I was driving down the street, worrying, fretting and feeling overwhelmed with life in general, when out of nowhere I heard a voice. I was pretty sure it wasn’t God’s voice because the message wasn’t very nice. I heard it loud and clear: “I liked you better when you had cancer.” Before I could answer, “me too”, it dawned on me that I was alone in the car. It was my own voice. A true, but distressing message that had been building in my heart for quite some time. So now it was out there. Now I had no choice but to address the “why” behind the insanity of preferring cancer over remission. Even as I sit here processing, I am not sure what I am going to say. I have never explored it fully. Mostly I have joked about needing to go in the hospital to get some rest from regular life. I haven’t really thought through the reality that I miss the Me that I was when I had Leukemia. OK (deep breath/staring out the window/praying/asking for insight/feeling the feelings/remembering)…
Let’s start with the most obvious and simple reason:
Number One: I was nicer. At least I felt nicer. I let go of expectations of other people and just took what God brought me with an open hand. When I was in the hospital (some 70 days total) I said “thank you, thank you, thank you” to nurses and doctors and family members and friends and even strangers. When I wasn’t in the hospital and interacted with “regular” people, I was nicer to them too. I went slowly through my day and thought I was the luckiest girl in the world when I got to make a trip to Walmart or HyVee. And if someone was wearing a scarf or a woman happened to be sporting a shaved head out in public, watch out! I was your new best friend. We suffered from a similar disease and my empathy and compassion could not be restrained. I relished the time I had with my husband and kids in a way I struggle tapping into today. I spent lazy days hanging out with my mom and just enjoying our time together without trying to just get more done.
Number Two: The world was nicer. When you are bald and scrawny and sickly, people treat you better than when you are in shape and have a lot of hair. It’s that simple. It’s sort of embarrassing. But if I wanted some extra special treatment, I chose to wear a scarf instead of a wig. Strangers smiled at me when I was Sick. They seemed inspired by the fact that I was buying groceries in their particular line and grabbed my hand and said things like, “You have a very blessed day!” with enormous emotional sincerity. I am not ashamed to admit that I miss those days.
Number Three: It’s extremely hard to live like you are dying, when you’re not. One would think that being saved from the precipice of death would be enough. It’s not — at least for me (and I feel guilty about that sometimes, too). I am really just like everybody else now—which I guess bothers me. I feel like I should be producing more and changing the world since just kicked cancer’s butt. If am not doing those things, what was the point of it all? Where’s the redemption in the suffering? The truth is, many days I struggle with feeling unmotivated, overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, cynical, faithless, useless, unnecessary, disappointing and disappointed. Actually, saying all that out loud makes me sound like a big brat (add it to the list of failures…).
Number Four: I had clarity. I knew exactly what I was supposed to do and I worked at it with all my heart: Get better. Take care of myself and myself alone. No one expected me to cook or clean or work. I had really solid excuses for anything I fell short on, and I used them with other people and with myself. I gave myself permission not to worry about anything. For having a potentially terminal disease, my level of peace and serenity was off the charts. I can’t seem to get that back.
I am realizing that I was able to trust God with my health and breath because I knew without a shadow of doubt that only He could save me. Somehow, since I have been “well”, I have allowed myself to believe the lie that I have power to do everything else. Or that if I just work hard enough or worry long enough, I can somehow make everything in my life “work out” by my own power.
Clearly, this is some messed up thinking. Obviously, I don’t want to have Leukemia again. But talking this out reminds me that I worked really hard to keep my faith, my hope my trust and serenity at the top of their game while I had cancer. And by “working hard” I mean praying with all my might. Trusting when there seemed to be nothing but bad news. Serving others and encouraging people even when I had every right to sulk in self-pity. Reading, writing and learning as much as I could about God’s goodness and character and deep love and concern for my situation. Looking to spread love and support to those around me, as I went throughout my everyday life. I gave extra hugs and wrote thank you notes and spent time with people in ways that mattered. I told people I loved them. I was truly present when I was with people. My mind was not on a thousand other things I could or should be doing.
Because I don’t have cancer now, these behaviors do not come as naturally as they did when I lived with a stronger possibility of death. However, they are not impossible to incorporate into my life today. Maybe, having Leukemia just primed the pump for the hard work that comes with living my ordinary, everyday life with the same extraordinary approach I had when I had cancer.