You never have to ask a cancer sufferer who is in survivorship what they are thankful for at Thanksgiving. We don’t have to think long and hard — nope, not us! We know right away what we are thankful for. We are thankful for life. We are thankful that when death came knocking at our door in the form of cancer, we didn’t have to answer the door and invite death to come in! We are thankful for early detection or later detection — heck, we are thankful for any detection! We are thankful for doctors and treatment. For surgeries and even for chemotherapy and radiation. Yes, we are thankful for the rugged, hard, awful journey that took us treatment by treatment, further from death.
In this last month as I approach the 3-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis on December 8, I see myself moving further and further from death. In my prayer time, I literally see myself in my mind’s eye moving away from that day when death came knocking on my door.
But my brush with death will never become “just a memory” because cancer has a way of changing you forever.
Cancer happens on a cellular level in the body — it is literally a disease of my own cells getting broken and “going rogue”. And perhaps because it’s a disease of my cells, my memory of my cancer is also on a cellular level. When I remember, I feel again. Like the shock when being told “you have cancer” — I can feel that, not just remember that I felt it. The fear-filled nights. The trauma of chemo and radiation. The sorrow of losing life as it was before cancer and the uncertainty of what life would be like with cancer. The questions, the doubts, the weakness, the discomfort, the pain, the suffering. All are things I can feel again, not just in memory but in an odd reliving kind of way.
Now because that may seem maudlin to those who haven’t suffered with cancer, let me say that there is another set of cellular memories. Another list of things I don’t just remember in my mind, but I feel again at the very thought of them. The comfort of knowing that hundreds of prayers were being lifted for me every day of my cancer storm. The strength that came from a husband who cried with me and a sister who cared for me. The grace given to me by the many loving, concerned Christian brothers and sisters in my own congregation. The silly joy of hearing someone say, “Your wig looks great!” or “You are just glowing!” (must have been the radiation!)
Last night I had a tummy ache — one of those uncomfortable, can’t sleep, “what did I eat that I shouldn’t have?” nights. And in my discomfort, I found myself doing what I had done night after night during my cancer storm. Yes, my cellular memory kicked it. I prayed and asked Jesus to come visit me, to calm my tummy and to please let me just go peacefully back to sleep. This morning as I awakened I realized that last night, He heard that little prayer, just as He’d heard it night after night in my cancer storm. And just as then, He responded to that little prayer and Jesus, the Kind Savior came and did as He had done before … and I peacefully slept in His healing presence.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for many things — and the first and greatest is that I am alive and that I am moving further from death. But I am also thankful for cellular memories that will be with me until I close my eyes this side of heaven. You see, those cellular memories draw me closer to my Jesus and with or without cancer, that is where I want to be.
Happy Thanksgiving, Dear Ones!
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.