About three weeks ago, my mom informed us that lymphoma had been discovered in her body again.
Her first battle with this terrible disease was about nine years ago in August of 2008. I remember the night we found out she had it as clear as if it were yesterday.
Anyone who has heard the “C” word from a loved one knows the instant feeling of shock and despair that washes over you. It is hard not to assume the worst and think of the news as an instant death sentence.
Fortunately, for my mom, it has not been—but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.
In 2008, she went through chemo successfully and was in remission for several years. Then, in January 2013, we found out the cancer was back. The doctors decided to go after it more aggressively that time. The plan was to hit her with really strong chemo to clear out the cancer completely and then do a stem cell transplant.
That’s not how it went.
A day or so after her first treatment, she had to be rushed to the hospital and was admitted to the ICU because she was too weak to stand. We were informed that she was so feeble that catching something as simple as a cold could be fatal.
As if that was not enough, a couple of days later, her situation became critical when she began vomiting blood and had to be intubated so the doctors could attempt to save her.
Seeing her unconscious, her chest unnaturally, almost violently rising and falling through the power of the ventilator while the doctors and nurses worked on her and not knowing if I’d ever get to talk with her again, was one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever faced.
Fortunately, miraculously I believe, she pulled through.
It took three weeks in the hospital but she made it. A stem cell transplant ended up not being possible, partially because her system was too weak and also because they couldn’t find a donor match for her. That was obviously disappointing, but she recovered so well that it surprised even the doctors. In fact, at one point not too long ago, they told her even if they found a match they probably wouldn’t do a stem cell transplant because she was doing so well.
But then it came back—again—a third time.
It feels familiar, yet not. I don’t think you ever get used to a loved one fighting a life-threatening disease. It is simply hard to watch. Honestly, at times it is tempting to kind of ignore it and pretend it isn’t there. That may be the healthy and necessary reaction at times but overall I don’t want that to be my response.
As I write this, I recognize there are many others who aren’t as fortunate as me. There are people whose loved ones have lost their battle to cancer or some other horrible disease. There are others who have lost someone in an instant and were left with so many things unsaid and questions unanswered. It happens every day, all over the place.
Here’s what I know: Life is simply uncertain.
None of us get any guarantees, and we have a choice in how we live and how we respond to that reality.
My answer is faith.
It’s not some blind and naïve faith consisting of rainbows, unicorns, and clichés that “everything will be okay,” or “everything happens for a reason.” It is born out of walking through difficult times. feeling and experiencing the extreme and sometimes suffocating pain, but being able to look back and see that I’ve never been alone and that good has come from those times.
Through times of uncertainty and hurt, I’ve seen and experienced relationships restored and strengthened, people encouraged, faith deepened, God’s presence experienced more deeply than ever before, and perspective gained where what seemed important fades into the background and what really matters comes into focus.
Most importantly, for me at least, going through difficulty has given me more empathy. I’m able to relate to others in their times of uncertainty and pain and do my best to encourage them. I’m actually quite grateful for that.
Of course, there are times when I beg God to spare me and my loved ones from pain, and I often wonder why he doesn’t.
But in my stronger moments, I’m reminded that there is always more going on than what we can see, and that there is a reality bigger than what we can perceive.
I think someday, we’ll be able to see that reality, and a lot of the crappy stuff that happens will make more sense. But until that time, I’m going to do my best to lean in and not run away from the hard stuff.
Last week, my mom started her third battle with cancer. The plan is pretty much the same as last time. She’ll do a round of chemo and then hopefully a stem cell transplant. The doctors are optimistic that she’ll be able to this time because her body is healthier than the last time they tried.
We’re so grateful there are treatment options for her and are hopeful they will work but still—we live with uncertainty like everyone else.
Author: Nate McIntyre
Image: Beth Punches/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
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