Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Not the National Hockey League

I just finished speaking when the emergency call came through. I left the conference immediately to get back home to Mike. He had been taking care of our three children, ages two, three, and six, all weekend. It was a pretty tall order for a man who had begun to have trouble taking care of even himself.

God had given me the message a month or so before the women's conference. It was a recipe of sorts for a holy bride. (A bit corny, I agree, but I just speak what God gives me.) Take one harlot, cover with the blood of Christ, bake in the oven of trial and some other recipe details I don't really remember anymore.

What I do remember eight and a half years later is that God gave me that message as a warning. God was preheating the oven, and I was still unaware. I distinctly remember using the sample scenario of a refining trial, "When the phone rings and the doctor says, 'It's cancer,'...."

I arrived home, heavy with helpless concern, to a husband at wit's end, nearing the limit of his physical ability to function normally, and totally inadequate as a Dad solely in charge of his three exuberant rug rats.

He was struggling through days one at a time. Nights, too. Specialists had already spent six weeks looking for the culprit and coming up empty. What is it that causes night sweats, rapid weight loss, a ferocious cough, sluggish bowels, food to get stuck in your esophagus, and a type A personality to resort to daytime television?

The gastroenterologist finally found the answer to our million dollar question -- lymphoma. One phone call to a very sick man who was home alone with the very words of my sample scenario of a refining trial. I'll never forget the moment that NHL no longer meant National Hockey League and would forever-after mean Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Before we could get through the two weeks of tests that were scheduled, Mike's body began to succumb to the tumors that took two solid months of feeling progressively sicker to find. His body could do no more. Liver failure led to kidney failure, which led to a heart murmur and irregular palpitations and a calcium release from his bone marrow into his blood (which might bring osteoporosis to a 37 year old man). The dominoes were falling, and the doctors scrambled to play catch up as quickly as hospital-possible. After all, cancer had stopped being a silent killer some two months ago and was now loudly chanting victory. It was a fairly impressive head start by a formidable foe.

Mike, who lay dying in a hospital bed, was branded by pen to medical chart: NHL. Those three little letters pushed me over the proverbial cliff, and it was a five week long free-fall. No bottom, no bearings, no rest, and no catching your breath. It took five excruciating weeks to stem all the vital organ failure and complete the tests to determine an exact diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan.

There was so much fear, but, unbelievably, there was also peace. Admittedly, it was a meager amount in the deepest recesses of my soul. It was hard to focus on mustard-seed-size peace when the world had just been pulled from under my feet, cancer screaming for attention. When I did find the strength to look up, I saw a parachute above me. The underside looked suspiciously like the hollowed, hallowed palm of God.

It was a welcome sight, even though I still didn't know if Mike would survive, my new million dollar question. There was relief even though the breath of God was whispering close the question that reverberates still: "Do you love me more than this life?" It's funny how comforting a talking parachute can be when you're falling from the edge of the world you've always known, even when it's asking you very scary questions. I guess a girl takes what comfort she can get when she's baking in the oven of fiery trial.

I developed a desperate need to know two things: "How will this end?" and "When will this be over?" Time taught me that I will never know those answers. When you're surviving cancer, you never get to quit and you never really know. Instead of answers, you get a roller coaster ride through long treatment, a bond to doctors who willingly fight for your life by your side, and lessons in trusting the One who knows it all.

Mike, understandably, doesn't like to remember the torture of cancer or its treatment, but I never want to forget. God was so good, so faithful, so merciful. And every June, I remember... and celebrate.


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