“C” is for Cancer
“I will not say that 2013 has been a bad year. No. I have so much to be thankful for,” a fellow cancer patient proclaimed recently at a family support group. Challenging words. Last year I became a reluctant member of the community of cancer patients and survivors. I choose the word reluctant, because I don’t think anyone ever imagines to, or wants to receive a cancer diagnosis. Yet there is great strength, courage and hope within this new community as we simultaneously grapple with fear of the unknown, celebrate steps towards recovery, and sometimes say goodbye to and grieve those whose battle has ended.
The life of my family took a quite unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer late last Summer. Since that time I have undergone a battery of different medical scans and tests, began an extended paid medical leave from my job, set aside ministry duties at church, recovered from a bilateral mastectomy, and have completed four of the eight chemotherapy cycles I am to receive. Radiation therapy and a full year of an additional tumor suppressant infusions every three weeks are to follow.
Role Reversal and Parallel Process
While the identity of “cancer patient” has become a part of my reality, I am also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a 2011 graduate of the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. Over the last 11 years I have also worked full time in direct human services of some kind, including six years in the field of Social Work, and most recently as a Mental Health Therapist for Tulare County Mental Health. I now find myself in a strangely familiar, yet foreign place, of having a social worker in my life, attending support group meetings, navigating various government and non-profit resources, managing my own medications and their side effects, and staying in close communication with my treatment team.
As my family travels the road before us, a road that includes cancer, we find ourselves in a constant state of flux and adjustment. I have found support groups helpful as part of my healing process. As I listen to others share at group I continue to marvel at their positive outlooks on life, even when prognosis is not good. Together we are helping one another find joy daily and express gratitude with an almost religious fervor, recognizing each day as a gift.
Times of Eclipse
While I was challenged by that woman’s words mentioned above, I also found myself nodding in agreement, that yes, I will not say that 2013 was a bad year. Cancer will not eclipse all that is good, and beautiful and joyful about life. In fact, one sleepless night a few days after that particular group, I continued to reflect on the idea of eclipse. Just like this natural phenomena, there are times in each of our lives when circumstances happen that may blot out all light. The funny thing is that the darkness does not actually destroy life, or anything around you, it only masks it for a time. The good stuff is still there, just not as easily identified or seen. And like an eclipse, often aspects of these circumstances are temporary in nature.
Dark times are a natural part of life. It is ok to be in those times. It is ok to name those times for what they are, and to cry out in anguish, sorrow, fear, loneliness, pain, rage…whatever it may be. And it is also crucial at the same time to know you are not alone. You are never alone, though it may appear that way. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 139. In part of this poem we are reminded that there is no place God cannot reach. Even darkness is light for God. Even if we find ourselves staring death in its face, God is there. And more often than not, God expresses this presence through those in our lives. Yes, we all experience solitude, yet we all remain connected to family or family of choice or friends or co-workers or neighbors, and many more.
This has been our experience. My family and I continue to marvel at the show of support from so many people near and far. From people we know intimately and people we have never met. It is overwhelmingly good! And this continually reminds us that we are not alone, especially not when traveling through the valley of the shadow of death. For those of you from FPU and the Seminary who know us, thank you for being part of our community!
Community Brings Hope
While I was once reluctant to call myself a member of the community of those affected by cancer, I now embrace the wisdom and laughter and tears that are a part of this group of other amazing and totally loved human beings. And I will not say that 2013 was a bad year. While it was not without dark times, it was good, very good. Full of life, and joys, and celebrations, and most of all, it expanded myself and my family in deep and powerful ways that sometimes only great difficulties seem to accomplish. We close that year now more rich in God’s love, and in community, and in understanding of true treasure.
I invite you to seek community, wherever that may be for you. You may join my community of supporters, you may look to a neighbor, you may seek family or friends, or support groups. If you are in the middle of a time of eclipse, I urge you to reach out, and also allow others to reach in. If you are aware of others in such times, reach out and allow others to reach in. Shalom to you and yours, may it be well with you in 2014!