I called to the LORD in my distress; the LORD answered by setting me free.
Psalm 118:5 Book of Common Prayer
At first, these lines strike me as an example of cross-questions/crazy answers. For a prayer and its consequence, I might pair distress with relief, or bondage with freedom, but not distress with freedom. The more I’ve thought about it, though, it seems the psalmist may have been on to something.
In our adult education sessions at church recently, we’ve been looking at metaphors and parables. Jesus is the True Vine, and we are the branches, but the truth is that the branches can put forth all sorts of shoots that need lopped off, because they detract from the main purpose of fruit-bearing. In the same way, our lives can easily become luxuriant with lots of interesting vines that are unproductive. It’s not always easy to tell whether a new endeavor will bear fruit, or even if it’s the desired fruit. Sometimes I’ve thought I was producing grapes and ended up with olives.
I am not a person who is always positive, grateful for my cancer. This does not mean, however, that I am blind to the gifts—there doesn’t seem to be a better word—this disease has brought me. Because in my distress, I was set free from some things that were never going to bear fruit.
Some people I know manage to maintain most of their lives during cancer treatment. I’m full of admiration for the women I’ve met who keep their jobs and their households, even if they lose their hair. I did keep my job, but as a freelancer, I could stop for a nap whenever I needed one. As a single woman, I could let dishes or laundry go. In general, though, I think people expect less of someone undergoing chemo or radiation. Treatment gives us permission to let go of some of the burden we may not have been aware we were carrying.
A cancer diagnosis also pulls us up short, reminding us of the reality we may have been ignoring in our busy lives—we, too, are mortal. In light of that fact, how do we wish to spend whatever time we have remaining? What activities that we’ve had to curtail because of treatment do we most miss? What new activities will we add? Several women I know have added cancer activism to their calendars, fitting in walks, programs, and meetings. Some of us added a bit of therapy for our mental health. Some made “bucket lists” to complete or revised an existing list.
Many people want everything to go back to the way it was before their diagnosis. I understand that and I cannot judge it; I simply can’t go there. For me, the questions had to include, What will I let go? What unproductive shoots will I prune to make room for new growth? How can I be free of some of the tasks that were once a joy but have become a burden? Cancer gives me the opportunity to examine my life and be set free.