“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” sings John Lennon (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_lennon_137162).
That’s exactly what I'm currently experiencing!
It all began with a deceptively innocent little lump under my jaw on the right side of my neck. I first noticed it six years ago. A biopsy towards the end of 2017 indicated that it was a common and benign pleomorphic adenoma. Nonetheless, because lumps in the neck area have a 50% chance of becoming malignant, the surgeon and I decided to eliminate that risk by surgically removing the tumor. So far so good.
But what the surgeon found during the surgery on the morning of November 28, 2018, was not at all innocent! Instead, he excised as much as he could of an invasive and rare adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC). One of the main things that impacted me during the post-surgery meeting, was the dismay on the surgeon’s face as he told me of the cancer he had found and his inability to remove all of it.
Thanks to denial, that first stage of grieving a loss, I handled that meeting very well, even joking with the surgeon that he had not obeyed my pre-surgery instruction to “go in there and find something completely boring.” It was a very sweet nurse who compassionately witnessed my melt-down in the next hour.
And so, my plans to continue writing and to conduct a course on how to hear the voice of God were unceremoniously pre-empted. Instead, I’m living the life of a person given the diagnosis of cancer and dealing with the task of addressing that life threat.
As I write this, it’s almost eleven weeks since that fateful surgery day. Looking back on that time, I see that I have had about half a dozen really bad days. Like the day when I gave myself permission to go online and see what I could find out about this ACC living in my body. That research precipitated envisioning all the possible negative scenarios—a nasty day for sure! I had to find a way to shut down that wild catastrophizing.
I'm thinking that having only six days when I truly despaired of living is maybe not that bad.
Maybe it’s actually quite amazing. I want to talk about what has made this possible.
First, of course, there is the gift of denial. For example, I waited three weeks for the pathology report that would confirm or disconfirm the surgeon’s impression of what he had found. During that time, silly as this may seem, I found myself considering the (fantastically remote) possibility that he was wrong in his impression.
Secondly, choosing to live in the moment helps me to have good days. Take this moment, for example: I'm rested, I'm warm, I'm pain free, I'm snuggled up in a cozy lap blanket my daughter-in-law gave me, I'm in the presence of my loving husband, and I'm feasting my eyes on a beautiful bouquet of flowers sent by my daughter. Truly, can life get any better than this?!
Another thing I choose is gratitude. I’ve discovered two things: there’s always something to be thankful for, and gratitude is the key to joy.
Converting worries into prayer requests is a fourth coping technique I regularly use. What a relief to give into God’s care the concerns I have these days!
Right from the beginning there have been, of course, gradually-increasing bits of time when I acknowledge the reality of my situation. Then I am thrown into those other stages of grieving the many losses contained in this experience: grief, anger, and bargaining.
It’s at those times when I do what I have learned in the last forty years to do: I run to God.
In the first days, I was beautifully guided by the readings in Glimpses of God’s Heart. Take, for example, the reading for November 29th, the day after my surgery:
November 29 in Glimpses of Gods Heart
My treasure, my love:
This is one of those times
when I am asking you to trust me
even though what is happening
does not make sense to you
and is not pleasing to you.
Will you do that?
What I am asking of you
is similar to what I asked of Abraham
when I moved him out of his home in Harran:
To step out into the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable.
You will need to trust
that I truly am causing you to will and to do my pleasure.
Will you do that?
You also will need to trust
that I actually will “work out (my) plans for (your) life”
and that I am “(guiding) you along the best pathway for your life.”
Will you choose to trust me?
Will you choose to embrace what I am doing?
Indeed, that is the question! The answer is self-evident, but doing it? I keep falling into my default mode of resisting that which I find unacceptable. Then I mire in misery until I remember the relief and joy that comes with surrendering my life into the care of my loving God.
One day, about a month after the surgery—Christmas Day actually—I found myself in that resisting place. I was resenting the time it was taking to address the cancer issue. This just was not what I wanted to be doing with my time and energy! The reading in Glimpses of God’s Heart for that day (December 25) was about living a life of surrender:
December 25 in Glimpses of Gods Heart
Still and quiet your soul, my love,
and listen to my still small voice.
I am within you making everything new.
I am transforming
your mind, your body, your heart, and your will.
You can cooperate with this process
by surrendering to me each day.
Your act of surrender clears the way
for me to do this transforming work.
Surrendering is not just something you do
when you are experiencing fear.
No, my desire is for you to live a life of surrender.
Take your cue from Jesus
and surrender to me minute by minute.
You will find that the surrendered life is a life of power.
The surrendered life is a life of love.
The surrendered life is a life of service.
The surrendered life is a life of peace and joy.
The surrendered life is a life of victory.
I have chosen to live in you
and to hide your life in me
so that you can live a surrendered life.
That, my love, is the Good News that Jesus came to bring.
Enjoy Christmas this year, celebrating this Good News.
Sigh. So I chose to surrender. Here is what I sensed God say in response to my decision to surrender on that day, the month before last:
December 25, 2018
I am with you in this moment.
It was precisely to be able to be with you in this moment
that I came to earth as an infant.
So let’s just be together with this cancer thing.
Let’s live it together.
And I do mean live it!
Be with it.
Even embrace it.
Resisting or resenting it will not change reality.
Instead, this behavior squanders energy.
I advocate embracing this part of your journey.
Embrace it with enthusiasm.
You like a challenge!
Take on this challenge with your typical vigor.
You can expect that I will provide what you need all along the way.
Oh my goodness! I had no idea the herculean challenge that lay before me! I’ll write about it in my next blog.
In the meantime, how can I possibly express my gratitude for the compassionate, wise, and loving care I experience in my relationship with God?
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