Friday, April 27, 2012

Heartbreak and Heart-healing In Hotel Melanoma

It starts as a ripple and it picks up speed as it rolls along.

We get our diagnosis and life is a whirlwind. Of the hurricane variety. The emotions become overwhelming. We drown in a sea of statistics and knowledge about this disease that we now have and before our diagnosis thought was just skin cancer. No big deal. Then we find out it is a big deal. It's not just skin cancer. It's not just cancer. And we learn just how big and scary a freaking deal it is. Our family learns with us.

We've checked into Hotel Melanoma and despite what the song says, we can leave. But we all know what that means. Far too many do leave. Often far too young. And far too horribly. And that never leaves our minds even though we get really good at acting like it does.

And we get angry and we get fearful. We get determined and dig in our heels. We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing and wonder where it is. We circle our wagons around the suffering, but often it seems like there's more suffering than there are wagons.

And so it is that there is heartbreak in Hotel Melanoma. It begins with our suspicions before our diagnosis if we're "lucky" enough to have them. Many people are thrown into this completely blindsided. OK. I take that back. We're all thrown in here completely blindsided, even if we do have suspicious places because we just don't think it can happen to us. There is heartbreak as we tell our families and friends and have to repeat it over and over and over and try to keep a smile on our faces to hide our hearts but damn if people don't insist on dragging our hearts out of our bodies.

We get that dreaded diagnosis, and it can be anywhere along the staging spectrum and that initial stage can change for the worse at any time. With or without treatment. We never know which side of which stat we're on until we get there. Families can strain. Friendships can dissolve mysteriously. Jobs can get lost. As can hair, chunks of flesh, nerves, peace of mind, sleep, appetite. We haggle with insurance companies over life-saving treatments. We face very real financial hardships. (Melanoma is a very expensive cancer). We can be any age when we get that diagnosis. Not everybody is 48 like I was. I was blessed. Three year olds get diagnosed. Teens. Young twenty-somethings.

And the ripples spread. Life sets in and must be lived with melanoma as part of that life but it can become all-consuming. Melanoma gets a real kick out of that. And because life does, indeed, set in, we seek each other out at Hotel Melanoma. We find we're the only ones who really understand us. We get it. We check in with our parents or spouse, sometimes a child. If you check in alone, please seek us out. No one should ever go through this alone. We each have our own relationship with the beast. For some of us he has set up residence in our bodies. He has set up residence in the hearts of our families. So while we share many of the same emotions, we come at them from different perspectives. But we come at them together.

As the ripples spread, that's important because every day, while new people are checking into Hotel Melanoma, over twenty-four are leaving. Every day, 24 people die from this disease in the United States alone. Every day, over 24 families go from having their loved one here to being thrown into a world without their loved one.

The ripples of grief began before the day of death. Grief comes with our diagnosis when our world and life changes. Grief intensifies when we get a higher stage, if that happens. Grief grows with every new unwelcome change to our ever-changing existences. Grief slaps and slaps hard when we hear those words that there's nothing left to try. And when we get word that one of our own is making their final journey, our hearts crush and break for their families. Our grief is nothing compared to the grief the family is dealing with.

And hearts break in Hotel Melanoma. But hearts find healing here, too. Honestly, I was writing this and just finishing my last sentence in that last paragraph when a (1) popped up in my tab opened to Facebook. I took a break to see what it was and a fellow warrior had posted a beautiful picture on my timeline that read, "People see God everyday. They just don't recognize Him." And she wrote her own note, "Thanks for helping me and so many others recognize HIM. :)  November! ♥" And Hotel Melanoma's proprietor wasted no time in "liking" that.

And just like that, the ripples have a clear quality whereas before they were muddied. God shows up and God has been at Hotel Melanoma all along. Through the check-ins and the leavings. He is there in the laughter in the halls and rejoicing over good news and He's there in the tears and screams of horror. He walks those hallowed halls with us, picks us up when we are weak, dances a jig with us when we are strong, and carries us home when we leave.

He allows our hearts to break but He is there in the healing and while our broken hearts don't ever look the same as they once did, they beat and their beating takes on a whole new life because it's one borne out of sorrow and pain. Those who bury a warrior stay on at Hotel Melanoma. They've checked in and there really is no leaving for any of us except one way. We are all in this together. There are so many of us that we'll never cross paths with each one. But we cross hearts and we join in prayer. And we ask the Lord's blessing and we get to a place where we see His blessing because we can see Him at work. I'm tempted to say, "Even in a place like Hotel Melanoma." That would be wrong though. He's at work because it IS Hotel Melanoma.

We are His and He will not leave us alone with the beast. He will not leave us alone with each other. He will not look away when we check in and He will not ignore us when we leave.

But God does insist that we go outside Hotel Melanoma. We may be tempted to hunker down in bed and demand room service 24/7. But that's not allowed in this hotel. Since God picks up the tab He gets to write the rules. The rules here are simple and few.

1. Do. Do something to help out around here and lift up your fellow warrior.
2. Pray. Pray whether you feel like it or not, whether you think prayer "works" or not. "Doing" is not an option and neither is praying.
3. Trust. Trust in God and trust each other.
4. Be available. You never know when you're going to be needed or who will need you but you've got something to offer that no one else does and you are necessary at Hotel Melanoma.
5. Share. Share you stories. Share your very lives. Share your faith. Share your hope. Never stop sharing. People need to hear what you have to say and they need to see what you have to show.
6. See. See God use whatever you bring to the table and offer on any given day. It may be you at your worst or it may be you at your best. Hand it over to God and watch Him work. See the beauty that God can bring from the ugly.
7. Love. The rest is meaningless if you can't do it in love. We're here and in it to win it but we can't do that when love isn't present. Heart-healing can't happen when love isn't present. Hope, faith, prayers, nothing about our time here has value when love isn't present. And when we do leave this place, Love sees us Home.

And I am grateful.