I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea when our phone rang. Our family physician was on the other end of the line. Dr. Love (don’t you love his name?) wanted to speak to my husband. I carried the receiver up to John, then left the room to give him some privacy.
When I returned, I could tell from the stunned look on John’s face that the news was not good. “They think it’s lymphoma,” he said. Through all the initial appointments, consultations, and biopsies, I had tried to remain upbeat. But after John’s statement, all I could say was, “OK. Now I’m worried.”
A cancer diagnosis is life-changing. Not only for the patient, but also for his or her loved ones. Life as you know it is turned upside down. Doctor’s offices and hospital rooms become your everyday destinations. Worry and anxiety threaten to become your constant companions. Your loved one is battling a serious illness, and you are trying to stay strong for them.
After my husband’s initial diagnosis, there were more tests, another biopsy to determine the exact kind of lymphoma, surgery to install a chemo port, and six months of chemotherapy. Through all of this, I felt I was in a fog—a nightmare that couldn’t be happening to us.
Thankfully, my husband’s chemotherapy was successful. For the past two years, his lymphoma has been in remission. Now, as I look back on those six excruciating months of treatment, I can see lessons learned—lessons I wish I could have discovered in a less painful way, but instruction that has stayed with me and made life better.
Lesson One: Be thankful for what you have. My husband was the guy who never got sick, so I always envisioned celebrating our fiftieth anniversary together. But when he was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that vision might not be possible. I might lose him. Although we’ve always had a good marriage (with the usual bumps in the road), suddenly our relationship became more precious. With a twinge of guilt, I realized I had too often taken my husband for granted. It took a serious diagnosis to fully awaken me to the blessing I had in my loyal, loving spouse. Cancer taught me to be thankful for what I had.
In the midst of serious health problems, it isn’t easy to find something to be grateful for, but I found that when I took time to thank God for little things like the smile of a nurse, the caring cards from friends, or the loving presence of family members. My heart was encouraged.
When cancer comes home, our natural tendency is to focus on the disease, the pain, and what is lost. But if we can look for the small blessings in the middle of the hurt, we find a glimpse of joy.
Lesson Two: Take the journey one day at a time. Any life journey should be approached one step at a time, but it is especially true of the journey with cancer. From my husband’s very first diagnosis, life quickly became overwhelming. Tons of information was thrown at us. We learned meanings of terms we never wanted to know. The sheer volume of medical appointments was often crushing. I could have easily drowned in a sea of what-ifs.
I was trying to see the end of the journey from the beginning. It took a visit to a friend to change my perspective. Amy was battling lung cancer at the same time my husband was going through treatment. She was very weak, yet somehow, she and her husband had an inner strength. When I asked her husband how he was doing, he replied, “Today I have Amy and for that I’m grateful.” His words reminded me of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Instead of borrowing trouble from the sea of what-ifs, I began living one day at a time. Trusting God for the strength for each step restored my peace.
When cancer comes home, try not to think about the next day or the next month or the next year. Live each day in God’s promise of care and comfort.
Lesson Three: Times of waiting are an opportunity to be still in God’s care. Cancer put us in a series of waiting rooms—literal and figurative. As we waited for the outcome of the treatment and for the answers to our prayers, we felt helpless. We wanted more control over the situation. I wished I could do something besides wait.
But the inability to alter things myself helped me grow in trust in the One who could change our situation. After my husband regained his health, I shared some of the journey in my book, Waiting: A Bible Study on Patience, Hope, and Trust. I wrote, “In this time of inaction, God is giving us an opportunity to be still in His care. Each day of waiting is another twenty-four hours to watch Him provide for us in miraculous ways. Every pause in our plans is a new chance to relinquish our stubborn hold on our lives and yield to the Lord’s perfect will.” When I can do nothing, I am more likely to stop and watch God work.
When you find yourself in the waiting rooms of hospitals and of life, remember that God is there with you, holding your hand. Accept the time of inactivity as a time to be still in God’s presence. Ask him to open your eyes to the ways he is working in your and your loved one’s lives as you move through this painful period.
When cancer comes home, we never welcome it. But we can learn from the visit. Be thankful for what you have. Live one day at a time. Be still in God’s care.