#56 – Cancer Journey #2: Waiting

“Teach me, Lord, teach me, Lord, to wait.” This snippet of a hymn by Stuart Hamblen  says it all, echoing the Psalmist. (See # 584 “They that wait upon the Lord” in Hymnal: A Worship Book).

I’ve always wanted to be in control of my life. I like to plan ahead.  Even for vacations my husband and I make itineraries and book lodgings months in advance.

But now I’ve been catapulted into a community of “waiters.” I along with many others waited months for a cancer diagnosis. Now I wait in crowded lounges for periodic lab tests – blood work, CT scans, MRIs. I wait for the results of those tests at my monthly appointment with my oncologist. I wait to see whether various side effects of my daily chemo pill will stabilize or subside or worsen.

Early on, before my diagnosis, I coloured a mandala which I called “Waiting.” I alternated between lighter and darker tones in the sections radiating out from the center,  for I knew not whether the outcome of my many tests would be welcome or dire.

WaitingThe orange hearts and intense yellows express the sense that whatever the outcome, God’s love remains. And God’s healing light continues to shine whatever the most recent scans indicate.

I’m learning that “waiting” carries an active dimension.

Published by Penguin Random House

Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, author of the bestseller When Breath Becomes Air, notes that a diagnosis of incurable cancer changes nothing and everything. “Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely,” he says. (p. 131-132)

The reality is that, despite statistics, we really don’t know how much time we have, says Kalanithi, and this makes decision-making difficult. “Tell me three months and I’d spend time with family. Tell me one year, I’d write a book.  Give me ten years, I’d get back to treating diseases.” (p. 161-162)

Seminary prof Kate Bowler, author of the cancer memoir Everything Happens for a Reason and other Lies I’ve Loved, names that she lives her life in segments, between every-two-month scans. When the reports are good, she relaxes into the next two months of more-or-less active living.  I connect with that. (See Blog #54 “Cancer Journey #1: An Alternate Universe”)

I’m slowly learning the art of living from scan to scan, making very few commitments to be at a certain time and place to lead something for months or years into the future. I don’t think it’s fair to others for me to cancel out of things at the last minute  because of waning energy or sudden unexpected side effects of a chemo pill. I’m sad about some commitments I’ve therefore needed to let go of, such as offering one on one spiritual direction and co-leading a fiction book club at the local women’s prison.

Greedy-for-LifeI’m slowly learning to take each day as it comes, rejoicing in the pleasant surprises and taking the time needed to ride out the bumps. But I’m certainly not sitting around passively, waiting to die at some unknown time in the distant or not so distant future. I’m still greedy for life on this beautiful planet, as I coloured in this mandala two months ago.

And so…I love walking in Rockway Gardens across the street now that spring has burst out in profusion, or driving out into the countryside north of Waterloo.

I enjoy conversations with people from the past and present as energy permits.  I revel in opportunities to support people’s ongoing spiritual and vocational journeys, such as by attending the ordination of an old friend in Niagara last weekend.

I take pleasure at being part of groups I enjoy while carrying little or no responsibility, such as the annual church gathering of MCEC last weekend, or the upcoming spring retreat day of Mennonite Spiritual Directors of Eastern Canada.

I especially enjoy writing this blog each week. All these things connect me to the worlds I know and love – and they nourish my spirit.

Songs in the night also keep coming to nourish my spirit – phrases of old or newer hymns such as:

  • Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life
  • All the way my Saviour leads me
  • Come and fill our hearts with your peace (Taizé)
  • Lord Jesus Christ, your light shines within us (Taizé)
  • Be still and know that I am God
  • My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation
  • It is well with my soul     (See Blog #5: Childhood Hymns Re-purposed)

As a spiritual director, I  tried for years to encourage people into deeper awareness of the present moment, and to live in God’s Presence in the here and now.  Now it’s my turn.

At the same time, we are planning some short trips and other events later this spring and summer. The urge to plan continues, in a modified manner!

Questions for Reflection: What has encouraged (or forced!) you to focus more on the present and less on future planning? What has nourished your spirit as you’ve done this? What helps you “live in God’s Presence in the here and now”?

Next Week: TBA

2 thoughts on “#56 – Cancer Journey #2: Waiting

  1. Sue, it has been inspirational to read your reflections. Waiting is such a difficult aspect in life for me. Waiting is to encourage patience, but each time another occasion requires waiting it feels like I am back to square one. I am encouraged by your ability to continue to plan and live for moments of pleasure in the current moment. I pray you will find continued peace resting in God’s presence as your journey continues.


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