I slid into a pew, removed my coat and tried to breathe normally. I closed my eyes, soaking in the quiet of the stone walls and the lingering aroma of spent incense. In some ways, I didn’t want to be there at all because, when it came right down to it, I was angry. I’m always angry when I try to figure out what happened to my father’s life.
The life of a person with a life-threatening or life-altering disease can be depressing and it can be terrifying. On good days, when our heads and hearts are in their right places, it can be also be majestic. Our lives can be frightfully ugly and they can be gloriously beautiful. But even when we seem to be in the midst of our lowest and most distressful times, we can choose to focus on the good and on God and his movement in our lives.
Over the course of my treatment, my chemotherapy drugs have caused what is known as “peripheral neuropathy.” In short, my hands and feet are numb. My size-ten feet tingle when I walk, which sounds a little like a line from a Broadway musical, but it’s far less entertaining.
The moment the elevator door opens on the seventh floor and I enter the treatment center, I feel as if I am in a different world from the one where I spend the rest of my days and nights. It’s different for a number of reasons: the place itself, my fellow travelers in treatment, and my own state of mind and spirit. Chemoworld, I call it.
This past month I celebrated a few milestones. It has been ten years since I was first diagnosed with a rare blood disease called Langerhan’s Cell Histiocytosis and embarked on a three-year journey of disease, treatment, recovery and remission, and seven years since I finished the manuscript for my book, “Embraced by God: Facing Chemotherapy with Faith.”
I’ve written about mystery and around mystery and have been inspired by mystery. How could I have not? As a person of faith who tries to live a contemplative and aware life, mystery lies at the core of all I am and believe. For in mystery, God resides.
“Writing,” Henri Nouwen wrote, “can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.”
Whether I have been healed by God through the power of prayer or through the natural reactions of my God-gifted body, I am – for now anyway – healed. Whatever the outcome, I have been healed, for I am at peace. So for me the question remains the one posed at the top of this reflection by the great New England naturalist poet Mary Oliver, as it is should for everyone, regardless of health or healing: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
On February 24, a week and a few days after a bone marrow biopsy, I learned that I have a new, and more serious health condition than the one I have been battling over the past four years. In fact, it was the chemotherapy I received this past summer for that disease, called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), that is the cause of my new health challenge. Against 99 to 1 odds, the chemo seriously damaged my bone barrow to the point where I have a condition called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS, formerly known as “preleukemia”).
Just a quick post to say that my collection of essays about facing disease and treatment with faith is about to hit the virtual and physical bookstore shelves.