Little did we know, as we delighted in food and family, how soon we would face a life-altering decision: Choose sorrow or choose joy.
Gathered around our dining room table, joy overflowed that all our family could attend the annual Thanksgiving feast. Almost every adult, except my husband and me, had suffered a major health crisis in recent months. Surgeries and life-threatening episodes had filled their days and nights with hospital visits, medical appointments, medication adjustments, and continued in-home care.
“If it’s all the same to you, we would rather not share this family experience. I know we usually take turns for most events, but we’ll pass on this one.”
Everyone laughed as we dug into turkey, dressing, and a table-groaning number of side dishes.
A few days after we ate the last of our leftovers, I also had to eat my words – not nearly as tasty as cranberry salad or pecan pie, but definitely longer lasting.
My husband’s memory had deteriorated slightly in recent months, but we credited advancing middle age as the culprit. However, late one night other symptoms surfaced. He turned chalky white, broke out in a sweat, and could not talk clearly for several seconds.
“I think you need to go to the emergency room.”
“No. I’m okay now. I’m just a little tired.”
“That was more than just a little tired.”
He won the debate that night, but I set my foot down the next morning. A visit to our family doctor and a couple of tests revealed nothing significant.
Four months later, my husband initiated a second visit. After he listed his ongoing symptoms, underwent further tests, and met with a neurosurgeon, our turn of troubles appeared.
The neurosurgeon explained in words we could clearly understand and pointed to the MRI of my husband’s brain showing a tumor. He said that initial tests indicated probable non-malignancy, but he would need to do a biopsy to be certain. “I can remove the tumor,” he said, “but both his speech and memory would suffer.”
Two days after the biopsy, my husband received the choice to remain in the hospital or wait at home for the results. A no-brainer (forgive the pun), he said, “Let’s go home.”
The neurosurgeon called the following night. The biopsy revealed an aggressive malignant mass, “stage III anaplastic astrocytoma.” After receiving that gut-wrenching news, we faced the daunting task of calling friends and family and addressing their subsequent concerns. Emotional Turmoil.
Like robots, we automatically did what had to be done. We made appointments for treatment, filled prescriptions, completed insurance forms, and trekked the mountain of other health-related chores. We shed a few tears, prayed, and tried to sort through the bombardment of feelings.
With an average life expectancy of three to five years for that diagnosis, the stages of grief took on a whole new meaning.
Sometimes we felt like yo-yos with an unknown force controlling the string. A false negative test days before initial treatment gave a brief reprieve, only to be shot down when a follow-up evaluation confirmed the grimmer report.
My husband tried to keep working during his treatments, but everyone recognized his inability to continue. His boss, who had become a family friend, arranged a visit with us.
“You stay home and concentrate on getting well. I’ll cover your salary until you get approved for disability.”
That offer provided financial, emotional, and physical relief. Nevertheless, it marked the end of my husband’s role as a manager. He now relies on others to manage the care he receives.
Depending on God
When this journey began, we received support from friends and family around the world. Nevertheless, that was not enough to meet our greatest need. Only by turning to God in prayer, individually and as a couple, have we been able to deal with the multitude of physical challenges, emotional upheavals, and constant unknowns.
As my husband said a couple of days following his diagnosis, “God and I had a little talk, and everything is going to be okay.” Although his body and our circumstances remain off-kilter, we rely on those little talks throughout every day to keep us spiritually and emotionally balanced. As a result, we’ve felt God’s presence, peace, and joy in ways previously unknown.
Through all the ups and downs, we’ve learned several valuable life lessons.
One stands out from them all: Although we have no control over a number of life’s circumstances, the reaction remains ours to choose. In day-to-day life – we can see faults in others and withdraw from relationships – or we can be grateful they overlook our bad habits and do the same for them.
We can grumble about our jobs and co-workers or be thankful for the opportunity to earn a steady income. We can criticize neighbors or appreciate their willingness to help in times of need. We can focus on material possessions we don’t have or recall that we have sufficient provisions.
We can despair when illness and age make daily life more difficult, or we can face new challenges with determination and make the most of our abilities.
Waste of Worry
We all face the question: Do we desire a life of defeat and gloom or one of victory and joy? Will we worry over every detail of life or hand each one to our loving Lord who remains with us through all life’s peaks and valleys? Will we claim Jesus’ promises or agonize over every bump in the road?
In Matthew 6:27 Jesus says worry can’t add a day to our lives. We firmly believe worry not only shortens our days but also deprives us of countless blessings during both our best and hardest times. One of our favorite quotes comes from an interview with a baseball player years ago – “Ain’t no need to worry.” The grammar may have missed the mark, but his truth was right on target.
Remission and Rest
We’ve now enjoyed more than fifteen years of remission (eighteen-plus years from the initial diagnosis). Of course, we have no guarantee for what the future holds. Who does? Yet, even on our worst days, we rest in the knowledge of God’s love and care.
We Choose Joy
Regardless of our circumstances or the direction this journey takes, we’ve made our choice. We trade our worries for worship and our sorrow for service.
We choose joy!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NKJV).”