Cancer for Christmas

My wife sat at her laptop furiously compiling the lists for our four girls. She checked it once, then again while travelling to website after website scouring the internet for the best price and delivery. Items were added to baskets and carts checked out at such a frantic pace that I literally felt a warmth emanate from the credit card in my back pocket. Shopping at a fever pitch – Christmas delivered in two days or less. Not like most years, where she disappears for hours on end to find the perfect gift at the mall. She doesn’t have time for that this year because we got cancer for Christmas.

We dlistidn’t ask for it. It wasn’t circled in the wishbook or written in red crayon. No one sat on Santa’s lap and begged for it. No, cancer just showed up unannounced and took our year away.

So rather than spending quality time with each of the girls to weigh their enormous wants against our limited budget as in years past, she spent Saturday morning hunting and pecking under great duress. Do they have the right size? Will it be delivered on time? Is that really something she will use or should we just give her cash?

At some point during the madness, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She paused to consider. Her eyes got red and her mouth failed her. She didn’t answer, but I knew. I knew what she wanted the second I asked the question and Amazon.com can’t deliver it, even though we are Prime members. It is the only thing either of us want.

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To Kylie, the Strongest Person I Know

What is strength? I don’t mean muscular strength; I am wondering about the use of the word to describe a mental and emotional strength. Strength of the heart.

The dictionary defines strength as moral power, firmness, or courage.

I’ve recently seen several quotes about strength. This one stands out:

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option.

-Author unknown

We quote scripture to help us with our strength. Beautiful verses come to mind such as:

But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31

&

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

I have been given many more. We read them in times of need and feel their comfort. I don’t mean to minimize the impact of the Word – it is all-sufficient. But it isn’t always a quick band-aid overcoming the darkest struggle. Slap this on and feel strong, as it were. I wish it were that simple. In the best of circumstances, most of us need to be reminded time after time before things sink in.

While the concept of strength might be an easy one for you, it has troubled me of late. You see, I am trying to care for my daughter who is fighting cancer. Actually, to be honest, right now she is fighting the chemo that is fighting the cancer. She is only twelve and should never have to deal with any weight so difficult. This road would buckle the knees of some of the world’s strongest men, yet she trudges on.

She puts on a brave face and true to her nickname, smiles to most. But at night, with her mother, her sisters, and me, she often falls apart. The thing I hear from her most often is that she isn’t strong enough – she can’t do this. I wish there was something I could tell her to change her situation, but I can’t. There is no choice, no option, no plan B. The chemo regimen must go on. I wish I could break her cycle of self-doubt, but it is her cycle. I can’t change it. I can only encourage and hold, assuring her of my presence and love.

That leads me to my present dilemma: What is strength? Does she have it? If not, where can she find enough to continue when there is no other way?

I think back over her history and wonder if she’s had to rely on strength in the past. She has run two 5k races with me and had to reach down deep to finish each one. That took some strength – but not the kind I am looking for. I need her to have strength to say, “This life is worth living and I will fight for it.”

*     *     *     *     *

My wife has been asking me to add a picture CD onto her computer so she can look at them. After putting it off for too long, I finally complied. The pictures I saw reminded me of simpler times and I enjoyed scanning them as they flashed across the screen. They were from our school’s play, Anne of Green Gables, in which Kylie had a part. She barely made it through the performances because of the pain in her leg caused by the cancer soon to be diagnosed.

Wait… what are you showing me, God? Is that strength?

Back up – let me look again.image

I see a little girl who was crying herself to sleep every night due to a growing tumor inside her knee. Yet in these pictures she is singing, moving, dancing, and hiding the pain behind a range of her character’s emotions so she wouldn’t disappoint in the show.

I see a little girl who wouldn’t stop dancing until the director forced her to use crutches in the final two performances – and she was mad about that!

I see a girl who collapsed after the finale and couldn’t attend the cast party because the pain was simply too great.

Isn’t that smiling little girl playing a part on stage the same one who lay in a hospital bed in a medication-induced sleep just a week after the curtain fell?

When told she had cancer inside of her, instead of crying out in anger at God, isn’t this the girl who simply said, “God must have a really big, great plan for me”?

Is that precious, animated child the same one who, when she began to lose her hair to chemotherapy, shaved it herself to deny cancer the pleasure?

That is incredible strength! Undeniable strength.

What about now? If we agree that this girl is a strong girl, has four months of treatment changed her? How would a strong person face chemotherapy? Should she charge in, laughing in the face of the toxins that wreck her little body time after time?

Or is it okay to cry, yet move on?

Is strength found, not in the tears leading up to a hospital stay but in the gritting of her teeth when she allows the nurse to access her port one more time, knowing what will soon flow into her veins?

How much resolve allows a transfusion that scares her to death without saying a word?

What measure of courage is there in quiet submission to a treatment that is nearly as bad as the disease?

An immeasurable amount!

The frail body of my daughter holds enormous strength and when this treatment is over, I pity the boy who would try to hurt her or the obstacle that would stand in her way.

I have always been big and thought myself strong. I have pushed large objects and run long distances. Yet I realize I am weak in comparison to my frail, eighty pound daughter, who day after day pushes on through this hell.

She is my hero.

Every morning that she wakes up and greets the day adds to her resolve. There may be tears, angst, cries of terror, and fits of rage – yet every day also contains smiles, kisses, hugs, warmth, joy, praise, and enough laughter and love to beat back at this enemy on her terms.

Oh, she is strong!

My little girl is strength personified, even if she can’t see it.

 

sometimes