Sunday, August 21, 2011

Healing Heartbreak, Binding Wounds

[God] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3, Book of Common Prayer

Cancer is heartbreaking, whether it happens in our own body or in the body of someone we love. Even with relatively non-dangerous cancers, like my Stage 1 bladder cancer, there is the heartbreak in knowing that life will never be the same. I will be regularly checked for the rest of my life. Missing a scope means potentially missing a cancer that could become aggressive and angry at being ignored.
Wounds come from our surgeries, from the removal of tumors and affected body parts. We may carry the literal scars of those surgeries all our lives; we may also experience the psychical scars of post-traumatic stress disorder, of grief for our loss. While we don’t usually speak of chemotherapy or radiation as wounds, we know that our body is not whole. 
Modern medicine and pharmacology have done wonders in cancer treatment, even though it’s still barbaric. I have no doubt that twenty or thirty years ago, my Stage III ovarian cancer would have killed me. Few medical practitioners, however, have the time or training to help us with our broken hearts and our wounds. Fewer of them have been there themselves, and a male doctor can never know what it means to lose a womb or a breast.
Therapy is a helpful tool; I began meeting with a therapist, herself a cancer survivor, a few months after I finished chemo. I needed someone who understood—as good and kind as my doctor and nurses were, as supportive as my priest and my other friends were, I needed to be able to express the things I couldn’t to those who knew me. I remember what a relief it was to talk about death, openly, without fearing a friend would misunderstand or worry. In the women’s cancer support group I joined, too, I found understanding that only another cancer patient could offer.
Ultimately, however, only God does the healing and binding. Various tools may aid in accomplishing this work: the support of others, being in nature, time passing (especially without recurrence), prayer. God is not bound to use one or another of them, but we can trust that God is at work.

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