I’m going to share a little story here and I apologize if getting to the point of it actually takes some time. I was just inspired to write it and I thought: hey, why not?
I returned to work yesterday and originally intended to write a full blog on just a twelve hour shift. However, as I sat and pondered what there was to really write about, I noticed that it could be summed up quite easily. It was hard, I was tired by the end of it, but I survived. It’s almost how I feel about cancer in general; it just is. I went in, did my work and pulled through without issues. Do I think I could handle two shifts in a row? Not right now, but I do know I can handle two shifts in one week given a day to rest up for the next. I can do the job I trained for; cancer can’t have that. But seriously, thank God for a good boss that understands and is willing to work with me. For that I am exceedingly grateful!
The point of mentioning work, however, is that one patient hit awfully close to home with me. Without violating HIPAA, I can say that she has a terminal illness that takes life slowly. From the moment I started the day with her, I realize that I could too closely sympathize, and in a way I never could before. I now know what it is like to beg for the sickness to stop, to cry yourself to sleep because you’re scared to die. I know what it feels like to suffer because your body is working against you. I understand how tiring the fighting can be and how tempting it is to throw in the towel.
The difference: I have someone to fight for and she doesn’t.
She was very much alone, her words, and very tired of being sick. Her fight was gone and I don’t blame her. I’ve admitted more than once that without Milo I’m not quite sure how much fight I would have either. He’s my entire world and I won’t go down without a fight because of him.
It wasn’t just her solitude or sickness, however, that made her stick out most. It was what she asked me.
As I finished my hourly rounding and asked if there was anything else I could do for her, she asked, “Janine, do you believe in God?”
Somewhere in my mind, I remember that in nursing school they tell you not to divulge personal information or befriend the patients, but that can be awfully difficult to do sometimes. These are people you spend a large portion of the day with and sometimes multiple days. You become the person they vent to, sometimes they cry with, and for a little while you attempt to make a big difference in their lives. How do you not give them little tidbits now and then?
And how do you not answer a question like that to someone who so badly needs an answer?
Boy, is it a loaded question too.
I gave her my standard short answer, that I believe in a higher power (we can call him God) because I have to. The world has too much perfection, things are so well developed and planned, to just be an accident. Plus, I have to believe that things like cancer and illness happen for some sort of reason. There has to be some purpose to suffering or else…well then this God guy is either really cruel or, if there isn’t one, then life in general just sucks sometimes.
That really is the short answer though.
Once upon a time, I believed in the same God everyone else did. I was a child who just knew that He was out there watching over us; my faith was untainted by life and knowledge. It just was.
My mother tells a story about me at about four or five. I was sitting on our front porch in a two family home that we shared with my grandparents. My grandmother came outside to find me and started talking to me. I kept telling her to shush. When she finally asked why, I told her because God was trying to talk to me and I couldn’t hear Him over her loud mouth.
That is how deeply I believed. I had that personal relationship with him Christians like to talk about.
Life, unfortunately, has a way of skewing things. As I grew up attending Catholic school, I started questioning. The more life threw troubles at me, the more my questions would come. I won’t go into the specifics, some of the laundry is not my own to air, but I will say that I did not have the peachy keen upbringing so many seemed to think I had. I was obese my entire life and children are insanely cruel sometimes. My home life was not idyllic and I had very few friends (and even fewer I trusted.) Elementary school was torture most of the time and I would often escape the real world through books and daydreams. By high school, I was severely depressed, but only one guidance counselor picked up on it. I remember the day I saw my file and noted her label for me: “clinically depressed with suicidal tendencies.”
My school never said a word to my parents; why would they? I was in the honors program and my grades were beautiful. In a class of three hundred and fifty plus students, I was number thirty-five. I didn’t act out, my only detention was for gum chewing in gym class. They probably thought the old woman was just insane. How could I be depressed when I had good grades, no behavior issues and friends I was seen with all the time? Clearly she was wrong.
For the record, I never even attempted suicide, even if it did cross my mind. But I prayed. A lot. I had long since given up on “religion” though it would be years before I could express just what unsettle me about it. I had yet, however, to give up on God. Every night I would close my eyes and whisper over and over “Please let me not wake up tomorrow, Lord. I need the pain to stop.” I’d beg. I’d plead. To no avail.
And then, for the longest time, I stopped believing that He existed.
After all, bad things happen all the time to good people. What kind of God allows that? Why would God, who so loves the little children, give them such horrible diseases like cancer? Let them be abused? Let them be murdered? Why would He let the free will of others intrude upon the goodness of those around them? Why, oh why, wouldn’t He help me escape?
(I promise, this is going somewhere.)
I started believing in a higher power sometime during a biology class I took. I realized that I still had major issues with organized religion and what people who claim they are “Christian” or “religious” will sometimes do to each other. I also accepted, that sometimes prayers went unanswered. But as I heard lectures of the inner workings of bodies, and the interrelations of ecosystems and organ systems I knew that it was all too perfect. Things were designed to be in such a fashion that I became certain that some intervention had to take place. The child in me still believed, even if the well-educated adult in me still had far too many unanswered questions. I was still a little bitter though. Why hadn’t He helped me when I needed Him most?
Over time I stopped hiding behind the facade of someone who was in control and happy. I just learned to be happy and took control of my life again. I lost weight. I made better choices. Better friends. I found my way into a career I loved and my life started to become good.
Then there was Milo.
If ever I was thankful for unanswered prayers, it was the day I realized I was in love with my friend Milo. He was smart, handsome and funny. I cannot imagine a life without him in it. He’s my entire world, my other half. He is my reason. I thank God for him and thank God for allowing me to have him in my life.
After all, despite my past my life now is pretty good. I have great friends that I love, a family I adore, an amazing husband. I’ve traveled. I’ve lived. The few regrets I have are chances I never took, but then I might not be here today so I don’t even regret those much. Every step I’ve taken has brought me to Milo. How can I really regret that?
I’m not sure what God wants me to learn from this cancer experience. Maybe I need to slow down and enjoy life more. I’m doing that now. Perhaps I need to take better care of myself. I can do that. It could even be that He wants me to stop putting things off and saying “someday.” I am doing that too. Today, I had the thought that possibly God is answering my high school prayer a little belatedly or even a case of “be careful what you wish for.” He’s given me this amazing life and is threatening to take it away. Maybe He wants me to prove I am thankful enough to deserve it, that I will fight for it at all costs. Or maybe He just wants to prove to me He is and has been listening, I’ve just stopped talking.
I’m not sure, but I do know this: I am still fighting. Until my last breath I will push through and enjoy what I have. I will be thankful for my amazing husband, my family and my friends. I will make something of my life, do things instead of talking about them. I will live.
And I will thank Him for old unanswered prayers and, hopefully, new answered ones.
Because until I perish, I will not give up hope.