I’m a cancer survivor. Ten years this Fall. So is my Mom. And my mother-in-law. My Mom and I both had breast cancer. I was diagnosed first and felt a strangely comforting familiarity when she was diagnosed almost two years later. I knew what might possibly lie ahead for her. I knew I could be her advocate for the best possible care because I had learned the lingo, knew the doctors, and understood that ‘chemo cocktails’ were not served on a pretty little silver tray at a party. Thankfully, my Mom had one surgery followed by radiation. No chemotherapy, which for her tiny frame might very well have been more deadly than the cancer they found.
A few short months later my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Again, I felt to some degree that I could serve as her advocate. I asked questions, a lot of questions, to the obvious annoyance of her doctor. After a disastrous first round of chemotherapy, she found a new oncologist: mine. Even so, chemotherapy was very difficult for her. Everything that could possibly have gone wrong went wrong with every treatment. But she is one of the kindest, most gracious, strongest Southern women I know and she now counts herself among the few who survive this ghost cancer that gives no warning, no symptoms, nothing.
Several years have passed and she, as a result of the chemo, suffers from neuropathy. I had never heard of neuropathy before she was diagnosed. Apparently, it is a long-term side effect of her chemotherapy. Basically it means that she, at times, either feels debilitating tingles or numbness in her extremities – she either feels pain or she feels nothing in her hands and feet. So much so that last year as she was leaving a movie theatre, she fell and broke her nose. Couldn’t catch herself with her hands to break the fall. As a follow-up to this ordeal with her oncologist as she was explaining what had happened, he looked at her and quietly stated, “This is your gift of life. Your neuropathy means you are still here, still alive, still capable of struggle.”
As she related this appointment that evening over dinner, it hit me: there are times in life when pain is our gift of life. It means we are here to experience the struggle, the hardship, the emotion, the heartbreak of LIFE itself. What is the alternative? To feel nothing. To be so numb that nothing reaches our soul. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like pain any more than the next person, but given the choice to never feel anything again, I’d like to think I would choose the pain.
Wherever you find yourself on this Saturday before Easter, I’d like to encourage you and even challenge you to embrace your pain. It may very well be your gift of Life.