Ten years ago, I sat in the emergency room waiting for the results from Sam’s CT scan.
Ten years ago, a doctor walked in and told him, “You have cancer,” the scariest words we could ever hear.
“He’s so young,” I said.
The doctor replied, “I’ve got a girl in here who’s seventeen and terminal.”
Yes, doc, I’ve heard it before. We’re all terminal. I’m reminded of it every time I look at the obituaries or hear another person died from cancer.
“Life is but a breathe,” the Bible says. Eventually we all have to take that hard road.
We drove to a big hospital three hours away, where we learned Sam had a 60% chance of survival. The doctor recommended we start chemotherapy the same day. We hadn’t even packed any clothes.
There were some decisions to make, namely, whether we wanted to pursue procedures that would make it possible to have biological children down the road. The process would delay chemotherapy for another week.
“Talk about it over lunch,” the doctor told us. “But if you wait a week, the cancer could spread to his brain.”
We ate in a loud, crowded hospital cafeteria, the worst place to discuss a decision about future children.
Even though I wanted children, there were some things I would not risk. My husband’s life was one of them.
We went back to the doctor after lunch and told him we’d start chemo that day.
He told us, “We’ll give you as much chemo as we can without killing you.”
For the next three months, Sam lost his hair, turned ghostly pale, and spent every day sleeping on the couch. I became his full-time caregiver, measuring morphine, helping him out of bed, and buttoning his clothes because the nerves in his fingers were damaged from the chemo.
When I brought home fresh strawberries, he gagged so violently on the smell that he told me I had to get rid of them immediately. The treatment was as bad as the disease.
As the months passed by, I watched my friends get pregnant and have babies, buy houses, get new jobs, go on vacations, celebrate birthdays, and take their kids to the playground, while I sat in the oncology unit watching chemo drip into my husband’s veins. I saw dying people, who were bald and exhausted, face their day the only way they knew how: one breathe at a time.
I don’t want this path, I pleaded with God. I don’t want my husband to have cancer and die.
But here’s the thing: Sometimes we don’t get to choose the road we take. Sometimes the hard road becomes our journey.
Other times we’re lucky. We’re spared the grief of the hard road. It’s the tragedy we missed: the car accident we avoided. The lump that turns out to be a cyst. The test result that returns normal. We breathe relief and say, Thank you God.
But we don’t forget when we attend funerals and bury those who die too soon. My husband is reminded of it every year when he returns to his oncologist:
That could have been my road.
Just a few weeks ago, Sam got the good news that his cancer test results were normal again. This year, his tenth in remission, means he will not have to return to the oncologist for a yearly cancer check anymore. When he walked out of the exam room and into the hall to leave the oncology office, a wave of gratitude washed over him.
“I didn’t realize I would feel this way,” he told me. He was so overwhelmed he needed to sit down.
What do you say when you’ve been given a second chance at life? Sometimes the words thank you do not seem like enough.
April 5 is the anniversary of my husband’s diagnosis with cancer. For the first time in ten years, April 5th is also Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s defeat over death.
So when I think about how Jesus went to the cross and let himself be hung there, it seems unthinkable. He was choosing the road to death—the one we’re all trying to avoid in this life.
He took what we deserve—the punishment, the suffering, the wrath—so that we could have heaven and glory and hope.
His choice to take that road meant we had a second chance: We get eternity and every tear wiped from our eyes.
Recently I heard a story about a pastor named Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse who lost his wife when his daughter was a child. One day when they were driving, a huge moving van passed their car. As it passed, a shadow from the truck swept over them.
Thinking about the death of his wife, the pastor asked his daughter, “Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?”
She replied, “By the shadow of course. That can’t hurt us at all.”
The pastor replied, “Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine. Well it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive, more alive than we are. And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus. And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him, now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory.”
Our journey through the valley of the shadow of death is the same. The shadows may pass over us, but they will not snatch us from His hand. Christ took that road for us, so that we can now say: That could have been my road–but because of Christ, I now have hope.
We’re all terminal patients, but we have a second chance. Another road.
And this road we take will lead us home.
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