So it turns out my wife has cancer… We found out this week. She noticed a lump on her neck, and after having it checked out, she got sent her in for a biopsy. They say “biopsy,” but the correct term for what they did was a “Fine Needle Aspiration” on her thyroid… Often shortened to an “FNA.” But not to be confused with the “Effin’ A” below.
Anyone who has ever had to hear a doctor say the word “Cancer” knows that it is a terrifying moment. They tell you you should never Google things like this, but on the other hand, screw that. I immediately did. Actually, I Googled the words “Best types of cancer to have.” The way I figured, if Thyroid Cancer was on the list, that would mean I would be able to take that big breath I couldn’t seem to manage to find. And good news… It was. As far as rates of survival are concerned, Thyroid Cancer is one of the best. Prostate, Breast, and Thyroid were on the list I looked at. There was one other one, but I can’t remember what it was, because I stopped reading after reading the word “Thyroid.” And then I Googled and read a bunch of other stuff about thyroid cancer. And now, I’m basically an expert. Or I’m just a really annoying husband who thinks he knows things because he read a whole Wikipedia page… Either one.
After the initial “Hey, you’ve got cancer” telephone call, they schedule you for a sit down consultation with a surgeon right away. While filling out the intake forms, there was a question something like “How would you like the person calling your name to address you?” My wife said something to the woman checking us in about writing that she would only respond if they pronounced our last name correctly (people very rarely do). A couple minutes later, a women came to the door and said, “Mrs. Bow-School?” to which Lillian shook her head and said, “Nope.” The woman who checked us in laughed in a way that seemed too loud for a doctor”s office… and I remembered how happy and proud it makes me that I am married to someone who can make people laugh so effortlessly.
When I am in stressful, scary situations, it turns out I cope by trying to say funny things. But for whatever reason, I am often the only one laughing (this was also true for the story of my vasectomy). That feeling of not being able to catch your breath seems momentarily alleviated with laughter. We thought we were going to be in the sort of office with bookshelves, but it was the sort of office with those reclining exam tables with the paper cover. I offered to find stirrups to put her feet in, but she politely declined… Without so much as a smile, which I found rude, because I knew she was laughing on the inside. When our doctor came in, I have never paid such close attention to anything in my life. I tried to dazzle him with my Wikipedia knowledge, but it turns out he already knew all that stuff.
The conversation was punctuated by me answering the occasional exam question as if he were asking me the question instead of her. It was a tough crowd. He assured us that this is one of the best cancers to get. Again, I dropped some of my Google M.D. knowledge on him, and said, “Thyroid and Prostate… Right?” He said that he would be VERY concerned if she had prostate cancer… I felt a little betrayed that she laughed at HIS jokes so easily. I assured myself she was just being polite. He said that if he was going to choose a cancer to have, thyroid cancer was the one. Lillian congratulated herself on “Winning at cancer.” He explained that the thyroid controls hormone stuff, and that she would be taking meds to control her hormones for the rest of her life. I asked if it will make her any nicer… Crickets.
When he asked if we had any questions, I said, “Listen–I got my vasectomy done by a man named ‘Dr. Concepcion.’ Any chance your name has something to do with this surgery? Because I’d kind of like to keep that streak going…” He assured me his name in Spanish meant “The Thyroid Whisperer.” I said, “Fair enough.” After giggling to myself about imagining me asking if anyone wanted to see the scar from my vasectomy, I made a mental note to look up his “Thyroid Whisperer” claim later on Wikipedia.
He went over the risks involved, and I’ve got to be honest… It’s some scary stuff. We have friends dealing with some pretty aggressive cancers right now, and it’s hard to know how to act. Yes, cancer is scary. Yes, we’re sad that this is happening. Yes, we’re grateful that it isn’t a worse prognosis. It’s a weird thing to deal with… This feeling of “not wanting people to worry about you” and “knowing that others have it so much worse than us” and “feeling scared and sad and grateful all at the same time.” And then someone shared this photo, and I just loved it…
And then someone shared this… And again, I just loved it.
And as often happens with me, this made me think of theological issues. A while ago, I wrote about the BS that is “Better than I deserve,” and my last post about Total Depravity. I thought about the LIES we buy into: That we aren’t worthy of good things… And that we don’t get to grieve if someone has it worse than us… And that bravery means not letting people know we’re sad… Oh, how I want to be free from those lies.
Near the end of our meeting with the doctor, he asked what I did for a living. I told him I work as a server, and I write a blog about Jesus, Politics, & Bathroom Humor. He said that one of the cool things about the hospital we were at is that there are plenty of people willing to pray for you and with you… I said this exact sentence: “I’ll take my prayers in the form of competent expertise.”
And that’s the last thing I’ll leave you with: There was a time in my life where finding out that the person I love the most in the world has CANCER would have been met with deep and pleading prayers to God… Prayers for God to intervene in some miraculous way, and heal her cancer. Or to “guide the hands of the surgeons.” Or for us to know what God was teaching us with this trial. I can’t tell you how happy and peaceful it makes me feel to be free from THOSE lies. Since I’ve come to know the God who is with us during our pain… who grieves with us… who knows what it’s like to feel forsaken, I can’t even remember the god who is in control of every little thing… and “never gives us more than we can handle”… The fake god who gives people cancer to teach them some sort of lesson.
I realize that there are a whole lot of folks out there who get peace by asking God to intervene… It’s just not me anymore. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the people who offer those prayers — It’s not even that I am convinced the miraculous isn’t sometimes possible — It’s just that when friends and family offer up their love and support and their fervent desire to help, those “prayers” are so much more tangible and precious than any acts of supplication or intersession to a God who may or may not decide to help. There is a god who — every time the volcano erupts or the rains cause a flood — is demonstrating “his” anger and judgement and power… But when we realize that sometimes volcanos erupt, and sometimes it rains really hard, completely separate from any higher power, our minds and hearts are free to feel the pull of Love toward helping those who are feeling one of life’s eruptions… Free to love those in the path of the flood. I’d much rather believe in the God who CAN’T, than believe in the God who can, but WON’T.
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I love you all. When stuff happens — good or bad — it’s not God blessing or cursing us. Stuff happens — both good and bad — and God is here with us, pulling us toward Love… Celebrating with us, grieving with us, and letting us know we don’t need to be afraid. Maybe share this with someone who needs to be reminded that we don’t need to be afraid, but it’s okay when we are.