Cancer. It’s not even a pretty word, is it? It’s scary. It stirs up fear and rage and sympathy and disbelief and tears. And once again, that awful word invaded our lives — an unwelcome house guest that showed up unannounced.
Over the summer — not even a year after I lost my mother to cancer — my husband noticed a lump on his neck. Denial was my first line of defense — la la la; it’s nothing, just a cyst; this can’t be happening. It took almost a month of tests, scans and biopsies to reveal the diagnosis, me swallowing the lump in my own throat, Tony trying to stave off visions of our daughters dancing at their weddings without him. Because even the suggestion it’s cancer will make you think those thoughts.
Turns out my husband had Squamous Cell Carcinoma, or cancer at the base of his tongue, near the tonsils. It had snaked into a lymph node in his neck — the lump we saw that sounded the alarm. Can you believe it? We couldn’t either.
Cancer can’t be counted on for judicious timing; still, the arrival of our latest battle seemed especially egregious. I was still grieving the loss of my mother and managing her estate, while my husband’s company was courting him to consider a new job that required a move. It was the most stressful summer I can remember — the endless waiting, the not knowing — me trying to smile and keep life normal for the kids; Tony interviewing under the cloud of the unknown.
It’s why now I’m so very grateful that a lovely couple from church had, just weeks earlier, presented me with the devotional, Jesus Calling. My life was already rich — or so I thought — in God’s presence. Still, I wasn’t spending enough intentional time with Him, and the book beckoned. Curl up with me. Be with me. Listen to me. Talk to me. It was so peaceful, so calming. And the primary message I received from God in those pages?
During those long days, when I was tempted to question the timing of it all — instead I took another step toward learning to trust that He would be there no matter how the story ended. During many countless moments of frustration, I practiced the delicate art described in Proverbs 3:5-6, to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
It wasn’t easy, but then, it was also a relief. Yes — I did my homework; I listed a barrage of questions for the surgeon; I prepared our family for Big Daddy’s surgery and recovery. But mostly, I asked God to be at the center when we learned the results of the pathology after the removal of the malignant tumor and node. I trusted He would hear the scores of prayers said on Tony’s behalf. I trusted that either way, He would not forsake us. I absorbed every word of our pastor’s eloquent prayer as they wheeled Tony away, and I gently placed him into the loving arms of our heavenly father, like a baby burrowed into his mother.
When the surgeon pronounced that the cancer had not spread into more nodes in his neck, I breathed a tearful thank you, full of relief and gratitude. And I trust He will walk alongside during the remainder of our journey. I pray that as the radiation wages war on any lingering, rebellious cancer cells, that peace will reign in our hearts.
• Diane Meehl lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her family, where they worship at Mountain View Lutheran Church. She documents her husband’s journey at: www.caringbridge.org/visit/tonymeehljourney.