Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful, for I have taken refuge in you; in the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until this time of trouble has gone by.
Psalm 57:1 Book of Common Prayer
Shadow has so many meanings. We don’t want one to show up on a CATscan. We may fear the shadow of death. We don’t want cancer to follow us as a shadow.
And yet, during chemo—and for the fair-skinned among us, all the time—we seek the shadow of a tree. We’re the ones always asking friends if we could move into the shade. Shadow isn’t always a negative concept. In this verse, we take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings.
I had a professor once who suggested that if we call Jesus the Lamb of God, we could also address him as Hen of My Heart. She was referring to the passage in the gospels where Jesus anguishes over Jerusalem, saying he wanted to gather her inhabitants the way a hen shelters her brood (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). Jesus wants us to be sheltered and safe, even during cancer.
This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. You won’t see the marketplace flooded with teal, or newspapers printed on teal paper. Ovarian cancer is deadlier than breast cancer, but it doesn’t claim as many women. We don’t have Susan G. Komen’s foundation. Ovarian cancer is different than breast cancer—there’s no screening test (though they’re working on it) and no self-exams. It often hides among all the folds of a woman’s body until Stage III or IV, when it is harder to defeat. The symptoms sound like any number of things, including aging: bloating, pelvic discomfort, digestive troubles, frequent urination. Detecting ovarian cancer, the Great Mimic, often requires multiple false starts—no, it’s not a UTI, or a gall bladder issue, or menopause.
Yesterday we had our annual walk; my only contribution for several years now has been merely to show up. In some ways, it’s hard even to do that. We talk of those women we’ve loved and lost, who should still be among us; we monitor each other’s progress, which is not always towards health. We move away from the afternoon sun to sit in the shelter house.
I asked a friend how she was. “Okay, I think,” she said. “But you never know.” She expressed what we all feel. Cancer is insidious; both of us could face recurrences at our next check-ups, even though we felt and looked fine yesterday. During the progress of our disease, we will always need shelter under the wings of God, a safe, dry place to rest.