You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Psalm 51:6 New Revised Standard Version
I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to be truthful, with myself at least, if not always completely so with others. I do not want to lie to myself about what I want or who I am. Although this isn’t an easy discipline, it won’t get me to wisdom. That’s something God alone gives, and it seems to come through difficult experiences.
This week I’ve had to shed another illusion about living with cancer. I’m still new at this disease; in an academic setting, I’d say I hadn’t yet figured out the prof.
A friend once told me of a theologian’s view that we needed a mature faith, which meant losing our first naivete. And then our second naivete. I don’t know how many layers of naivete this man had identified, or what they were. But I have now discovered my own two layers of naivete about cancer.
Early in chemotherapy, I lost the first naivete—that I would endure this treatment and then be done with cancer, aside from check-ups, which would all be clear. One afternoon in the chemo room, the other women were comparing notes: how many recurrences they’d had, how much time they’d had before recurrence, what drugs they’d been on, how many times they’d lost their hair. I had to face the reality that in the future I might be in their shoes, even though I didn’t see how I could possibly go through a second chemo regimen. I lost a layer of naivete. By the end of treatment, I realized I could, if necessary, do this again. Not willingly, and not graciously, but to save my life I could.
The second naivete I needed to lose was feeling that I could do something to prevent a recurrence—change my diet, take a lot of supplements, practice qigong and other alternative healing methods, eliminate the chemicals I used in cleaning, exercise regularly, stop coloring my hair and painting my nails, continue my involvement at church. Think positively: there was no reason for me to have a recurrence. This naivete took a beating when I was diagnosed with a second cancer, but I thought perhaps six months of change hadn’t been sufficient. After the second cancer was removed (without additional chemo), surely I had now earned a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
And then the second cancer came back. More than once. My doctor calls it a “nuisance cancer,” prone to recur, sometimes within months. Upset doesn’t begin to describe how I felt looking at the screen that showed the lumen of my bladder and its five clumps of tumors, knowing they meant another outpatient surgery.
I have begun to shed the second level of naivete. God is in charge of teaching my heart a wisdom that it can learn only through this experience.
I think that tonight I will polish my nails.