My family will remember the date of July 27th rather well. We have gauged most of contemporary life as “pre” and “post” July 27th 2014. That day that we all sat around our humble kitchen table and heard our beloved, kind, compassionate mother utter the C Word. A word that you never expected to hear (because, in your mind it only happens to other people) an ugly, terrible word that injects fear into the hearts of loved ones. The more you love that person, the worse the word is.
“I have Cancer”
It’s like a terrible villain from a movie, an amorphous evil that has no shape or face but merely a dark, inky presence; as real as sin, as thick as tar. I’ve worked with teens my whole adult life and have heard every vulgar, explicit, profane word and their various creative incarnations yet no word is as filthy as this one.
You know that feeling you get when you see somebody fall and get hurt; that shot that goes through your body, that odd empathy that you (should) have for another human being? It’s the reason that people cringe at movies when a person is visibly, often times creatively injured and you wince at the act. In times of great visual agony the matching appendage on your own body may tingle as if you are being similarly afflicted by the world of pain they are living in.
When I heard the C Word it was as if my whole body was afflicted. As if my very soul was covered in malignant, fast reproducing cells seeking to ravage, consume and destroy. It felt as if tiny little spiders were ripping me apart from the inside.
I felt as if I was going to vomit, as if the world was spinning. I realize now why in old movies they ask the person on the other end of the phone line if they are sitting down when they receive terrible news.
Every time I have to say the word Cancer now it feels like I am cursing, like I’m using the big daddy of foul language, a noun that makes the F word look tame, feeble and silly in comparison.
You soon learn that there are other variations of, and additions to the C Word, like acne covered junior high boys trying to impress each other with their vast vulgarity. Tumor. Stage 3. Chemotherapy.
I remember my art teacher in High School trying to explain what it was like trying to battle a brain tumor in his younger years. I’ll never forget his odd description of Chemo “They kill you, and hope they kill the cancer at the same time.”
Fighting sickness with poison.
As I type these words my mother is receiving her first dose of Chemo. They are pumping poison into her blood stream to try and kill the remaining cancerous cells that have spread to ravage and destroy. She was so nervous last night when I talked to her; choking up at the mere mention, begging to talk about something happier like her grandchildren, or how my sermon went that morning. She asked “Can we just talk about something else?”
It would seem that everybody has a C-Word Story that they want to share with me. I am consistently amazed at the lack of tact and common social understanding that logical adults exhibit in many of these instances. I do not want to hear about your grandmother who was given a clear bill of health after her Chemotherapy only to find that they didn’t get it all, that it had spread and she died in agony a month later. That is not something to tell me and my family right now. We know what can happen. I know that you are struggling to deal with the loss of your loved one and you need to cathartically share with others to continue to work through your tragedy. However we are in it; we know the danger yet we need to claw through the dirt toward that faint light, that glimmer of hope.
We pray. I don’t know what we would do if we couldn’t pray.
Can God heal my mother? Yes.
I do not know.
We pray and huddle together for warmth as winter approaches.