Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Alligator

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O Lord, make haste to help me! Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me.
Psalm 70:1, 2

            Anyone who lives near Lake Okeechobee in central Florida has to be prepared for unwanted guests. Alligators, once an endangered species, have made a comeback, and may be arriving at the back door. Repeatedly.
            Alligators have a sophisticated internal GPS that allows them to return to the same location. After Wildlife Department officials have captured and sedated this repeat intruder and secured its jaws, they tape a magnet on its head. In ways that scientists don’t understand, the magnet seems to scramble Earth’s magnetic signals so that the beast can’t drop in again.
            My cancers are like those alligators, equipped with a very smart GPS. “It is the nature of this disease to return,” one brave, honest nurse told me during my treatment for ovarian cancer; I’d noticed the number of women who were in for their second, third, or fourth rounds of treatment. The oncologist for my Stage I bladder cancer refers to mine as a “nuisance” cancer—although not especially dangerous, it tends to come back. So I have deep empathy for people plagued with literal alligators coming back from the swamp for a little fun.
            Chemo was the magnet my gynecologic oncologist used to confuse my cancer-alligator. For some people, radiation is the magnet of choice. Regardless of the chemical cocktail, the hope is to confuse the cancer cells so that they forget how to morph and multiply. Sometimes it works, but not always.
            The psalmist referred to literal enemies—flesh and blood people he could see and against whom he could fight. The difficulty of cancer is that the cells are often microscopic or hidden behind a body part. Yet God remains ready to make haste and aid us, whether our struggle is against an enemy that is visible or invisible.

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