3 month check-up.

I’ll be honest.

I’ve been angry recently. And not in the loud, harming others kind of angry but the quiet angry that leads to silent depression and despair. Oh yes, one thing I have learned this past year: anger and depression are so closely linked; they are fraternal twins, siblings that may not look the same on the outside but are so deeply related.

Twin feelings; twin reasons—
1. That I can’t/don’t seem to have the same excitement and joy like my friends and family about clear scans and check-up. That from my perspective, cancer and chemo isn’t just a check, you’re done, but it lingers. Everywhere. That I can’t anticipate all the long-term and potential side effects (can I have children some day? will my cancer come back? will I get some other type of cancer someday?) and even more mad that it could affect not just me but my family for the rest of my life.
2. That I feel like I’m reversing because of these thoughts. Why can’t I get over this? Will I ever get over this? Hasn’t enough time passed…

I had my 3 month scans and check up last Monday. Monday, Oct 26th was the crux, the zenith—one week of travel up to the high pinnacle in anticipation, worry, the journey draining, literally little sleep. Arrive to destination of scans, check up, more scans. And then the week of traveling back down, angry and depression companions and unwanted souvenirs from the expedition that I unknowingly picked up and don’t want. (Can I return them? What is the return policy here?)

It didn’t even register to me that I was struggling the week leading up to scans. I was merely doing what I do best: functioning. And I could sort of tell. Letting nothing and no one really effect me. No responses to much of anything or anyone that week. And sleeping, sleeping a lot more than usual. I am still tired after I come home, but not that much. And becoming frustrated that I was getting a cold. And then it hit me as I sat on my bed that Friday evening: the sleep, the getting sick all arrows to the bullseye of anxiety in my heart and fear. He certainly does answer when you ask him to—

psalm 139

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

And I love/hate that He answers those kind of prayers. Love because I am grateful when I finally get to see myself clear like glass. Hate because I dislike most of the time what I see through the clear glass of my soul, thoughts and emotions that I didn’t even know were there.

I usually don’t get anxious before scans or check-ups. You see, at this point the routine is so routine  that it doesn’t even phase me. But as I’m sitting there, listening to my roommates Shelly and Katie so patiently be with me and sit on my bed with me and pray for me, I’m realizing that I am becoming anxious more. I knew something was “wrong” the first couple of times I was diagnosed, the pain lightning bolt-striking down my femur, down my back. Pain directing the path to scans, scans, more scans to understand and seek answers and the answer cancer. But the third diagnosis was just part of my routine. No pain. No  forewarning from my body trying to signal to me that something is wrong. Routine scans revealing something not routine. (And yet at times, it feels like my cancer relaspses are indeed routine, every five years a relapse.) Oh, its clear to me now that there were unconcious connections being made here. Could my body once again give no warning?

Shelly remembers that Katie has been reading the psalms, and asks if there is a psalm that she could think of for this moment. (Oh, prayers and psalms, the biggest weapons of this past year it seems.) She reads—

psalm 143

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
    he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
    like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
    my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
    I meditate on all your works
    and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
    I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground.

11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
    in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
    destroy all my foes,
    for I am your servant.

Oh yes, psalmist, fellow darkness-dweller. Can we light a candle here? Is there any light that you have found yet?
Oh yes, Lord, silent all my enemy thoughts and foe fears!

This has been my prayer-psalm for the past couple of weeks, and honestly, still is. Incredible that a psalm can directly say all that your soul desires and hopes to say but yet can’t even describe and articulate the thoughts on its own.

Oh Lord, silent all my enenmy thoughts and foe fears.

I don’t have to be at Children’s until later that morning, so Daddio and I get together beforehand for breakfast. I love that my father loves breakfast so much and all its options: bagels, donuts, coffee, eggs, pancakes, bacon. And I’m grateful to be able to enjoy something before a long, long day of scans and tests. Dad is always talking about getting Northstar breakfast, so we daddy-daughter breakfast of wonderful coffee, their biscuits and jam, and scones.

Sitting across from my Daddio, we are so much alike. We can always talk about old movies to talking to strangers and befriending them. I can tell he immensely cares for me, with every hug and goodbye to me stamped with a call to the Lord to bless me. Father calling the Father.

Dad and I head over to Children’s Hospital. It’s pretty incredible how we easily can get back into our “routine” here: Dad working on a crossword puzzle, and I his assistant as we wait for each scan. In fact, the medical attendants always remark to me how “you know the routine” (Yes, you’re right.)

CT scan. (breath in, hold your breath.)
MRI. (don’t move)
EKG/Echo. (turn on your side.)

Dad leaves while I’m in the MRI, and Mom comes to be with me now. Back up to the routine, level 11 of the new hospital. Yet so strange, we haven’t been here for 3 months (has it really been 3 months?) when for an entire year we were here every month. Nurses and staff also remark, “It’s been 3 months?!” just as surprised as we are. And it is so good to see them yet also sad. An odd renunion indeed.

Mom and I see Stacey, my nurse practioner, and she brings to me a folder filled with information. Information I am honestly still processing. A worksheet outlining the types of chemotherapy I’ve received over the past 11 years, as well as radiation, surgery, relapses. I once knew how to pronounce these chemotherapies, really? All the names seem so distant, like a relative who you haven’t seen in a while and you honestly forgot their name and how they are related to you. And I’ve received all these chemotherapies, really? Oh, wow. Count them on your fingers: 10.

It’s only 2 sheets of paper stapled together, my entire medical cancer history seems so simple all lined out in a chart with dates and timelines and measurements. 2 sheets for 11 years. Seriously, what an abridged, almost deceiving Sparknotes of my medical history! It almost makes it seem as if this has all been so managable, so compact in my hands now, this history. Feel the paper between your fingers, watch for paper cuts, paper cutting and briefly hurting fingers and thoughts. And I can’t honestly assess how I feel: whether this is absurdly comical, or helpful to have in such a concise manner, or overwhelming to see this.

And then there are the packets of information that are on the other pocket of the folder she hands me. Literally, almost 20. Feels like and looks like a packet per body part of mine, listing all sorts of potential long-term side effects to every part of my body it seems. And its not like I didn’t know these side effects were a possibility before entering an agreement to treatment, signing lease over of my body to chemotherapy. But as I’m reflecting, you are only concerned with the in-the-moment effects while you’re in treatment—the neutropathy, the hair falling out, the tiredness, the sickness—and trying to deal with those in order to even have hope (ha) to deal with the long-term side effects (can I still have children one day? will this cancer come back? and there are other cancers that stem from chemo? to only list a few.)

I’ve since organized these packets. And, like the 2 page worksheet, they are helpful yet overwhelming. I am grateful for the information, but how do you process these “facts” and align them to your life? How do you not hold onto these sheets of paper and realize that these are potential realities? And how do you look at these, recognize the possibilities and yet act in faith and trust still, remembering that yes, these are only potentials but there is a sturdy and true God? I am still wrestling. I’m not quite there yet, and think that transitioning into life from treatment is just as hard as undergoing the treatment itself at times. There are more frequent moments of peace, of openning up to others, from God speaking through others to me, to God speaking himself to me.

Patiently waiting, patiently processing, patiently trusting that more moments like those will come, and some days I see it more than others.

It will come.

psalm 130

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

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