One of our newest members shared these words in worship on September 18 and has given me permission to share them with you here. May they call you to prayer and deep reflection as you read them. And may we all seek to be part of a community that is showing up for each other in real and powerful ways.
As many of you know, my life was turned upside down in January of this year when I was diagnosed with Stage III Inflammatory Breast Cancer. It’s been hard to find the words to explain what it feels like to be told you have cancer at such a young age. I know some of you have lived it, you don’t need me to tell you what it feels like. But here I was, i the middle of all my plans, being told that life had already happened, that this might be all I get.
The best description I’ve heard comes from Kate Bowler, a Professor at Duke Divinity School fighting cancer. She describes the moments after learning about her diagnosis as feeling like she was behind a pane of glass, and everyone she loved was on the other side.
Cancer is so isolating. A lot of people just don’t know how to talk about it, so we don’t. There aren’t enough words in this language or any other to explain the pinch of the needle or the rush of the dangerous radioactive drugs through your veins. There aren’t enough words to describe the headache and the fog. There aren’t words to explain the burn on your scalp when your hair starts falling out in chunks or the indignity of taking a lint roller to your head in the mornings in a vain attempt to contain the mess and pass for normal, healthy. There are not words to explain to your 35 year-old friends what it feels like to be in chemically induced menopause, and there are no words to explain to your 50 year-old friends what it feels like to be 35 and know this. There are not words to explain what it feels like to stand in a hotel room alone, unable to open the individual serving coffee or the tiny conditioner bottle, because the drugs have pushed back the cancer, but they’ve taken the feeling in your fingertips and your dexterity with them as they went. And I really, honestly don’t have the words to describe the excitement and the fear of knowing that in a few short days, they will cut out the cancer and the rest of my breasts with it, and that my body will very clearly never be the same again. But it doesn’t really matter if there are enough words, because even if there were, I’m too exhausted to explain it, too exhausted to answer the phone, too exhausted to carry on a conversation. And anyway, no one wants to hear the messy details. It’s awkward, and private, and gross.
But this place. You people. You have repeatedly broken that plate glass between us. You knew that it was messy and ugly and private on the other side, and you kept breaking that glass anyway. I protested, and I hid, and I didn’t answer the phone. It was so hard to accept help, over and over again. I mean, I wasn’t even a member for goodness sake, I wasn’t in your small group, I may not have even known your name. And yet you kept knocking on that glass, with tiny rocks, and giant bricks, and sledgehammers. And I didn’t feel so alone. I was able to see a small glimmer of hope. When the offers to help died away and everyone else was tired of talking about my cancer, you kept showing up.
When Donna talks about God living within you so that others can know Christ…this is it. I get to bring my whole cancer-ridden, out of control life in here every week. I don’t have to stop outside the door and pull myself together. I don’t have to tell you everything is going great. You don’t want me to sugar coat it for you. You want to stand next to me in the mess and hold my hand.
And for that I will be forever grateful.