Best of Both Worlds

One of the most difficult things to adjust to early in our cancer journey was the juxtaposition of two very different worlds. While we had obviously seen hurting people before, spent time around third world poverty and orphans, been in pain ourselves, the bulk of our life was lived in a relative bubble. The day to day consisted not of abject poverty or pain, but of shuttling kids that have too much to their busy lives that were full of too much. School, homework, sports, activities...busy, busy...joy-less.

Along came cancer.

I had no idea what that meant for our lives...not a clue. It was a completely terrifying world, and in those early weeks...staring death, fear, pain, my faith...directly in the eye...it was like nothing I'd ever faced. And then, to try to figure out how to exist, to do daily life while bouncing back and forth between the world we knew and the world we'd been thrown into...it seemed impossible. It was excruciating. I would drop three happy kids off at school then head to the hospital...going from warm hallways full of healthy, active children to sterile walls covered with pictures of balding kids, many of whom are no longer with us on this earth. It was extremely difficult and it would make me so sad and angry. It was very hard to see "normal" kids when my child was hurting beyond my wildest imagination.

After some time passed though, it did become easier to jump from one life to the other. While the cancer world can be gut-wrenching, there is such beauty in it. It is a stripped down life, bare, revealing only that which truly matters...faith and relationships. When you meet cancer families, no one asks you what you do for a living. No one talks about the sports their kids play or what achievements they have accomplished at school. No one is jockeying for position, keeping up with the Joneses or painting some perfect image of their family. They are weary and broken and too tired to fake anything...and it is freeing. When you are in a battle for your child's life, nothing else matters...your perspective changes, your priorities become clear and many superficial idols are chased away. After recovering from the initial shock and acclimating to this new club that no one wants to join, it does get easier...not only to feel comfortable in the new world, but to become more adept at traveling between two drastically different lives.

One night toward the end of Bailey's treatment, we managed to sneak out to meet some friends who were visiting from out of town. We went to dinner at this trendy little place, dressed up and feeling like "people" again for the first time in a while. We laughed hard, had a glass of wine, managed to stay on happy topics...and then when the evening was over, Patrick dropped me off at the hospital. I made the trek to the cancer floor, hearing the click click of my sassy boots down the quiet, sterile hallways and past those pictures...like some sort of real-time St. Jude commercial. I had both a strange sense of familiarity and also a striking understanding of the contrast. It seemed almost normal, like coming home...and at that point, I fully realized just how much things had changed..how much I had changed. During the first weeks of our journey, the cancer floor felt so foreign and I repeatedly thought to myself, "How did we get here? Really Lord? This is our story? We will never belong in this world." But by the end of our protocol, I was almost as comfortable on the cancer floor as anywhere else...maybe even more so.

And then almost instantly, after eight grueling months in which 50% of our time was spent in the hospital, it was over. Just like that. We were done, released from the prison with very little fanfare and sent out to return to our lives as though nothing had happened. The thing is though, that something did happen. Instead of being healthy, sheltered, naive and relatively blind to childhood cancer, now we are battered and bruised and blistered and bloody. We have scars both inside and out. We have a child who has a prosthetic leg. We have learned of suffering and we have seen horrible things happen to children...and then watched as these kids rebound time after time after time. Children - faced with choices and side effects that would crumble most adults, battling for their lives, missing out on childhood, yet they can still manage to smile. We have wrestled with angels. I have watched my child in pain and not been able to fix it. We have looked our theology square in the face and chosen to believe. We have witnessed the body of Christ in action. We now understand how it looks to be given the grace you need, for time and resources to multiply and for the body of Christ to carry you. There was tremendous heartache, yet blessings flowed. Our eyes had been opened.

And now back in our old world, this one that felt so comfortable before... it now feels a bit off...like a pair of shoes that no longer fit. There are so many reasons why, but most originate from one basic theme...because of what we have walked through, we are seeing things we were unable to see before. We cannot erase the images, the experiences - they are seared into our souls. The other difference is that we will never truly be "done" with cancer. There will be scans and scars and a battle against fear for many years to come. So while we have been thrown back into the old world, truly nothing is as it was.

So how do we live? What is next? I don't have answers yet. The learning curve is steep. I am tempted to run away with the six of us, buy a farm, home-school my kids and completely isolate from the world... though I suspect this is neither a rational solution nor is it necessarily where God is leading us. It was the Refiner's fire that allowed the pain and so I don't really want to jump back in just as life was - because that would mean that all of the hurt and heartache were for nothing. Pain and growth is difficult enough, but pain with no growth seems unbearable.

While there is a part of me that longs for the life that, before cancer, appeared simple....I know that would be a waste of this precious gift. We have been painfully reminded that life is fragile and He already knows the number of our days. We fully grasp that things can change in an instant. We will face fear and faith as each scan approaches...it will force us to be on our knees, focused on Him and living to the fullest in each moment rather than complacently checking off the to-do list...merely existing. No one would choose the pain, but it has made the joy even bigger. It is made our purpose much more clear. We should probably all be living like this anyway, but busy-ness makes it easy to forget and lose sight. No one is guaranteed 80 solid, healthy years...yet many of us live like that time is owed to us. We want to be happy, in control, soak up as much fun as we can, have what we think is our deserved "me" time...rather than truly dying to self and living as we are called. I'm equally as guilty. Sure, we don't voice it with words, but our actions speak volumes.

So, while the selfish and sinful me would prefer easy, I believe my first step needs to be choosing to see this transition - the opening of my eyes to a whole new world, the managing of fear, this figuring out how to live in the after - as a gift...and I think it will be a choice I must make daily. What comes after that? I have no idea. I'm sure there will still be days when I forget what I've learned or I allow my heart to stray to the dark places. But one of the many blessings of cancer is learning to live in the day...and I have seen that when I do that, He faithfully gives me what I need.

So...for today...that's "my" plan. :)


Anonymous said...

such a blessing in my life today! i hope bailey and sam had some good snuggling today and please let your husband know, i passed on his message to my ohio friends :)

God Bless~
Jennifer Gniadek

Unknown said...

It's heartwarming to witness when someone is wise enough to see the value in the experiences they encounter, good or bad. It becomes an amazing part of who you are, inspiring everyone within reach, including myself. Because you CHOSE to live through this with faith and grace rather than anger and bitterness, you, by default, inspire those who choose to see it. Ultimately, making the world a better place. God bless you and your family.