Death hovers close,
like misty wraiths,
a shadow to my steps,
billowing and blowing,
moving and fading,
I peer through mist
to faintly catch a glimpse
of I know not what.
gray fog drifts in
to shut my path from view.
I fear her not,
this thing called death.
Ah, no! Never!
She is both curse and gift,
curse of sin,
gift of release.
our souls shrink away,
knowing in our depths
that we were meant to live forever.
We groan and grieve the curse.
we know this is not all there is.
We long for our final day of redemption,
knowing death will wipe the scales
from clouded eyes.
And joy is a pulsating thing in our souls.
We breathe deeply,
and look at the stars,
reverently holding this mystery,
This gift called Life.
We reach out and touch it gently,
hold it lightly,
watch it slip through our fingers.
life is so sweet
the joy is almost pain.
But always, we know, somehow,
this is not all there is.
The joy is almost pain
because we know
purest joy is yet to come.
We all know eternal dawn is yet to be,
that dawn of joy,
to erase our night of weeping.
Always, somewhere, an emptiness gnaws
in the corners of our being.
We aren’t complete, not here.
Somedays, we ache
for joy forever,
for beauty unfathomable.
We know, always, the best is yet to be.
And so, we live
Suspended, it would seem,
‘Twixt earth and heaven,
Loving life, but letting go,
Grieving curse and craving gift,
Living purpose, seeking meaning,
Holding hope close to our hearts.
The best is yet to be.
A CT scan on September 27, 2017 revealed that the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is back. Again. How many times is this by now? I have to stop and count on my fingers. Five times. I’m nearly six years into this cancer diagnosis with still no end in sight. The allogeneic (donor) stem cell transplant I did in February of this year was the medical field’s last “big gun” for me. It failed to get me into remission and now the cancer is back.
Every time it relapses, my options for treatment disappear one by one, like an hourglass slowly but steadily losing its sand. I started Brentuximab—a mixture of chemotherapy and immunotherapy—in November as an emergency stop-gap measure. I was steadily declining: coughing, extreme fatigue, weakness, low-grade fever, and neck/shoulder pain, all symptoms of the lymphoma when it returns. Most days, my weakness was so extreme I simply wanted to lie down and never wake up. I knew if I did no treatment, my life expectancy would have been months. In addition, I would have experienced increasing pain, illness, and discomfort if I did no treatment.
Barring a miracle (and I never discount that!), the Brentuximab will not put me into remission. In fact, we weren’t even sure if it would work, as it’s more typically used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was an answer to prayer that it is working! In addition, I have absolutely no side effects! I had already decided that if it did make me extremely sick, I would stop it. It hasn’t, and my symptoms are slowly improving. I feel much better than I did two months ago! Truly, God has been good.
Speaking bluntly, Brentuximab is largely palliative treatment for me if we can’t find another treatment to put me into remission. Palliative treatment is treatment given to a patient with terminal cancer to alleviate symptoms and provide better quality of life. There are other treatments, most of them brand-new, that might be options, but it’s very uncertain right now.
I’ve been at this place before: cancer relapse and not sure what’s next, if anything. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with death over the past 6 years. It can be really hard to explain what it’s like to live with an awareness of my body’s frail, temporary status. I don’t fear death. I couldn’t if I wanted to! Other posts on this blog explore that and will continue to. As a Christian, going Home is such a hopeful, joyful thing!
However, we were originally created to live forever. In our heart of hearts, death feels so wrong, and we long to live. Death is both a curse and a gift. It is a curse because it is the result of the Fall and the evil in this world and was never meant to be. It is a gift because it releases us (as Christians) from the curse forever to move onto the lives we were originally meant to live. So, death brings two feelings for most of us: great joy and great sorrow. Both are valid emotions. Jesus wept at Lazarus’ death and later destroyed death forever through His own death and resurrection.
I do deeply long to be healed. I keep asking for God’s healing in my body in whatever way He chooses to do that because I know He is a God of healing and life. I long to live out more of His life for me on this earth. At the same time, I can’t help but imagine my first morning in heaven. With joy and delight, I look forward to going Home, homesickness tugging at my weary body. This poem is an effort to catch that ambivalence, an effort to hold life lightly while at the same time embracing it to its fullest. It is a paradox indeed that the more I let go, the fuller my life becomes.
In the end, it’s all about You, Jesus. Whether I live or die, I’ll hold Your hope close to my heart.
It Is Not Death to Die