Clearly, I meant to post this yesterday. I wrote it in the morning, intending to let it simmer, but spent a quiet evening with a friend and forgot until I'd gotten into bed. So, please imagine it's Friday!
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Collect for Fridays, Morning Prayer I, Book of Common Prayer
For centuries, the Church observed Friday as the day Jesus died, first with fasting from all food and then with a less stringent fast, eating no flesh—only fish—that day. That custom has been lost in our modern, post-Vatican II culture. Friday is now celebrated as the last day of the work week or class week, with perhaps a party of sorts at home, at a bar, at the sorority house.
Today I am very conscious of where I am not going—to the chemo room. This hasn’t struck me in a while, but for me, Friday is linked less to Christ’s curcifixion than to another kind of death: cancer cell death. For two Fridays of every three, I was in chemo for much of the day. The first week involved a double whammy: IV/IP, which meant that I received drugs both intravenously and through a port intraperitoneally (into my abdomen). The process took most of the day, 9 to 5, as if I were one of those people still going to the office. The next week was a shorter day, with only IV therapy. The treatment usually was finished by 2 or 3 on those days. One week to begin to feel better, and then we began again.
Chemo is not crucifixion. It’s all very hygienic and controlled. I’ve even heard of chemo rooms where friends and family could gather in support of the patient, but at the hospital where I received my chemo, visitors were not encouraged. The room was small, not intended to be accommodating to lookers-on. I came to appreciate this, although I did not on the first day, when I was as terrified as I’d been in a long, long time, and the friend who brought me could not stay. (She wanted to, even though I’d told her it wasn’t going to be possible.)
I don’t know that I’ve ever come to think of chemo as “the way of life and peace,” though I did find some hidden blessings, my health not the least of them. Chemo is an assault on all the body’s cells. For some of us, it leaves a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. How else to explain that this Friday morning, with the sun coming out after storms and the birds singing, nearly four years after I finished chemo, I am thinking about it still? I watched a DVD of a West Wing show last night, with gunshot wounds and hospital scenes prominently featured, and I could not stop trembling. Even writing about it, I am close to tears. It was all make-believe, a creation of Aaron Sorkin’s mind, but the hospital scenes were too real, even now. I am still looking for the way of life and peace.