Life in a Dust Storm

We are living in a dusty desert right now. There is a lot of beauty in the desert, but dust storms can rise up at a moments notice. Just when I think that the ground has once again settled beneath my feet, and the sky has returned to a deep shade of wide open blue...the wind picks up and before I know it the ground has lifted again to surround me in dust. Everything seems clouded and uncertain. I'm surrounded in the haboob.

This week Bryan had a PET and CT scan. Yesterday he picked up the results from the radiologist so that we wouldn't have to wait till our oncologist called with them. Bryan and I and the naturopath at the cancer clinic tried to decode the medical language and figure out the results. Not an easy task.

I still feel a little uncertain as to the results, but one thing we could tell for sure... It wasn't good. There has been a clear progression of the disease.

It isn't really surprising to us. Our suspicion that the cancer was progressing, as the PET scan showed, is exactly why we are here. Why we decided to pick up our lives and come to this clinic in Arizona.

Fearing that the unknown mass we saw on his last CT scan was indeed a new melanoma tumor has led us to make the decisions we've made. Now at least we feel more assured in those decisions.

This weeks scan showed that the unknown mass has grown and is cancerous. It also showed a few other small cancerous masses throughout Bryan's body. None of it was completely surprising to us, we've done our research and we know what we are dealing with. We knew that this is how melanoma acts, it can be very aggressive and very fast growing. But, we had hoped for better.

In many ways I feel like the dust was just starting to settle after Bryan's radiation and the CT that found the first mass. After a month of research and fear and lots of prayers we had made a decision about treatment and we were feeling a lot of peace. We were settling in and were full of hope.

And then the the results of this scan came. It doesn't particularly change anything. If anything it just makes us feel even more reassured that we are doing that right thing. That our aggressive action of uprooting our lives, and the extensive treatment Bryan is undergoing, is exactly what we need to be doing.

This new development didn't throw the dust in our eyes and shift the ground underneath us enough to make us fall over, as many of the events of the past year have done, but, for me, it did one very significant thing. It started to corrode away at my hope. I feel that we are taking good steps and doing what we can, but knowing that we are dealing with multiple tumors instead of just one small one makes me wonder, "Is it going to be too little, too late?"

Unintentionally and without warning I find my thoughts wandering to places I'd rather not go. Asking questions I'd rather not ask. The questions are oddly specific things, that I really have no need to think of now, things like "if something happens to Bryan how do I allow my kids to share holidays with my in-laws without myself having to be confronted with all of the grief of a holiday in his family home without him?" There is no need and no benefit to my mind asking these questions, it is just the outpouring of a heart that is not as full of hope as it was last week.

Hope is an interestingly fragile thing. I cling to it, and yet it is so easily effected by external circumstances. No... not always. I think that my hope that Bryan will get through this and grow old with me - that hope has proved very fragile. And each time in the past year and a half that I have started to feel more confidence in that hope a new wind has stirred and that hope is swept into the cloud of dust.

There has been a frustrating cycle to the the past year and a half since Bryan was first diagnosed. The diagnosis came and the ground beneath me was swept away in an instant. Slowly, and ever so painfully I began to place my hope not in whether my life would look the way I wanted it to look, but in God's goodness and love. And then a new blow came, pathology from the first surgery showed that the melanoma had spread to the lymph nodes in trace amounts. Dust rising. Hope corroding. Even more slowly this time, with help from dear friends, I grieved. I cried. I called out to God and he wrapped his arms around me.

"Trust me, child" he whispered, "hope in me."

And slowly life began to settle back down. I began to believe anew that Bryan would have a long life with me.

And then an irregular lymph node, a growing lump, an unsettled feeling even after a clean biopsy. Soon another PET scan that showed a massive growth. Dust. Fear. Hope torn.

The settling came more quickly this time though. "Do you trust me? Will you follow me, even when you don't understand?"

I remember one Sunday at church standing in the front row singing, I could see Bryan and my shadows stretched out on the floor in front of me. Side-by-side. I was filled with happiness and hope in that moment. And then Thaddeus asked to go to his class and Bryan took him. My shadow stretched out alone now. For an instant I wanted to cry and then another whisper came, "I'm still here. Will you praise me, even if you are alone?" And in that moment I could fully and truthfully answer "Yes!" And the dust settled.

Only to be stirred up again shortly after with this new "unknown mass" on the CT scan. I was never able to believe that it was nothing but a cyst as the radiologist had said was a possibility, but I was able to find that center of hope in God more quickly. And once we had a plan of action, once we had made a decision about treatment, it was even easier to regain hope. Not just hope in God's goodness no matter what happened, but hope that things would work out the way I want them to.

That is what this new scan effected. Not the hope in God's love, but the hope in God making my life the way I want it to be. And perhaps that is exactly the hope that needs to be destroyed? I am not called to create my life, or to put my trust in the life that I have created. I am called to follow Christ. Into the unknown. Into the darkness. I am called to put my trust and hope in God, and God alone.

Perhaps these dust storms have their own hidden blessing. They strip away the security I felt in my ability to see the next step in front of me, the comfort I received from knowing solid stable ground under my feet. They force me to lean not on my own plans, purposes, or abilities; but to lean on a guide who can see through the storm, who can find solid footing even on shifting ground. A guide who is love.

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany