reassure the world around us that we are fine, even when we are not. We decided we are not going to pretend. Our God is BIG! He can handle all of our responses to this. I would imagine over the next few months we will feel all the emotions, and we have decided to give ourselves permission to just move through.
We are committing to letting ourselves do this as we can. There will be good days and bad days through this process and we don’t have to pretend this is all lollipops and rainbows. Somedays, life is hard, excruciating even, and we won’t pretend otherwise. We will give each other the grace to process and walk through this as we do. I don’t know why this is on the top of my list today, but it is. I don’t want to feel like I have to perform, nor do I want my people to feel like they have to do this “right.” We will simply walk the path set before us, and trust that our God is big enough to get us through.
We are going to love our people.I have been on the other side of a life-changing diagnosis. The challenges are different depending on which side of the hospital bed you find yourself. It is hard. It is so painful to watch the one you love suffer, to stand by powerlessly, to release the illusion of control. Powerlessness is not my favorite posture and yet it is our reality. Seeing my kids fear is even worse. So, we are going do our best to love our people, to see them, to walk with them through this. We are here, together and although the road ahead is scary, there is grace for this journey.
We are not going to stop getting in the fray and loving hard. We expect that this journey will demand a lot from us, and that not only will we need support and encouragement, but so will the people we love. So, we are going to look for ways to love our people through this. We hope to both give and receive with as much grace as we can find.
We are going to live. It’s really easy on days like today to begin to wait. To hold your breath for the surgery, the pathology report, the 3-month follow up, the rest of our lives. That’s sort of our default response, let’s wait and see if it is going to be okay. I don’t want to wait. I want to fill up today with as much life as we can fit into it.
I am a planner, and this has definitely thrown a wrench in some plans. However, we will adjust and keep moving forward. I have plans, dreams, and goals I want to accomplish. We are going to fill in our days with simple joys and fullness of purpose. We are going to live all of these days, one at a time because that is all we have.
We are going to trust God. I’ve walked through this life long enough to learn that trusting God doesn’t demand an outcome. It is a place of confidence and security within the swirling storm. I have great hope in my doctor, in the law of averages, and in the medical system as a whole but that isn’t where I will rest. The truth is, I shouldn’t even know about this yet. I have no symptoms, there was nothing to point out this tumor. They found it because I went to the ER with pain in my abdomen, they ran a CT scan and found this. I will rest in God’s ability to know, to reveal, and tend to my life.
My faith doesn’t demand that God make life easy for me. Instead, it relies on the promises of His Word that no matter what I face in life, He will be there in the midst of it with me. He doesn’t promise to take away all of my problems, but to walk me through them personally. We live in a world where sickness and death rule, but I serve a King that overcomes both. It is enough for me.