Friday, June 15, 2012

Melanoma Road IS Paved With...

Guilt.
This is a tough bump in our road. Depending on where we are and who we are, our guilt looks different in each of us. But it's there. Sometimes we voice it, sometimes we hide it, sometimes we try to ignore it in hopes that it will go away. And sometimes we have seasons when we don't feel guilty because we know deep down that we're all on our own journey and we can't trade places with anyone and we just try to stick together and do the best we can.

So what do we feel guilty about? If we're the one with melanoma we feel guilty about having melanoma. If only I had or hadn't.... I wish I could.... Our guilt rarely, if ever, revolves around ourselves per se, it revolves around how this affects our families. And we can't change it. Treatments affect stamina and health for many, the cancer affects our finances, we can't do the things we used to and want to. This can be particularly heart-wrenching when young children are in the home. Well, children of any age are affected as are parents and siblings. We can feel guilty for getting good reports when so many aren't. We can feel guilty for living when others are dying, especially if we're older. We can feel guilty for being NED (no evidence of disease) for a long stretch when others never have a time of NED. We can feel guilty for getting through treatment fairly easily when others are knocked down to the point of almost dying. We can feel guilty when we get better care than someone else because we have better access or better ways of financing it, be it insurance or ability to self-pay.

Our nearest and dearest can feel guilty because they can't take the pain away or take it for us. We don't have to die for them to suffer from "survivor's guilt." They can feel guilty if they are the ones who gave permission for a minor child to go to a tanning bed and now that child has melanoma. They bought the tanning industry's lie and can't turn back the clock and live the truth they now know and there is guilt that can accompany that. And to tell the truth, I understand it. I'm human enough to know I would feel guilty and wish I could take on my child's melanoma and wish I could change the past and not give permission to tan. None of us can change the past; forgive yourself, and move ahead with life and doing what you can to help your child and to help others not join you on this road with their own case of melanoma. We make mistakes and misjudgments, some are worse than others and some carry worse consequences and while we can't change them, God can redeem and transform them and use them. And, if we do die from melanoma, our survivors can feel guilty because it was "us" and not "them."

We all have our own lives, paths, journeys, walks, whatever you want to call it. We all have our own and we can't live somebody else's life. While "guilt" is a normal emotion and will rear its head from time to time, work through it and don't wallow in it.

Fear.
Once we get that diagnosis, fear becomes a constant companion. Besides death, the main fear is of recurrence. We know the nature of this disease. We know better than to trust any stage or any status or any treatment or any length of NED.  We never know what will happen when, but we know what can. Fear is one of our biggest enemies for it can sap us of hope and energy, it can bring on depression, it can become our focus. Fear can, likewise, be a huge motivator. When we can harness our fears and channel that energy into moving ahead and being a force to be reckoned with, when we can find a way to rule our fears instead of our fears ruling us, then we can diminish that which seeks to diminish us. Fear, like guilt, has to be put in its place. And that is easier said than done. I know. But find a way to work through it. Fear isn't a friend. Guilt isn't a friend. And neither is...

Worry.
We get told in Scripture that worrying isn't good. I like how The Message words Matthew 6: 24-34:
        "You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both.
        "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
        "Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
        "If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
           "Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

Somehow, that just doesn't need any help from me. Put your worries in their proper place by following Jesus' advice. A person doesn't have to be Christian to do that either. 

Special Wishes That Can't Come True.
Tied into all of the above are those special things we wish we could do but can't. I wish I could step in and take the pain friends feel as they walk this road with their children. Even if but for a day, I wish I could carry this for them and I can't. We wish we could stop this from affecting our families like it does and we can't. Not even for a day. We can't trade places with anyone. We can't say "Calgon take me away" and make Calgon obedient. And wishing for a V-8 doesn't work any better. We have to learn how to suck some things up because a big part of this is...

Having To Acknowledge How The World Works. 
Rats. I don't like having to acknowledge how the world really works. I just don't. I wish I could rewrite the owner's manual and set things up like I want them. (See the paragraph right above this one). It is what it is. The world and the laws of nature and DNA are what they are. Melanoma is what it is and it has its own nature and it refuses to bow and yield to my preferences. I have to acknowledge that. I don't have to like it though and I don't have to understand all those laws. But I do have to live with them.

Part of the way the world works is God designed each of us with our own unique DNA and bodily systems and while there are similarities, there are also unique differences. Even within families. And we all know that, but it really hits home when a disease like melanoma, or any cancer, hits a life. So as we acknowledge how the world works and see things we don't like and can't change, we are reminded that God is also at work for He shows up and reveals Himself in various ways.

Faith
Though faith can get seriously challenged, it can also be seriously strengthened and bolstered. We witness God at work in ways we possibly never fathomed before and learn more of how He sees life, our lifespans, time, and "need." We can get a grasp of the idea that we need a faith foundation that is solid like rock and on Rock and we may really need to do major repair work and haul away the sand of our lives. As our faith eyes are opened, we see God revealed in ways and places and people we could never have imagined BC...before cancer. And we see God working not only in us but through us and realize we are part of something bigger than we ever could have dreamed. We begin to understand that while we may have to acknowledge how the world works, God doesn't. He created it and set those laws into motion and He has the freedom and authority and power to step in and work His will His way anytime He wants to. We call those events "miracles." God calls them "business as usual" for miracles abound. Sometimes we need the eyes that are part of the cancer package to see them clearer and appreciate them more.

Hope
Along with faith, we must have hope. Not everyone on Melanoma Road has what they would call a "faith walk" or a belief in God, but we all agree "hope" is essential to get through this. Hope for another 5 minutes, maybe even another day. Hope for no recurrence. Hope the treatment works and buys more time and maybe even kicks mel to the curb. Hope to get in that trial. Hope for a cure. Hope it doesn't take another branch off the family tree. What we hope for is always a future event, for we hope in that which we cannot see and are taking on faith is really there. Somewhere it's there. And someday we'll find it. Maybe not today or tomorrow. But someday what we hope for will come true. We have that hope. And we must keep that hope alive. It is what gives us strength. It is what keeps our eyes focused on God and what He's doing. If we can't place our faith and hope in God, then where can we place it?

Support
OK, many place hope and faith in their support systems if they don't have a personal faith walk with God. All of us, know the importance and value of having people to support us, and, THEY need support as well! We who have melanoma need to make sure that our support systems have their own support system! People who know us, love us, tolerate us on our bad days, let us cry or be moody or be by ourselves, who take the brunt of our emotions and cater our pity parties and also know when (and how) to tell us party time is over and it's time to clean up and move on. People who pray with and for us. People who will be honest with us and can bear us being honest with them. There are things we have to talk about. Last wishes. Final plans. Arrangements. Death. Where the checkbook is, what passwords are, where important papers are, what Heaven must be like. Are you going to be OK? You will be OK. Our instructions on how we want you to carry on and live when we are no longer here to tell you. Obviously, it's not easy being a true support system. But it is done and done well because, there is...

Love
When all is said and done, love carries the day. And love will, and can, shoulder much. Love is pretty strong stuff. Where would any of us be without it? Love of others? Love for others? Love for God? Love of God. It is what holds us together and makes the world go 'round. And when this life ends, Love carries us Home. Love saw us each into this world. Love created us. Love sustains us. And Love will never end. Nothing is quite the teacher of God's love and provision like melanoma or other cancer. I'm sure people who are challenged by other types of diseases and turmoils can say the same thing. It often takes a real life-shaking, life-threatening occurrence to bring us face -to-face with the Living God in a way we've never encountered Him before and we find He is not Who we grew up thinking He is. He is more. And we aren't who we thought we were either. We are more. And even on...maybe because of...maybe despite...this journey, we find...

Blessing.
And as we are blessed we are empowered, by God, to be a blessing and reveal Him in this life assured of life with Him, forever, in the next. As a friend has said, "I just love the way He works through people. In revealing the faces of melanoma, He reveals his Face too. So we reveal the faces and in doing that, we reveal HIM, and he reveals Himself to US. Its like getting a glimpse into a window."

God takes what melanoma meant to be a curse, blesses it, breaks its power in our lives, redeems this walk, blesses it again and again, transforms it, and uses it to be a blessing.

Melanoma Road is paved with many things. But the people we encounter on the road are among our biggest blessings, whom we love, are supported by, share a common hope with, are bound by faith to. The rest of the pavement, well, it's where "pavement" belongs...under our feet.

May God bless the journey. Wherever it leads.

And I am grateful that He does. Amen and Amen!