I often describe the Oncology specialty as a beautiful beast. “The study or treatment of cancer and tumors,” is what defines this field. Naturally, the ‘beast’ in the reference is the cancer, and the ‘beautiful’ is the science, skills, research, patients and treatments that attempt to tame and overcome it. Most people associate the science with fear, death, darkness and complete discomfort. Understandably so. However, there is a beauty that I have had the honor to witness pour out, even from some of the darkest places. People that have been stitched into my spirit that I will carry with me all of my days.
One woman in particular, who was a former patient of ours, passed with an eight-year-old daughter that walked the journey alongside her mother from beginning to end. I will never forget when I would see this patients name on the schedule how happy and hopeful I would become. That I would be filled with thoughts of “THIS visit; I know THIS visit will be the one with promise!” I remember that with each visit she would become less mobile. That she was close to my age and lost the ability to walk or open a water bottle independently. That her hair was once the most beautiful shade of red I had ever seen. That like the rest of her body, her hair slowly fell to be non-existent no matter how hard you looked. That as she was shrinking before my eyes in every sense of the word. Yet the TWO traits that never got smaller was her gentleness and her trust. She was never one to complain. With every dose of bad news delivered it was as if she knew it was coming and was always ready with a response of, “okay, now what?” It was never with a spirit of arrogance, denial or false strength. Rather, one of trust and delivered with a gentle tone. The only time I remember any opposition from her was tears when we gave her an appointment that conflicted with her daughter’s end of the year play. She explained, “I need to be there. It means so much to her. Could you please see if this could be scheduled around that? Please.” Speaking from her mama’s heart with tears that just watered the prayers’ she had for her daughter. She knew the chance of this being the last play of her daughters’ she would ever attend. That her daughters’ biggest fan would be cheering her on from a new distance in the future. When the treatment options had ended, I had never seen a white flag raised with such courage in all of my life. Such grace. Every year since her passing (in the springtime), I am reminded to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. Every year praying that although she is counting another year without her mother, that it is another year the LORD has provided for her and her dad. That this late woman’s husband has had one more year to practice French braiding hair, and painting nails for the yearly performance that her mama wanted to attend so badly just a few short years ago. That it is one more year (365 days) the LORD has blessed him with the opportunity to rise with the sun hitting his face. That he now holds the seat of being his daughter’s greatest fan.
The trial in cancer is just different. I am not saying it is more difficult than all others, nor the most challenging. I do not feel those things can be accurately measured. However, I do feel it is unique for a number of reasons and primarily it is what I see it have the ability to do in the patients it houses itself within.
There are two types of patients that I see: those who have cancer and those where cancer has them.
No matter what the specific diagnosis, treatment or prognosis each patient we see falls into one of two categories and they are dramatically different. The woman I referenced earlier was a patient who fell into the category of someone who had cancer; who did not let cancer have her.
Just not long ago, I was spending time with a patient that I have grown to know in a way that I find to be very precious. Allowing me to pray with and for her, sharing her heart with me, her honest fears and purging even the darkest of her corners with boldness. I leave every conversation with her feeling as though it was a divine appointment.
She has taught me many things in these conversations, but one I will never forget is her sharing, “don’t waste the cancer.”
Rather, that she was saying, “I am not going to waste the cancer.” Initially, that is an awkward pill to swallow. You know like the ones that taste like vitamins and before you swallow it, and you are assessing if anyone around you knows CPR because you are certain you are going to choke on it? That was this one. I spent time with this idea, asking the LORD what I was to take from that. The LORD gently rephrased this to be, “do not waste the trial.” All of the sudden that horse pill became more like a liquid and it coated every part of me. Do not waste the trial, Lindsay.
Many situations in our lives can be applied to the two categories referenced earlier; it may just look different. There are trials of all kinds that the LORD allows and our only control over them is how we respond. We can respond with a posture of “this trial has me” or “God has me; therefore, He has this trial.” Ownership is something that our culture has drifted from over decades of media, misunderstanding of tolerance, thoughts of freethinking, perverted gospel messages and misuse of free will. We are tempted to play the blame game and find refuge in temporary remedies instead of permanency only found in God. Fear drives us to places that we can find ourselves alone and astray. Biblically the phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” are written more than any others are. Our God is not a God of coincidence. Therefore, we can trust that this was no coincidence either.
It is only through trials that we are afforded the opportunity for God to melt us with the intention of remolding us into an image more like Jesus. That, just like onions, we are composed of layers upon layers. Methodically and intentionally those layers are peeled back making us a little more vulnerable, and a little more available to the lessons the LORD wants to teach us. With all of this peeling, a process is happening. This process is a part of His promise. When we are resistant to these trials it is as though we are picking up all of those crusty outer onion layers and trying to glue them back on. This is done in effort to protect ourselves, to protect others. Instead of thinking, our job is to protect our self; we need to adopt the truth that in trial(s) we have opportunity. An opportunity to receive more insight to who God is. Insight to His greatness, His mercy, His grace, His generosity. Knowing these truths are our protection. Without them we would be sitting with the crusty shells of our onion on the outside, and not making room for the delicious and healthy inside to be revealed. For it is on the inside is where we find God. At the core.
Moving forward I pray to keep living with the attitude and posture of “do not waste the trial.” That I will not allow the trials to have me, rather remember God has me; He has me in the trial.” Sometimes I look a little more like the old crusty onion that needs to be peeled, as I tape all of my “protective pieces” back on. However, doing things with God and not for God allows me to continue handing over those outer pieces in surrender one by one. Surrendering what was, for what will be. God I pray you will continue peeling back the layers; one by one. Let us not waste the trials.