When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you, for I am the LORD your God. — Isaiah 23:3-4
Happy 8th Anniversary to my husband Bruce. No, not our wedding anniversary. His anniversary as a acute myeloid leukemia cancer survivor.
Should I say happy? No, I guess not. Joy? Yes, unending joy, in the depths of our being.
So why, then, am I weepy today? Ask any survivor and they will tell you they are emotional days, these anniversaries. They are as deeply carved in the recesses of our minds as 9/11 is in the history books of our country.
Our own 9/11 is a good way to describe Diagnosis Day to the uninitiated. The day we discovered a powerful enemy walks among (within) us. The day the world as we had known it caved in. The day the sky fell. The day God seemed so far away. (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”)
It is the day all firm footing was pulled out from under our feet. All we knew and trusted and thought about this earthly life ended. The moment B.C. (before cancer) and A.D. (after diagnosis) broke our lives apart. The day of dark fear.
It is a fear that defies any attempt at comfort. I vividly remember every time a doctor would come into the room with still more bad news about Bruce’s diagnosis, my body would get ice cold, and I could not breathe. It was like I was about to drown in my own lungs. Bruce says it was like having a fire hose turned on him. I think we are describing the same response.
This fear is sadly not a single incident, but one often relived over and over for 14.1 million people living with cancer in the U.S. It is the anxiety of tests to determine if our cancer remains in remission. It is every headache, every attack of the flu, every muscle ache, every bump, and bruise, and cramp. It is false alarms. And sometimes, it is another face-to-face encounter with the enemy.
For us, it came again in my diagnosis with Stage 4 leiomyoarcoma of my jaw just 1 1/2 years after Bruce’s. And again on August 29, just 6 months later, when I had confirmation of a metastatic tumor in my neck. My hope that my cancer had not spread was dashed.
Over time, our joy has grown by recalling God’s incredible acts of grace in our lives. We have learned to live well in the dying. We have been blessed to be served and to serve others with cancer. We have discovered life is full of so much that is rich and good. We have been given 5 grandchildren, our greatest legacy, and a great source of joy.
But even they do not erase the sad memories. Even in the midst of this great gratitude and thanksgiving, there is a necessary acknowledgement of loss. I don’t need to look at a calendar to tell you it is August 29. My whole being recognizes it every year, and my tears are just below the surface.
Today, as I always do on August 29, I will pass through the flood of memories of the days of great sorrow. Except now I know with certainty that God has walked through all of this with me. He did not part the waters, nor did He allow us to step around them, or over them. That is not what Grace is about.
Grace is the hands of our rescuers, the doctors and nurses who did God’s work to restore our health, the filling of the gaping hole left by cancer’s attack with healing of our hearts and souls, the rebuilding within us that acknowledges the pain of our loss but promises us so much more.
It is the abundance of that Grace that gives birth not to happiness, but to that which is much greater — unending Joy in our triumph over loss.