We live in an interesting time. Understatement of the year . . . decade . . . era! Our lives have become whirlwinds of challenge, trials, heartache, and change. And yet, there is hope! Words to live by, literally!
This past year I have battled a fierce opponent that most call cancer. I will freely admit I may have called it other names, some I won’t share here, but this challenge has taught me many lessons. And in light of recent events (ie: life in Covid mode) I feel impressed to share some of them.
It is normal to feel scared. We are human and we deal with a lot of emotions as a result. Some things are frightening. I believe it is our responsibility to face those fears and not allow them to control us.
On the morning of my first surgery, one of my nurses made a less than helpful list. She brought it into my hospital room to share:
“You are a Type 1 diabetic.”
“You have a form of heart disease.”
“You have lupus.”
“And a crippling form of rheumatoid arthritis.”
I’m sure at this point in that particular conversation I was probably wearing my Scott’s face (We Scottish types tend to be stubborn on occasion.) I thought the following: “And your point is?!!!” But I have been raised to be polite, so I merely said: “Yes.”
“And now you’re facing cancer.”
In my mind I was thinking something like: “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” Yes, I have a warped sense of humor. It has helped me survive many things. But I try to behave, most of the time. That morning I forced myself to reply:
“That’s what my doctors tell me.”
She merely nodded, made a note in my chart, and said something like: “Good luck today.” I could tell what she was thinking by the look on her face: “You’re going to need all the luck in the world.”
That enlightening conversation should’ve scared me spit-less. Instead, it added to my determination to come through with flying colors . . . and I did. But I didn’t do it alone. Prayer is huge. I’ve shared this part with several others, and I feel impressed to share it now—I was carried by the prayers of others. I literally felt wrapped in love and peace that day, and on the morning of my second surgery a week later. I will be forever grateful for everyone’s prayers on my behalf—they were answered in a big time way.
So lesson one: don’t allow fear to control you when life seems to be spiraling out of control. Process that emotion, but allow hope and faith to take the driver’s seat when you’re facing trials.
Lesson two: prayer is a real force. It’s so important for us to pray for others when they are facing difficult challenges. They will draw tremendous strength from those prayers. And we also need to pray for ourselves. It is our link with our Father, a way for us to communicate with Him and a way for Him to communicate with us. I’ve heard it said that we communicate with our Father in heaven through prayer. He communicates with us through the scriptures. I can’t tell you how many times I have turned to specific scriptures that contained just the message that I needed during challenging times.
I mentioned faith a moment ago. This is also huge when we’re facing obstacles in our mortal journey. Someone once told me that attitude is everything. This would be correct. The morning after my second surgery, as I was being walked around the Covid-free environment in the surgery wing of the hospital, I was being myself and making a few bad puns along the way. Something I said made my nurse laugh and she said something I needed to hear: “You are going to be okay! Your attitude will help you survive this challenge.”
Lesson three: No matter what we’re facing, attitude is everything! I’ll admit, when you are aboard what appears to be a sinking ship (and sometimes, it does seem like the Titanic) don’t give up! I believe that is part of our test in this life, to see how we will respond to challenges, heartaches, or loss of any kind. My mother is a great example of making lemonade out of lemons. After our father’s death, she went back to school and became the valedictorian of her class. She worked at a career she loved for many years, supporting us all. She kept moving forward, showing us that it is possible to rise above difficult things to succeed.
Now, I’ll admit, it was a crushing blow to me the day I flunked my first cancer recheck. I had survived two surgeries, and all of the fun that went with that. I had totally shocked my doctor and nurses by how early I was talking, and how well I was talking. (I have a type of oral cancer and a portion of my tongue, etc. was removed.) The day of my second surgery, my nurse stepped into the room and told me to merely nod or shake my head in response to her questions. When I spoke instead, she was stunned, and quickly ran to find my doctor so that he could see this small miracle for himself. She later told me that my doctor had written in my chart that it would be a long time before I would be able to talk. They were all amazed by my ability to speak. All things considered, I was doing well. And so was the cancer. It was refusing to leave. Here’s what I learned from that experience:
Lesson four: there will be setbacks in our lives. Things won’t always work out the way we envision. And sometimes, this makes no sense to us. I believe it’s part of the test. If things always worked out, we wouldn’t appreciate the blessings and miracles that take place all around us. We would come to expect that everything will always go the way we want. Surprise: it doesn’t. These type of challenges become character building moments. Stepping stones as we learn to push forward despite the difficulty of each step.
It would take a couple more months of small procedures to get rid of the lingering cancer cells. These were not fun adventures, but they worked. Eventually. And I finally got to see my doctor smile about 3 months ago when he shared that I was finally cancer free—for now. Through this experience I learned that patience truly is a virtue.
Lesson Five: Patience means trusting in the Lord’s timing. I think I’ve been learning this lesson most of my life. Things have rarely happened when I thought they should. Perhaps you can relate. But when we’ve done all we can on our part, we must then possess enough faith to put our hand in God’s and trust that things will eventually work out. Until then, we endure the storms that pass through, knowing that one day, the sun will shine again. We will find reasons to smile, again. And items like Covid, will become memories that we’ll look back on, not with fondness, but perhaps with an appreciation for all that we survived with God’s help.
So I am now almost 3 months cancer free (yes, I’m hoping for good results next week!). And yes, it has been quite the journey. I’m still learning the importance of pacing myself. I am getting stronger all of the time, but I’ve had to swallow a bit of pride and admit that I am not 100% yet. Periodically, I have to ask for help. (Yes, I know, I can’t believe I shared that either. We Scottish types don’t like asking for help. We are the eternal two-year-olds: “DO IT MYSELF!” souls who struggle with being dependent on others.) I believe that would be lesson 6: it’s okay to ask for help. I said it, but I’m still struggling with it.
Another thing I’m struggling with: I have to avoid some foods with acid content like luscious tomatoes that I love, and can’t enjoy right now. This is sad for me, but I’m dealing with it. Chocolate is still my friend, so I take comfort in it. I’ve been told that it may take up to a year for me to be able to eat items that are acidic. I’ve learned (the hard way) that when I do eat items of that nature, my tongue reacts very badly. Sigh . . .
So to sum up, life happens! There will always be challenges. We are living in a time that will no doubt be recorded in history. And if we look back through history, we will note that there have always been adventures that test what we’re made of. I suspect that’s part of why we’re here. On bad days, reflect on what is really important. Cling to hope, knowing that brighter days are ahead. Learn from the journey, but keep moving forward, and look for the good. We hear a lot about the bad things taking place these days, but there are good things happening, too. Start making a list of those items, and I think we’ll all be surprised by how many positive blessings are taking place all around.