Nine years ago today I had an elephant on my back. Literally. Well, it was a stuffed elephant, and it was really more around my shoulders…but still. It felt like a real elephant. It was an orange fuzzy scarf with a smiling elephant face on one end, and though it was not heavy, the weight I imagined it carried might as well have been a ton. You see, this elephant lived in the chemo room.
Week after week, month after month of treatments take their toll. The hair was long gone, the blood was weak at best, and I won’t even try to tell you about the side effects of poison pumping into your body regularly. The whole process was heavy, exhausting, emotionally draining and physically destructive. Carrying the weight of your world on your shoulders is impossible on your own, but cancer patients do it everyday because while you have a whole support system around you, you are the one in the chair.
That’s why I think it was appropriate that the ‘elephant in the room’ was designed to be a reward. The last day of chemo, that elephant sat on my shoulders smiling until the last drop of poison was in. Then the whole room applauded as the elephant was removed. Pictures were taken…which I have intentionally lost…cheering and congratulations were offered by all. Goodbyes were said to the nurses who saved my life and the other patients with still unknown futures.
Everyone in that room secretly envied the elephant…coveted it really. I think because you never knew if you would get to have it, which made it even more desirable…a silly goofy treasure of enormous value. It seems to be a last day, but in reality it is a first. The first day of the rest of my life…however long that is. It was a day I mark as a day of celebration. The day I decided to live fully…from that day forward.
And so, today on the anniversary of that day, I went hiking on Mt. Yonah. Not to the top, just partway up to meet up with some friends, but still, up a mountain. I hadn’t considered the significance of the day until I was climbing in the quiet. A solitary climb on my own…a time of reflection to soak in the beauty of fresh air and the freedom of movement. A day to remember. Fighting cancer was a big mountain to climb. I never knew if I would ever climb a “real” mountain again, but I do…regularly. Each one is a marking of a life lived well. And what a gift it is to have the ability to do so. A gift that I treasure and celebrate on this day.
And as I left the mountain, on Michelle’s Alive Day, I heard a song that was my mantra during my cancer ordeal. In Christ Alone. I could not sing/hear this song without weeping. The last verse still gets me every time. And today particularly, it caused my heart to explode with gratitude and my eyes with tears.
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand. I’ll stand.