Cancer is one of those things you pray never happens to you.
It’s one of those things you KNOW can happen, but hardly can fathom the reality of and so you don’t.
In 2009, two of my friends had young children diagnosed with cancer within a few months of each other. First it was Julia, 2 years old, who had an aggressive tumor on her kidney. Then Joseph, who one day woke up with a headache that never did go away during his time left on earth. The experience of watching two close friends walk through the darkest valley is something no one wants to add to their resume. The grief and pain was deep for all of us touched by the lives of these two families.
But no matter how many hospital visits, dinners prepared, prayers uttered, and hand-holding sessions shared, cancer is still a distant experience.
Until it happens to you.
I remember every detail of the exact moment my own son woke up with a headache that has yet to go away. It wasn’t a dull annoyance, but an excruciating emergency. Instead of weeks of waiting, questions, and tests as so many of my friends have experienced upon cancer diagnosis, my son Luke was diagnosed in less than 2 hours. He woke up at 8:10am that Wednesday morning, hugged me, plopped on my bed with his iPad like a normal little boy and within 20 minutes was never the same again. My plans for the day of taking my girls to co-op, working on a new post for my blog, and then heading to church as a family that night, were interrupted by the screams of a 6-year-old boy running through the house cradling his head like a football and vomiting.
Within 2 hours of that totally normal morning we woke up to, he had a seizure, was rushed to the ER in an ambulance, and had 2 MRIs, a CT scan, an X-ray, and 4 bags of medicine. Within 2 hours, we had been admitted into the pediatric ICU and began staring the big C word in the face.
That was November of 2016. Over a year and a half later we’ve had 10 MRIs, 2 surgeries, 5 hospitalizations, 61 bottles of medicine, 43 blood draws, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, and 41 rounds of chemo.
Last week, my precious boy stood surrounded by a team of doctors and nurses he has grown to love like family as he yanked the chord of “the bell.” Although the bell was large, it seemed to ring out with a rather small chime given the accomplishment for which it was designed to be rung. It was almost as if the bell understood both the celebration of being done with a round of chemo and yet at the same time, the probability of our return.
The muted chime understood the many children who never got to ring their bell and the families who miss them dearly.
As Luke stood there amongst his team of angels (both literal and figurative), his smile couldn’t have beamed wider. His face proclaimed the cry of his heart and the words spoken just weeks before will never be forgotten.
“Mama, cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The words were originally spoken as he was collecting summer weather clothes for a February trip to San Diego courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation. But they weren’t spoken lightly, nor were they based on circumstances. In the 500+ days since he was first diagnosed, Luke’s attitude has always been the same: thankful. No matter how hard or painful things became, he always prayed, always smiled, and always had a heart full of gratitude.
He was thankful for extra time with mom while in the hospital or at chemo. He was thankful for the snack cart full of goodies and the hospital freezer “slushies.” He was thankful for the people who prayed and loved on him. He boasted about beating doctors at air hockey and attacking the nurses with silly string.
He’s looked forward to the bakery we visit on the way out of the MRI department. He’s made friends with nurses, doctors, assistants, receptionists, social workers, even the cafeteria workers. He’s prayed for the kids in chemo with him, those around the world that write to him or share with him, and even kids he has never met that I share with him from Facebook groups.
He has walked each and every day of this part of his journey with a smile.
And he’s right. Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to him. It’s the best thing that ever happened to all of us. There is something about watching God work in your life, holding your hand through the darkness of the unknown and holding up your arms when you can’t go on any longer, that you simply never forget. It changes you. Grows you. Refines you.
I wouldn’t give up that changing in myself or any of my kids. It’s a blessing that makes the journey “the best thing that ever happened” even when the path is rugged.
Update on Luke’s Health
Although we have officially finished chemo and rung the bell to signal the end of treatment, Luke’s health is just as much in the hands of God as it was before. There is indeed a certain path, but none of us know what that is. We can’t say if the tumor will grow again or how fast that might happen. But today we celebrate the end of this chemo journey with hopeful expectation of what God will do next in our lives.
The video below chronicles this journey using Beads of Courage, another one of the blessings we’ve enjoyed on this journey.
I’m reminded of a truth I’ve clung to for many years now, a truth so rich it’s hard to believe we possess it: God is ONLY and ALWAYS good.
He’s good when your baby is diagnosed with cancer.
He’s good when you lose your job.
He’s good when your house floods from natural disaster.
He’s good when your husband leaves you pregnant, with small children.
He’s good even when you don’t feel it, see it, or accept it.
He is ALWAYS and ONLY good. We pray today that our journey inspires you to believe this truth. No matter what you face in life, God is already ahead of you working the details for your good (Romans 8:28-32). NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING can separate us from that kind of love! Out of His great mercy, we are #NotConsumed!