My older sister, Patty, and her best friend/housemate Laura have lived together for over 12 years. They are not homosexual; they are as close as any two friends can be. They love each other. Patty helped parent Laura’s two children when her marriage ended. Patty encouraged Laura to complete her Bachelor’s degree; subsequently both of them earned their respective Master’s degrees a few years ago.
Last Wednesday, October 19, 2011, Laura had surgery to remove two large but assuredly benign growths from her abdominal cavity, most likely large (and common) ovarian cysts. Patty served as Laura’s “significant other” for the event, with the responsibilities of taking care of Laura once she got home (about three days post-surgery).
So it was no surprise that when the surgeon came out after two hours with tears in his eyes to tell her that it was, indeed, ovarian cancer, Patty was crushed. Two tumors, one the size of a baseball, the other the size of a small pumpkin (21cm x 26cm–yes, centimeters) filled Laura’s entire abdominal cavity, and the smaller one had been leaking fluid for some time prior to surgery.
There were spots on her intestines, too. There were another three hours of surgery. Now comes the waiting game–tests to see if there are other metastases, staging (right now they’re estimating a Stage III or Stage IV, based on what they saw), and grueling treatment. And there’s always the looming spectre of what “malignant” really means: a fight between life and death.
Never having had cancer, I can’t put myself in Laura’s hospital-issue non-skid slipper-socks. But I know what severe chronic illness does to a person. It interrupts an otherwise smoothly moving life. It brings up thoughts about the meaning of existence and one’s purpose and what comes after. It makes you worry about your family’s and friends’ worries over you. It makes you want to crawl inside a hole where you can cry all by yourself so that you don’t disturb anyone. It makes you feel guilty for stressing out other people. It makes you humbled by the fact that you have to ask for help. It drains your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional reserves dry.
And then, while you’re running through those concerns, there’s the physical issues. Fatigue. Pain. Nausea. General discomfort. Sleepiness. Insomnia. Digestive disturbance. Dizziness. Weakness.
And what of your identity? What of your sense of value? Who’s gonna stand up with you all the way and carry you when you need it?
I pray for Laura and Patty frequently throughout the day. I cried myself to sleep the night we found out about the severity of the cancer. The thoughts continue to lead to emotions that rumble in my gut and grapple their way through my constricted throat until my eyes burn with brimming tears. I wish they didn’t have to do it… But they’ll make it through this season and praise our Heavenly Healer from the bottoms of their souls.
And mine, too.