When I walk into the kitchen, the first thing I notice is the weight gain. The dog has filled out. That means he’s getting most of Diana’s food. He’s also not getting many walks since Diana is in too much pain to go very far. I sit down at the table and Diana pours me a cup of tea. She is thin again, like she was two summers ago when a surgeon removed tumours from her esophagus. The dog rests his head on her lap and Diana rubs his ears.
“You look good,” I tell her.
“Yeah, apparently I look pretty good for a person with cancer,” Diana says without a trace of humour. After dealing with increasing pain and discomfort for several months, she found out the cancer is back, a mere 18 months since the surgery. Today she is tired. When I phoned earlier she was resting because of hot flashes from a medication, but I know her exhaustion goes deeper than her physical body.
“I’m shocked at how quickly it came back,” Diana admits. Yet its return was inevitable; the rate of recurrence with esophageal cancer is at least 85 percent. When the doctor presented her with her options, Diana, who is 54, decided not to have chemotherapy. We were sitting in her kitchen when she told me, “I don’t want to spend whatever time I have left feeling sick,” she said. “It’s up to God.”
Coming from anyone else, I would have been horrified. You’re leaving it up to God? Are you nuts? This is cancer. At least when my mother stopped her treatment, she’d been too sick from chemotherapy to continue. But to actually choose God over medicine?
Coming from Diana, though, it seemed reasonable. She made it possible to trust in God’s plan because she has the deepest faith of anyone I have ever met. I sensed this long before cancer arrived, when we took long walks with the dogs. Her faith is like her: quiet and steady, positive and hopeful, deep and comforting. When Diana told me that she wasn’t going to seek treatment, I knew if anyone could survive on faith alone, it would be her. Diana will be fine, I told myself, because this is what we believe faith to be: transformative, compassionate, healing.
But that was a year and a half ago, when the cancer might not return for five years. “I can’t believe how quickly it hit me,” she says. “One day I was fine then I started going downhill.” This time, Diana is undergoing 10 days of radiation in an attempt to shrink the tumour.
We’re all thinking differently now. Diana is thinking about buying time. Her daughter is thinking about grandchildren that don’t exist. I’m thinking about how faith and friendship have entwined the two of us. When I look back on our three-year friendship, I see how differently we live in faith — my endless resistance to seeing the signs of what God wants me to do versus Diana’s calm acceptance of God’s plan for her. Yet because of my friendship with Diana, my faith is stronger than ever. It’s as if she came along to guide me back onto the path where God wants me to be.
“How are you feeling?” I ask after half an hour. “Do you want me to leave?”
“I’m getting tired,” Diana answers, “but it’s nice to have company.”
Hours later, I sit at my own kitchen table drinking a cup of tea. It hits me and I start to cry. The dog gets up from her bed and lays her head on my lap.
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