Today is my husband’s routine PET scan and I’m not praying for good results. He was diagnosed with stage 3 Melanoma this time last year and man have we been through it. For those of you who aren’t aware – he went through multiple surgeries and a particular devastating round of chemo.
Now the phrase “round of chemo” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people (as can the word “devastating”). But in our case he endured 19 doses in 24 days administered by IV. At that point he switched to injections that were supposed to be given 3 times a week. The entire regimen was supposed to last 52 weeks, a full year. He made it through 7.
At the point they decided to halt therapy he had lost the ability to speak. He would open up his mouth and begin talking and nonsensical syllables would clumsily fall out. He knew that he wasn’t making sense and he would then begin laughing maniacally. It was so strange that I began videoing him to play for the doctor. There was simply no way to describe this kind of behavior.
He lost the ability to leave the house. He was suffering from what I can only describe as “sensory overload.” Last November, when we were in the thick of it, it rained. And rained and rained. I remember the raindrops on the windshield in combination with the methodical swishing of the windshield wipers sent him into a panic. I remember because I was driving him to the cancer center every day and every day just getting there was an ordeal. The only place he felt safe was holed up in the bedroom with the shades drawn, the lights out, and the door locked.
He began to fear everyone around him and would only interact with me. The night we were driving from the specialist (2 hours away) we stopped by Target so I could buy some pull ups for our 4 year old. When we got there we both immediately went to the restroom as we had been driving for some time. When he emerged from the bathroom his face was stricken with panic.
“There was a man in there and I thought he was going to attack me. I know that’s crazy but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s going to hurt me,” he said as he asked for the car keys so he could wait outside.
I hurried as much as possible so I could get him home. I ran to the baby aisle, grabbed the pull-ups, and ran back to the checkout. I was gone maybe 10 minutes. When I got to the car he was bundled up in the passenger side floor board and told me there were men walking outside in the parking lot and he thought they “were going to try to get” him.
The chemotherapy had caused a schism in his psyche and reduced him to an absolute mess. We waited for the specialist in an exam room in the dark. He had asked me to turn out the lights because they were too bright for him. When the doctor opened the door his jaw hit the floor while I tried to explain why we were sitting in the pitch black. He immediately recommended we cease therapy. Neither one of us protested despite the fact that he had 45 more weeks to go. The risks simply didn’t outweigh the benefits at that point.
Slowly but surely the man I knew returned. There were weeks, months of recovery- but now, at one year out, he is *mostly* the man I married. We have learned so much over the past year; especially that we must succumb to God’s plan.
We are all powerless in this world- of that I’m certain. We can only have faith that what we are going through has a purpose and a resolution. I have learned that it’s not what happens to us that is important but how we handle it that matters.
So tonight I am not praying that he gets good results. I am praying that I will have the strength to bear whatever comes our way. That I will have the humility to take what is handed to me and handle it with grace-whatever it is. I pray that God can make my heart understand what He wants and that I will learn the lessons He is teaching me. He has a plan I am powerless over, that I cannot change.
Regardless of your personal beliefs, whether you are religious or not, this is one thing we have in common. We are not in control of anything but ourselves and our responses. Once we realize this we can focus on the real issues at hand. We can begin to change the world around us by changing our perceptions and our reactions.
I hope that this is part of the lesson I was supposed to learn over the past year. That relinquishing control will ultimately bring me peace in whatever comes my way. I believe in God the Father and I have faith that whatever will be will be. The only control I have is how I choose to respond to my circumstance.
Read more about the devastating effects of chemotherapy in Walking through the valley or the silver lining in What I didn’t expect to get from cancer