So where were you when the events of 9/11 unfurled? I bet you know exactly. I vividly remember I was standing in the chemo room at our oncology office chatting with patients when the first plane hit.
And if you’re OLD like I am, you recall where you were when President Kennedy was shot in 1963. I know I was at Debbie Walls’ house playing the Barbie game (and poised to secure the good-looking bachelor, Ken, for my “date”) when Debbie’s stepmom rushed in with the terrible news. (Debbie found me on Facebook a few months ago after being out of touch for 50 YEARS and she told me she never forgot me either because of the incredibly sad memory we shared.)
It’s amazing how quickly your world can fall apart. One minute life seems pretty good, and the next minute you’re wondering how you ever will survive.
A health crisis has the ability to shake our worlds in ways difficult to comprehend. A while back, I surveyed a bunch of my cancer survivor friends for remembrances of the day their worlds fell apart.
“Surreal” is the term Wayne uses to describe how it felt to be told he had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of forty-seven.
“My family, like myself was in shock—pure disbelief,” he recalls thirteen years later. “I recently had gone twenty years without missing a full day of work to illness and now I had cancer? I couldn’t believe it.”
Ken was equally surprised nine years ago when his tongue cancer finally was diagnosed after two years of reassurances that the enlarged lymph node was “nothing to worry about.”
“When the doctor finally did say the word ‘cancer,’ I was in total shock,” Ken recalls. “I had no symptoms and I was in great shape for a forty-six-year-old man! I told someone I felt as if I had entered the Twilight Zone and nothing was recognizable.”
Cathy says “denial and total shock” were the first two emotions she experienced after being told in November 2009 that she had breast cancer at age fifty-four.
“My husband’s and my emotions were very different,” she adds. “He was a lot calmer and stronger than I was.”
My nurse/reporter friend Cubby says disbelief also was her first reaction to a breast cancer diagnosis at age fifty-one.
“I froze and my husband’s face turned white,” she still vividly recalls six years later. “The worst part was the fear of the unknown.”
Fear of the unknown.
I think that’s pretty much a universal response to a cancer diagnosis. The story of the day your world fell apart may be similar to these folks or it might be quite different, but I’m willing to bet that after those initial strong emotions wore off, you were left with the same question for yourself or your loved one: What’s going to happen next?
How difficult will the treatment be?
Will I/they get sick?
Can I/they keep working?
And the $64,000-question: Will I/they be cured?
I, of course, will answer all those questions for you in this blog…yeah, right. I have no magic tea leaves for your or your loved one’s future. I believe there’s a good chance that the treatments will be easier than you think because that’s what most of our patients say—the worry before the first chemo or radiation was worse than the actual treatment itself. I think you or your loved one probably will not get sick because there are wonderful anti-nausea drugs available today—at least three or four new ones since I was treated in 1990. (If you knew people treated a long time ago for cancer, please don’t imagine your experience is likely to be like theirs.)
I also think there’s a good possibility you or your loved one will be able to keep up a fairly normal life. I see cancer patients everyday in our office getting chemo and then heading out to their place of employment or home to do yard work. Most folks say they adjust to a “new normal” and enjoy the days with good energy, while resting more on the days when fatigue sets in.
And if you want to know the overall survival odds, 64% of adult cancer patients still are alive five years after their diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Of course, I can’t promise my observations all will come true for you. I don’t know your future health any more than I am certain of my own. But I do know the One who does know it all.
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster,
to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
What an incredibly comforting verse for us when our world falls apart. Just don’t miss that itty-bitty word “I” in the first sentence. “For I know the plans I have for you.”
Only God knows the plans for us and they are His plans and not necessarily ours. But whether His plans match ours or not, we can be confident they are good ones and designed to give us hope. Jeremiah 29:12-14 continues with God’s assurances:
In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly,
you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord.
Thank You, Lord, that You are not watching me from a distance, but You are close by and hear me when I pray. Please help me to trust that Your plans for my life are truly good ones. Amen.