I’m not one given or gifted for providing these blog entries with catchy titles but if I was, this one would be ‘Sleep in all the wrong places!’
Last night was probably the first sleepless night both Annie and I have experienced together in months. I’m fairly certain it was even the first we have had this year. After a couple of really good days, yesterday morning started to look like Annie might not be in for such a smooth ride. It began with the extreme fatigue that has been swallowing Annie up for almost the last couple of weeks. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I haven’t written recently. For the best part of each night and day it’s been like Annie has gone into hibernation and there’s really been very little to write.
We are ever thankful to God for good nights’ sleep but spending a week sleeping through the day is not how Annie wants to be spending the days. Annie loves bedtime, but she’s never been one that likes to sleep in late.
Just a few weeks ago she was saying how she just couldn’t wait to feel the warmth of the sun – pleading with me to take her to the beach one spring Saturday. As much as I am one who really loves a proper winter (with as much snow and frost as possible), when Annie said that, even I was hoping and praying that a warm spring would arrive early so that I could enjoy something as simple and wonderful as a warm spring day.
Annie has always loved spring and summer above all other seasons. Like many people (and indeed like many things in creation), Annie is one who draws strength and vitality from the sun. We’ve been going through 1 John with our youth discipleship ministry recently and when Annie and I sit down to prepare and read verses like ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5), my mind immediately thinks about how God’s light directs us through the darkness, like a flashlight in a cavern; Annie on the other hand floods the discussion with descriptions of the life-invigorating power and beauty-illuminating light and warmth of the sun!
With the kind of beautiful weather we’ve been getting over the last couple of weeks, if Annie was hibernating, she’d certainly be springing from her slumber right now and spending as much of the day as possible with the great outdoors! On days like the ones we’ve had recently, Annie would usually pull back the curtains, throw open the window, and bounce onto the bed ready to share with me the detailed (and often ad-libbed) plan she had made for the day up to and including sunset; or she might indirectly wake me with the hum of a lawnmower and the unusual but lush fusion of fresh cut grass and freshly brewed coffee (not even Yankee have a candle for that yet!). For as long as I have lived with Annie, I have learned that wasting a sunny day is as bad, if not worse, than wasting food and money!
So I can’t entirely explain how hard I actually find it to watch Annie sleep in weakness as even the warm, sky-blue invitation of the sun even fails to wake her up.
As followers of Jesus, there are many things that cancer will never rob us of. It will never rob us of the greatest things in life; hope, assurance, eternal life – those things are secured for us by Jesus. But that’s not to say we don’t sometimes feel like we’ve been the victims of its heavy hand and light fingers. It robs Annie of health but as we follow Jesus, He teaches us and strengthens us to cope with that.
I’ve said it before somewhere in our reflections on this blog that we don’t believe that cancer actually robs us of time. We don’t believe that we have any fewer days than our sovereign God has already ordained. We have learned to realign our lifetime with God’s clock and calendar. Where many people plan their lives in five-year stages, we now find it over-ambitious to even plan further than five days. We’ve found it liberating to continue to live one-day-at-a-time and sincerely thank God for every day He gives us. There’s nothing quite stress-busting as not allowing tomorrow to occupy so much of today that you miss it or spend what little of it you have worrying about what might not even come to pass.
However…there is a nagging sense in which it feels like cancer does rob us of some significant things – including time, so to speak.
It’s hard to watch Annie sleep as the warmth of the sun floods into our bedroom. I feel like it robs Annie of her personality. I look at her in bed as I feel the warmth of the sun on my back and I just feel ‘This isn’t like my Annie. This is the last thing she’d want to be doing right now.’ And as she sleeps throughout the day, even though we are in the same house, I feel like I’m being robbed of my wife. I actually feel as if she has not been there. And when Annie gets a moment to open her eyes, I know she feels the very same way. I know she feels so disappointed. I know she feels like the time is being wasted. She tells me as much. But she can’t do anything about it and neither can I. Of course, in sickness and in health, she is still every bit my dear wife and Annie. Cancer has taken her long hair and vibrant health but it never takes away my love for her…that just increases with every day.
Last Saturday Annie did get a brief burst of energy which allowed her to enjoy time with our good friends from her hometown, Nigel, Karen and their lovely daughter, Hannah. The barometer of Annie’s health that day can be measured on the fact that we ended our time together with a chinese takeaway which she was able to enjoy without revisiting it later on in the evening!
The following day was going to be very full and so Annie rested in the morning hoping that she could join us for an evening Q&A session that we hold for seekers and skeptics at a local cafe in the city. It didn’t work out that way for Annie as she was too sick to come along, but the evening gave me an opportunity to share a brief word of testimony to God’s good and faithful reality during the ugly reality of cancer. I hadn’t planned to share anything of that nature and certainly, if Annie was present, I probably wouldn’t have done. I really miss Annie when she is not at those events. I miss her smiling face in the crowd; I miss her energy behind the scenes. But I thank God for the opportunity and strength to do as the Apostle Paul taught:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.- 1 Thessalonians 5:16,17
By Monday, Annie started to feel as if she was coming out of that difficult and slumberous chapter and she’d felt like it would be a good opportunity to spend a few days down in Hayes with her family. This was also a good opportunity for me. As I take on more of the household chores and responsibilities, getting away from the house actually liberates me from some of the daily routine and gives me more time to balance my ministry to my wife and to others.
Before leaving for Hayes, Annie had an appointment with the doctor to fulfill. The doctor was really pleased to see Annie and even commented on how well she looked. It was well before Christmas since Annie last had an appointment with the doctor and at that time, the doctor was coming out to see Annie because she was too sick to even make it to the surgery. It seemed a bit ironic that months later Annie and I were sat in the doctors surgery with Annie looking healthier than she did months ago. The one comment the doctor did make is that she could see that Annie had lost weight which was one of the reasons we had booked the appointment. We wanted to see if it was worth Annie taking any kind of supplement to help combat any extraneous weight loss – that is, weight loss which isn’t a direct result of the cancer. Annie’s appetite fluctuates and naturally when it’s at a low point, it contributes to further weight loss. We wondered if there was something Annie could take to help supplement her diet when her appetite was low. The advice the doctor gave was to do everything that a woman concerned about her weight wouldn’t ordinarily wish to do: eat as much calorific food as possible when the appetite is good! A diet we usually refer to as the ‘Seafood Diet’ – see food and eat it! But trying to do this on purpose is harder than it sounds when at the same time you’re trying to balance a healthy diet with a poor appetite! Towards the end of January one of Annie’s blood tests showed that she had anemia. The doctor said the tiredness could be a result of that. She booked Annie in for another blood test (this coming Monday). If that test shows that certain levels have dropped they may have to consider Annie for a blood transfusion. They will also screen Annie’s kidneys and liver to see how those organs are doing.
Funnily enough, on Tuesday morning Annie got on the scales and discovered she had gained a pound! If you made that discovery at Weight Watchers you’d be shamed and rebuked but this couple of Weight Watchers rejoiced and celebrated every 16 ounces of that gained pound!
Following an evening with our small group on Tuesday, we hit the road for Hayes. I had planned to do the driving but following an unscheduled 45 minute roadworks diversion on the motorway, Annie took the wheel and the remaining two thirds of the journey. I woke up in the car and had one of those magnificently mundane moments when I looked across at Annie and beheld a scene that betrayed the presence of cancer. It was midnight and she was merrily driving away with what appeared to be the stamina of a homeward bound trucker!
We had enjoyed a fairly normal Wednesday and Annie was even able to make it outdoors without need of a wheelchair. But then Thursday arrived. On that morning I pulled back the curtains in Mom Ruth’s Elijah room – formerly Annie’s bedroom – and the sun burst gloriously through the window like an old friend wanting to hang out. But for the best part of that day, Annie could but sleep. We did manage to enjoy a lovely evening with Tim, Joy and Tabbi. But as we departed, Annie started to dip again.
Thursday night was tough. It began with a rough return of nausea and then at 2:00am I was woken up by Annie. I was so weary I can’t actually tell you what she was feeling; and I’m not sure she could either. Just painful, painful weakness.
When I try to pray in times like that I am reminded of Isaac. No, not the one of Old Testament fame. I’m thinking of our friends’ youngest boy, Isaac. He’s about two years old and when we go round to see them, he often prays for us. When he prays for us he can hardly contain himself. He’s only limited by his vocabulary but in all other expressions of language and charisma he knows no boundaries. The last time we were there, he prayed for us and his prayer went like this:
“Ryan! Annie! Jesus! AaaaaaaaaaaaaaMEN!”
With the exception of the elongated ‘Amen’ there weren’t many verbs – in fact, there weren’t any. But I know he said everything that God needed to hear to understand and answer his little prayer. Isaac’s model for prayer was not far from my own, last night.
After desperately calling on the Lord to comfort Annie, I lay on the bed, stroking her hair and whispering the words of The Lord’s my Shepherd and a few other songs of praise. The peace of God in the presence of His Son really did fill that little room last night in a very real way. Not even the hiss of the nearby M4 could consume it. Whatever pain and discomfort Annie was feeling had departed and she was sleeping; and minutes later so was I.
Ryan, Annie, Jesus, A(aaaaa)men!