Living with cancer can be quite surreal. Like lying in a bed of daisies pulling out the petals, one by one. “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me…” And you’re left holding this little yellow button, on a stalk, as bright as the sun, bright enough to leave a little light when you shine it under your chin. So bright you can even pretend with a friend that they like butter.
He does love me. God that is! But it’s a roller coaster ride through cancer and you hang on all the way for dear life, tilting into the turns as you anticipate them, hurled back in your seat when you don’t. All the time you are trying to remember the light of the little yellow button reflected on the chin of your friend. You try as hard as you can muster to cherish every memory, every fine experience and even the most simplest of things that used to make you smile. You hold onto them squeezing the images in your mind so you can look at them for longer and laugh.
I thought by now we would be into the intermission stage between treatments of high dose chemotherapy and the ever looming transplant. I’d hoped for a lull, a few days off, a wee little break, a long weekend.
It’s not been like that. Her counts are still down two weeks after the chemo she’s having blood tests and transfusions nearly every day and now there is an infection in the Hickman’s line. Its complicated, the nurses and doctors say ‘remove it,’ but Sam’s specialist says it should stay in. It’s definitely useful for blood tests and transfusions; it’s better than getting a pick line in your hand everyday; it’s kinder on your veins but its infected and if the infection travels it’s dangerous, extremely dangerous. So last night and twice today and again tomorrow and for who knows how long after that we drive to RNS for IV antibiotic infusions.
St Vincent’s called late this afternoon. I told them about the infected Hickman’s and they want it out; they prefer to insert a central line. It’s out of my hands. I do what they say, I go where they ask and I punctuate my life with pleasant moments with Sam and meals with friends. I do what I can for Jack and Emma. An early coffee seems to satisfy Jack, or extra money for a choc mud scone at Baker’s Delight. When I can, I make tea for Emma, ‘rose tea,’ and we sit and share our love of words and our observations. We sigh, and we worry for a little while together about how much our life has changed this year, then we remind each other that its going to be okay. “Everything’s gonna be alright,” just as our friend T, used to sing.
It’s not all bad. You really do appreciate life when you are confronted with a life threatening illness. The daisies in buckets outside the deli beckoned us to buy them. So we bought 6 bunches, 3 bunches each and when we got home we filled a tin bucket with Sam’s and a vase with mine and we enjoyed them all day. We breathed in the scent of them, delighted in the simplicity of them, rearranging her room and the back deck to put them on their best display. We talked about how much we loved daisies as we ate our gnocchi that was drenched in fresh chilli, garlic and tomato sauce and felt the warmth of the winter sun strong on our backs. We did this between our trips to the hospital today and it was grand.
I love flowers but I don’t like to garden. My friend Bin (who is a landscape gardener) will tell you that it’s really not my gift. I’ve had some success with lavender, daisies and even sweet peas but I’ll never be a gardener. Many years ago in Melbourne, I had a delightful cottage garden that I grew from seedlings. Unfortunately Reid accidentally wiper snipped the delphiniums just as they were about to flower and though I forgave him, I never quite recovered my passion for growing flowers from seedlings after that. I am not an expert on plants or trees or grafting but I am stuck in Romans 11 this week and its bearing some truth for me.
17But if some of the branches were broken off, while you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among them to share the richness [of the root and sap] of the olive tree,
18Do not boast over the branches and pride yourself at their expense. If you do boast and feel superior, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root [that supports] you.
19You will say then, Branches were broken (pruned) off so that I might be grafted in!
20That is true. But … you are established through faith [because you do believe]. So do not become proud and conceited, but rather stand in awe and be reverently afraid.
I know that in this Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles, not trees or transplants but it illustrates my point. God is in the business of restoration and growth, forgiveness and grace. He takes the pieces of value in our life, He cuts off what is useless and he forms miracles out of what we give Him.
It has nothing to do with us and everything to do with His grace, His unmerited favour. Just as it is also written in Romans 11: 6But if it is by grace (His unmerited favor and graciousness), it is no longer conditioned on works or anything men have done. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace [it would be meaningless].
God is in the growing business. He can create life from a seed or he can snap off a branch and graft it in. The life in Sam’s bone marrow isn’t creating anymore. It isn’t produces the right cells. She said as we drove home today, cradling our daisies on her lap “Isn’t it strange how I would have been dead by now without chemotherapy?” It’s definitely strange. Who would ever have imagined that my petite little girl (pictured at the top of this page, aged 4 in our Melbourne garden) would be undergoing this horrendous disease? It doesn’t seem right, or fair, or possible but this I know – God always produces life. He always creates. It was always the goal from day one – CREATION.
This I know, that God can take the life that is being generously donated by Sam’s donor and He can graft it in. He can prepare her like he prepares the soil; he can protect her while her body (the host) takes time to recognize her donor. He can protect her from Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHS) he can heal her; she can be completely whole again. The donor is anonymous, like the branch it carries the life but it must be connect to the body to go on surviving. It will take some time; there may be some pain, some stripping away, some marks from the tape (so to speak) as things are set. But God is the life producing force. Our roots go deep in Him, we feed on His word only and faith rises through our vessels bringing hope and life and fruit.
God always works His plan through redemption. We are broken, all of us broken. Like Eugene O’Neill says “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” It is always His grace that is mighty to save. Jesus became sin for us, He who knew no sin, that we could be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We are all going to die but God came to deliver and to rescue us, to give us life through Him, through His death, so that we would have eternal life.
Jesus looked up and said “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” (John 11:41) Lazarus was already dead. They all thought it was over but Jesus was positioned in praise. Praise is vital for the bringing forth of miracles. I thank God now for a miraculous transplant, for health, for restoration, for minimal GVHD (apparently a little is good), for no complications. I thank God for her complete healing, that every possible documented side effect will not touch her life. Just as Lazarus did, she comes forth defying the odds and the people rejoice.
1I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
2Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit.
3You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you].
4Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.
5I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.
6If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned.
7If you live in Me [abide vitally united to Me] and My words remain in you and continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.
8When you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honored and glorified, and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine.
9I have loved you, [just] as the Father has loved Me; abide in My love [continue in His love with Me].
10If you keep My commandments [if you continue to obey My instructions], you will abide in My love and live on in it, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commandments and live on in His love.
11I have told you these things, that My joy and delight may be in you, and that your joy and gladness may be of full measure and complete and overflowing.