“What are your plans for today?” Bri asked as he climbed into the driver’s seat next to me. We had just dropped off my Honda at the mechanic’s, and I was still trying to clear the haze of the morning even though I had been awake for hours. I leaned my head back against the headrest and mumbled, “Try not to throw up again?” He reached for my curled hand which ached from pain deep in its joints. He sighed his sorrow and drove me home.
That’s how that day began.
It’s been nine months since we learned there was progression of my cancer and I underwent all the subsequent testing and surgery. It’s been six months since I started new treatment protocol. My oncologist has been working faithfully with me to tweak dosages and timing. As always, she is giving me much input and days and weeks off so I can travel or attend important things in my family’s and my lives. This new treatment regimen has been hard with its impredictability. We are starting to learn what to expect when, but the last nine months of life have felt like the haze I was pushing through this morning.
“This one is breaking me,” I’ve whispered to Brian many times. And we tweak it again, so I feel less broken. And we keep on tweaking because we know it’s working. Some days I think it’s getting easier. Days like today, I don’t.
I see people regularly choosing their “word of the year” and I laughingly tell friends mine is “broken.” Depression and anxiety rooted deep within my heart and soul this winter, a side effect of one of my three medications with which we blast this cancer yet again. I have lived in a deep darkness these past months, but God is bringing me out of the shadows. Warm weather helps—-my physical aches and pains are less.
Yes, my body is broken. I have been struggling with a past of very poor theology that didn’t allow lament, and I have not known what to do with the darkness of my days. I have watched my children live life somewhere in the realm of “undone” and “fearful” yet rise to hope in what is true. Their courage pushes me to see the world around me with different eyes.
But treatment is working. I am fighting this monster with diet choices and Pilates and counseling and medications, and progression has halted for now. I am able to pace myself to watch my loves doing the things they love—running and tennis and drama. We go to movies together and have long, deep conversations about life and the power of story. We fix meals together and plan menus and work around the house. Bri and I get out together and go on dates and have game nights with friends. We laugh. A lot. We really do. I’m thankful for that. I need that.
Recently, at one of those game nights while playing the game, Imaginiff, we were given the choice, “If Angie were an ailment, what would she be?” Options were along the lines of a headache, a sick stomach, a pain in the rear, a pulled muscle… Brian laughingly looked over and said, “Well, that pretty much describes everything she deals with.” I won’t tell you which ailment he chose. *smile*
I don’t know how to answer friends who ask how I am doing. And many of you faithfully ask, for which I am so thankful. I often reply with, “I have good days and bad days. We just never know when they’re going to be.” Which is true. We tend to live very spontaneously. I just don’t know how to sum it all up without sounding like I’m complaining—-how do I describe to people that my hands become so raw that they burn and that I can’t pick up a pen and write? Or of my nails that split halfway down to the cuticle? Or that my scalp aches all the time and it hurts to brush my hair? That my skin feels like one big bruise covering my body and showers are physically painful? That I sometimes can’t eat because of sores in my mouth that mysteriously disappear the next day? And yet the medications cause bloating and swelling so it looks like I eat more than I do? And those are the minor side effects.
And the mental side effects? The forgetfulness? The words that don’t come? How when I go to church, I am so mentally exhausted from having to work so hard to understand what’s being taught and sung that I struggle to find joy? That beautiful words that used to be part of my vocabulary fly over my head and I feel like a simpleton? That Brian will tell of his day and talk about things I should understand, and I’ll say to him, “I don’t know what that word means.” Or this weekend when we were camping and I kept calling “cornmeal” “cole slaw”. That I have anxiety over the weirdest things—like what if I sit on an anthill at Bear’s tennis match and the ants eat my toes off? What. The. Heck?
How do I keep doing this?
But how do I not? Because even with all that I’m describing, I have days where I feel somewhat well. That a good cup of coffee and a good conversation with a friend is revitalizing. That I may limp down the hill to watch Bear play tennis, but the warmth of the sun on my face and the pride in watching him compete is strengthening. That the chill in the night air may make my bones ache, but watching my Ash push through in a 3200-meter race fills my heart. That getting ready to go out may use up all my energy, but watching my girl own the stage as a Shakespearean Puck breathes life into me. That I may tell Brian he can’t put his arm around me because the weight of it around my waist is too painful, but I am calmed by the press of his body against me when I lean my head on his shoulder and know he will not give up on me.
A couple months ago after watching the author speak on The Gospel Coalition website, I picked up the book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop. Y’all… I have gotten through one chapter. Not because it’s a hard read or because I don’t like the book. It’s because I keep going back over and over and over again to the same words because I need them over and over and over again.
Because lament is a language I am still learning. He describes it as a “minor-key language for my suffering” and how it “provides a critical ballast for the soul.” (I had to look up the word “ballast”… a word I’ve used many times before. *sigh*)
I have rooted myself in the psalms and in the gospels. I have listened to various podcasts that speak to suffering, and I have listened to various podcasts that celebrate the beauty of our world and our lives. I have picked up books that are simple to read yet rich in truth. And I have read others’ stories to remember it’s not just I that suffers (because it’s so easy to navel gaze) and to pray for them in their need. And I sit in that gap between pain and promise.
And I wait.
And some days I weep.
And some days I revel.
And every day, I thank Him. Because even with all this pain, He has given me another day with the ones I love doing the things I love. Another day to see His beauty.
And I cry. And I laugh.
Because the pain is real.
But so is the promise.