Friday, May 02, 2008

God, illness, and me

I’m thinking about grace, gratitude, God, and serious illness.

I feel strong. My community supports me. I feel God with me in my very breath. These facts are twined together like a three-stranded rope, like spiritual DNA. They are more a part of me than the cancer is; that will be cut off of me in 13 days. I will not lose my God, my friends, myself. (Even in dying, you don’t lose those. Life is changed, not ended.)

I’m a seminarian. My friends, colleagues, and teachers—and I—have God on the brain, in the heart, in the soul. Faith is a first reference for us. This is a standard conversational exchange now:

“How are you?”
“Not metastatic!”
“Thank God.”

They’re right, and I’m full of Alleluias. I got off lightly. They can cut this tumor off of me. It didn’t start inside of me, and it has not metastasized. (If the PET shows lymph involvement, it shouldn’t be a big deal—and even if there are more than a few hot spots, you can live without some lymph nodes.) My body may not tolerate interferon at all; and if it doesn’t, stopping that treatment will not harm me. It’s a preventative, not being used to address anything in the now.

Cancer may recur—and I may be hit by a bus. We never know what’s coming.

My whole being is thanking God for life. Even with the lightness of this scare, I’m living in Technicolor. I mean really, how often do you hold a cup of icewater against your headache, wincing; breathing, “Life is good”?

I’m on my way to living a fully Eucharistic life. I know it, and I’m grateful for that as well, right down to my toes.

But I also know that I’m damn lucky. People die of cancer. Chemotherapy is much harder on a person, than what is planned for me. If we hadn't caught this, it would have metastasized. You can recover from metastatic cancer. You also can fight metastasis for years and live, debilitated. You can die.

Every time I thank God for my own life, I remember the others. And I don’t know what to do with that. I don’t think I have survivor’s guilt, necessarily; if anything, it’s survivor’s faithful confusion. I know God doesn’t go around giving out illnesses. I don’t know if things happen for a reason, or if you make reasons out of what you find. I can use my experience; I can grow through it. I already am. But I’d be in a much different place if I knew it could kill me.

What say you?


Grandmère Mimi said...

You go on. You put one foot in front of another, trusting that God walks with you, along with many others who care about you. As for figuring it all out, it's probably too soon to try. You can grow through this experience, and you will. You already have.

Before you knew that the cancer had not spread, you looked death in the face. It's likely that death will never be as scary to you again.

FranIAm said...

Pretty much what Grandmere said- she says it with more wisdom and grace than I can.

God bless you dear Kirstin. That is all I can say, over and over and over.

Paul said...

I say you are one amazing person and I rejoice to see grace at work in your life.

Lots of love!

Kirstin said...

My community is bearing me up, and raising me up. I'm just doing what I need to do, and what I can.

This diagnosis changes you. For the better, I think--but it's still serious suckitude.

Lots of love, to all of you. And thank you for walking with me.