Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I'm Done!

Just over 200 days ago, I was working a shift at the Phoenix temple on a Friday night. As I began an assignment that would last about 2 hours, my father walked by and asked how I was doing. My answer was something like this: "I'm doing fine, except that I can't breathe." I spent a large part of the quiet observing time during that assignment trying to decide what the best strategy would be for an exit if I started coughing and couldn't stop or if I otherwise became unable to continue my responsibilities (slightly dramatic perhaps, but in retrospect, not entirely unreasonable, all things considered).

The next morning found me in Urgent Care getting the chest X-ray that led to a pneumonia diagnosis and found the lymphoma. Thus began the adventure.

Today, after multiple doctor visits, one surgery, one night in the hospital, six rounds of chemotherapy, more blood draws than I can count, and fifteen weekdays in a row of getting up earlier than usual and going to the doctor's office for radiation therapy, I am DONE.

I am cancer free!

I will likely carry a little tumor of scar tissue in the area where I used to have cancer, but as my radiation oncologist said to me yesterday, scars are just proof we're alive.

Walking out of the center this morning, I felt a funny mix of excitement, relief, joy, and sadness. I'm grateful to be healthy, to not have to go to the doctor every day, to go back to normal. But an important chapter of my life is ending. I met so many wonderful health care professionals who took good care of me. I met some really outstanding people, some of whom were fighting a similar battle with cancer, who encouraged me even in the midst of their own affliction. I made some wonderful new friends and renewed acquaintance with old friends, and all of you loved me and buoyed me up during tricky minutes.

This morning, the woman who gets her radiation just before I do (who I've seen on about 10 of the last 15 days but only just learned her name) congratulated me and wished me well. Then she said, in essence, "Don't take this wrong, but I hope I never see you again! And if I do, I hope it's on the street and not in the doctor's office!" She has blessed my life with her positive attitude and cheerful smile, even if our interactions only lasted a few seconds each day.

As I finish my adventure, I am again grateful for the experiences I had that prepared me for this. I think of a former colleague, who was diagnosed with aggressive end-stage lung cancer during the time we worked together. She lived only four months after she was diagnosed, but it was an instructive experience to observe her family as they gathered around her and coped with their impending loss. Father in Heaven taught me a lot from that experience. About a year after her passing, I was asked to be a visiting teaching companion to a beautiful woman who was battling a different form of terminal cancer. I remember praying for the capacity to fulfill such a daunting assignment, already feeling slightly overwhelmed with the other stresses of my life. But that experience was more of a blessing than a trial. We developed a close friendship, and I watched as this dear friend always looked outward despite being in constant pain, both seeking opportunity to serve and allowing herself to be served. I sat with her in the hospital room, sang to her in hospice, and decided that if I ever had to go through cancer, I wanted to do it the way she had: with grace, faith, and courage, always reaching out and looking forward. A year after her passing, I had the privilege of being in the temple with a handful of treasured friends as we participated in the ordinance that bound her to her parents for eternity. Those sacred moments were a far greater reward than I had ever anticipated receiving when I accepted the assignment to serve alongside her.

Now, as I embark on the next great adventure in my life (normalcy!), I hope that what I have done and shared reflects the grace I saw in my dear friend. I hope I've learned something worth keeping as a part of me for the rest of my life. And I hope that our loving Father has blessed those who have served me with as great rewards as He has given me.