Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.Hebrews 10:23
Covered in a blanket in my recliner at the cancer center, I was almost done with fluids when one of my nurses walked into my chemo pod and sat down in the chair.
“So make sure you drink Gatorade. One in the morning and one at night,” she said. “And pound water all day long.”
We were leaving the next day for Carolla, North Carolina in the Outer Banks. Because of a bad reaction to chemotherapy, I received extra fluids, steroids, and anti-nausea medicine three times a week outside of my IV chemo treatment. My doctors suggested I go to the emergency room to get fluids if I started to feel sick. I didn’t want to do that. My nurses were all so helpful. They wanted me to have a good trip too. Though I never really drank Gatorade, I was willing to give anything a try.
When my husband booked this trip this past winter, I thought he was crazy. Well-intentioned, but crazy. So desperate for better days, he wanted us all to look forward to something in the middle of our mess. My cancer had returned last summer, with a vengeance. The chemo hadn’t stopped cancer but caused mayhem inside my body.
I was weak, extremely sick, and I lost so much weight. I threw up all the time, sometimes on the hour, even though I had no appetite and couldn’t eat anything. I spent my days on the couch unable to interact with my family. I was never so sick in my life and I wondered if it was ever going to end. After months of this, I wasn’t sure I’d make it much longer, let alone be well enough to attend a beach vacation months away.
I even took a fall and had to use a wheelchair for a little while. Things were not good. I found a lump on my neck announcing my second chemo treatment failed. After going through the process for a promising clinical trial, I failed the final test and was disqualified. I was devastated. My oncologist started me on a new chemo, but neither of us was optimistic it would work.
Still, Mike was determined. When I mentioned canceling the trip, he refused. When I said he could take the kids if I wasn’t well enough to go, he said, “No. We are all going on this trip. Together.” He had such faith. I admired him for it, but I simply didn’t think it would happen.
When I started any new treatment, I had no idea how it would affect me. Would I be stuck on the couch? Lose more weight? Get so dehydrated I ended up in the hospital? All were strong possibilities. But thankfully, none of them happened.
In fact, I traded that wheelchair for a walker and then a cane. Then, I stopped needing the cane at all. The pain in my back and hip? It disappeared. I had no nausea. I had a small appetite and was getting stronger. I felt much more like myself.
Just in time for this trip. It was too soon to tell if the chemo was working, but something was happening. I felt better, and it was amazing.
Our bags packed, we set out early on a Saturday morning for the 10-hour drive. I praised God the whole way there but still didn’t believe it was real, not until I saw the ocean.
It was raining when we arrived, but I didn’t care. I’d take a rainy day on the beach. I was so incredibly happy. I made it! It kind of felt like a miracle.
Mike ran to the store with the kids while I settled in after the long drive. They came home with groceries you would expect a dad and four teenagers to bring home, along with a big pack of Gatorade. I put it in the fridge and figured I would start my ‘two-a-days’ the next morning.
It rained the next day too but we were all so tired from the drive, we didn’t mind. The kids hung out and built a puzzle and worked on all those snacks they bought the night before. I curled up on the couch and read a book. I could see the ocean from the big picture windows. It was heavenly despite the rain. I also drank my Gatorade in the morning and in the evening. I stuck a straw in that big bottle and gulped it down. Anything to stay out of the emergency room.
Our house was right on the ocean, but we were concerned about the steps over the dunes. I was able to walk unassisted but I had to be careful. I didn’t have much energy. Mike also worried about me walking in the sand. My knees gave out sometimes and I didn’t have a lot of strength. I really wanted to walk on the beach. It had been so long. The last time we went to the beach, I was unable to leave the condo. I saw the ocean that weekend from our balcony, but I wanted to be near the water. Mike was determined to make that happen. He took the beach chairs and supplies and set them up and came back to walk me up and down the steps over the dunes. Although I had to go slow and take the steps one at a time, starting with my stronger right foot, I managed the steps beautifully. I was smiling so big when I took that first step onto the sand. Mike hung onto me as I got my footing, but I was able to walk in the sand without a problem too. We walked to the chairs and spent the afternoon watching the waves and soaking in the sun.
I sent a prayer of praise up to God. He brought me here. I dreamed about walking in the sand again and looking out over the ocean during those long nights in the winter. I thought it was only in my dreams I would see it again, but I was here. I was sitting next to my husband watching the kids play in the ocean. I reached over and held his hand. I was so grateful for him. Mike planned this trip, never doubting we would make it. Mike’s faith brought us here too.
Throughout the week, I walked those steps, often several times a day. I drank my Gatorade. I was able to eat small meals throughout the day. I felt great. I hadn’t felt that good since before this cancer reared its ugly head again. I was having a wonderful time with my people. I was thoroughly enjoying the ocean every chance I got. The weather called for rain most days, but after that first really soggy day, we had 3 good beach days. The weatherman was calling for rain the next few days but the reports were wrong. Even on the days it rained, we were able to get out on the beach for most of the day.
The week was perfection.
On our last evening, Mike and the kids set up the volleyball net and played while I took a final walk on the beach. I went down to the water’s edge. The place where I felt closer to God than anywhere else, the reason I loved the beach so much. I stood there silently watching the waves come into shore and roll back out to sea. God and I were pretty tight, but we hadn’t seen eye to eye over these last difficult months. My faith hadn’t wavered but I didn’t have a lot to say to Him recently. I was okay with that and I felt God was too. He understood. I was pretty angry. I didn’t understand why my cancer came back the way it did. Why it mutated. Why I suffered so much. Why nothing seemed to be working. I had conversations with God on the couch in the middle of the night, in the recliner at the cancer center, and everywhere in between, but I knew that the conversation I was going to have with Him at the water’s edge was going to be huge.
I thanked Him for allowing me the trip. I thanked Him for Mike and for my family. I thanked Him for everything.
Then, I let it all out.
As the waves rolled in and rolled back out and tears rolled down my face, I told Him how angry I was. How much pain I felt and how much I suffered. I didn’t understand. Why didn’t I get into that trial? Why didn’t my chemo work? I told Him I thought he left me, forgot about me, turned against me.
As the words spilled out, I felt my anger roll out with the waves.
Then I begged and pleaded and asked for more time. I told Him I didn’t want this to be my last trip to the ocean. I didn’t want to go back to being so sick. I didn’t want to leave my family. Even though I knew better, I asked God for a sign. A sign that things would be okay, that I had more time. A sign that I would be back to the ocean one day.
I closed my eyes, ashamed of putting God to the test.
Then as the waves rolled in, peace rolled over my heart as I remembered.
God had already given me more than enough signs.
I didn’t feel sick. I wasn’t throwing up. I wasn’t stuck on the couch. I walked those steps over the dunes with no problem. I didn’t need a wheelchair or a walker or a cane. I made it to the beach trip when it seemed impossible a month ago. I didn’t have to get fluids at the emergency room. I was able to eat. The weather was beautiful most of the week. We had a great time.
None of it made sense.
My chemo hadn’t had time to work. There was no logical reason why the pain in my back went away. Why I no longer needed a wheelchair or a cane. Why I was able to eat suddenly. Why I did well without fluids when any previous change to my fluid schedule wreaked havoc on my system. Why I didn’t have to take any nausea meds all week. Why the sun came out when the weather forecast showed rain all day.
God was taking care of me. God was right beside me. God was with me.
He didn’t forget about me. Forsake me. He wasn’t punishing me.
Sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us. Sometimes we don’t see things as they really are. Sometimes we forget how tangled God is in the details. All the little details.
I drank all that Gatorade all week. Two a day. My family hailed the benefits of Gatorade.
I knew it wasn’t just the Gatorade.
But I knew now it was God’s Grace.