It’s now been over two years since I was diagnosed with cancer, had my first surgeries and began my chemo treatment. Two years. Does that seem like a long time? For me, some moments it feels like time passed quickly but when I regard the actual happenings of the last two years and the things God has taught me on this journey, I guess that’s when I realize … ya, it’s been a long two years. I remember a post on my Caring Bridge medical blog early after my diagnosis when I quoted an old Hollies hit from the 1960’s — the chorus said, “The road is long with many a winding turn that leads us to who knows where, who knows where.”
That’s what cancer felt like to me then — a long, winding road that would lead me to some place I could not anticipate. I guess I was being prophetic when I wrote that post. Or maybe God was speaking to me. It would indeed be — it IS indeed — a long, winding road. And where cancer has led me so far, well, it sure isn’t where I could have expected or anticipated! But I must say, even if I could go back, I wouldn’t. Nope. It’s been a tough road but suffering has taught me so much … about Jesus, about people I love, about people in general, about myself, about God’s Kingdom and about God’s heart.
So here’s the news: even more than two years into it, I’m still on the journey!
In addition to one more surgery to go in my reconstruction, I’m also living with the reality of needed medications and their side effects. I take something called an “aromatase inhibitor (AI)” which strips my body of estrogen. I’ll take it for five years. For post-menopausal women, this is a big-hit drug that leaves you with side effects that seemingly just can’t be avoided. For every woman it’s different but my big side effect is arthritic pain in my hands and wrists. I’m learning to cope since I may have to live with this for a few more years! I’ve found if I can “adjust and adapt” that’s a big plus with the maladies that come with cancer and cancer treatment.
I also suffer from something they call “Post-Mastectomy Pain Syndrome” which sometimes affects women after surgery of this nature. It results in nerve pain down the inside of my left arm from armpit to elbow. On a good day, it’s like the pain that comes when your foot has gone numb and it’s coming back — little needly-like pain. On a not-so-good day, it’s a burning nerve pain that makes it tough to function. After a year of hoping it would heal and go away, I’ve started on a drug that treats neuropathic pain by reducing the release of a neurotransmitter which seems to produce the pain in the nerves. I’ve only been on it for a few days but it’s already reducing my symptoms, praise the Lord!
So the journey continues.
The latest research shows that many women and men suffer long after their actual treatment for cancer has ended. They suffer emotional and often physical pain as well. There is a post-traumatic stress that affects many. And there is the reality that their world has been forever changed by cancer. Just the diagnosis, “You have cancer”, changes people irrevocably on the inside. It changes our worldview and the way we react to others, to pain, to life, and to God. Then the treatment makes its mark on us forever also. Many of us may laugh when reminiscing about our surgeries, chemo or radiation experiences (and some things are downright funny), but watch our eyes and you will see a sadness that comes with the memory of what we’ve had to endure.
So, the Lord is using my extended suffering to remind me that cancer sufferers need help and support long after the cancer treatment is over. They need people who will listen when they talk about how sad it makes them that after a double mastectomy, their chest nerves are dead and they miss being able to actually FEEL a needed hug from a loved one. They need someone to care about the fear that rises up within them when they have their periodic blood work and check up with their oncologist. They need someone to touch their shoulder and say, “I understand” and someone who will pray for them with words that show them they are not alone and that there is a God who is watching … and listening … and loving.
My journey with cancer isn’t over yet and I guess in some ways, it never will be. Not as long as there are others out there who will let me walk their cancer journey with them.
Our CANCER with CHRIST support group meets this Thursday, March 6 at 10 am in our home located at 1980 Swan Drive in Costa Mesa, CA. If you know someone suffering with cancer in Orange County, CA, invite them to attend. To contact me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also visit our CANCER with CHRIST blogsite at cancerwithchrist.wordpress.com
Because for many of us, the journey is not yet over!
Love and blessings,
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.