Fifteen years ago, today, at the beginning of 2007, I sat in the chemo chair for the last time. It was my last 6 hours of treatment, which led to the beautiful words “cancer free.” I got to wear the elephant scarf (not sure why it was an elephant) and sign my name to the poster full of those who had completed treatment before me. I got my picture taken, hairless and scarred, but smiling all the same.
I had made it to the end of treatment and though I still didn’t know the final result yet, just completing my 6 rounds of chemo was worth celebrating. In Cancerland, you celebrate every chance you get because you don’t know how many more chances you will have. There is only one moment in time. Now. On that day, my bald-headed self was overwhelmed with gratitude to have made it to that final day of poisoning. Not everyone gets to that date and in Cancerland, that is as clear as the bag by your chair.
People used to call me a warrior. They said I was brave. I got to walk in “hero” walks. Honestly, all of that talk made me uncomfortable. I sat in a chair. I slept most of the time. I felt like crap and looked even worse. I cried a lot. I trembled in fear. Not my view of heroic or brave. Not my view of strong. More like, I had to do what I had to do. Just get it over with.
However, I have lost several people this past year. Friends and family alike. Some sudden, some painfully slow. Neither is any less excruciating for those left behind. Sorrow is sorrow. Grief is grief. Yet, I see the bravery now. I guess it’s easier to see when you are not the one in the chair or bed. I have watched courage from the sidelines. I have seen the humility illness brings. Allowing others to care for you isn’t an easy thing to do. I know this from my time in Cancerland. Asking for help is hard. Receiving it is harder still. Letting others love you when you have nothing to offer in return is humbling like nothing else. You feel unworthy and are easily overwhelmed by the heart behind their actions. I imagine it is how we will feel when we stand empty-handed and bankrupt before God and he showers us with his love anyway.
Caregiving also takes bravery. Those who hold the hands of the dying have a special place in heaven. Sitting without a way to ‘fix it’ is beyond heartbreaking. Yet, the emotional support in seasons of loss means everything to those trying to live, even if they don’t make it. For the caregivers, the emptiness that follows the loss is as vast as the ocean. No, there is no shortage of courage in the times in which we are living. You just have to know where to look to see it. You won’t find it on the news or social media. It is in the hearts of those living through the grief and loss, in larger numbers than ever before.
The past couple of years have been hard for us all. We have lost loved ones. And jobs. And gatherings. And…and…and… It has been so so hard, that our tendency is to only want to look forward. To forget and put to rest 20 and 21, never to be thought of again. I get it. I really do. I would like to close the book on these past two years as well, however, if we forget we will miss out on some important changes.
Perspective for one. Loss changes your perspective on things. It grows you in ways you don’t even see until later on. It builds resilience. It plants compassion. It develops appreciation. We have learned through these crazy 2+ years. We may not see it all just yet, but our brains have shifted. As much as we want life to go back to normal, it will never happen because, even if circumstances were the same as before, we are not the same. Our views have changed. The losses have affected us. We are still adapting to the world that was exposed because of these past couple of years.
And maybe that is the whole point. Trauma and hardship expose things that are underneath and dormant. Foundations. The cracks become evident when there is shaking. Our world is shaking and the things on which we have built our lives are falling away. Materialism. Greed. Self. What is left after are the unshakable. Faith. Love. Hope. It is a messy process to find the treasure among the rubble.
When you are the one in the chemo chair you are not focused on those around you, but you are internally looking at your own life. Wrestling with who you are and what you will leave behind. I think the current circumstances in our world are doing the same for us. If we can get past the surface-level division…the smokescreen, we will find the courage, resilience, compassion, and other long-buried treasures under the busyness of life.
It seems to me that at the beginning of each New Year I not only look forward with anticipation, but I also look back with a thankful heart. That’s as it should be. This year is no different. I look forward hoping that the heaviness of the past couple of years will lift and we will all find our new normal. I also don’t forget to look back and find the treasures that have been uncovered, including the reminder of my 15 years cancer free.