It’s been a hard few years for our family. My son recently hit the twenty-month mark in his journey with leukemia. We’re shuffling along slower than we were before cancer struck and forced him home from college to battle for his life.
The adrenaline that hit at his diagnosis, and pushed us through crisis after crisis, has given way to a crash of exhaustion. We’re ready to ride the downhill relief of getting over the worst of the cancer mountain, yet we’re stuck in the middle of the climb.
Every one of us is drained and tired and ready to be done–because cancer doesn’t just stick to the patient, it crawls over the entire family and clings. In our own ways, each of us is a little messed up.
There’s a scary statistic out there that says 85 percent of couples divorce after their child has been diagnosed with a serious illness—regardless of whether the child survives or not. I wonder how many siblings emotionally “divorce” their families as well. I don’t have any stats, but I can see how easily that could happen.
Because the truth is tragedy and hardship don’t always bind families tighter. They tear them apart. Drive wedges between relationships. Make people bitter and angry and start a rousing round of the Blame Game.
Kyle has ten months left of weekly chemo. Another year for his body to heal from the ravages of a second long-term treatment. And who knows how long to deal with the mental and emotional fall-out of taking back his life.
All of us struggle. All of us have mountains to climb. You don’t have to be dealing with illness to relate to the hardships of life. If you’ve lived at all, you get it.
When we suffer for long periods of time—whether from physical, spiritual, or emotional issues—I’ve discovered one thing that can keep us going. Hope. And hope for me comes inside of blessings.
Psalm 5:11-12 (NIV)
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Here’s my prayer for my family. Maybe you can fine-tune it for yours.
“Lord, bless Kyle abundantly. As much as he’s been asked to suffer, as hard as life has been, provide an equal, or better, measure of good as he moves forward. Bring people into his life he can help and who can help him. Open doors to the future You have planned. Show him how he can use both his battles with cancer to bless someone else.
Protect my marriage. Keep us strong and united, especially in the worst moments.
Be with my other kids. Bless them with open eyes and open ears to see and hear Your goodness, instead of blaming You for letting Kyle get sick. Use this time to build a rock solid bond between you and them that can never be destroyed.
And last, take our ugliness—there’s a lot of it—and make it beautiful in a way that only You can.”
The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
I don’t know where you are in your relationship with God or in your own battles with life. Maybe you’ve never suffered. Maybe you’ve suffered too much. But there are blessings out there for you. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking. Other times it’s a matter of opening your heart to see them.
This morning, I encourage you to pray for blessings for yourself and for your family. And I’d love it if you shared your prayers at the bottom of this post.
Thanks for hanging out on my blog.
If you’re interested, here are some
Over the last six years, while my son stayed cancer-free, I pushed to the side the ugliness of our first battle with leukemia. Kind of like I shoved away the pain of childbirth after he was born.
If I’d remembered my first experience with labor, Kyle would’ve been an only child. If I’d remembered our first ride with cancer, I’d have locked him up in a magic bubble where cancer could never find him.
The further Kyle gets into his current treatment, the faster the horrors of chemo come back and suddenly I’m reliving every moment of those rough years in very gritty detail.
I watched the premiere of a TV show a few weeks ago. One of the main characters had leukemia. This girl had shampoo-commercial hair, color in her cheeks and lips, and she snuck out of the cancer ward for an evening to walk around the town.
Sorry, but no.
When it comes to the down and dirty of chemo, most movies and books lie. They paint a picture of bouts of nausea, premature balding, maybe a little fatigue, a little paleness. They show enough to squeeze your heart, make you feel sorry for the character, and get engrossed in the plot.
And then they stop—before the picture gets too ugly.
Because, really, who wants to watch ugly? And chemo is the ugliest thing I’ve ever witnessed. It’s also something most people don’t understand. Like childbirth. If you haven’t experienced the pain, you can’t really explain it to someone else.
The whole point of chemo is to destroy the cells that cause disease. Because leukemia is blood cancer, those cells live everywhere. We can’t target a tumor. We have to target the whole body. And the drugs don’t know the difference between good cells and bad cells, so like a machine gun, they destroy everything.
Chemo takes Kyle to the brink of death, pulls him back, and then slams him to the ground all over again. Feeling nauseous, losing your hair, being tired and pasty? Those are the easy issues.
Without white blood cells, Kyle can’t fight infections. A fever doesn’t require a nap and a few Tylenol. It’s a run to the ER for I.V. antibiotics and a possible hospital admission that can last weeks. Worse, he doesn’t usually pick up someone else’s germs; instead his own body overproduces normal bacteria. Staying isolated, washing our hands, using a mask—none of that matters when his body attacks itself.
Too few red blood cells equal low hemoglobin that steals Kyle’s oxygen and iron. Like a congestive heart patient, he shuffles ten feet before he has to stop and catch his breath. Stairs are a daily challenge, sometimes one not worth conquering. He isn’t just white, he’s vampire-pale with zero color in his face, lips, or lower eyelids. A low-hemoglobin headache can feel like a week-long migraine.
Too few platelets don’t let him clot. A nosebleed isn’t just a nosebleed. It’s an order for a platelet transfusion. A fall or a bruise can cause internal bleeding. He’s not even allowed to floss his teeth because there’s a chance his gums won’t stop bleeding or he’ll get an infection.
Treatment for leukemia is comprehensive and body-system wide. Each drug—whether it’s given orally, by IV drip, or through a spinal tap—comes with its own special set of side-effects.
High-dose steroids suppress his immune system to keep the cancer from growing. They also change his physical appearance, make him feel bloated, and give him severe, long-term insomnia. He shakes like a recovering alcoholic, his cognitive skills are foggy, and he’s moodier than a pre-teen girl. Steroids destroy his taste buds and screw with his intestinal system, so eating becomes a carefully navigated adventure.
One drug messes with his feet and the way he walks. Another drug paints his body in a rash and dots his mouth and throat with sores that make it hard to eat and swallow.
Between Kyle’s first fight with leukemia and his current battle, he’s experienced a grand mal seizure, been intubated in the ICU, had two almost fatal allergic reactions, almost died of sepsis, spent twenty-seven days on hospital isolation, fought an eight-month staph infection in one lung and a fungal infection in the other, and struggled through two psychotic episodes.
Those are just the major reactions. There’s smaller fall-out every day. Stupid things, like infected ingrown toenails that almost put him in the hospital.
Chemo is ugly.
I asked one of Kyle’s doctors why they use so many different drugs to fight leukemia. The answer was two-fold.
One, because each drug infiltrates a different body system to kill the leukemia cells that hide there and two, because each drug destroys a different body system and they can’t use drugs that target the same area without totally annihilating Kyle’s insides.
Chemo is a game of kill-and-catch up. We’re constantly fighting collateral damage in a war we’re not even sure we’re going to win. And when this two-year battle ends, we aren’t done. That’s when we try to counteract the damage done to his body. What’s permanent? What’s not? What’s debilitating? What can be overcome?
As a cancer survivor, Kyle will have to be vigilant the rest of his life. He’s at risk for secondary cancers, heart problems, kidney shut-down, liver damage, hormone deficiencies, sterility, stroke, glaucoma, learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and the list goes on.
Leukemia is a never-ending ocean with no life raft. Some days we tread water and it’s enough to breathe. Other days we drown. Sometimes the fight becomes overwhelming. Our family is tested. Our faith is tested.
There are hours and days and weeks where I sit in a pit of darkness and trust that God is somehow still here.
I cling to His words.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”
(Joshua 1:9 NIV).
I cling to His promise.
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness”
(2 Corinthians 12:9).
And I am weak. All the time. But I believe God has a plan for Kyle and for me. Maybe like with childbirth, there are experiences out there we need to have for ourselves so that we understand the things that can’t be explained. Maybe some things just need to be lived out.
Chemo is ugly, but God’s promises aren’t. He’s the only One who can take something horrible and turn it into something beautiful. Kyle and I are still waiting to look back on this journey and see just what that something turns out to be.
Author’s Note: Last year, my oldest son, Kyle, relapsed with leukemia, making me a two-time Cancer Mom. I’m sharing our journey not to ask for your pity, but for others who trudge this same road feeling isolated and alone. And for friends and family who watch the suffering and want to help, but don’t know where to begin.
You can read the rest of the series here: Surviving the Storm
When the movie, The Maze Runner, hit Redbox, I rented the Blu-ray. Watching movies on our big screen is one of the few things we can still enjoy as a family since my oldest son, Kyle, relapsed with leukemia.
His aggressive chemo schedule ensures we don’t take vacations or plan parties or participate in activities that don’t involve spending major chunks of time sitting on cushy chairs. Living in a state of crisis has become our new norm. We’re sadly ecstatic when life stays neutral. And planning any outings feels pointless when Cancer hijacks our schedule ninety-nine percent of the time.
Trying to survive cancer feels a lot like navigating an impossible maze. While we watched The Maze Runner, the story hit me right where I am—in the middle of my own journey as a Cancer Mom.
The movie goes something like this:
A group of boys CUT OFF from the rest of the world, and TRAPPED inside a giant maze, must BATTLE their way out of their prison if they want to survive. As each new member arrives, one new boy a month, he wakes CONFUSED as to how he got there or why he was CHOSEN. At the opening of the movie, the longest member has lived in the center of the maze, The Glade, for over three years. Three years of battling to learn basic survival skills. Three years of fighting to escape the maze. Three years of running an excruciating MARATHON in a race that seems without end.
What do The Maze Runner and cancer have in common?Read More