Thursday, 9 October 2014
Ice cubes and the 'C' word
I may have mentioned previously that in 2007 I was diagnosed with cancer. It was a huge surprise to me and a very defining moment….
The odd thing about it was the fact that I had become obsessed with wanting to continually suck ice cubes. I realise now that this was one of the first things I should have noticed as a sign that something was wrong!
At the end of 2006 I was exhausted. (Probably precipitated through having to keep up with the huge quantity of ice cubes needed to satisfy my daily 'habit'.) The job I had as global coordinator for a counselling resource for traumatised children entailed a lot of travel and whenever I returned home I would find myself in bed by 8 o'clock every evening. I remember doing a training session in Romania and the kindness extended to me by the coordinator in ensuring I remained constantly supplied with ice cubes. The habit seemed to get worse. I would fill two thermal cups full of ice cubes every morning simply to get to the office!
As much as I loved the job I felt that my family were suffering. I sensed this might be a good time to take a sabbatical and see where God might lead me next. I decided to hand in my notice!
The planned three month sabbatical coincided with some blood tests that the Doctor suggested I have. Results showed that I was severely anaemic and I was sent for further investigations.
My plan was to take time off from the end of February until Easter. As it turned out this was the exact time frame of the cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery. Doctors discovered a tumour in my bowel and suspected the worst. I was fast tracked through the NHS system and put first on the list for surgery a week before Easter.
Having experienced years of infertility and miscarriage I already knew that illness touches peculiarly on the many and varied circle of people around you. I found this to be one of the hardest things as it's a trait of human nature for people to want to try and 'fix' things. It left me feeling out of control and vulnerable to the opinions and judgements of others.
I tend to process things internally and this takes time. I processed feelings around miscarriage and loss through writing poems and songs. Things happened so quickly with the cancer diagnosis that I didn't have time to think let alone write.
Physically It was dealt with quickly and 3 days after the operation I remember sitting in the garden with half my bowel missing wondering what had hit me.
It was maundy Thursday and with the awareness of Good Friday approaching I knew things would never be the same again. In those weeks and months of living with the 'c' word it felt like I was staring death in the face. I concluded in the light of my faith and belief in eternity through Jesus' death and resurrection that I had no fear of DEATH. It was however a very lonely time for me. It was a challenge to my faith in Jesus and His words of life. He said 'greater things than these will you do'. I desired 'the greater things' and decided that if I lived, I didn't want my life to be mediocre. I wanted to live with passion in the revelation of God's goodness and love and the good news of the gospel of Christ and His healing, resurrection power.
The diagnosis wasn't clear cut. They had found lymph nodes affected which meant that surgery wasn't a total cure. When I was offered chemotherapy as a belt and braces approach I considered the offer long and hard. Hubby, being a pragmatist wanted to know the odds and we were told that statistically it wasn't going to make that much difference. I took a controversial decision to refuse the offer of chemotherapy. As a mother of two young girls (then 9 and 11 years old) I considered that I had a choice to make. I could start the chemotherapy and endure months of illness and the consequent side effects of treatment. I realised that this would mean it would be difficult to engage with my children through the long summer months and I would miss out on a significant piece of their childhood. Alternatively, I could embrace a summer of enjoying the time with my girls unhindered by chemo side effects and trust for the best. Statistically if cancer hadn't recurred within 5 years then it was likely a 'cure'.
On hindsight and 7 years later I now know I made the right choice but it's been a difficult and lonely journey. Most people I know would have opted for chemo in a desperate attempt to FIGHT cancer. I remember trying to explain to the chemo doctor that I would much rather embrace life, enjoy my children's childhood and trust God for the future rather than choose to FIGHT cancer. She seemed offended by my thinking and her response caused me to stay silent about my journey of faith when faced with the 'c' word for 7 years.
In terms of the ice cube fetish - The consultant poo-hoo'd my craving as unrelated and bizarre. He'd never heard of such a thing and was most superior in front of the entourage of eager students. In his opinion it was worthy of little note - he dismissively smiled in a condescending manner raising a most cynical eyebrow! It was remarkable that immediately after surgery I no longer had a desire for ice cubes. I began to dig around online to see if there was anything that could enlighten me on the issue. I found a random article on side effects of anaemia and I discovered that it can cause swelling of the epithelial tissue in the mouth which in turn can be soothed through sucking ice!
I realise that writing my story in this manner may likely offend some, especially those who have taken up the fight against cancer. The side affects of chemotherapy are not for the faint hearted and I applaud the bravery of anyone who has gone down that route. But I feel I must at least speak out for those who are making their choices at this time, especially those who do have a faith. I have found the presence of the Lord and the love of God over the last 7 years to be so real and tangible. Even if the cancer had recurred I wouldn't regret my decision one bit. I choose to live one day at a time in HIS love and as if each day were my last. I embrace the life I have one day at a time. I look back on 2007 as one of the most defining years of my life. I do believe in Jesus the great healer and His words of encouragement to us from John 12 v 12-14
"Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can't believe that, believe what you see - these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it. That's how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I'll do."
The Message translation.
There's one thing I'm sure we can all agree on …..Having a cancer diagnosis does tend to define things!