I recently learned my liver cancer had gotten more aggressive.
"Aggressive" is not descriptor you want to hear with cancer. Something like your cancer has gotten "nicer" or more "considerate" would have been great.
But aggressive? No one wants to hear that.
In April I had two tumours removed using a technique called TACE, which involved chemo "seeds" injected into the liver.
The two tumours attacked by the chemo vanished. Hip, hip hurray! But then two new tumours popped up. These are the fifth and sixth tumours I've had over the past few years. "Ah crap! Is there an end to this?"
Worse, two of my doctors thought the cancer might have entered the veins of the liver. That would make it more serious and would require more aggressive treatment. So, I waited for the test that would confirm the worst. I felt like my luck was running out.
A few days after hearing about these new tumours I imploded. Despite my belief that I've handled this well so far I fell into a huge hole of despair. It all became too much. I wept. The hum of anxiety was constant. It didn't help that my chronic spinal pain, 11 years and counting, went through the roof.
I didn't blame God though I wasn't sending him thank-you notes either. In my heart I realized God didn't send me cancer. I also knew by faith that God was with me in this dark moment but it didn't help.
We don't have to smile to get His approval and from years of reading the psalms I knew it was okay to be angry with Him. Angry is honest. Pretending that illness is a gift is not … unless you're a saint.
I went to see a priest. We're friends and I asked whether I could come over to talk about this crisis I was having. I had promised myself that I would handle all this in a dignified way. I wanted to be an example to others. I had argued for years in opposition to euthanasia that every day is a gift and life is life on the first day and the last. I wanted to show that in my behaviour. But it was getting harder.
My faith has not misled me. I just needed to be reminded that death is not the last word.
We spoke for a bit and he made several good suggestions. But the one that really stuck was about how to read the Gospels. I have read a chapter or two of the Gospels every day for many years. He said to make sure to read the Gospels in way that acknowledged the absolute truth of those sacred words and to understand that the Gospels would speak to me.
I have many Bibles in my home. Most are teaching Bibles, filled with copious notes about what the various passages mean. In some cases the footnotes were much longer than the text.
I didn't want all that. I wanted as pure a read as possible. So I picked up my pocket copy of the Ignatius New Testament and Psalms. It's especially easy to read in bed when I'm not feeling well. I know this sounds a bit odd but I like the feel of it in my hands. It also has a navy-blue cover, my favourite colour.
After all these years it feels familiar, like an old friend.
Then I hit upon a scene in Matthew. The hapless apostles are in a boat being tossed by the seas. They're frightened out of their wits and into this tumult Jesus comes walking across the waves. They are doubly scared.
Then Jesus says one simple line: "Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid."
In my mind's eye, the seas immediately calmed, the faces of the apostles relaxed and maybe they even laughed in relief.
I had read this dozens of times but now it spoke to me in all its holy clarity. I was in the boat. The roiling seas was my fear of uncertainty and death. And into my great tribulation Jesus reminded me that on the other side of the Cross, on the other side of death, he'll be welcoming me home.
Then out of the blue my doctor called. It turns out that the cancer is not in the veins.
When I heard that I nearly keeled over from relief. I still must deal with the two new tumours but that is far less worrying. The treatments are not fun but way more benign than systemic chemo.
My faith has not misled me. I just needed to be reminded that death is not the last word and that every day I'm here is a good day. And that miracles still happen.
Charles Lewis. "Really listen when Jesus speaks." The Catholic Register (July 6, 2022).
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Register. Image credit: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Charles Lewis is a freelance writer and former religion editor at the National Post.Copyright © 2022 Regnery Publishing
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