O LORD my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
Psalm 30:2, 3 Book of Common Prayer
I enjoyed good health for forty years and was completely unprepared for a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. My first reaction was the fear of dying, which explains why I submitted to chemotherapy, even though, watching a friend go through chemo, I’d told myself I never would. Near the end of treatment, my entire body sick from the chemicals, I felt like death and wanted to die. Slowly, slowly, I regained my health and didn’t think I had brain cancer every time I got a headache.
Being restored to health is an enormous blessing, not to be taken for granted. I’ve discovered, moving into my fourth year with no recurrence of the ovarian cancer, that it’s a two-edged sword, however. I do not want the cancer to return, but I am saddened by the reality of my friends who are facing another round of treatment or those who have already died. How is it that—when we all make the same lifestyle changes involving diet, cleaning products, spiritual practice—I am the one restored to health? I know this good health may not last, but it is a mystery while it does, one with which I am not entirely comfortable.
This, the fourth anniversary of putting in the port through which my chemo would be delivered, has already been an important month for me. January is also the month during which a friend decided to stop all treatment, dying a few weeks later. I’ve attended the funeral of another dear woman who died unexpectedly following surgery. I’ve seen my oncologist, who has stretched my visits to six months rather than four. Yesterday, I took part in a Survivors Teaching Students forum at the local hospital, where the medical school students meet. After the session, as is my custom, I went over to the gynecology office to see “my” nurses.
Only God can restore us to health and keep us in health, but during that visit I discovered a superstitious streak I’d not known was there. My chemo nurse invited me to sit down, gesturing to one of the recliners, all now empty of chemo patients. I refused, not wanting to get comfortable in that spot. If I don’t sit in a chemo chair, I won’t ever need one again. All kindness, she offered me the desk chair instead.
I had a conversation about survivor guilt with my oncologist, who could offer no insight as to the cancers that returned and those that did not. I’ve already told God and him that I won’t take this well if/when the cancer returns. I’ve mentally rehearsed the conversation with my oncologist—what I’ll say to God about it remains unknown. I have seen my friends restored to health multiple times; I suspect the same could be true for me. But I will never again take the health that God has restored for granted.