Chapter Twenty-One

It was December 13th, and I had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Kim, thoracic surgeon. We were both heading to reception when I saw her. She was walking ahead of me as we approached the Arizona Cancer Center - UMC. Dressed in the uniform of our culture – clothed in denim capris, a denim jacket covered with badges and logos. Her many tattoos added to the total tribal effect. She wore a multi-hued scarf twisted around her head in turban fashion, yet if one looked closely you could see the thinning hair and bald patches on her scalp. She held her head high and her bearing was that of a warrior. Indeed, a Tribal Warrior coming to do battle with Cancer.

I stood behind her waiting to check-in for my appointment. I couldn’t help but reach out and place my hand gently on her shoulder. When she turned to look at me, I merely said, “Keep fighting.” She smiled and turned back to the matter at hand. She went her way and I went mine to our various appointments.

Every single one of us has a story. We don’t often take the time to ask or listen, truly listen to someone’s story, or to watch from the background as it unfolds before us.

The Nameless Warrior I observed at the Arizona Cancer Center filled my heart with hope. Hope that I can escape this “dark night of the soul” I’ve been experiencing and regain my warrior status and fight the cancer that seems to keep reappearing in my body…

I had been anticipating working with a Prison Ministry group – Kairos. I worked the Kairos Outside weekend in September. Kairos Outside is a ministry to women whose lives have been impacted by prison. Either having been incarcerated themselves or having a family member incarcerated.

I also had signed up and begun training for Kairos Inside where we would go into the State Prison in Perryville and minister to a group of women. I dropped from the group when my husband began having some medical issues.

Husband’s medical care is provided by the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System due to his service related disability from Agent Orange exposure. There have been numerous complaints about the VA Health Care System in general, but we have had nothing but wonderful service and care for his health issues. We have no complaints and only praise for the work they do. Here is Tucson, we are rated No. 2 nationally for service and care.

I returned to working in the church office in September, and it was in October when I got the new cancer diagnosis. It hit me like an unexpected blow to the gut. I always knew in the back of my mind that the chance of a re-occurrence was possible, yes, even probable.

That I knew from sitting in the infusion waiting room listening and speaking with others. A number of them were “repeat” chemo patients whose cancer had returned. For some it returned to a different organ or area of the body.

The total number of days between Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 when I had the first surgery and Monday, November 21st, 2016 totaled 599 days.

This is equal to 1 year, 7 months, and 19 days.
599 days is equal to 85 weeks and 4 days.
The total time span from 2015-04-02 to 2016-11-21 is 14,376 hours.

Time… as it rushes by. I remember wanting to be 13 and a teenage; next it was 16 and a driver’s license; then 21 and the legality of it all. Now, I’m Medicare eligible. Where previously it seemed that time passed ever so slowly, now it passes at a warp speed.

One month, and one day later on December 22nd, Husband had his surgery. I awakened that morning at 5:00 a.m. to greet the day with coffee and devotional time, in no particular order.

What I saw were the clouds hugging the mountain to our north. It was the grayest of grey days, reminiscent of the Ohio winters we had left behind. The kind of gray, grey days that chill the bone, but not the soul. Foreboding. Ominous. Portentous.

Here in Tucson, we are surrounded by mountains:

The sun rises over the Rincon Mountains in the east
The legendary sunsets silhouette the Tucson Mountains in the west
Flanking the north and northeast are the prominent Santa Catalina Mountains
Rising to the south and southeast are the Santa Rita Mountains
The Tortolita Mountains shelter the northwest

The Santa Catalina’s are the ones staring at me through the patio door.

That gray, grey morning with clouds hugging the mountains fared well with Husband’s surgery. His gall bladder was removed and the hernia repaired. God is good.

The VA hospital surgical area has at least two waiting rooms. Outpatients have one waiting room and those spending the night have another for their family to wait in. A nurse led me through the maze to the overnighter’s waiting room. One person was there. A dear young woman from our church whose husband was also having surgery. We spent hours together waiting for our husbands to get out of the recovery stage and into their rooms! I love that the Lord would surprise me like that and it certainly helped the time to pass.

Shortly after she left the waiting room, our Pastor and his wife arrived. They were able to visit not just one, but two families that very day!

Between Husband's surgery and mine, we had our dog euthanized. He never fully recovered from having been attacked by a coyote in October. Poor Old Dudley… the full blood Schnauzer who wanted to live and be loved… and he was. We rescued him when he was approximately two from life on the streets and at fourteen he succumbed to life. We were able to provide him with a good and comfortable life. He is now reunited with Demi, our female Schnauzer who ended up with malignant melanoma throughout her entire body. 

I will say, our poor cat (Milo) was in a tizzy for a bit. She began to “sing the song of her people” as she roamed from room to room looking for friend Dudley. Then Dennis’ hospitalization required an overnight stay. From room to room she roamed, singing her mourning song of a thousand years. That night she slept with me and couldn’t get close enough.
Saint John of the Cross (Spanish: San Juan de la Cruz; 1542 – 14 December 1591) was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation, a Spanish mystic, a Roman Catholic saint, a Carmelite friar and a priest who was born at Fontiveros, Old Castile.
John of the Cross was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of his time and the movement he helped initiate, along with Saint Teresa of Ávila, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither he nor Teresa were alive when the two orders separated. He is also known for his writings. Both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical  Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He was canonized as a saint in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. He is one of the thirty-six Doctors of the Church.
Saint John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul.” His words and even more so, the Psalms that describe the gray, grey depression that can overcome and overwhelm, especially when one is facing illness, do help me to face the reality of clinical depression. Prescription medication helps, too. Depression is real. It can be debilitating and cause spiritual paralysis.

If there is anything to learn from this personal journey, it may, in fact be empathy. And so I pray, Lord, allow me to sense and perhaps sense another’s pain. Then give me the fortitude to approach them and pray with them, if allowed.  ~Even so, Amen!


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