When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.
“It’s always something,” proclaimed a character created by comedian Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Cancer feels that way. If it’s not time for another round of chemo, it’s fatigue, or the way everything begins to taste like metal. And once treatment ends, it’s the fear of a recurrence, or the tingling in the hands and feet, the ringing in the ears.
Cancer is a many-care disease. Like all chronic conditions, it isn’t resolved with a single event, such as a bypass operation. It doesn’t go away like the flu. I’ve been told there will come a day when I don’t wake up and think about cancer, but that day hasn’t yet arrived.
And yet. Even when we are at our lowest points, consolations abound if we choose to see them. I have a friend who plunks herself down in a chair and watches the birds at her many feeders, lets the sun warm her face through the sliding glass door. There were days I could do little more than lie on the couch and look at the green leaves unfolding, but they were a comfort nonetheless.
Perhaps, if you have the energy, you could keep a notebook listing the consolations that you receive. This written record does several things. It helps us connect to the world that is larger than our disease and treatment. It serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness, often communicated through friends and the medical community. It causes gratitude, a great strengthener. It grounds us in the present moment, keeping in the background the fears of what might happen, rather than allowing them to beat out a frantic rhythm in the mind.
Most importantly, we must allow ourselves to be consoled, not to deny our grief or to pretend to a strength we don’t possess. The word console of course means to give comfort, and Lord knows there’s much for which we need comfort: the loss of body parts and the scars from surgery, the loss of our freedom as healthy and strong persons, the ongoing treatment and checkups and fears. Place the accent on a different syllable, though, and the word becomes a noun—the console of an organ or, back in the fifties, of a television set. The console wrapped around the instrument or the entertainment. So, too, we are to allow the consolations God sends, in whatever form we find them, to wrap around us and assure us of God’s love.