The Waiting Dance
A little more than a week ago my husband had three tumors removed at the National Cancer Institute in Washington DC. This was a small sampling of the tumors that fill his body. They took these tumors so that they could attempt to grow the white blood cells that they found inside the tumor into an army that would fight the cancer. It is a treatment that they have been doing in one form or another for almost ten years now and they have had remarkable success.
They have a few trials using this treatment and there is a new study opening in the next week or two that my husband will be eligible for. My husband is likely to be the first patient in this particular trial.
But, there are a lot of uncertainties that still need to be worked out. Will they even be able to grow his cells and if so will those cells be capable of fighting his tumors? Right now they are testing those things in the laboratory. Ninety percent of the time it works, but there is a ten percent chance it won’t work. And we are waiting.
NCI said that they would call us Monday with an update. And I feel like I'm holding my breath.
They were pretty non-committal about what this update would be. Basically, best case scenario they will call and tell us that his cells have grown more quickly than they expected and that they would like to see us back right away. From what we understand once the cells have grown we would need to fly out for one day to sign papers and get randomized into an arm of the trial and then we would come back home for one to two more weeks of waiting before they actually start his three weeks of treatment.
I am not crazy about that plan - and have a hard time understanding why they can't just start his three week treatment right away when we sign the papers. For me the best case scenario would not only be them telling us that Bryan's cells have already grown, but them also saying that they'd like to start treatment right away and we don't have to wait another one to three weeks before it's scheduled. That's what I'm praying will happen.
That is not very likely though. The more likely possibility is that it will be another two to three weeks before treatment even starts. In which case we need to continue praying hard that his cancer doesn't spread to any critical organs during that time.
Worst case scenario would be that they call tomorrow and say that his cells haven't grown at all - a situation that can happen about 10% of the time and would disqualify him from this treatment. We are praying against that possibility.
Even though it's not the worst case scenario, I feel like the worst possible thing they could tell us tomorrow is that they don't know anything yet. They could tell us that they can't tell yet whether or not his cells will grow and we just need to wait another week before we will know anything. For me that would be more discouragement than I think my heart could handle right now.
I am waiting with baited breath for this call tomorrow. Hoping that it gives us answers. Hoping that it clears up questions about our schedule and where we will be in the coming weeks. But, fearing that it won't give us any answers or clarity. Fearing that even after this call we will still be exactly where we are right now - waiting in uncertainty.
I feel like that has been the theme of all of this for us... will we wait and trust God even amidst massive amounts of uncertainty, even when so little is in our control?
We have had so much waiting already. Waiting for surgeries to be scheduled. Waiting for test results. Waiting to see if treatments worked or didn’t work. Waiting for the ax to fall.
I’m starting to feel that life IS waiting. And indeed, perhaps it is.
Sometimes we wait excitedly for the good, like waiting to be old enough to drive the car, or waiting to find that “right” person to marry, or waiting expectantly for the birth of a child. Other times we wait anxiously for the unknown. Waiting to hear if we passed the exam, or got the job, or for the results of the PET scan. It seems though that there is little difference between these two waitings. At least in my own life it is rare for me to wait without anxiety. I am always anxious for the outcome. Anxious to get to the next season. Anxious to get past the waiting. But, I’m finding that as I get past one season of waiting another is inevitably just around the corner.
Whether we are waiting for something specifically at this given moment or not, aren’t we all always waiting? “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” Waiting with the whole of creation.
I wonder what it would look like for me to wait with eager expectation for the will of God to be enacted in my life, for his kingdom to come on my little piece of earth. I wonder what it would look like to wait eagerly, but without anxiety.
Perhaps this is the lesson of Advent… Waiting eagerly, but without anxiety. The only way that I can wait like that is if I wait with trust. My waiting must mingle and dance with trust if I am to find peace amidst the waiting. I have experienced this at times, but it is a difficult dance and often my trust lags behind and I find myself stumbling on the waiting - filled with anxiety again.
It is a dance that takes practice. And I think it is only through this dance between patience and trust amidst the waiting that deep hope is ever birthed in our lives.
I am so much better at this dance than I was a few years ago. I have had lots of opportunity to practice. Lots of opportunity to wait amidst suffering and allow that suffering to produce an open-handedness in my soul. My heart can rest much more easily amidst uncertainty than it could in the past. But I have a long way to go before I can really live this out day to day.
Today, this dance that births hope in my heart feels a bit like a dance of toddler ballerinas. I am anxious as I wait. I am tired of waiting. It feels too heavy. I stumble and fall often and don’t move gracefully across the floor like I would like.
It feels like I have waited long enough. Like this dance has gone on long enough. My limps ache and the repetition of this music tires me. I can’t do the steps quite right. I stumble and fall and throw a tantrum.
It feels like I can't take it any more. I want to do something. I want to fight. I don't want to wait anymore. It feels like now is the time that God should step in and say "enough is enough", but somewhere in my heart I know that we aren't quite there yet.
When I'm quiet and still I hear a different story, a voice that says, "I know you feel like you are going to break, I know you feel like you can't wait another day, another minute, but this is my grace to you. This waiting is love. You may think you are at your breaking point, but you aren't yet. And the truth is...I want to take you past that breaking point." That is the voice I hear in the stillness. Often that voice calms my soul, but today I want to yell and scream out against it - I want to throw a full blow tantrum and push back. "NO! I don't want that!" I don't want any of this. I’m done with this dance class - I want out!
Thankfully God parents me with more grace than I have for my own children's tantrums. He partners with me more gracefully than most dance partners.
Right now I am anxious for many things. I still have to learn that little is needed.
Rejoicing in the journey,