(Previously published December 21, 2010)
My calendar last week greeted me with 4 days of doctors appointments. What I had pictured as "time off", from chemo to radiation, was beginning to look quite different. Walking through cancer, there really is no "time off." It is always there. The reality. The possibilities. The doctors. There was no letting down this month between me and the medical community. Instead, we have broadened our relationships to now include a staff of radiation specialists....doctors, nurses, technicians and receptionists included.
More people on my path who I have the privilege of meeting. Lives intersecting through cancer. Relationships that might never have been built outside of this disease and my treatment.
Last Tuesday began with my Radiation Simulation appointment. The pre-radiation appointment, if you will, where images are made of my chest so that the radiation can be targeted to the desired location.
When I arrived, a nurse quickly greeted me in the waiting room. She lead me through the next door and guided me past the lockers that would hold my belongings each day as my treatment was underway, to the cabinet that held the hospital gowns, to the changing room and finally to the chairs that would hold me as I waited for my name to be called. This path would mark my footsteps for 28 consecutive days beginning in January. It will be a path that I will come to know well.
I completed the steps and sat in the small, back waiting room, dressed in the gown, bare underneath from the waist up....waiting. My nurse reappeared and walked me down the wide corridor to the imaging room.
The room was warm, but somehow a chill still ran through my body. I didn't want to be here. I sat quietly, somewhat nervously as she began her job. She was all all business. She had a job to do. My eyes gazed around the room as she prepared. Before me was the cat scan machine and a long, narrow bed attached to the machine. There was a closed door connecting to another room and a window along the same wall covered in metal blinds. Beyond that room were the technicians, I presumed, waiting with their imaging computers for my body to come up on their screens. The room was quiet.
She said she was ready and positioned me on the table. Underneath me laid a trash bag filled with the magic potion that would make the mold of my body. A mold that would hold me each day of treatment as the radiation did its job, hopefully killing any lingering cancer cells near my chest wall. A mold positioning me just right, made to fit my body exactly, cradling me, holding me.
My arms were raised overhead, hands loosely clasped, face turned to the side. Body exposed with nothing more than a thin sheet covering my chest, of which she had to take off marking my sides with a marker.
It is a word that seems to define my exterior a lot these days. A bare head. Bare eyes with just traces of eyelashes left, bare eyebrows, the hair that is suppose to layer my exterior is gone.
And yet God reminds me that I am clothed in His mighty robes of righteousness and beauty. Robes that are lavish and deeply colored. Robes of royalty and an inheritance of glory that is waiting for me one day. A robe that is crisp and clean from the forgiveness that He freely extends each day. And I have to constantly bring this reality to the forefront of my mind and heart....meditating on Him alone or the bareness of my physical body will overtake me with grief. All that has been shed.
My mind goes to my Jesus who laid bare in the manger as He made His entrance into this world. As the animals in the stable carried on around Him. As the Wise Men came peering in on Jesus with awe and wonderment, probably never realizing the true beauty that laid before them. Beauty that was just in this baby, but what He had come to do. A purpose to fulfill. And then 33 years later, Bare...He would hang on a cross. Naked, beaten, bruised, hurting in pain unimaginable.....for you and for me. As onlookers mocked him, ridiculed him and gazed at his naked frame. Unknowing that He was the King of all Kings. Their redeemer. And that while His outward man was perishing, His inward soul was being renewed by the hand of His Father. There He hung, fully God and fully man.....something my mind has a hard time wrapping itself around.
He was willing to be bare.
It wasn't the outside that mattered so much as the inside. What laid beneath the surface. That was the business He was after.
"Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary,
but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Temporary versus eternal.
What we think is important in our eyes, compared to what is important in God's eyes.
And He is getting to the heart of my interior. The stripping away that began the moment I sat in the hair dressers chair months ago. I knew it in my heart. That this was just the beginning. As the hair fell softly to the floor that day. That God was doing a new work in my heart. But for that work to be accomplished, the old would have to go. Old patterns of thinking. Old habits. Old paradigms.
The stripping continues.
I don't lose heart. There are days I am tired and feel like this journey may go on forever. But I know He is doing a work deep within. Cleaning the lens and showing me what is of greater value.
The exterior is temporary. Let's face it. It grows old. It sags. It lets us down. We can spend oodles of money trying to make it better, but at the end of the day....it will die. We all will, someday.
But the soul, the interior.....as the body grows weak, the interior....through Christ.....can grow strong. It can blossom and grow. It can be renewed. And often, that renewing comes through the road of affliction.
I will be laid bare for that work to be accomplished in me. It is worth it. He is worth it. The eternal weight of glory is worth it.
And so I press on, trying not to look at what my eyes want to behold in the mirror, but what the mirror of God's Word beholds in me. That as God speaks to my heart about matters of my soul, I will respond in obedience and willingness.
She worked quickly pushing the sides of the trash bag against my body, holding it there as the liquid inside settled into place, hardening into a cast. I had my ipod in hand. I knew I needed to go to the place that truly brought me peace and rest. My body laid upon the narrow table, the catscan machine waiting just beyond my head....ready.
She made small talk as she worked. But I really didn't want to talk. I wanted to just be still. Once again, I choked back the tears that seem to sting my eyes so easily these days. They come from nowhere and freely flow down my cheeks when I least expect it. It is as if they sit, waiting. I closed my eyes, releasing the tension that stiffened my body. And then she left. It was just me and the machine.....and God, who never leaves or forsakes us. He is there, always.
Worship music began flooding my ears as I praised Him in the quietness and warmth of the room. The table slid into the machine, the whirl began as the machine took its pictures and the imaging began. I was transported to the throne of the Almighty. Peace flooded my heart. The bareness was replaced with the shelter of God Himself. He is my covering. As He whispered His love to my heart and my heart in return cried to Him. And we met again in the cat scan tunnel.
Time moved quickly as the table ushered me back into the room. My arms were numb and heavy from being stationary over my head for so long. The nurse returned and told me I could rest my arms. As I tried to move them they banged against my body with an uncontrolled heaviness. Blood began returning to my fingertips, as the nurse prepared my body for the radiation tatoos....4 of them....marking my body permanently. Pricks of a needle, forever marked by radiation. Forever marked by this breast cancer road, once again.
As the imaging appointment finished, I retraced my previous steps and walked out into the brisk air. Later that day, my oncologist called to tell me that there was a problem with my imaging. As it turns out, my left breast was a bit too large, thus inhibiting the radiation ray to my chest wall. She informed me that she had called my plastic surgeon, relaying this information and that my left side needed to be somewhat deflated.
Last Friday, I went to my plastic surgeon. He took the stitches out from my mole removal procedure the week before, He happily informed me that my moles all came back completely clear...no abnormal cells at all....Praise God! And then he took 125ML of saline out of my left breast leaving me, shall we say....a little bit lopsided.
And this too is temporary....following radiation....he will reinflate me for two months leading up to my final reconstruction surgery in late April.
So this morning, I was back to the radiation department, walking back through the paths leading to the cat scan imaging room....for imaging number 2. Same nurse, same room, same procedure. As she rolled me into the machine, Ipod once again playing and earphones snuggly in my ears.....a light shone through my closed eyes as worship music flooded my ears......with the words.....broken into beautiful.
That is our God.....He takes the broken, the bare....and makes us beautiful as we submit to His loving and gracious hand. He has heart work that He is after.
May we not lose heart.....
Much love today,