I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy; for you have seen my affliction; you know my distress.
Psalm 31:7 Book of Common Prayer
I had two contrary impulses during chemo: I wanted to cocoon and I wanted to be among friends. When I began the journey, a friend told me it was important to see or talk to someone daily, even though that was not my introverted style. “I think your life may literally depend on it,” she told me.
As a cancer survivor herself, this woman had credibility, and so I took her counsel seriously. I didn’t generally let people see me at my worst, however. Very few people saw me cry. Because I had such a severe case of cradle cap, I wouldn’t let people see me bald. When I went in to have my port removed, I explained to the kind nurse attending me in pre-op that I didn’t want my doctor to see my bald, scabby head, even though I knew that was irrational. “We’ll just put your surgery cap on now,” she said, and brought me a selection of rubber caps. I have no illusions that this device worked perfectly, but I was under anaesthesia by the time it failed.
So this passage comforts me. God has seen my affliction; God knows my distress over cancer and the results of the treatment. It is, as the psalmist says, a mercy to be seen and known, to feel that our experiences are not going unnoticed.
Modern physics tells us that the simple act of viewing a cell changes it. The very fact that God sees my affliction changes it. I am not alone in my cocoon, but am being watched over by a merciful God.
Jesus never experienced chemotherapy, but I believe that he understands it. Although its purpose is to heal rather than to kill, chemo is a modern, hygenic form of crucifixion. I didn’t think it was an accident that I had chemo on Good Friday. And I was more than ready for a resurrection.
That rebirth comes slowly, though; it requires more than three days. For healthy cells to repair and the body to regain its strength takes weeks and months after the chemo ends. With each positive check-up, our distress is lessened just a bit. We begin to hope again, to invest each day with as much joy as we possibly can, to appreciate in new ways the companionship of Jesus.