Health issues intervene again. Turns out surgery wasn't enough, and I get to spend the next four months undergoing chemotherapy.
Tomorrow I'll go for surgery to have the requisite port installed somewhere in my upper body. Providing all goes well, Monday will be the first of eight infusions, every other week, in which a cocktail of chemicals I can't pronounce will be injected into my body to fight whatever cancer may remain (two lymph nodes came back positive before, and who knows what's happened in the last two months?). Since I'll have the port I'll supposedly be relatively free to do other things while receiving those transfusions (the first, being first, will take longer, but mostly they will take three and a half to four hours each time). Maybe I'll live-blog a transfusion. Most boring post ever.
As always, the unknown is the monster here. I have no idea what this stuff will do to me. I got lucky with the radiation in the fall; it really had minimal effect at best on me. No guarantee that will be so this time around. It might make me nauseous. It might make me more tired than I can bear. It might eat my brain.
You have to understand, this would probably the one fear I have that gives me cold sweats. My body is pretty much broken at this point. This week it has put me through some of the most humiliating foolishness possible, in terms of a complete lack of control of things that don't make for pleasant conversation. I've been angry, I've been depressed, I've gone through a whole raft of emotions some of which I don't even have names for.
But tell me I've got Alzheimer's, or dementia, or some similar disease, and you get a whole different person. You don't even want to be around me in that case.
Anyway, that's not the case yet, so far as I know. Dealing with a malfunctioning body has been frustrating and anger-inducing enough.
There are times in conversations these days when people -- friends, well-meaning people -- use words that make me extremely uncomfortable. Words like "inspiration." Words like "model." So far I don't think anyone's used the word "hero," so at least there's that.
They are friends. They have been as supportive as any human being could ever be. They love me. I know these things. I certainly know there is no intent to make me uncomfortable.
Still, I cannot help but wince, or worse, when I hear or read these things.
It really isn't my place to criticize people who are trying to encourage me or lift me up. That's being a poor recipient of pastoral care, if nothing else. But the trouble is, I know better.
I know the doubts. I know the regular, routine, gnawing sensation that I really can't stand this much longer. I know the nagging fear that at some point, maybe the first transfusion, or the second, or the fifth, or the eighth, that my body will simply fold up and quit. And I know the disturbing sensation that this fear doesn't bother me as much as it should.
I know the despair. I know the increasing resignation, the sensation, whether it's a bout of extreme weariness or days chained to the toilet or food tasting strange, that this is just how my life's going to be from now on, isn't it? More treatments, more bodily humiliations, more impediments to any kind of normal life, more delays in getting that damn exegesis done, more discomfort. And these thoughts don't have answers. Nothing comes wafting back to me in answer. I don't remember what normal feels like anymore.
I know the hopelessness. I know the sense that, even if this chemotherapy regimen is deemed a "success," I'm never off the hook. One of the most likely predictors of having cancer is still having had cancer before. I'll always be one colonoscopy away from going through the damn death spiral all over again. And next time, who knows what kind of insurance I'll have? Yes, there's the practical angle that spews all manner of hopelessness across the scene. I have to say the plan the seminary offers is pretty decent, once it lumbers into action, but is quite limited, and I may be testing its limits in the next few months.
I know the doubts. Even as I struggle to keep up some pretense of regular class participation, I know the furtive demons of presumed pointlessness. So, really, why are you still on this damned fool's errand? What can you possibly hope to accomplish? You really think any church will even touch you with a ten-foot pole? You'll be almost fifty, and your health will be a huge black hole. "Cancer survivor," my ass. All that is is a bullseye on your back. And you'll be surrounded by classmates and fellow graduates, not just from Union but from all the seminaries, who can preach rings around you AND be youth workers or Christian educators and fit snugly into a nice multi-staff starter call.
I know the hopelessness. I know the sense that this cancer bullseye is limiting my future. Do I dare take a call, should one even come open, in a rural area? All along I've been prepared for the possibility of some kind of bivocationality. I have a few past careers I could fall back on if need be. But is my field limited by the need to be near some hospital of at least a certain capability? Can I be a hundred miles or more away from the nearest oncologist? Or is that a risk too far? As if my prospects weren't already bleak enough, there's another possible limit on any future call.
I know the despair. I know the helpless feeling that I will break, no matter how much I attempt to carry on as normal. Or I know that I don't come equipped with a long list of references in Presbyland, to begin with; I'm struggling to find any kind of internship that won't be throttled by these ongoing health travails; if anything I'll be staggering to the finish line of seminary, if I'm even that fortunate; in other words, I'm just not going to come out of here with any kind of good new-preacher smell. While all manner of churches will be zipping off the lot with these shiny new models, I'll be the beater in the back corner. Full circle; why am I still on this fool's errand?
So, my apologies. I know you mean well, and I know you are trying to encourage me. But when I hear words like "inspiration" I can't help but wince or worse, because I know all the things that are going on inside, and I know they're not inspirational.