Cancer, questions, chaos — and an altered view of God.
by Laurie Allred Boyd
I exit the office building to walk around the pond. The crisp air is tinged with the smell of old, decaying leaves. The sun on my cheek tries to warm the chill in my soul as the leaves crunch under my shoes, each step reflecting the breaking of my heart into pieces.
Mama is sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. The test results just came in: multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells. There is no cure. Tears wander down my cheeks like the lifeless leaves floating down in the gentle, cool breeze.
This is another blow to my heart after having spent the last couple of years detoxing from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. Jessica, my dear naturopath doctor, helped with all the fatigue, tears, and intense body reactions that went with that.
Now I catch up on yearly appointments. The day after my mammogram, I get a call. An ultrasound is scheduled, then a biopsy on my sixtieth birthday. I don’t know when the results will be in or who will call me, just that someone will.
And someone does. While I’m at the grocery store shopping for dinner, the phone rings. “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s cancer. . . .” I don’t hear much after that. The weight of dread and paralyzing fear put my brain in a frozen fog. I abandon the cart of groceries.
Back home, emotions overwhelm me. Grief. Throat-ripping anguish. Disbelief that two in our family have cancer at the same time.
What did I do to deserve this? Is this payback for something I did? Do You love me, God? If You do, then why this? Haven’t the last couple of years been awful enough?
An angry sea of emotions drowns me. The Bible says that everything happens for a purpose. What is the purpose of this cancer?
My husband comes home from work as fast as he can. We cling together, and crumble. I hear him breaking, as am I. Our sobbing agony rides the waves of shock and fear.
We wait to tell our adult children until we have set an appointment with the cancer doctor. We call a family meeting and try to soften the message. But when I say, “It’s cancer,” they break in shock, their eyes filling with tears, spilling over.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” I can’t stop saying it. It feels as though it’s all my fault, this pain I’m causing them and that I can do nothing to protect them from it. We weep for the unknown, grieve for what we do know, and hold on in desperate hugs.
We meet with Jessica in her office the next day. We also meet the cancer doctor, surgeon, and radiologist. They give us the plan.
Chemo starts. I have no hair. Days of downtime between each treatment, and I barely have enough energy to take a shower without a five-hour nap to recuperate until the next chemo.
I am so tired, I can’t even pray. I lean on others for everything. Five months of peeling fingernails, dizzy spells, nausea, neuropathy in all fingers and toes, no eyebrows or lashes, and mouth sores. I feel ugly.
One month off until surgery. We buy a trailer to keep me safe, and drive to Missouri to see Mom and Dad. Mama is sick. I am sick. We take our naps at the same time.
I undergo a double mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes. I wake up, my voice rough and whispery from the tube they put down my throat. Tears drain down the sides of my sunken cheeks. “They are gone.”
Part of my identity as a woman, my girly friends of fify-ish years, are no more. Depression and intense pain lay on my chest now.
My husband leans over my bed. His compassionate eyes love me through all my internal and external wounds. “Yes, they are. And so is the cancer.”
We cry together for this road we are on, for the losses, for the unknown future.
I am home, and the back of my arm is on fire from all the nerves cut during surgery. I keep my elbows at my sides. I sleep and eat what is prepared for me, and cry. I hurt in too many ways.
One month to heal, then radiation begins. Twenty-eight treatments in five-and-a-half weeks. Still, I have to see Mama. Fatigue, blisters, and deep, aching pain drive with us to Missouri to see her. She is weaker. We take our naps at the same time.
It is one month later when I stand at the kitchen sink, numbing unbelief holding my brain and body hostage. How can this be? I just saw Jessica on Tuesday morning for my acupuncture appointment. Afterward we hugged and said, “Next year will be better for both of us!”
It is now Friday, and I just found out she has no next year. She died Tuesday night with the snap of a vein.
How can You do this to me, God? Why would You take my heart-daughter and doctor away? Jessica loved and cared for so many health-desperate people. Now she is gone.
Tears spill out of my red-veined eyes. My abused nose seeks a tissue once again. I look in the mirror after washing my face and lash out at God. I now understand how people can walk away from You. I’m standing at the threshold right now, and I’m struggling to hold on. Haven’t we been through enough? Haven’t I been through enough?
But I hold on, remembering the promise I made to Him when I was a naive teenager — a commitment, a covenant that no matter what life brought, I would not walk away from Him.
How much longer can I hold on to that promise?
Reconstruction surgery with fat-grafting is painful. I want to go see Mama, but I can’t due to the four drain tubes pinned to my compression garment. Bruises and swelling are best friends with my old companions, fatigue and pain. I mourn for Jessica. My body hurts everywhere.
I remember a line from a Broadway play I saw long ago where the matron told the younger woman, “God will come harder to you now.”
I did not understand the depth of it at the time, but now these words are my reality because there is no anger at God; there is nothing here in my heart for Him at all. I go to church, but I can’t pray. There is a wall between us that I don’t know how to breach. God comes harder to me now.
My sisters call me to come as soon as possible. Mama’s getting weaker.
Ten precious days later, I catch her last tear with my fingertip. Then I watch as the vein in her neck gently pulses, then doesn’t. She falls asleep in Jesus, ready to meet Him one day.
The box with no heartbeat.
The box coming home one last time, sitting on Daddy’s lap.
He cries for her. Sixty-six years of life and love and living. He is alone, and my heart is breaking for him, for me. I go to my room and sob as memories flood my floundering soul. I crumple to the bed and let the lack of Mama and Jessica and my health flatten me.
My thoughts wander. How do I reconcile God who, by His design, took Jessica and Mom away in one short year, who allowed me to have chemical sensitivity, then cancer and all the big guns that went with it — blow after blow after blow. How do I reconcile the God of pain with the God who’s supposed to love me?
Such confusion reigns and wars within my empty heart.
My tears spill out, and the shaky breath of fatigue grabs hold. It is here, in this empty shell place, where quietness touches me. I feel God wrapping His arms around my emptiness and pain. We take a moment out of heaven and rest.
Oh, how deep God’s roots go into my soul. He walks with me still, but we have a different relationship now. Before, He was a best friend, the one I begged for different outcomes. I don’t do that now. I now understand that God’s will prevails, so I don’t ask for specifics. I just ask for strength to do what His will requires of me this day.
God does come harder to me now, but I have a deeper love and respect for Him because of all we have been through. I may not understand everything about Him, but I trust Him as holy God.
About the Author
Laurie Allred Boyd has written devotions, articles, poetry, and dramas, as well as Bible study lessons, and has been published in Goat Tracks magazine and Heaven Sightings. Laurie lives with her husband in Vancouver, WA.