I lay shaking uncontrollably on the examining table. I was in shock. The technician asked if I wanted a blanket to keep warm. The doctor asked if I wanted to see a counsellor. Things were happening too fast.
It was January of 2005, and I’d gone in for a mammogram at my local hospital. Everything had always worked out before, so I reassured myself that the outcome would be positive. In Peterborough, Ont., we are blessed with the Breast Assessment Centre, which allows women to receive fast test results to prevent undo anxiety from waiting. Within about one hour, I had two sets of mammograms, an ultrasound and a biopsy. I was told I had a 99 percent chance of having breast cancer. I was told the tumour was less than one centimetre large, like a glass marble (which later proved to be incorrect). Treatment options were discussed. It was good to know the results quickly, but as I look back, it was almost too fast, too overwhelming for me.
Unbelievably, the first thing I did when I left the hospital was go to a grocery store to get a can of mushroom soup for that night’s casserole. I suppose it was my method of coping. I wanted life to go on as normally as possible. I remember looking around at the other people in the store thinking that I had just been dealt a terrible blow in my life, but here they were going on with their day as if nothing had changed. When I got home, before I talked with anyone, I wrote in my journal that my life would never be the same after today. Problems that I had worried about no longer seemed important.
There were times when I cried out to God, times of grieving and questioning, and God did not forsake me. One of the many lessons I learned through the ordeal was the importance of the body of Christ. I felt almost physically carried by the prayers and love of my church family and the others God sent to take my hands as I stumbled on the road to recovery. Each person offered a special gift to me, whether it was a card with an encouraging note, a meal prepared, a phone call, a ride to an appointment or a listening ear. It is amazing how something that seems so small to the giver can mean so much to a person who is going through a difficult time. I told others that it was true — you don’t need to fear; God will be with you through your troubles.
Yet, to be honest, there was one time when I did feel utterly alone, just before my second operation. I waited on the operating table, stripped of everything in life except my hospital gown. I had no hair, only a wig they allowed me to wear, no identity, no money, no wedding rings, no eyeglasses, no makeup and not even the dignity of underwear. I have never felt so alone and so bereft of material goods as I did at that time. I did not sense God’s presence then, and for years afterward I wondered why, at that time, God chose to be silent.
After my treatments ended and the cancer was gone, I naively believed that I would get up every morning thankful to God for my life. But being the human I am, the thankfulness is sometimes replaced with regular life and the complaints and frustrations that go along with it. Then the next set of tests comes along, and again I am reminded of the gift of life.
More and more, I realize God is not just in the thankfulness and the giving and the listening ear. God is also in the stripping away. God is in the aloneness. God is in the silence.
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