My dad has cancer. Again. He had it once before. A different kind, about 20 some years ago. Back then it was prostate cancer and once he had that little trouble-maker removed, followed by some radiation, he was back to his active, energetic self.
The cancer he has now is called small cell carcinoma of the bladder. It’s extremely rare. And aggressive.
Let me interrupt myself here and go on record that for me reading the internet is never a good idea when it comes to health issues. Maybe you’ve had better luck finding encouraging reports or connecting with a medical miracle. But when I research reports on cancer or any health related topic, I either get caught up in an abysmal medical journal abstract (thanks to my 20 years of marriage to a doctor) or I see a list of symptoms I have had which lead me to diagnose myself with some deadly disease. I know I’m not alone. My friend Theresa is the same way. She starts breathing funny and thinks she has caught emphysema, even though last time I checked you can’t catch emphysema.
Of course there are people on web forums who share their victories over cancer and other horrible sicknesses and I do take comfort in reading those posts – when I find them. Thankfully, internet aside, my dad’s doctors have been fairly positive regarding his situation, considering only 1 to 9 people out of 1 million get this cancer (I read that in a medical journal, online). Because of the aggressive nature, however, they wanted him to start chemo right away.
So last week, that’s what he did. He sat for the better part of three days with two cancer fighting drugs dripping into his arm. They swam their way through his veins and went to work on their lifesaving, cancer cell-obliterating mission. My mom told my brothers and I that he was doing excellent and we saw it for ourselves when they arrived at the lake house on Saturday morning where we were all spending the first weekend of the season together. Although he dozed off in a chair now and then, my dad worked in the yard and joined us for appetizers and conversation on the dock. Indeed he was doing great.
Until he wasn’t. Shortly after lunch on Sunday, he asked my mom for his anti-nausea pills and headed to bed. When he woke up he was disoriented and too weak to walk without assistance. We watched over him and took turns helping him to the bathroom and back to bed. Over the course of the next two days, he battled chills, a severe headache and vomiting. Although he could answer questions accurately, it took him a while to muster the energy to speak.
I felt unsettled, like life was out of balance. My dad, the leader of our family, is sick. Very sick. And I’m not sure what to think, or how to feel. For a few moments, I considered chugging a beer or downing some whiskey straight from the bottle. But alcohol and I are not friends any more. We had, shall we say… a falling out several years ago.
Thankfully I walked outside instead, spotted the red kayak and without telling anyone, embarked on some time alone on the water. If I want a good workout, I paddle left from our house. This takes me by the houses of neighbors and strangers, where I refuse to stop or slow down for fear of looking weak or out of shape.
I didn’t care about impressing anyone today so I turned right and paddled along the rocky shore which lines the grassy dam. There are no houses. No one to impress. I paddled and I floated. I prayed and I cried. When I got angry I paddled until my shoulders ached (because I’m getting old, and I read somewhere on the internet that women in their 40s often experience bursitis in their hips and shoulders). When the anger subsided, I stopped paddling, looked across the lake, and drank in the beauty of the feathery clouds and the various shades of green on the trees growing on the southern Indiana hills.
Just as I was getting ready to turn around and head back to the lake house, a telephone pole caught my attention. Yes, a telephone pole. From my angle, the wires and the electrical box created an illusion of a crumpled little man. (I promise I did not chug the beer or down the whiskey.) The way the light and shadows mingled, there appeared a Christ-like figure on the cross-like pole. A telephone pole crucifix in the middle of a cornfield just over the grassy dam right in my line of vision. And in my very humble, hardly qualifying prayers, I thanked God for the reminder. The reminder that he knew suffering. He knew because he had once watched his Son gasp for air and grasp for comfort.
And there in a red kayak on a sunny afternoon on Grandview Lake, I knew God was giving me what I needed. Not an alcoholic beverage to guzzle, but a glimpse of hope. The moment didn’t last long. There was no waxing poetic prayers or singing psalms of thanksgiving; it was just a moment. Nothing more. Nothing less. That was it. Suffering and comfort. From a God who knows both and uses telephone poles as reminders that He’s in it all. Hand in hand today and tomorrow and the day after that.