Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"My cancer has recurred..."

For courageous affirmation of hope in the face of illness, look no further than The Cancer Blog. Michelle Dillino writes:
Last week I wrote about the fear of recurrence. And sometimes that fear is well founded. Today I have received confirmation that my ovarian cancer has recurred. I first wondered why I can’t just trade bodies with someone else, but then upon further thought decided that I wouldn’t want to. The body I have now is the one that’s gotten me to where I am today, and it’s the one that will help me make it through these next treatment and eventually back into remission again.
How to tell her family? How to cope with their disappointment and fear? At first, she hesitates. But she concludes that they need (and want) to know, and that she needs their support. At this stage in her illness, she has gained strength and knowledge that will help her recovery.

I wonder how she reached that point. (Michelle, I'm not expecting an answer! You have more than enough to deal with.) Dr. Bernstein has e-mailed a moving post from a cancer patient who tells us something about that struggle:
Popping Cancer Job Update: It's okay to be sad.

Whenever I post something to the effect that "Cancer is bumming me out today," I get a bunch of emails and comments to the effect of "Buck, up, little camper - God will provide! God loves you! Be happy! I'll pray that you stop being sad!"

Well, sad is an appropriate response to cancer sometimes. My doctors are all saying I have a great, healthy, positive attitude about my disease, but they are also aware that I have a potentially fatal illness that has spread far and rapidly and that sometimes I'll be less-than-joyous about that.

Sad is ok. Feeling the way you feel is ok, until it becomes destructive. I'd worry about me if I went around all day with a goofy grin and never looked at the negative consequences of cancer.

I say all that to say this: I'm sad right now.

My doctors have said I am forbidden to visit shut-ins, crowds and especially hospital patients. The dearest old lady in our church (this lady and her equally-dear husband "adopted" Stephanie and I) had a heart attack today.

I, as her pastor, couldn't visit her.

How in the world can I pretend to call myself a pastor and NOT visit people I love who are ill? Answer: I can't. I am filing for disability as soon as the denomination can get me the papers. Any trained monkey in a suit can preach. That's not my calling.

My calling came when I had cancer a long time ago and found myself, remarkably, pulling myself up the hallway by my IV pole to visit the other cancer patients who were in the same foxhole I was. I would sit with them through their treatments and sometimes just quietly BE with them.

Upon being healed, I found out that the world is full of people, all of whom are hurting in their own way. I didn't have any real pastor skills, but I hoped I could make a difference in their lives, and so here I am.

Except that now the center of my call has been taken from me.

So don't tell me God loves me. Don't tell me you'll pray that my spirits will be lifted. Don't tell me you're rooting for me.

Something central, and defining, in my life is gone, and I miss it. Just let me be sad.
There it is: "Just let me be sad." We rush to console and offer encouragement. But it's misguided to insist that one must not be sad, and that one must not grieve.

The psychiatrist in me whispers that we don't want to miss a treatable depression.

But the psychiatrist in me also says: what some need most is someone to listen, and to let us be sad.

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