A Country Called Cancer

There’s something they don’t tell you, something you don’t realize when you’re first diagnosed with cancer or when you first have an immediate family member diagnosed with cancer. You aren’t just entering the “worst club with the best people” as they sometimes say, you are crossing a border. You’re becoming an expat in a new land, a war zone. 

You hope that you can live there a short time, fight in the battle you’ve been recruited into, and then move on, move out, make a new home in a city called Survivor, in a town called Remission. What you don’t realize though, is that Survivor and Remission are just border towns in the country of Cancer. Once you cross the borders into Cancer, you can never go back. There are always check points, check ups, and always the chance of being recruited back into the battle again.

You also don’t realize that sometimes, for many soldiers, Survivor and Remission will never open their gates. These solders will fight in the battle and live in the war zone for the rest of their life. They may have weeks, or, God willing, maybe whole years, when they can visit or even set up home in the small neighborhood of Stable Disease. But, leaving the war zone is never an option. They’ve been drafted for life.

Often those on the outside don’t realize that you are a resident in the country of Cancer now. They think you can leave, they pray for your return, they expect you to move home someday, to be completely free of the battle. But this is a battle that leaves permanent scars, this is a citizenship that is irrevocable.

Bryan is one of those soldiers that’s been drafted for life and as his wife I’ve been drafted along with him. And we’re tired.

You see there’s something else that you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it: sometimes the periods of reprieve, the times when tumors are shrinking or stable, the times when you aren’t fighting head on and you can take a little breather on the side lines, those times are harder than being in the heart of the battle. It sounds ironic and ridiculous doesn’t it? But, let me tell you it’s true.

In the middle of the fight, in the height of the struggle, Adrenaline comes to the rescue. Fight kicks in and takes over. At the height of Bryan’s pain during the past few months I was more productive than I’ve been in ages. There was something to do, a battle to fight, and I fought it and then some extra ones too. Adrenaline carried me.

After almost three months of intense and growing pain, last week Bryan’s tumors started to shrink. His pain stopped. Thanks to lots of prayer, three tiny little pills, and God’s unending grace, we experienced our own little miracle.

Friends and family celebrate, and praise, and scatter.

And I wish I could join them, but I sit on the sidelines feeling the bruises that adrenaline kept me from feeling before. Now Adrenaline has said it’s goodbyes and left us feeling wasted and weary. With more breathing room, anxiety has space to come to the surface and yell. It lobbies for my attention at every turn. It keeps me awake at night with it’s voice in my ear.

We are grateful. And we do rejoice. We are relieved and we continually count this season a blessing we weren’t sure we were going to get. But we are still in the war zone and the quiet is deafening. We have no idea when the next raid will come, when the next battle will break in, when the next air strike will drop. And all the fight has gone out of me.

This yo-yoing back and forth, this being relieved and then being struck down again, and again, and again. It takes a toll.

Next month it’ll be five years since Bryan was drafted into this battle and we moved into the Country of Cancer. Five years. We are grateful that it has been so long. Grateful that each season of battle has been followed by a season of reprieve. Grateful that we have lived long by melanoma standards in the land that many don’t last long in. But we are weary of this citizenship.

I see the walls my little heart has built after 5 years and I wonder what sort of armor I’ll wear after a decade. Could I do a decade? I pray for a decade. I pray for more. Yet at the same time fearing the bruising and battles that a decade of this would bring.

They say “bloom where you’re planted”, but I still haven’t figured out how to bloom in the the country of Cancer. These battles take everything from me, the fear that gets stirred up each time my husband’s cancer grows again demands my full attention. And when the bombs stop falling and these battles leave me space to breathe and imagine, I always find I’m too weary and beat down to do the work. To do any work.

Today I’m reminding myself that though I have been a citizen of Cancer for five years, and a citizen of another battle ridden country (Special Needs Parenting) for just as long, these are not my only citizenships. 

I am also a citizen of another country,

a country with a promise, 

a country ruled by the King of Grace,

the God of Love. 

 

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

 

Grace and peace,

Bethany

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

On Anxiety, Anger, and Trust

Slowly I put one foot in front of the other. To my right, windows reach from floor to ceiling. In the darkness of night I can see the snow on the rooftops below sparkling in the building’s light. To my left, a wall of glass looks down on the hospital entryway below. During the day the noises of people echo softly through this hall way, but now all is quiet.

From the top floor this hall circles the edge of the building, circles the entryway below, and as I walk it’s circles my heart circles around the same worries. Each lap taking me a little deeper into anxiety. I walk as if trying to shake off the day, trying to escape the fear that has gripped me, but with each circling lap it becomes more and more clear that it’s not working.

Only hours before I stood in the Urgent Care with my four year old son. He sat in a stroller nearly too small for his preschool body. His eyes glazed over in a motionless stare. His little face flushed with the fever which had reached 103 degrees only minutes before. He complained of a headache and begged me to hold him. My heart longed to sweep him up in my arms and cuddle his aches away. I wanted to hold him close and never let him go. But, my head recoiled. I would never hold back my love for my child just because I was fearful of catching whatever illness he had, or at least I had never thought that I would, but in that instant I had to. I had to protect myself as a means for protecting my husband.

Bryan is now half way through his chemo treatment. His white blood cells are starting to fall. The goal of this treatment is to bring his white blood cells as close to zero as possible. They literally want to destroy his immune system. Once he is neutropenic then the real treatment can be given. That is when they will give him the millions of white blood cells – his white blood cells – that they have grown and trained to fight his particular cancer. That is also when they will give him Interleukin 2 as a support for the cells they inject into him. During that time he will have no immune system, he will be dangerously susceptible to illnesses and infections of any and every kind.

I cannot risk getting sick now, because Bryan cannot risk getting sick now. I will not be separated from my husband during the most difficult thing he has ever walked through. So I say no to my son’s begging. I step back instead of stepping forward and my heart breaks. My sister flashes me an understanding and heartbroken look, before offering to hold Thad for me. “Thad, can I hold you? I’m not your mommy, but I am a mommy? Can I hold you?” My heart swells in gratitude for my sister – she has a beautifully mothering heart – but at the same time it aches for my son.

I had thought I understood stress. I thought I was already under as much stress as I possibly could stand, and then Thad came down with a fever and I felt my worst fears being realized. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even think. All I could picture was myself coming down with whatever Thad had and being unable to be with Bryan and then Bryan getting it anyway because he had already spent time with Thad. This has been one of my worst fears since coming to NIH. And now I felt that fear knocking on my door, threatening to come in.

Looking back on the day as I walk I try to pray. I beg God to protect Bryan and keep him well, to protect me and keep me from coming down with anything, to heal Thad and restore him quickly. Lap after lap I lay the same request before Him. But, the hall is silent and my anxiety only grows. And then as I round the corner I hear a gentle voice, “You are worrying about something you cannot control.” And I only walk faster. I want to scream, “But I WANT to control it. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want Bryan to get sick! I don’t want anything to happen to Thad and I don’t want him to suffer through illness without his mom! I DON’T WANT THIS! It’s not right! I want to worry about this because I want to control this.”

The voice comes back again, “But you can’t control this.” And I remember my blog post from a few days ago about Worry. I remember how I had concluded that it seemed ok to me to worry about things that I could control, choices I could make – it seemed ok, and perhaps even right, to worry about the things that were within my free will.

I fight back again, “But there were decisions I could have made things I could have done to prevent this! I shouldn’t have let Thad come out here. I should have kept him home. Even today when my sister told me he woke up teary and seemed out of sorts I should have heard that as a warning sign and kept him away. I should have left him and sent him to urgent care with my sister instead of going myself and exposing myself to whatever other germs there were at the urgent care. I should have… I should have… I should have…”

The voice is gentle, “You did what you could. You made the choices that seemed best to you at the time. You took steps to protect both Thad and Bryan. You got Thad on antibiotics right away, even though that wouldn’t normally be your first course of action. You wore a mask yourself and used lots of hand sanitation and even showered before going back to see Bryan. You did what you could within your free will. So, why are you still holding on to this? Why are you still so anxious over something you can’t control?”

Finishing the lap I stop and stand still. Directly in front of me is the small hospital chapel. I move towards the doorway as if pulled by gravity. But I cannot step inside. There is a war going on within me and stepping inside would be acknowledging defeat.

In my head I know that I shouldn’t be holding on to this anxiety about something I cannot control. In my head I know that Bryan could get sick while he’s neutropenic and there could be nothing that I can do to stop it. In my head I know that I could get sick – not only from my exposure to Thad, but just from the fact that I’m hanging out in a hospital all day. I know that I cannot control whether or not those things happen. I can take steps to prevent those things from happening, but now that I have done that I should be able to let go of the anxiety and trust God to do for us what is best.

But, there is the clincher. There is the heart of the issue. Trust.

Standing in that doorway, unable to step forward and yet also unable to step back I know I face a choice. The same choice I have faced a thousand times before and will probably face a thousand times again. Will I trust?

I start to cry. Not the soft tears of acceptance, but the hard sobs of anger. I am angry that Thad got sick. Angry that there is an increased risk that I will get sick and that Bryan might get sick. But, more than that I am angry that we are here at all. It is the first time I feel it, really feel it deep in my bones, this anger at the injustice, the un-rightness, of cancer. “God, how can I trust when you are not trustworthy!?!?” The words spill out of my lips thorough desperate broken cries.

“Do you really believe that?” “YES!” I cry back. And the truth is finally out. My head may proclaim God’s trustworthiness, but my heart tells a different story. In the depths of me there is not just questioning of God and his trustworthiness there is a knowing. There is a root within me that knows without a doubt that He is untrustworthy.

And now we can really talk. Now that the heart is exposed we can really begin the battle. In the silence a simple thought comes. How do you define trustworthiness? By who’s standards do you judge your God?

By my own, of course! By my own desires and goals and wills. I want what I want and when I don’t get it, like a small child, I holler and yell and believe that God is untrustworthy. Standing in that door way that is exactly what I do. I throw a classic tantrum. I fall to my knees. I play out all of my worst scenarios in my head and ask myself at the end of each “Would God be trustworthy then? How could God be trustworthy if that happened?”

God does not defend himself. He is silent, but more present than I have ever felt him before. And then when I have few tears left to cry the words come, “Will you follow me anyway? Will you follow as Abraham did, to an alter? Will you place Thad and Bryan and Sage and all that you care for in my care, on my alter, as Abraham placed Isaac?”

Remembering the story I suddenly felt calm, “Will you give them all back to me safe and sound, as you gave Isaac back to Abraham?” But, I know as soon as I speak the words that this is not a bargaining ground. This must be trust, real trust, complete trust, heart trust. I stand again and stare through the doorway, down the isle, at the simple alter in the front of the chapel. And suddenly something breaks within me and I take that first step singing through choked tears.

You are good You are good
when there’s nothing good in me.
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

 

It feels like a very long walk from the doorway to the alter, but is in reality only a couple of steps. By the time I reach the alter I fall to my knees again, arms raised in the empty chapel. This is what it means to surrender. This surrender costs something.  This is what it means to praise in the midst of darkness.

After a few minutes the tears ease up and I feel drawn to the podium. On the empty podium rests a large lectionary. I turn to the marked page – the reading for the second sunday in Advent:

 

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

I nearly laugh when I read the passage, but instead tears begin to flow again.

Many years ago when I was in college and going through a difficult season, questioning God’s goodness, I read a book called The Prisoner in the Third Cell . It was very transformative for me and centered around this passage of scripture when John the Baptist was in prison.

Here is John in the middle of his own dark night, questioning the very Jesus whom he had proclaimed. John was faced with the same question I just wrestled with in the doorway of this hospital chapel, “Will you follow me even though you don’t understand me? Will you follow me even though I don’t do things the way you want me to do things? Will you follow me even though it might cost you everything you hold dear? Will you follow me and trust me even though I may lead you to places you wouldn’t choose to go?”

The walk away from the podium, away from the alter, out of the chapel was entirely different from the walk in. My heart was light as I crossed easily through the doorway. I will follow. I do trust.

 

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany

 

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Politics, Fear, and Third Party Canidates

 

When I told Bryan I was thinking of writing this post he was surprised. “Should I not do it?” I asked. “No, I think you should, I just didn’t think you had the guts.” He replied. “Neither did I.” I laughed.

That little bit of conversation gives you an idea about how nervous I’m feeling writing this post. I don’t really like conflict. I am not very political and honestly I don’t usually understand how fierce people can get over politics. Maybe part of why I didn’t understand it is that I don’t really agree with the fiery people around me. Maybe it’s partly because the issues people get fiery about aren’t usually the same issues I really care about. Maybe it also feels a bit pointless getting fired up about something when you really are quite powerless.

When it comes down to it, I feel like I didn’t have much choice. I always felt like my vote had to go to one of the two main parties and neither of them really resonated with me all that much.

In every Presidental election I’ve participated in my deciding factor when it came time to check one box or the other was this, “which guys better than the other?” Which is the “lesser evil”? But, honestly, is that really a good way to pick the person who’s going to run our country?

I consider myself relatively informed, especially in the last few elections, but I still would say that at the end of the day I didn’t vote for someone because I really supported THEM and their party and their stance on important issues, but instead voted for them because I thought they were better than the OTHER GUY. I didn’t vote FOR a candidate I voted AGAINST a candidate.

And when it comes down to it that’s how I’ve voted in all the elections I’ve participated in. I voted out of fear instead of conviction. The fear may have been different depending on where I was at in life and different influences. The boxes I ticked may have been different, but the fear was the same really.

Bryan and I try hard in our personal lives not to be driven by fear and not to make decisions out of fear. I don’t think I should turn around and decide who I’m gonna vote for now out of fear. This election I really wanted to vote FOR someone, instead of just AGAINST someone.

So, when a friend posted about isidewith.com on facebook I was intrigued. Here is a site where you can take a quizz and it will tell you which candidates you line up with best. I was intrigued. But, I was also skeptical.

I didn’t feel like I fit in any party. But, I also don’t really feel like the democratic party fit or always emphasised the things I really care about. I knew there were third party options, but knew very little about them and assumed they were mostly just extreme options that wouldn’t fit me either. So, I took the quizz, completely expecting to get a really mixed answer with low percentages across the board.

I was first surprised to find how thorough the quizz was. It covered a lot of issues and policies and even had a way for you to designate which ones were most important to you. And then I got my results: 88% Jill Stein, green party.

I was surprised. 88% is a pretty high percentage. It means that my views line up with Jill Stein and the green party view a vast majority of the time. After getting over my surprise that there actually is a party out there that for the most part fits with my opinions, my next thought was “I don’t know anything about the green party, well, apart from the whole Nader thing.” In fact as I thought about it all I was taught about the green party, and third party candidates in general, was that they aren’t good because they pull votes away from the main party candidates.

So, I started reading about the green party and was surprised again. Overall, there was a lot that resonated with me in this party that emphasized environmental stewardship, social justice, and equality.

Ok, I have to stop right here for a moment and tell you what happened when I got to this point in writing this post… I sort of freaked out internally. I set the post aside. I started rethinking posting this, but more than that I started really debating in my head the merits of voting for a third party candidate. I started feeling fear. And I started asking myself, why the heck am I writing this post and telling the world all this anyway? But, I worked through all that and I’m back writing again.

When it really comes down to it there’s two things I want to share and these two things are why I’m writing this post:

First, I hear a lot of people bemoaning their choices during elections, saying that they don’t really like either choice, but “this guy is better than that guy”. That really is no way to pick our leaders. Or at least I don’t think so and I don’t want to vote like that anymore. And really I’m realizing that our choices are only limited if we allow them to be.

As long as we vote that way and continue to buy into the two party system nothing is really gonna change. Third party candidates won’t be taken seriously and won’t be given a place at the table until people start to step out and vote for them. Truth be told voting for a third party candidate probably won’t change much in this election, but it could start changing things for the next election and the one after that. Because if they can get just 5% of the vote then people may start taking them seriously and including them in debates.

And really how bad would it be if either of the two main party candidates this time around won? When I try to rationally answer that question, well, not that bad or at least not that different.

Perhaps this is part of why the big parties promote such fear (and even terror), because if people believe that it’ll be “the end of the world” or something equally terrifying if the other candidate wins then they won’t risk “throwing away their vote” on a third party candidate. If they believe that the worst will happen if the “other” candidate wins then they will vote for the main party candidate closest to their views even if they don’t really agree with them.

Which leads me to my second point…. I don’t want to live in fear. And I don’t want to vote in fear. And I don’t want to be inundated by the opinions of those who do.

I’ll be happy when this whole thing is over. Because, whoever wins, God will still be on the throne after this election and at least all my feeds won’t be inundated with politics anymore (or at least not as much).

Rejoicing in the journey,

Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Love and Fear Dance Together

Today I read this post on Christine Sine’s blog. It was a great post and a wonderful addition to the recent synchroblog on Christianity and Immigration. At the end she quoted this poem by Michael Leuniq:

“There are only two feelings
Love and fear
There are only two languages
Love and fear
There are only two activities
Love and fear
There are only two motives,
two procedures, two frameworks,
two results.
Love and fear
Love and fear.”

As soon as I read this I had this picture in my head of love and fear dancing together. I thought about the Christian life as being a journey from fear to love. There’s a long phase of the journey where love hasn’t totally conquered fear yet, and so they dance together for a while. Sometimes love leads, and sometimes fear leads, but hopefully over the course of the journey love leads more and more often until one day fear is completely transformed and Love is all there is. I’ve been sitting with this picture all day.

Here’s a little something I wrote in response to all these thoughts:

Lord, I reach out to you in my darkness and there is fear.

I speak to you in my pain and there is fear.

In me is fear, around me is fear, from me is fear.

I am fear.

But, Lord, you reach out to me in my darkness and there is love.

You speak to me in my pain and there is love.

In you is love, around you is love, from you is love.

You are love.

Perfect love drives out all fear.

You come

And your love begins to dance with my fear.

And slowly, ever so slowly

Fear is driven out by love’s dance.

And you begin to whisper,

“Come, and do likewise!

Reach out your hand in love towards those in darkness

Speak out in love towards those in pain

Drive out fear from all places where it has made its home.

Be love to the other, as I have been love to you.”

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.

Immigration: Choosing Love Instead of Fear

I don’t often write about political issues. I don’t like politics. I don’t like talking about politics or thinking about politics. It tends to just make me upset. But I’m excited that the Christian synchroblog I used to be a part of is starting up again and I want to jump back in even though this month’s topic is a very political issue.

I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I have something really helpful to add to the debate. I don’t have a solution for the “immigration problem”. I don’t know all the ins and outs, or all the pros and cons of different suggestions. I don’t have any idea what a Christian policy on immigration should really look like – I’m not sure there really is ONE “Christian policy on immigration”. I am sure that the issue is complex, that there are probably a variety of solutions that would solve a variety of the problems that arise when dealing with immigration. I’m sure that there are a multitude of “right” approaches.

Personally, I don’t want to talk about solutions, or suggestions today. I don’t want to talk about the legality of the issue, or about how it relates to jobs and the economy. I don’t want to talk about the politics of the situation. What I want to talk about is attitude.

As followers of Christ what should our attitude be towards immigrants? I don’t know about you but so often when I hear people talking about the “immigration issue” I hear a lot of negativity and very little love. I hear a lot of prejudice and racism and not a lot of love. I hear a lot of condemnation and not a lot of love. I believe that as Christians we should take a higher approach, a different stance. We should try to understand instead of condemn, to help instead of degrade and to love instead of fear.

I think a lot of the problem comes from fear. People fear immigration and immigrants. They fear the influence that immigrants (both legal and illegal) will have on the American economy, culture, and political system. They believe that we have to protect America and that the protection of America is the ultimate goal and makes any act (including the restriction of civil liberties) justifiable. Out of fear, policies are then made that restrict civil liberties (case in point: Arizona). The restriction of civil liberties due to fear is much more detrimental to America than immigration will ever be.

The truth of the matter is that we are all foreigners and strangers on this earth. The truth of the matter is that our ultimate allegiance is not to a specific country and protecting its way of life. Our ultimate allegiance is not to a specific political or economic system. Our ultimate allegiance IS to Christ Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and his radical new kingdom.

As Christians, I believe we need to support policies that are not driven by fear, but are instead driven by love and sound reasoning. We need to remember that although we owe America some gratitude and allegiance for the gifts that it provides us with, America is just a nation – nations rise and fall, but our allegiance is to God most High and Him alone. We need to remember that immigrants are our brothers and sisters, even if they look and act differently than we do. They each have unique stories to tell and a no matter how they crossed our boarders, or why they crossed our boarders, God loves them passionately and recklessly and so should we.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

Here are the other synchroblog participants posts. Hope you all enjoy the discussion! I know I’m really looking forward to reading through these:

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – ‘Being the Flag
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – ‘Immigration Stories
Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – ‘The Jealousy of Migration
George Elerick at The Love Revolution – ‘We’re Not Kings or Gods
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – “Together We Can Make Dreams Come True
Sonnie Swentson at A Piece of My Mind – “Immigration Stories
Matt Stone at Global Christianity – “Is Xenophobia Every Christlike?
Steve Hayes at Khanya – “Christians And The Immigration Issue
Ellen Haroutunian – “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses
Beth Stedman – “Immigration: Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – “Of Rape And Refuge
Joshua Seek – “Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – “Christians and Immigration
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – “You’re Right
Kathy Escobar at Carnival In My Head – “It’s A Lot Easier To Be Against Immigration Reform When You Have Papers
Jonathan Brink – “Immigration Synchroblog
Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House – “What we resist not only persists but eventually becomes our landlord”

If you'd like to help with medical bills or the other expenses related to Bryan's cancer or Sage's special needs click here. Thank you! We are forever so grateful to so many who have gotten us this far and continue to carry us forward. Grace and peace.