Just thought I’d share part of a recent journal entry . . .
I’m in the chemo room, having rust-red iron drip into my veins, feeling woozy from the medicine injected beforehand, and looking around at those having chemo. I try to be furtive about it; it feels intrusive, like I’m gawking at their treatment or touring a third world slum, consoled by the thought that I can escape to my luxurious lifestyle by a bus trip or a plane ride across an ocean.
There’s an elderly woman, sleeping in a chair, her arm bruised at multiple places where the nurses have struggled to insert an IV. Another patient nods at my bag of fluids. “Iron?” When I say yeah, he says he’d had to have an iron infusion too; the chemo has depleted his iron levels.
My mom (who is with me) asks if his course of treatment is almost over. He replies matter-of-factly that it’s indefinite. (Translation: I’m dying, but they’re doing chemo in a last ditch effort to save me.) Then he asks if I have cancer, and I feel guilty as I answer no, just low iron. My body doesn’t absorb iron well, my hematologist says I need an infusion of iron, this doctor is also an oncologist, thus I am here.
The woman beside me wears a colorful knit cap and slippers. She has her own quilt with her and tucks it in as she settles back in the chair to sleep, as if she’s been through this routine many, many times before.
The man with her, obviously her husband, is young. As he watches her sleep, he hunkers over in his chair, chin propped in his palms. He looks like a guy who’s used to fighting hard and working hard and lifting weights and running faster than others. Yet here’s a fight he can’t fight. Cancer can’t be outrun or punched in the face; no amount of sheer muscle strength can lift this weight from their path.
His face shows the strain, the agony of watching the woman he loves fight a battle that he can’t fight for her. He’s helpless. She’s dying—it’s obvious enough to me, sitting one chair away, with my hair attached to my scalp and my health exuding from my body. His face twists. I look away, feeling like an intruder.
Yet I can’t forget.
I pray she beats it. I hope they both live to be a hundred, or travel to Paris, or play with their kids at Disney World, or just sit on the front porch and and hold hands and watch the sunset, if that’s what they want. I want this for them so badly, but I have no way of knowing if it will happen or making it happen. I’m as powerless to stop the cancer as he is.
A year has passed. My iron levels went up, I felt better, and then they drifted down again, just as the doctor predicted. I’m headed back to the chemo room for another infusion, and I wonder about the people I saw there.
I wonder: did she defy the odds and make it? What about the woman with the bruised arms? The man? The Indian lady, with her gentle smile and poised manner and regal bearing that held her balding head high?
Did they die? Have their funerals been performed? Did I read their obituary in the paper and not realize our lives had intersected for a few hours?
And what were their deaths like? Did he kick and fight and bite and scream at death, clawing and clinging to life right until the last second? Was she scared, panicked? Or did they give up and accept defeat in this battle against disease? Which is preferable? Is there a right or wrong way to die?
Death is a part of life, but it’s not a natural part. It shouldn’t be here (and wouldn’t be here, except for Adam’s sin). One day, it won’t be here. It’ll be gone forever.
No more cancer.
No more chemo.
No more IVs or needles or pain or death.
But in the here and not yet, we still deal with the reality of death’s presence, always hovering at the edges of our lives. I ignore it most of the time. But sitting in the chemo treatment room, it’s impossible to ignore.
It’s only when I see just how horrible death is—all the separation and grief and destruction—that I see the stark contrast between it and life. It’s like painting a swatch of black beside a white one: the black looks blacker, the white looks whiter and more necessary. (It doesn’t make it more necessary; it just appears that way.) It’s like remembering Good Friday before celebrating Easter Sunday. It’s like realizing my need for a savior before realizing Christ fills that need perfectly.
It’s only then that we can fully embrace the hope the resurrection offers to us.
Happy Easter, my friends. He is risen . . . He is risen indeed!