Give me relief from my distress…
This cry is found in Psalm 4. My prayer since I was diagnosed with cancer goes something like this, “Please give me relief, God.”
After each step along this journey, I look for a feeling of relief. I want to let out a great big sigh of relief. I want to stop holding my breath.
After a diagnosis of cancer, a feeling settled over me. It took me months to recognize it and figure it out. It is a stress like none other. It’s a crazy fear, a cumbersome underlying worry that threatens to squeeze the life out of me on certain occasions. It’s not always visible, but it’s always there. It’s a heaviness that lurks just under the surface of my days.
As I visited doctor after doctor, I kept waiting to feel it lift. I kept listening to hear someone say the sarcoma would be treated and I’d be well again eventually. I wanted to place my security somewhere. I wanted that feeling I used to have when I never really gave a second thought to the fact that I was walking and talking and breathing and living well.
I thought I would feel relief when I saw my pathology report and received a treatment plan. The pathology was a long time in coming and held more questions than answers. There is no protocol for treatment. A treatment plan was slow in coming. Relief never manifested.
So I sought out specialists’ opinions. I wanted their words to bring me relief from the uncertainty of sarcoma.
I wanted to feel relieved after my first visit at MD Anderson but I couldn’t because my insurance wouldn’t approve the surgery I needed to have. I reasoned that when the insurance battle was over, I’d feel relief and could move forward in the fight against cancer. I fought that battle fiercely and passionately because I wanted the sigh of relief when it was over. Instead I got the nerves you get before major surgery. The surgeon’s words didn’t calm my nerves and relief never came.
After surgery and a report of clear margins, I expected it to lift. I thought when I finally saw a sarcoma oncologist it would lift and I’d be able to breathe again. I really expected to feel all light and celebratory when I left that appointment. I left bawling. I left scared I couldn’t be fixed. I left with a keen realization the only security I would truly ever have in life would be the hope found in God’s promises. Yet, I still wanted relief to come from a doctor’s words.
You’d think I’d learn.
I expected to feel better after radiation. I wanted to feel like I was doing something to fight the cancer. I wanted to feel like I was taking measures to keep it away. Instead I felt like I was putting myself at risk for a million other disorders including another sarcoma. Radiation can cause some pretty bad things. Again, I faced a stark reminder that there is no relief from cancer. It will be with me for life. Regular scans, close monitoring, great faith. I looked forward to the proof clear scans would bring and the closure that hearing a doctor report it to me would bring.
You’d think I’d learn.
I wanted to be all relieved that my scans would certainly be clear and I could put some of this behind me. But there’s just something about sitting in a room full of people, mostly bald people, hooked up to iv’s waiting for scans. There’s this feeling I get in that room that reminds me of cancer. It reminds me of what could so easily be, what could so easily have been, but what was not. This time.
I left last night feeling incredibly grateful and incredibly overwhelmed with uneasiness. Thursday night it was late when I left. I saw lots of suffering. I saw lots of victory too. I was tired. The tests had taken a toll on my body physically.
As I lay in bed shedding tears of release and exhaustion and yes, fear, I asked God to make my sleep sweet. I begged Him for peace that would defy my emotions because I have learned that relief from the emotions of cancer is elusive. Cancer just changes things. I thanked God that although cancer had changed things, He never changes. And, I fell asleep looking forward to hearing Dr. Ravi jubilantly deliver good news. In my mind's eye he reported my great news complete with a fist pump and hug. Good news that would surely help me move forward, relieved to have cancer behind me once and for all.
You’d think I’d learn.
When I finally saw the doctor, he told me it was okay to be cautiously optimistic. He told me that chemo wasn’t completely off the table and it was too soon to jubilantly fist pump but it was okay to celebrate today. Things are good today and that is very good.
I got a crazy good reality check. The doctor told me I was his only breast sarcoma patient not to receive chemo. Scary but I see it as God’s protection. He told me he’d never seen a breast sarcoma less than ten centimeters. Mine was three. Incredible and I see it as God’s provision. Early detection allowed me to receive a less harmful treatment. Dr. Ravi reminded me that it’s sarcoma. It’s aggressive. I’m one of the lucky ones. I think that’s because I have “half the world” as someone put it praying for me.
I left slightly disappointed that the relief didn’t come today. Maybe I’ll always leave with that feeling. I see that tense feeling as God’s way of reminding me to be thankful for the gift of each morning I wake, each breath I take, each hour I live. And, I am thankful.
I’m thankful that the scriptures are clear. Relief can certainly be found through prayer to a faithful God. And the scriptures are clear, only God's words can bring relief.
Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer…I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:1 & 8