One would think that after four years of waiting for a cure for my chronic Lyme disease, I would be nothing short of stellar at this whole wait-and-see thing, right?
Nope. Not even close.
But this waiting is different. In the month since phrases like irregular margins and high suspicion of malignancy entered our vocabulary, I’ve done a whole lot of hurry up …then wait… over and over again.
It’s a lot like trying to check out during a busy day at Walmart. With too many shoppers and too few cashiers, we are all exhausted, cranky, and just wanting to be home already. I am inevitably that person with a cart too full for the express lane, so I sprint into the lane with the fewest customers in line. I’m waiting, not even physically close enough to be entertained by the magazine headlines yet, when I realize I’m behind a serious coupon-er.
Lord, take me now.
I scan the other lanes, looking for the fastest way out, and elect to jump ship, jostling my cart into a different lane. Here, too, I wait. I read headlines. I remember the items I’ve forgotten. I overhear the cashier’s conversations about what feels like every item she scans. As I finally toss my items on the conveyor belt, I notice the coupon-er is gone and the person who had been behind me in that first lane is already swiping his card.
This is just one of a myriad of waiting experiences. It’s switching lanes in traffic only to discover your lane is closed up ahead. It’s rushing home from a family vacation for the MRI moved up after test results alerted doctors to the aggressiveness of this cancer. It’s being repeatedly told to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment, then sitting almost two hours in the waiting room.
I hustle to my appointments, then each next move is based on a test result. This is the medical world. We may expect our food to be fast, car washes to take twelve minutes or less, and no one watches more than the five mandatory seconds of a commercial before clicking skip, but we must be patient when we are the patient. There is no alternative.
I remind myself of this as I live one date to the next. I also recognize that while it feels like it’s been forever since my cancer diagnosis, in reality it has been exactly one month since The Phone Call. In that time, I’ve met with my impressive oncology team and feel confident in my care. I’ve had bloodwork, a chest x-ray, and an MRI. I’ve received calls when the results of each test came back.
Some calls are a relief, like when the genetic testing showed this cancer is not something my daughters can inherit from me. Praise God.
Most calls are a mix, a conversation that begins, “Well, the good news is…” The MRI shows the left breast is clear, but the right side shows the mass has doubled in size in three weeks.
And there is always, always the knowledge that this could be so much worse.
All things considered, we are doing well in this season of waiting. We downsized our Christmas, choosing to put up just one Grinch tree instead of the normal dozen. We simplified, partially because holidays require energy I just don’t have but largely because I wanted this season to be about the real reason we should be celebrating. We read Countdown to Christmas: Unwrap the Christmas Story with Your Family in 15 Days by Lisa Appelo. Each evening we read this little advent devotional, connecting scripture with a daily reading, sang a Christmas carol, and added one piece to the nativity. It was a fun, hands-on way to help prepare our hearts for Christmas, unfolding the real Christmas story while making memories as a family.
In fact, memories are what we chose over gifts this year. All of my kids were given the option — do you want more stuff or do you want to go somewhere as a family? With three adult children, it’s difficult to find a time for us to all be together. I was thrilled when they each chose memories over “more messes.” (Because, really, does anyone need more stuff?!) We went about six hours away to Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinnati. I worried about how my two-year-old granddaughter, Hensley, would handle the trip, but she was the best traveler in the vehicle. Hands down.
She truly made the trip magical. Everything through Hensley’s eyes IS new and spectacular. When we first walked into the Lodge, the giant bubble machines were going, giving the illusion of jumbo snowflakes falling from the ceiling. Hen ran full throttle to me, finger pointing and eyes wide, saying, “Nona, nona, woookkk! It’s noooo-ing!” Within seconds of our arrival, those words made the miles worth it. For 48 hours, we were together and life was simple. There were no major decisions looming. They were just kids and I was just mom and the greatest gift we could have was this gift of time together.
While they checked off each activity on their Wolf Passes, I watched them in a way I never have before. I studied my children, retaining every expression, every sound, every mannerism. They didn’t know it, but I was collecting memories, storing every detail for the days ahead when I’ll need them. The way Izzi cradles my neck, her little body part of mine. The sparkle in Hensley’s blue, blue eyes when she covers the water geyser with her little foot. Gracie still calling me momma in a way that says I’m hers. How Phillip and Casey interact with Hensley, such amazing parents, completely in love with that sweet, smart and sassy little girl.
These humans are my secret weapons and these memories make me a warrior, ready for the battle ahead of me.
Thinking of the pending surgeries and treatments overwhelms me, so I try to think only of the very next step. I don’t have to run this as a marathon. I can reach the same distance by walking one small step at a time. That is doable.
I won’t wait forever either. I just have to wait this hour, this day.
Sure, my life still feels out of my control, but I am steady. None of this is out of God’s control. With each step, I am leaning in to God, reading His word and trusting His timing. I have been blessed with God winks almost daily in this month of waiting.
- A text from a special student I hadn’t heard from in years, who reminded me that I had made a radical difference in her life; she’d lost her mom to cancer just before entering my class.
- A Facebook message from a friend of my son who assured me that though he hadn’t spoken to God for years, he sure would be talking to Him for me.
- A neighbor I hadn’t seen for a while who found me in the grocery aisle. Her hair was much longer than the last time I’d seen her, but was short compared to the waist-length dark mane she’d had before her battle with breast cancer. We shared an important conversation, and just seeing this person alive and vibrant lifted Izzi’s spirits. Right there in the baking goods aisle, we put our hands together and prayed for peace and healing.
- A tote filled with pink items, from the softest blanket I’ve ever owned to deliciously scented strawberry bubble bath, sent from my cousin in Virginia along with the words “I’m ‘pinking’of you.” The most touching part of this gift is that she gave birth to her first baby just days after putting that thoughtful gift together. She had a valid reason not to show up, yet she made the time to brighten my days.
Almost every day, God has sent a person, a song, or a sign to remind me that I am not alone. One month in, I still feel covered in a blanket of peace, secure in the absolute certainty that God has us. I don’t know how or when, but I will be healed, completely and totally, and I will continue to share my tiny story because it is part of God’s glory.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” –Proverbs 3:5-6
Meanwhile, I am studying scripture and memorizing my babies, actively storing up the best artillery for the battle ahead of me. It’s taken many years, but I think I’m finally learning to wait well.
Okay, maybe well-ish.
Keep coloring, my friends.