TITLE: 'C' Words
By Cheri Hardaway
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Diagnosis: Cancer. That dreaded ‘C’ word strikes fear in all, causing even the most stalwart heart to tremble. I remember the first time I heard that word; I was twenty-eight. Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mother after a checkup, she became its next victim. ‘Lung cancer’ in layman’s terms, ‘Oat cell carcinoma’ in medical terminology, and a life-sucking parasite to anyone who has ever had the misfortune to make its acquaintance.
I still recall, after learning the diagnosis, the fear and anger that engulfed and threatened to drown me. Picking up my mail one day from that little cluster box on the corner, I dissolved into a puddle of tears that quickly became a torrent. Cried out, finally, I wondered, “Would Mom even live to see the baby I now carried in my womb?” I thought of my sister, only nineteen. “Mom won’t even see her get married!” I raged. How I hated that cancer! I hated even more fiercely the years of Mother’s smoking that had opened opportunity’s door, allowing the enemy to inflict this disease on her body!
Denying my angry fears, chemo and radiation eradicated the cancer, and Mom was granted ten more disease-free years. Her second chance was different. Fifty years of self-sufficiency had kept my mom alienated from the God who desired to save her. (I had spent my first twenty-five years likewise, so I understood.) Now each day was a gift, and she lived like it, thanking God for every new day; never again did she take life for granted. She received her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What the enemy meant for her destruction, God worked for her ultimate good (Romans 8:28, NKJV). For example, even before her salvation, she and I had begun to repair the turbulence of my teen years and were well on our way to building a wonderful adult friendship. Now with our newfound bond in Christ, we enjoyed an even greater unity in every area of our relationship, which enriched us both.
From age sixty to sixty-two, cancer would trespass three more times; the fourth announcement was especially poignant. Recently retired, the third cancer successfully treated, Mom and Dad paid us a visit. While together, we celebrated and even made plans to repaint our house together the following summer. Lighthearted, I answered the phone two weeks later when Mom called. “It’s back, honey,” was all she said.
IT was not lung cancer this time, but cancer had metastasized to her liver. Though she had beaten the blight three times, the prognosis was not good this time. I alternately raged and despaired, “Why, why, why?” Treatment after treatment proved ineffective, and my outrage intensified. She had fought so hard. I don’t know which ravaged her body more, the cancer or the chemo. The oncologist shared that chemotherapy was “a balance between administering enough chemicals to kill the cancer without killing the patient.” How comforting.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” God whispered to my pain-numbed heart as I prayed one day (Psalm 116:15, NKJV). He was preparing me for what lay ahead. He was ready to release my mom’s imprisoned spirit; He was asking me to rejoice with Him over their homecoming reunion. A tall order it was.
Anger gave way to acceptance when hospice was called. Angels of mercy, they lessened both her pain and the family’s fears. I didn’t want to let her go, but how could I ask her to stay? Graciously, God gave times of laughter amidst the pain, as we all shared anecdotes around the hospital bed now in the spare room. Tender moments and recounted memories punctuated the bedside watches we shared as we watched her slip from this world into the next, forever changing the composition of our family.
The family’s nucleus, Mom’s role had always been one of mediating between Dad and daughters. Her illness now completely in charge of her disease-riddled body, she was too weak to open her eyes or even speak aloud. In a final act of sacrificial love, she forced herself to endure until she was sure that shared sorrow would unite and solidify, rather than divide and conquer. Finally reassured that those she left behind would be fine, she allowed herself to answer His call, another ‘C’ word, “Come, My child. Come home to Me.”
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