I wrote this piece two springs ago, when the bladder cancer had returned. The specialist I saw at the cancer center an hour north calls it a "nuisance cancer"—it's not dangerous, but it comes back.
My spirit faints within me; my heart within me is desolate.
O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me.
Revive me, O Lord, for your Name’s sake.
Psalm 143: 4, 7, 11 bcp
Within three short verses the psalmist’s spirit descends in a death spiral that twists from fainting to failing. In between, the writer muses on all God’s deeds and considers the work of God’s hands. I’d think that would help.
The truth is that some days nothing helps. Walking this cancer journey is like traipsing through a bog—the ground looks solid, and then I sink. Although I don’t like them, these mood dips don’t surprise me any more. They’re just part of the package. Few people can sustain cheerfulness indefinitely, and it’s hard to be cheery when in a trough of chemo or recurrence.
The temptation is to wallow, and I am a champion wallower. Just now, it’s gray and raining outside. Despite the fact that every day new leaves appear on the trees around my home as a result of this rain, I fight going back to bed and staying there for a few weeks. Until after this surgery I don’t want, until after I recover from surgery.
My spirit is fainting because I’ve had expectations that haven’t been met. The cancer wasn’t supposed to come back. I wasn’t ever going to need the services of the prestigious cancer center an hour north. It’s the place I’ve always considered the court of last resort, even though my gynecologic oncologist truly and sensibly tells me it’s where I’d go first if I lived in that city. My spirit faints because I am again facing the dilemmas of who to tell, when and how to tell them, and how much to say. Many people ask how they can help; I have no answer. A new immune system? Thousands of dollars to cover my growing medical expenses? How about courage, or even faith that there will be a happy ending? Can you be here at four in the morning when I wake up afraid? I know of a woman who is upset because her husband can’t protect her in the face of a nuclear attack. I used to laugh at that. I get it now.
What I’m learning is that—regardless of cancer—I have to show up for my life. Going back to bed is a luxury denied me. I have work to do and a friend who is coming to cheer my fainting spirit. We are going to an art show and to a farmer’s market, and if that doesn’t help my spirit, I will be surprised. Just keep working through it, riding the emotion and not worrying too much about it. God has many other ways to revive my spirit; I will keep looking for them and waiting.