Update: Cycle 2 is complete using my brand new Powerport. I feel like a borg with this implanted device with a line straight to my heart, but it works like a charm! To recap, my original staging and prescribed therapy protocol at MD Anderson was to have 6 cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy with a PET scan around the 4th cycle to see how things are going. The rash is barely visible and – thankfully stopped itching – the day before Cycle 2 began. I started late on Cycle 2, so it had to be extended over 2 days. The nausea was a bit more intense this time. Timmy is dazed and confused; I think he realizes I’m not sparring – this is for blood and treasure.
“It isn't suffering that leads to hopelessness. It's suffering you think you can't control.” ― Angela Duckworth, Grit
“We always live up to our beliefs - or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief.” ― Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy
Thursday, 2:30 am. I am wide-awake in my dark living room and feel awful. There’s a bad taste in my mouth that makes water distasteful – even though I’m thirsty. My skull – no, my brain – feels numb. I have racing thoughts and wonder: am I going crazy? I try to take a sip of water – gross. Worse, it just makes me wretch. I check my timer: I have to wait 3 more hours till my next dose of anti-nausea medication. I try the ice chips Brenda went out to buy for me. It helps – a little.
Everyone’s reaction to chemotherapy is different. Some people don’t experience any nausea, but they suffer in other ways. For me, I’ve found that for a few days after the infusion, it hits my gut hard. At least I’m digesting – but it hurts. And see, that’s the funny thing about the nausea. The chemotherapy doesn’t actually “hurt” my stomach, per se. The chemicals are putting my body in a complex situation that stimulates the emetic (vomiting) part of my brain. The brain emits serotonin and a substance P (I can only assume that stands for “puke”), which triggers nausea and vomiting.
I recall a friend saying that when her dad was going through chemotherapy, he would remind himself, “I can do anything for 24 hours.” But that’s not me. That’s never been me. So, there, sulking in misery, I experience an unwanted revelation: I am weak; I am not strong – I can’t hold out for 24 hours. And my thoughts drift to others – no, they are the brave ones! They are the tough-ones who have had to deal with multiple fronts, years of one diagnosis after another, faced set-backs, endured surgeries, radiation sessions, and multiple scores of chemo regimens. They are the real champions – the ones facing much greater odds, fighting greater obstacles. Who am I?
Out of the darkness, He spoke: Truth. You need truth.
I grabbed my Bible. For 2020, I began to follow the Foundations 260 Bible reading plan. That night, I read over that day’s reading which included this scripture: Deuteronomy 31:8. Moses knew that his tenure on earth was close to an end. He encourages Joshua, his chosen successor with these words: The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
That night, a lot of lessons were flowing. But this one is for certain: the Lord spoke those words to me, as if to say, “Sean: I am with you, right now. I am at the end of this episode of sickness and the end of this cancer. I am with you all the way. Don’t be overcome by uncertainty, fear or discouragement. Do you trust me?”
Turning the Gift of Sickness to a Gift of Trust
This is difficult to describe, but at the risk of sounding simplistic, I wonder if one of the purposes of this cancer and it’s accompanying challenges is to learn to really trust Him? Can I trust in His character in that he intends blessing, not ruin? Can I trust in His intentions to mature me, not to mar me? Can I trust His love and power to convert my discontent into consolation – to not merely take away the pain, but replace it with something else? Can I hand over to Him the pen and ink of my choices so that He writes a much better story than the one I imagined?
This was the first of James’ thoughts, moved by the Holy Spirit, when he commands us:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (2:1-4)
Testing is God’s universal method of refining us. The untested Christian is either not paying attention or is merely playing games. The best thing about trials (and this is a paradox) is that it proves His loves for us as it does it’s work of maturity and completion. What does that look like? I can’t say comprehensively, but I know it at least includes choosing Him more than misery, loving Him more than pleasure, desiring His presence more than comfort. Why else would he say to us: “I go before you; I am with you. I’ll never leave you or forsake you” if he did not mean for us to experience His presence through our circumstances? Think of it: Is it not an amazing thing to hear from God: “I WANT to go through this with you!”?
It is this trust in Him that God wants to develop in us. I love how Brennan Manning described this process:
“Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, “Abba, into your hands I entrust my body, mind, and spirit and this entire day—morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen.”
Who says things like that? Only one who has deeply fallen in love, so much so, that any pain, dis-ease – even death – pales in comparison. Peter spoke of it this way:
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)
This “inexpressible and glorious joy” is the kind of trust God means to mature in us. How are we doing?
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
This is something the world will never understand because it does not know Him. This is the Hope we have in any trying circumstances. And this is why Jesus called us His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Witnesses profess of what we experience, not just what we believe. We testify with integrity and grace that He is worthy of any mortal ill because He walks with us and never leaves nor forsakes us.
I wonder, given the current global circumstances, if disciples of Jesus are meant at this time to display what the world is completely empty of? Hope. The world’s default value set (we know because it used to be ours) is the seeking of image, entertainment, comfort and convenience. Coronavirus revealed our vanity and sent us the message of insufficient funds for the “treasure” of this world. But for the Christian, we have it in Spades and more! While Christians shouldn’t go looking for trouble, we recognize that trouble finds us – and we have a secret! God enables us to not only endure our troubles but to rejoice in our sufferings! Paul put it this way:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:3-5)
The key – I say this with almost embarrassment because I keep mentioning it – is because He is with us.
Peace eventually came when I woke up on Saturday morning.
My head was clearer, my guts not feeling as torn up. The storm had passed – as all storms do. And, hopefully, I am the wiser for it. Not only because I can count on more storms to come but because I know I won’t ever have to walk through them alone.
One more quote by Brennan Manning:
“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
(selections come from Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God )