Cancer doesn’t observe holidays. Doesn’t take a vacation. Doesn’t step away for a brief time-out. Since the week before Thanksgiving, when my son, Kyle, discovered an unusual mass, cancer dictates how we spend our holidays.
The day before Thanksgiving, Kyle went in for an ultrasound. After the results came back abnormal, we spent Black Friday, which also happened to be my birthday, in the ER waiting for a C.T. scan.
Right before Christmas, Kyle had surgery to remove the malignant mass. Christmas Eve, we learned the mass was not an isolated tumor, but an extremely rare form of leukemia relapse.
New Year’s Eve kicked off a two-year aggressive chemotherapy treatment. At the end of January, Kyle spent his 20th birthday in bed, recovering from a hospital stay.
Good Friday followed the trend with a ninety-six hour admission for I.V. chemo.
Easter morning, I finally let myself slip into the self-pity zone.
Due to a major project rollover, my husband had to work. Kyle was stuck in the hospital. And when I suggested to my two younger kids that we go to early service together, both had excuses of why they’d rather sit with their friends than hang with their mom.
Kyle’s second go round with leukemia can be a lot to handle. Most days, I do okay. I drive him to weekly clinic appointments, sleep on the cement couch during frequent hospital stays, make the occasional ER run, keep my “happy face” handy, and deal with each physical and emotional crisis as they come.
Not so much on Easter morning.
My friends lit up Facebook with, “He is risen.” All I could do was lean over the kitchen island and cry. It didn’t feel like He had risen and if He had, it felt like that rising had zero to do with me.
In the car on the way to church, I struggled with something one of my friends had said to me early on. She asked if I’d thanked God for Kyle’s cancer.
Thank Him? Seriously? For the hardest thing I’d ever face, not only once, but twice?
But the more I thought about it, the less crazy the idea felt. I’d done everything else. I’d cried. I’d begged. I’d prayed. I’d run away—at least in my mind. None of those things changed anything for me or for Kyle.
When we got to church, I claimed parental veto and forced my kids to sit with me. During the message, I closed my eyes and in silent prayer and took a chance on the whole thank-you thing.
Lord, thank you Pat went to work. Thank you that Kyle has cancer. Thank you that Maddy and Alek would rather be with their friends than with me. Thank you for the first Easter we aren’t all together as a family.
That didn’t feel so great. But I kept my eyes closed and quieted my mind.
And then something weird happened and my prayer turned into this:
Lord, thank you for Pat’s job and his insurance that pays for Kyle’s treatments. Thank you that he’s a good, dependable worker that takes care of our family. Thank you for making sure Kyle is safe in the hospital during treatments. While cancer doesn’t take a holiday, neither does chemo or the staff of nurses and doctors that are taking care of him. Thank you that his cancer is curable. Thank you that my younger children have friends. Thank you for Maddy and Alek's health and their typical teenage issues that don’t require multiple ER visits or hospital admissions.
With that prayer, everything changed. Not on the outside, but inside of me. I opened my eyes and found myself miles from the self-pity zone with no desire to go back.
Yeah, life is hard. Some days I struggle just to get dressed. My son is sick. Kyle’s nurses are our new best friends. I’ll probably have PTSD from logging too many hours in medical settings. My family’s a mess.
But deep down, I’m okay.
I wonder if God is using this time to teach me to find the joy and worth in every moment? If I can learn to be content during the worst parts of life, how much better will the best parts be?
My desire to get out of tough situations won’t excavate me, but I do have control over what I do while I’m here. And I think I want to learn what God wants to teach. I think I want to be thankful.
Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV
But every time I try to finish this blog, my fingers freeze on the keys and all the energy I thought I had to put into some life-changing revelation drains away.
I wanted to write a beautiful story of the way my family has bonded and pulled together over Kyle’s fight with cancer.
I wanted to say I’m a servant, a martyr, willing to do anything and everything for my son with an attitude of grace.
I wanted to say Kyle is quietly strong and humbled by what God is doing in his life.
I wanted to say Alek has shed the role of selfish, teenage boy and strapped on his superhero brother cape and that my boys spend time together cementing a relationship that can never be broken.
I wanted to say even though I can’t be there 24/7 for Maddy, she trusts in my love and feels secure in our family and believes God will heal Kyle.
I wanted to say Pat and I have rallied as partners and parents.
But I can’t, because those things are only my secret fantasies.
So here’s the truth. Cancer destroys—cells, bodies, lives, relationships, families.
I do love my son. But I’m not a martyr. I have no grace. I’m a lousy servant. I get tired and angry and let my emotions explode all over the place.
Kyle is quietly strong, but there’s nothing quiet about his anger. Alek has stepped up in many ways, but he’d rather escape our new life than settle into it and he’s gone more than he’s home. Maddy cries. A lot. Especially on Wednesday mornings. Clinic mornings. She’s afraid to go to school because she thinks Kyle will die and she won’t be here and it will be her fault.
Pat and I argue about stupid things, like cookie sheets left unwashed on the counter and laundry going moldy in the washer.
I wish I could say because we’re Christians, things in our house are different. I wish I could say we’ve risen to the task set before us and that we don’t doubt or cry or fight or wonder if God is even here.
But I can’t.
I can say this—what gets me through the hard days, and there are a lot of hard days, is knowing God doesn’t deal in wishes or wants or fantasies.
God deals in promises. Promises that my feelings and my fears and my disbelief can’t change.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who[a] have been called according to his purpose”
(Romans 8:28 NIV).
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”
I claim these promises for my family. I believe God wants us not only to survive Kyle’s cancer, but to thrive, to come out on the other end as better, stronger, more compassionate people. I believe He means for our family to grow closer together. I believe He wants to use our dark moments for His good.
I don’t have the first clue how that can even happen, but I do know that God is the only one who can take something terrible and tragic and create something amazing and beautiful.
I’ve seen it before. The first time Kyle conquered cancer. And the work God’s done in the past is what I’m holding onto for our future.
If you missed it, here's the first post in the Surviving the Storm Series: When Life Stops.
Life is complicated.
Full of out-of-reach dreams and in-your-face commitments. We are busy with bosses and deadlines and spouses and kids and extended family obligations. Even time with friends doesn’t always come baggage-free. Throw in a few hormonal teens, an excess of extra-curricular activities, an aging pet, and piles of laundry and dishes that never deplete, and peace feels far-fetched.
Sometimes I want off the Tilt-a-Wheel.
Sometimes I need to be more careful what I ask for.
Want to know a sure way to find perspective in less than half a second?
Wake up in the storm of serious illness.
Life stops. Everything going on around you fades. Because all those complications just became irrelevant.
My blog has been silent these last few months, minus a post or two. Up until the last few weeks, I’ve been silent too. Now I’m ready to tell you why. Not because I want sympathy or pity or an I’m-praying-for-you comment fest, but because I wrote a challenge a while ago about being transparent.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2012 Christmas Letter:
What doesn’t get put in Christmas letters are the struggles. The events that hit the hardest. The moments that brought life-altering decisions. The impact that forced the most personal change.
I find it interesting that we don’t share our struggles and our triumphs over them. Those stories would inspire instead of defeat. Those stories would bring hope instead of despair. As a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, I know I’ve failed. Now I want to know there is redemption. (If you want to read the entire letter, the link is HERE.)
One word stilled my Tilt-a-Whirl life. You know the proverbial fork in the road? That single word sent it crashing down in front of me. Not in a choice as to which way I would walk, but as a Mt. Everest barricade.
A sick feeling twisted my stomach. “Anything else, Lord.” I dropped to my knees on my bedroom carpet. “I’ll do anything else. But not this.”
Yes. This. His voice whispered across my heart. Remember your challenge? Are you still willing to be transparent?
"I don’t know.” I crawled to the couch, clicked on Netflix, and got lost in Grey’s Anatomy. For fifty-seven episodes.
I asked if you were willing to be transparent. A gentle poke had me push pause on the remote.
“I don’t know, Lord. Maybe.” I limped from the couch to my comfy bed and curled up under the flannel sheets and read my way through the bestseller list on Kindle.
What about your challenge? The reminder came quietly.
My heart squeezed and I pulled the comforter over my head. “I think I need to clean out the closet under the stairs. I should repaint Maddy’s room and go through all the old photo albums and—”
How long are you going to hide? His words stopped my ramble.
Hiding. I’m not hiding.
You are hiding. Do you want to escape or be real?
As a writing coach, I’ve spent the last three years teaching people how to tell their stories in a way that will effectively impact the lives of others. New writers don’t always know how to structure their thoughts into words and paragraphs and pages. They don’t know how to get across what they’re feeling.
But I do.
Someone once asked me if my blog posts are cathartic. In a way, yes. I’m a writer. When I’m stressed, I write. When I’m excited, I write. Words are my release. But I’ve always believed that we go through hardships for a reason. If I can’t turn around and encourage those behind me, what good is my journey?
Some days I think my story doesn’t matter.
Other days, I’m convinced it does.
Every day I want to be real.
I’m ready. I’m ready to share. I haven’t written The End. Not yet. Because I’m still stuck behind that huge fork. My upcoming blogs may not be the most eloquent, but each post will be transparent. If I can reach out and steady someone else, being transparent will be worth it.
So here it goes. That word that changed our entire lives in half a heartbeat?
I’m a Cancer Mom. I’ve never had cancer. I’ve never had my body turn against me. I’ve never suffered from the poison of chemo and radiation.
But I’ve watched my son suffer.
The first time Kyle battled leukemia, the war lasted three-and-a-half years. That’s 42 months or 168 weeks or 1,176 days of muscle pain and nausea and weight loss and rashes and mouth sores and fatigue and fear.
Not every day was bad. But most days weren’t great.
This time, he'll have to fight another two years. Two years of putting our lives on hold. He’s had to drop out of nursing school and come home. He’s had to say goodbye to the friends that are moving forward without him. He’s had to revisit that place none of us ever wanted to go.
I am a Cancer Mom. And I’d like to share my journey.
Look for upcoming posts with the tag—Surviving the Storm.
When I hear the word pride, I think of times in my life when I’ve longed to be the center of attention, hogged the credit for a project, elevated myself above the rules, and walked my road alone—confident my way was best.
I don’t often attach the word pride to the idea of low self-esteem.
Who would? Low self-esteem equals humility. When I don’t believe I’m good enough, I’ve kicked pride in the backside. Right?
What if by not believing in myself, I’ve committed my largest act of pride?
Look at it this way.
God isn’t stingy when He dispenses gifts. He isn’t stingy with talents and skills either. So what if He loaded your arsenal with everything He wanted you to be and you turned away, hung your head, toed the ground and said, “No thanks. You’ve made a mistake. I’ll never be good enough.”
That’s exactly what Moses did. He had an entire argument with God about why he wasn’t good enough. Read Exodus chapters 3 and 4.
Here’s the part near the end of their interchange.
Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.
Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.
(Exodus 4:10-13 NIV)
Who was Moses to question God? Who I am to argue?
God gave Moses everything he needed to do His work.
Moses couldn’t see God’s provision through the reveal of the burning bush, his “live” conversation with the Master of the Universe, or the gift of Aaron.
Moses hung his head, scuffed his toe, and said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
What does God want you to do for Him? What experiences and people and opportunities has he placed in front of you that you’ve ignored. Because of your low self-esteem?
Remember that catchy phrase? If God leads you to it, he’ll bring you through it.
Pride isn’t telling everyone why you’re not worthy.
Pride is being ungrateful for God’s gifts. Pride is turning from your talents. Pride is scorning your God-given skills.
If you’re a believer, it’s not really about self-esteem anyway. It’s about God-esteem.
He’s equipped you. Now go do the work.