Babies and cancer

This week brought together for me two very extreme events, one completely joyful and the other terribly challenging. . .

I’m writing this from Denver where I’m visiting my second granddaughter, teeny Gray, who arrived unexpectedly quite early but is doing fine. Not only can I delight in her, but to be able to experience my son and his wife’s happiness at their first child is an equally wonderful blessing. Gray is only two weeks old, and a preemie weighing in at 5.5 pounds, so every hour is an adventure. I feel so blessed that my children have so welcomed me into their home to share this time with them as we brainstorm together the daily decisions.

After Denver, a tentative plan B was to fly to Dallas to help another of my very close relatives with a quite different life event. Let’s just call her Sue. Her husband had brain surgery last week and was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the deadliest and most aggressive of the malignant brain cancers with median life expectancy of 15 months after diagnosis. So horrible not just for him but for Sue as well. And for all of us.

I know that being with my son and his family has helped me to not think about this situation as much as I know I will when I return home. But my conversation with Sue last evening gave me much more to think about than just the contrast in the lives of my loved ones.

Sue and I hadn’t been able to have a long talk since the day of the surgery. I was prepared to be whatever she needed. Yet her approach was so positive, the fact that the tumor that could be excised was small and that they got all of that part, her husband is in excellent health other than this, they have an amazing doctor, the best of the best. She then proceeded to talk to me not of hopelessness, but rather, of what she was planning to do to fight this thing. She was encouraged that her husband’s extremely otherwise good health would enable him to withstand six weeks of daily radiation at the same time as chemotherapy rather than to delay the chemo. And she is researching other options and getting more opinions.

She is grateful for a doctor who is encouraging her to supplement with any homeopathic and natural approaches she finds from knowledgeable sources. She went to Whole Foods and is upgrading their diets to all organic and more anti-cancer foods, is throwing away all toxic cleaners. Perhaps more prayer will enter their world as time goes on, but for now, her ability to work on making lemonade out of lemons was astonishing. Her choice to actively participate in making the best of a bad situation rather than bemoan their fate will inevitably help her and her husband to live better than living lives feeling victimized.

Listening to Sue spurred so many thoughts. Even if this is a first reaction with inevitable plummets, it’s a great first start, one not instinctive to many and one far more productive than the opposite reactions – doom, hopelessness, defeat, despair, fear, anger. No doubt there will be times for those feelings too, all of which are real and justified, but every day without is a blessing, and another opportunity toward hope, even if that hope will not be fully realized in this life. The spirit in Sue’s voice brought me admiration for her strength, hope for her vulnerability to reach out for comfort as this long road begins. But mostly a deep recognition that if someone whose husband has just been given such a terrible prognosis can find hope, how much moreso should we be able to do so? Not many of us are dealing with incurable malignant brain cancer, and yet, how moment by moment grateful are we for the many blessings we do have? And if we have a strong faith in G-d, how much do we take it for granted when actually faith is one of the biggest blessings of all, especially at a time like this.

Oh, if only life could be all newborn baby smiles. . . But even those adorable granddaughters keep us up many sleepless nights, not to mention the inevitable trying moments that are part of every child’s growing up. Most likely there will come a day that Sue will draw to more hope through reaching out to our Abba. But for now, she has reminded me that each of our lives is so dependent on our attitude. Are we fighters or victims? Do we see the beauty or the flaws? Do we cherish the blessings or wish we had more? Do we make choices that help or hurt the situation or our emotional well being? Can we see that HaShem is with us through it all? Do we feel the presence of Messiah? Do we seek His Comfort?

It doesn’t have to be a new baby to bring us joy, or terminal cancer to devastate us, for life may offer us these extremes, sometimes less, sometimes more. It is how we approach these facts of life that shapes our senses of well being. You can’t change the facts, but how you deal with them is up to you, even when it seems you’ve been dealt the worst hand possible. For even the worst hand possible has many plays. After all, each of us will die someday. The recent bad news for my loved one is just knowing if it is more likely to be sooner rather than later. How each of us live redemptive lives leading toward peacefully being with Messiah someday offers many options.

The choices are yours.

Shabbat shalom.

About the Author

Leave a Reply