Yesterday marked my 31st anniversary since hearing the word carcinoma in my own diagnosis. At twenty-five years of age I wanted to be sure I fully understood what was happening. I said to the doctor straight out, "You're telling me I have cancer. Right?" He replied in the affirmative. I was admitted into the hospital a couple of hours later and scheduled for surgery the next morning. Today, July 18, marks the 31st anniversary of that surgery which began my road to overcoming the suffering of cancer. The road has not always been easy, but I am still "kicking" after all these years.
I have seen many instances in which people have been unable to overcome the suffering. The disease reigned victorious in extinguishing life. I frequently recall the many people who entered my life because of our sufferings. Unfortunately, some of them had diseases that were too advanced, too aggressive, or caused other complications making it impossible to overcome the suffering despite their heroic efforts.
One person I sometimes remember is Sharon, a twenty year old college student with whom I watched the fourth of July fireworks out of the hospital lounge area window just two years after my own diagnosis. It was a good view over the Missouri River and this celebration was a distraction from the hardships of the illness that Sharon was experiencing. Sharon ended up dying on the day Margaret and I were married later that fall. Each year when Margaret and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, my heart aches a little for Sharon's parents. They have been without their daughter all of these years. What must that pain feel like?
The age-old philosopical question continues to be asked by many people, "If God is good, why is there so much suffering?" That is certainly a question which can prompt a great deal of reflection.
Some very specific examples have crossed my path in the last couple of days in regard to the challenges being faced by people with afflictions of one kind or another. I was just notified this morning that one of my relatives went to the E.R. during the night because of chest pains. That is always a bit scary for the individual with the pains as well as for the family members and loved ones watching and waiting for answers.
A young man I have written about in previous blogs has had a monumental step in overcoming illness recently. He can swallow again. Can you imagine being diagnosed with a brain tumor in your teens? Can you imagine the willpower needed to continue to strive for health day after day for YEARS? Can you imagine the sense of accomplishment to be able to eat again after several years of being unable to swallow? Congratulations Sam! Keep up the good work. You, your parents, and your siblings are an inspiration to a multitude of people around you.
Finally, my wife asked me yesterday if I had seen the Facebook posts about Crystal Harper. I had not. My wife suggested I read about her journey. Crystal Harper was the meterologist on our local news station in Cheyenne before she moved to a larger market. I have never met Crystal. However, since she frequently came into our home on the evening newscast, I certainly felt a sense of connection. At the age of twenty-five Crystal has been diagnosed with cancer.
Crystal's Facebook post showed her "rocking" the bald look since losing her hair due to the treatments. I can remember well the experience of watching my own hair fall out at the age of twenty-five after I started chemotherapy treatments. Is the experience more difficult for a young woman with long flowing hair than it is for a guy with short hair? I don't know, but Crystal is certainly attempting to live life to the fullest while going through the suffering. Her "celebrity" status as a TV meterologist has put her in a place to positively impact a lot of people. She is doing just that. Keep up the good work Crystal.
While I was in diaconate formation I did a semster-long practicum in hospice. During that phase of training I visited with a number of people under the care of hospice. Even though I had been through much suffering of my own by that time, it was a completely different vantage point now. In some ways, I found it had been easier to be the patient rather than the one standing by the bedside helplessly watching someone slip away. Obviously, much can be learned from both perspectives.
The academic portion of the hospice training exposed me to the writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Reading her literary works served to help me better grasp the realities of death and dying. Through this study, I found myself still processing the events connected with my own battle against illness and suffering. Deeper reflection and prayer were beneficial as I grappled with the questions of life and death.
If you are currently going through an illness or struggle of some sort, please know of my prayers for you. If you want me to pray for you specifically by name and for a very definite intention, feel free to leave a comment and let me know. If you want it to be private send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will pray very specifically for your intention.
In closing, I simply leave you with this quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. "The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths."