She left this comment on my post about living and planning and hoping after years of fighting cancer:
Tried to make plans, but my husband’s cancer didn’t allow it. Prayed, others prayed, he died. Don’t understand it.
And I don’t understand it either, why sometimes we pray and hope and plan and the cancer just keeps coming. It was all I could do to just go back there and tell her I was sorry and that I was grieving with her. It was all I could do, but I know it’s not enough. Those words won’t help.
I don’t even know her name.
Since I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, I can think of dozens of people who have received similar news over the phone or sitting in doctors’ offices. Some of them heard their name and cancer together for the first time in the last four years. Some of them discovered a recurrence. Some of them have died.
This is the darker side of my cancer story that is harder for me to write about. Every day — and I mean literally every single day — I am aware of my imminent death. Though I am doing pretty well right now, and though I may still have many years ahead of me, the specter of cancer casts a long shadow.
As I consider even the possibility of a long life, I imagine year after year of wondering if this is the year I die.
People tell me this is normal for a cancer survivor. Doctors tell me they would be worried if I didn’t have death as a concern; nurses tell me that most of their patients talk about it. A radiology tech once told me that she knows a woman who has been coming for annual CT scans for more than 10 years, and though she continues to be cancer free, she worries every time waiting for those results, wondering if this one is going to show something.
Most recently while I waited on test results, I started planning my funeral, picking out songs I would like to be sung and imaging a chapel filled with artwork and beauty. I began writing my obituary in my head, “Charity Singleton died after years of living victoriously with cancer.” (I’ve never liked the metaphor of “battle” and “losing” to this disease.) And I started grieving with those who will survive me.
When my news came back good, I felt silly for going down that road. My body was not riddled with tumors as I had feared. But today, when one of the nurse’s from my oncologist’s office called to confirm that they would be following up on that one area on the PET scan that was inconclusive, the fear and the uncertainty began creeping back.
This was the same news I had heard a week ago, as my doctor took me to the back room and showed me last summer’s PET scan and last week’s PET scan. Then, as He explained the radiologist’s hesitation because of my history, and said overall, it was very positive that there was no obvious cancer but we’d have to check again just to be sure, I had felt confident and hopeful.
It might not be anything.
Or it might be. That’s where today’s conversation left me.
“I’m sorry I can’t give you 100 percent certainty,” the doctor told me last week while I was trying to take in the news that was so much better than I had expected.
“You CAN’T give me 100 percent certainty,” I said. “Even if this little spot didn’t catch the eye of the radiologist, I’ll always be waiting on the next blood test or the next scan.”
That’s the rest of the story of living with cancer.
Paul told the Corinthians that when he was in Asia Minor, he was “under great pressure, far beyond [his] ability to endure, so that he despaired of life itself. Indeed, he felt he had received the sentence of death.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
I could have written the same thing about my life off and on over the past four and a half years.
But Paul wasn’t writing to the Corinthians to complain, he was writing to tell them the truth. This sentence of death wasn’t to cause him fear and anxiety; it was given so that he might rely on God, not himself.
That’s why I am praying that the Lord will help me stay in this long season of cancer, to keep living through the pain and difficulty, because I need to learn this reliance on God, too.
And that’s the truth.