Taking a Journey Flat on Your Back

To my surprise my hematologist of 13 years felt something that didn’t feel quite right. I told her, “But I just had a mammogram 2 weeks ago, and the results were normal”. She wanted me to get it checked out anyway. How inconvenient that this would happen at the end of the school year, one of teachers’ busiest times. But being the obedient patient that I am, I went to get it checked out. Low and behold, it was cancer.

I thought, so maybe I won’t join my sister hiking Machu Picchu this year, but there’ll be other times to go on this journey. I talked with God, “Okay. I am not too happy about this. Where are you taking me? I have a family who is dependent on me, students who are dependent on me.”  God didn’t answer, I was a little annoyed. I did trust wherever we (God and I) went--it would be all right. But I was still worried about my family. “Worry” is my middle name. My husband, Chuck, says that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was worrying. I tell him, “I’m just planning for what could lay ahead.” I’m sure God smiles upon me.

I rolled up my sleeves. I’m productive and happy when I have a task at hand and set out to accomplish my mission. I thought, I can handle a little pain: I’ve birthed two boys, I’m tough, and I come from a German background. And God smiled. I had two surgeries, one to remove the lump, and the other to remove the Mamosite, as we switched course of treatment from local radiation to 8 rounds of chemotherapy and 36 radiation treatments. With the surgeries came fear. “God I love my life, I am sorry I have been ungrateful, always wanting more tasks to check off to feel accomplished. I don’t want to leave my family, I’m not ready.” It was the end of May, beginning of June. All the clergy were off at conferences. Who was going to pray with me?

And then a wonderful group of Christ followers from my Glenn Church family came and prayed with me and Chuck. And through these prayers, I heard God say, “Fear not, for I am with you.” Looking back, the surgeries were a “piece of cake,” but I was so proud of myself. I was an embattled warrior, but still strong. I thought I would be able to keep our family’s normal routine going, especially since I would get a two-month break from school. I talked with women from church who had had breast cancer. They gave me emotional support and led me to a wealth of sound information. Praise God they didn’t tell be how bad I would feel once the effects of chemo set in. The “Marthas” of the church set out to make sure my family would be cared for with good meals. 

And then the chemo set in. Chemo for me felt like the worst hangover I’ve ever had combined with the bird flu; yes I’ve had both. Weakness set in. I laid on my back on the sofa. I still wanted to be in the middle of things with my family, but I wasn’t anymore. The boys brought me things to drink and kissed me on the cheek. I’m not sure they knew what else to do. Slowly, I became less and less a part of their world. I tried to be there with them, but was too weak. This is when my real journey began, flat on my back, me and God. At first I was angry, not because I had gotten cancer but because I wasn’t part of my family’s everyday life. I was weak, and up until that moment I had always thought “weak” was a dirty, four-letter word.

But in that weakness, I was more open to receiving the healing balm of Jesus’ grace. I tried to come to church every Sunday for the simple comfort of hearing my church family lift me up in prayer. Up until that point in my life, I had been better at praying for others than myself. Oh how the prayers, and the meals brought in for my family filled me with God’s love and healing grace. I was especially reassured by those who visited a little and offered words of encouragement.

What gifts I had overlooked in my “get-the-task-done” life. God’s love had been there for the taking but I was too busy being strong to accept it. Lying flat on my back, I saw the beauty of the earth, the trees and the birds, and found my way back to accepting God’s love.

Suzanne Horton