Even the strongest of us have moments when the burdens of life seem too great. It’s then that the Lord whispers to our hearts…
Come To Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 NIV
I was driving my daughter to the mall on Friday night. We needed to buy clothes for the cooler fall weather. I was looking forward to spending quality time with my daughter. With our busy schedule, it was hard to squeeze time in for just the two of us. As I drove toward the mall, I felt that wave of fatigue come over me. It wasn’t the typical ‘didn’t get much sleep, been running too much” tired…it was that medicine-induced fatigue, the kind that tries to force my eyes closed, to shorten my steps, and to render me immobile. I hoped it would subside once we got out of the car but it didn’t.
It wasn’t easy but I was able to push through and enjoy our evening. We bought her clothes, shoes, and even one of those vanilla caramel lattes that she always asks for but rarely gets. It was Friday night and it was Girl’s Night, so I caved. I didn’t like coffee but I thought about ordering one for myself, thinking the caffeine may have given me some much needed energy. After the mall, we went to dinner and talked about school, friends, and ‘girl stuff’. As tired as I was, this time with my daughter was precious and I didn’t want it to end.
I was relieved when we finally pulled into the garage. I got inside and collapsed on the couch. That fatigue started to spread through my body. I recognized that feeling right away. I wasn’t just ‘tired’, I was ‘chemo tired’. I was 3 weeks into my 4-week round of chemo meds. That fatigue builds up as I get further along in the cycle. I didn’t like feeling that way. It brought back painful memories of chemo days during my first round of cancer. I would come home from my 4-hour chemo session and over the next few days, I would suffer the effects of those meds as they destroyed cancer cells and some healthy cells in the process. I remember being physically unable to get off the couch. I felt like there were weights tied to my arms and legs and the thought of sitting up and walking the few steps to the kitchen was simply unthinkable.
As I was curled up on the couch that night, my son walked over with a blanket. I moved over so he could lay on the couch with me. We were watching the news about Hurricane Matthew. My son was very interested in the radar and weather patterns and was worried about friends and family in the storm’s path. He asked if he could stay up later to watch the news with me. Every fiber of my being wanted to go to bed. I could barely move. I hoped to get the kids to bed and head there myself… but I couldn’t say “no” to spending some time with my son. I pleaded with my eyes to stay open just a little while longer. As we watched the reporters being pelted with rain from the hurricane, he curled up beside me. I rubbed his head and ran my fingers through his hair as I fumbled through his questions about wind and air pressure. He was getting so big. He was learning so much. He was growing up but he was still my little boy and he still needed me.
I thought about my prognosis which wasn’t good. Statistically, only 20% of those diagnosed with Stage IV cancer will live past 5 years, most only living about 2 or 3 years. If that was true, my son would be without a Mom by the time he was 11 or 12. He’s turning 10 this month. My daughter would be 12 or 13. She is turning 11 in December. As much as I try to push those numbers and statistics out of my mind, there are times, like these days when I don’t feel well, that those thoughts come rushing back. Those thoughts can be overwhelming, suffocating, and absolutely devastating. I am not afraid of dying but I am terrified of leaving my children.
The last year since my diagnosis, I had some scary times and some really bad days but for the most part, I was able to live my life. I was able to attend my children’s school activities, watch their sporting events, and celebrate birthdays and special occasions. Cancer hadn’t taken that away from me…yet. Although I lived most days trying not to think about cancer, I knew that there would come a day when my cancer would progress and my body would not allow me to do the things that I wanted to do. I prayed every day for more time before that happened. I prayed every day that I would be one of those 20% who lived for 5 years. I constantly did the math. If I made it to 5 years, my children would be 14 and 15. That still wasn’t enough time so I prayed I would be one of those miracles, those medical mysteries, who got to live 15, 17, 19 years after diagnosis. I prayed that I would live to see them both graduate high school, maybe even college. I had dreams about helping my daughter pick out her wedding dress, watching my son wait for his bride at the altar, holding my grandchildren for the first time. Those were moments that every parent looked forward to … but the odds were against me that I would live to see them. My heart simply ached when I thought about those things, things that so many parents took for granted.
So, instead of focusing on future events, I choose to focus on right now. I focus on studying my daughter’s face as she picks through her salad, looking for the cucumbers. She looks so grown up but she still has so much more growing to do. I focus on listening to the endless facts my son shares with me about his latest interest. He has so many questions about this world. He doesn’t just look at things, he examines them. He wants to know how things work, how to fix things that are broken. He wants to make a difference in this world and I know someday, he will. I ask for more hugs from my children and they still accommodate me, sometimes not so enthusiastically as they used to, but I hold onto them as long as they will let me, attempting to soak in every last drop of them. I watch them sleep when I check on them at night. I make sure they are covered in their blankets, stroke their hair, say a little prayer that God will let me finish my job of raising them. For that, I will do anything. I will take any drug, suffer any side effect, and deal with any pain that may come. I will do anything to be here for them.
Like everyone on this earth, each day is a day closer to my last. I just know that my last day is coming sooner than I expected. I know that everyone is dying but until you are told that you have a terminal illness, somehow, you don’t believe it. I know I didn’t before my diagnosis. It’s different. That sense of urgency is exhausting though. I try to balance everything. I want to fit in as much as I possibly can but there are days when I don’t have the energy to do so. I want to follow my doctor’s orders and rest as much as possible but hate the thought of missing out on things. I don’t want to nap my days away. I want to cling tightly to my children but I want to teach them to grow away from me to make it easier for when I am no longer here. I want to live in the ‘now’ but I want to prepare for the future. It is constant juggling of raw emotions, limited energy, and difficult choices.
I had a rough night that night after the mall outing. Most days, I keep it all in check. I always said if there were a 100 people in a room, I wouldn’t be the first person anyone would guess was dying of cancer. I wanted it that way, not being defined by my illness. Still, there were days that my reality got the best of me. There were days when the thought of leaving my children motherless pierced me right through the heart. Those were the days that I had to dig deeper in faith and trust that God had a plan and it was all for good. evem when it didn’t feel like it.
Through those rough days, I listened to what my body told me – that even though I didn’t want to, I needed to rest, I needed to slow down. My mind tried to take me to that dark place, that place where the what if’s and the why me’s tried to overshadow my positive outlook. After some tears, some prayers, and some quiet cups of tea, I started to feel better, both physically and mentally. I was still tired but after some rest, it was manageable again. I was still going to worry about my future at times but I wasn’t going to let that worry ruin my today. I was not going to let the fear of those bad days yet to come ruin my good days right now.
Like it says in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”. I take that passage to heart. I am blessed with today. I am blessed with the right now. Not one of us was promised tomorrow. When those bad days come … and they always do, we can’t let those bad days cloud our blessings that are right in front of us. We can’t let those bad days take away our joy. That night when we got home from the mall – that did not feel good. That fatigue wore me out, my bones and joints screamed in pain, and my mind spiraled out of control. Then, I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and trusted in Him that everything would be okay.
You know what? That next morning, the fatigue and the pain had lessened and my mind and my heart was at peace. There was a chill in the air but the birds were singing, the skies were blue, and the sun trickled over the leaves that tinted in their autumn glow. I took a deep breath and counted my blessings. In those weak moments, I thought my world was taking a turn toward the dark. Then, God reminded me that even through those dark hours,
if we just hold on,
just a little while longer,
joy does come in the morning.