There are subtle changes that cancer brings to a life. I mean aside from the big stuff — the shock, treatment, suffering, treatment, trauma, fear, treatment .. did I mention treatment — ya, that big stuff. Aside from all that, there are subtle changes, some you don’t notice until maybe after the big stuff is over.
Like now I’m uncomfortable driving the Southern California freeways. I know some of you are saying, “Who wouldn’t be uncomfortable driving the Southern California freeways?” But if you’re saying that, you probably don’t live in Southern California because those doggone freeways are essential to our existence here! Sure, you can avoid them by taking surface streets some of the time, but eventually, you’ll have to drive them to get somewhere you’re going! So the discomfort while driving them which came after my cancer is a notable disadvantage. It doesn’t prevent me from driving them, but I have a new discomfort when I do.
I think that’s a result of an awareness of how fragile life is, how frail our fleshly bodies really are and how quickly death can come. And I guess that’s another change since cancer. I always knew this physical body would someday give out and I would die. But now that reality lives close to my conscious awareness. The fragility of life is a pretty constant companion. Not just an acquaintance, it’s now my constant companion.
There is another subtle but notable change. I’m not afraid of the dark any more. I used to be afraid of the dark. As a kid I was REALLY afraid of the dark. I would lie in my bed at night and squint my eyes hard to try to bring some light into the darkness. I knew that there was something in the dark that was hairy and scary and mean and menacing! I just knew it! That fear led to frequent nightmares — crying and screaming and my little sister having to awaken and soothe me back to sleep. I grew up in a time when little kid’s nightlights hadn’t been invented yet and leaving a room light on all night would add too much cost to our electric bill, so we just toughed it out. My fear of the dark followed me into my adulthood. So did the nightmares.
At a critical time in my adult life, two dear sisters in Christ came and ministered to me healing prayer for the nightmares. Turns out there was a good reason for the fear and for the nightmares. I almost died at birth and when I was about 5, I was playing in the yard alone and unsupervised. I climbed a little ladder and fell on concrete, hitting my head, and knocking myself out. When I awoke there was blood everywhere and I had a serious concussion. I walked woozily to find my mom. I can still remember the sight of my blood on her white skirt. Those two traumas sat unhealed in my soul until praying with those two dear sisters. After their prayers, the nightmares slowly but surely went away.
But the fear of the dark remained. I got nightlights so when I would get up in the night, I wasn’t in the dark. I was always amazed at my dear husband Philip, who terribly nearsighted, had learned to walk in the dark when he was very young. “I can’t see anything anyway,” he’d say. “What good would lights do?” But it wasn’t about seeing really. It wasn’t about bumping into a wall or tripping over the cat in the dark. It was about something else — something potentially menacing. It sounds weird if you aren’t afraid of the dark. But if you are afraid of the dark, it makes perfect sense.
There was some time during my cancer when I stopped using nightlights. When I found myself in the bathroom at night and I hadn’t turned the lights on to get there. When I would leave my bed and go downstairs to the living room and just sit for awhile in my prayer chair in the dark. When I’d walk to the kitchen to get a drink of water — in the dark.
And I wasn’t afraid anymore.
Sometime during my cancer storm, I learned to walk in the dark. Whatever menacing thing in the dark that I feared from the time I was a child, well, I guess it stepped out of the darkness, came close and stared me straight in the face on that awful day in the surgeon’s office when I was diagnosed with cancer. That thing, my worse enemy, my greatest fear stalked me through all the early days of my surgeries, chemo and radiation. But at some point in my cancer storm, I lifted my head and started staring back. And I didn’t blink. Because of the power of God in my life, that menacing thing didn’t scare me anymore. The suffering, the trauma, even the threat of death, didn’t scare me anymore. The scary monsters in the dark vanished. And I wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore.
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light
so that you can understand the confident hope
he has given to those he called—
his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness
of God’s power for us who believe him.
This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead
and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
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.