Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Truth about Me and Cancer

I didn’t tell everything I knew when I knew it.

I knew on Monday that the lump was cancerous. Dr. Rosenthal’s office reached me Monday morning and the person on the phone told me. I couldn’t tell anyone else right then. I delayed until Wednesday when I had an appointment with the oncologist in Salina. Because I’d told everyone I was going to the oncologist on Wednesday, I knew I couldn’t postpone beyond that date, but I needed to postpone to that date.

I just couldn’t bring myself of see me as a person with cancer. Cancer was something that only happened to other people. It couldn’t happen to me. No one else in the family had cancer. I was the first, the only one. Not a distinction I cared to have.

Not only that, I had come home from church Sunday after trying to sing the first hymn. I’ve found I can’t stand still long enough to sing the hymns. Thus, I’ve decided to sit during worship, which I also can’t do very well – both the seats in the chapel at college and the pews a Bethany Church are very uncomfortable to my leg.

But when I try to sit during the singing of the hymn I find myself unable to sing. I pretty much get on the verge of weeping. Last Sunday I came home and did my share of weeping.

I was weeping because church has been the center of my life since I was a young teenager. My earliest joy was to be an acolyte at Luther Memorial. My cousin once said to me, as I wandered through the basement in the black cassock, “That looks good on you, you thinking about becoming a Pastor?”

Church was central to my life even when I was an undergraduate and didn’t get to chapel or Sunday worship on Zion very often. The two most influential people in my young life were Roald Tweet of Augie’s English Department and Dick Swanson, the campus pastor. Church remained central to me during those periods when I was on leave from call, the late 80s and the late 90s, early 21st century. Church remains central to my life, even though the Institutional Church has decided that they neither want to nor wish to have me on the role of clergy.

Now I can’t go. I can’t sit in the pews. I can’t stand for the hymns. I can’t sit for the hymns, I just can’t go. I end up crying.

That’s a major shift in my identity. Major.

When I got the news Monday I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I had been told that
the lump is a sarcoma. I could not face the idea of me as a sick person who has cancer and may lose a leg to cancer, who certainly has difficulty moving because of cancer, who could lose a life to cancer. I was not ready to deal with that. I’m still not ready to deal with the could lose a life to cancer, but I suppose I’ll work my way there.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t feel brave. I don’t feel like a fighter. I don’t feel like I can do this.

When I was in junior high (though we didn’t call it that) I actually tried out for the Lane Tech Cross Country Team. All I had to do was complete the course in the top ten of the runners. I had friends on the team. They stood along the course and cheered me on. About three quarters of the way my will gave out. “I can’t do it,” I said, and dropped out.

My heroes in life have faced this far better than I. At least their public faces have been far better than mine. Cardinal Archbishop Bernardin of Chicago faced his demise with grace and dignity. Walter Wangerin faced his cancer with new insight and depth of feeling. Me, I’m afraid that I’ll have neither dignity nor insight because of this illness. I’m afraid I’ll repeat my daring don’t of so many years ago – get within sight of the goal and quit.

I start radiation therapy tomorrow. The CT scan of the chest and abdomen was ambiguous. The PET scan had no evidence of spread of the cancer. I’ll stick with the more optimistic until I hear otherwise.


Lee Becker said...

Carl, You are one of the most caring people I know and a credit to Christianity....I know you will get to the place where you can fight this...I remember reading a book about breast cancer entitled "At First You Cry" and she went on to recover. Barbara Buskirk is a survivor of breast cancer, clean for 23 years now. God doesn't do this. It's our animal flesh that gets it..You have made yourself valuable to all you know and are valued in Lindsborg. So FIGHT! Lee said...

When I was told about my liver, I was not brave or strong or even very human. It was all I could do to breathe in and out. The thought of my child growing up without me reduced me to a black hole of despair. I couldn't tell people because I didn't need comfort or help, I needed to find some will in me to survive.

Eventually you do separate the "what I can do" from the "what I have no control over" and you march forward. Sadly, no one can help you get there.

I just know your heart radiates a goodness that will get your through. You are loved and the love you give is not ready to stop being given. You will make it through.