Honestly, I don’t want to write this blog entry. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s 20 degrees Celsius outside (70F) and I’m as thirsty for the sun as every other native on this sun-quenched island†. I know that this entry needs to cover a period that has been the most difficult week for us since Annie’s diagnosis.
Literally as I write, Annie is enjoying the blessing of day three of a recent respite from the great difficulty that she endured in the previous week. I am reminded of the line in a worship song, by Matt Redman: Blessed be Your Name.
Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name
It would be easier to just skip writing anything for the last week. Why not write about the last three days and let the last week be forgotten and unaccounted for? The last three days have been all sunshine and comparatively better health for Annie. It would make for much more enjoyable and encouraging writing and reading and commenting.
The reason I’ll make an entry for the last week is not because I am a slave to my journalism but because Annie and I want to be living testimonies of what it means to be truly liberated followers of Jesus Christ.
A couple of months ago Annie said something to me that I knew was significant. Significant and difficult – daunting even. She said “Ry, if the Lord’s will is not to heal me…it’s going to get harder…much harder than it is and has been so far.” I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly get any harder. There had already been times when Annie felt sure there were just days of life left within her. There had already been countless nights when I awoke with frozen trepidation that my Annie might be lying next to me lifeless. How could it possibly get any harder? What Annie said to me that night was very hard to hear, repulsive to swallow but experiencing it has been brutal.
A couple of weeks ago, just after Annie had received the relatively good test results (reported in the last blog entry I wrote) Annie made another similarly significant statement: “I feel like I am in a completely new level of sickness. This isn’t like anything before. This is worse now.” Sometimes folks say things to us like “…you’re no stranger to suffering….” What Annie has begun to experience in the last two weeks has made us feel like complete strangers to suffering. Weakness, fatigue, weight-loss, breathlessness and sickness have intensified far beyond what she has ever experienced before. And accordingly, it has been even more physically, emotionally and spiritually demanding, for both of us.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to refer to the sickness and nausea as literally incessant. In fact, so much so that it has been impossible to take the doctor’s recent advice to indulge and enjoy a guilt-free high-calorie diet in order to counter weight-loss. Not only did this lack any physical appeal to Annie, but she felt uneasy about it in her conscience, uncomfortable, even. We’ve never been health-food freaks but Annie has felt convicted that she’d rather give her body a healthier diet. A few weeks ago, while we were in Hayes, Annie was given a DVD by a lady who was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer but rejected chemotherapy and radiotherapy in favour of a controlled ‘cancer-fighting’ natural diet, called the Budwig Diet (named after Dr. Johanna Budwig, the biochemist who founded the diet and the research behind it). The DVD argued that our conventional methods of cancer treatment were unethically driven by the billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry and that there were more natural – even more effective – alternatives available, the Budwig Diet being among many in that classification and approach.
What do we make of that?
The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. – Psalm 116:6
When Annie was diagnosed in 2007 and then again in 2011 we received a lot of well-meant and lovingly offered advice, books, youtube clips, recommendations and recipes etc. with regards to alternative cancer cures. Honestly, I am a bit of a sceptic about those things but it wasn’t scepticism that was keeping Annie and I from exploring these alternatives. We simply felt a deep conviction to entirely entrust our future into the Lord’s hands according to the Lord’s will. Our decision to turn down chemotherapy in 2011 wasn’t in bitter rebellion towards modern medicine or pharmacy nor militant faith in divine healing; it was much simpler than that. It was simple obedience to what God had said to us personally through His Word. In 2007 the Word that God had given us was to be still and know that He was God (Psalm 46:10); in 2011 the Word He gave was not to lean on the broken chariots of this world but to trust in Him (Psalm 20:7). It wasn’t a case of the Lord telling us to find natural alternatives to chemo. I’m sure that many cancer patients have found success with both conventional and non-conventional methods; we’ve met some of them; we’ve also heard of many patients grasping at these methods in sad and frantic desperation for dear life whatever the cost. For us, it was and continues to be simply a case of leaning on the Risen and Living Son of God, Jesus Christ. As hard as the journey has been thus far, I can say as recent as this very hour, it’s been liberating not to be so desperate for dear life that we miss walking with the author of life, salvation and hope: Jesus, our Blessed Redeemer.
So, to put Annie’s recent diet choice in perspective, it’s not become our new chariot. Our trust continues to be supremely, ultimately in Jesus Christ and not even in those good things He has created – like seeds, fruits and plants. If the Lord was to take my dear Annie home with Him tomorrow, we’d not have any regrets that she was eating healthily and with good conscience that our trust and hope was in our Maker not nature.
If you’re beginning to wonder if this diet was going to be the vehicle which took us from our difficult week into a better one, you’d be mistaken.
After spending nearly an hour circumnavigating Tesco’s fruit and veg and healthy living sections for organic oddities like beetroot and flax seed, I finally returned home with more fresh produce than our refrigerator could accomodate. Just looking at it made us both feel healthier and I knew Annie was just looking forward to pulverising it next day in the juicer we recently purchased for this process. Sitting around that juicer on Monday morning reminded me of those photos of early 20th century families gathered around the wireless radio waiting for its magic to fill the air. Annie, Mom Ruth and I congregated around it, each peeling and chopping strange combinations of fruit and veg, prepared with that equal measure of uncertainty and excitement which comes when you introduce pineapple and broccoli into the same recipe. Watching the results was like watching an indoor fireworks show: with each item it looked increasingly worse than you expected. It seems no matter what you put into a juicer, it always ends up looking either like radioactive waste or that green film that sits on the top of putrid ponds. Annie and I christen each one with a name; the first one I called ‘Shrek Phlegm’.
It’s shocking how sometimes you can go from such fun to such sadness in a matter of minutes. Within 15 minutes Annie was throwing every last bit up in the very same shades and consistency (and, not to be gross, but the same smell too!) as it went down. In hindsight it was probably too much in one go; but who needs hindsight when foresight would tell you that anything you name ‘Shrek Phlegm’ probably wouldn’t be very palatable!
But in seriousness it was heartbreaking to watch. It wasn’t just the effort that went into it, it was just the fact that Annie was really feeling positive about this process. She wasn’t trusting in this drink as an elixir or cancer cure, she just felt good and positive about getting some natural health into her body and sure, with a little bit of natural hope that this could at least help with her digestion. I’ve accompanied Annie over a bucket literally hundreds of times in the last six months but this was the saddest and hardest by far. I cried with her over that bucket.
Again we just asked the Lord for the strength and grace to endure what we couldn’t understand.
We have continued with the diet and introduced Annie to much smaller doses of fruit and veg juice and for the most part, she’s doing much better with it. Continuing with the diet has not been because we’re slaves to it; yes, Annie wants to persist with it best she can, but that’s only because there’s no real alternative: she needs to eat and she has nowhere near the appetite or desire for unhealthier food options. There’s no noticeable correlation between diet and health levels presently. It seems like motion and morning showers are as much an influence on sickness as anything else.
† I started writing this blog entry last week. I just haven’t had the time, inclination or energy to complete it sooner. It’s presently Thursday, April 5th. The heatwave has passed and today I saw snowflakes mixed with the rain. Annie had a better day today – but only in the context of the last couple of weeks. She was sick again this morning and this afternoon and spent most the day laid out flat on the couch, sleeping. We thank God that she managed (somehow!) to keep down her lunch and supper. The doctors have today decided to change her evening anti-sickness pill from Haloperidol to something named Levomepromazine. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
There are some people that say Christianity is a crutch for the weak. I’d say that cliches can be blindfolds for the ignorant. Biblical Christianity is neither a crutch nor a rose-scented bubble that bounces merrily and easily through this life. The bible doesn’t present it that way. Jesus Christ didn’t teach or demonstrate it that way. The disciples and the rest of the first century church didn’t experience it that way. The subsequent nineteen centuries of biblical church history hasn’t either. And if you’ve read this far you’ll have met two members of the 21st century church who haven’t experienced or expressed it that way.
The bible doesn’t airbrush over suffering and neither do we. If you’re the crutch-kicking kind perhaps you’ll remove the blindfold and explore the bible for yourself this Easter.
Try and edit suffering out of the bible, and there’d be no gospel. And the gospel is what makes real sense of suffering. The gospel is what gives us real hope during suffering. At the centre of the gospel is the unique Son of God, Jesus Christ, historically, actually, physically suffering on a cross, on behalf of sinners like Annie and I. At the centre of the gospel is a tomb that was powerless to contain Jesus because He had historically, actually, physically and spiritually conquered death and sin by His own death and suffering on the cross.
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. – 1 John 5:5
There’s no earthly silver-lining at the end of this particular blog entry. Annie has shed more pounds and tears and only gained intensity of her cancerous symptoms…
…but Jesus is the Son of God and He is alive today. Speaking today. Leading today. Protecting today. Providing today. Promising today. Upholding today. Empowering today. And He’s our Saviour. And He’s our Lord. We love Him and trust Him and want to continue to listen to and follow Him. And we know He’s prepared a place for us in Heaven. And we know that if and when He speaks at this cancer, He’ll do so with such authority and efficacy that together we’ll be enabled to serve Him with even greater fervency than we are able now. And if He doesn’t, one day, my Annie will have all her tears wiped away and will know His loving embrace and welcome to an eternity free of sin and suffering. And I know that He will always be with me and will never leave me nor forsake me because He has promised and He is faithful to His promises and loving in all that He does. And I know that one day, I will see Annie again…and even greater, I’ll see my Jesus, face to face. And the painful memory of this little blip we call life on earth is going to fade with every subsequent moment of eternity in heaven, with heaven’s King.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. – 2 Corinthians 4:17
So, yes, it’s been a very hard few weeks. But Jesus is the Son of God.
His forever, only His; Who the Lord and me shall part?
Ah, with what a rest of bliss Christ can fill the loving heart!
Heaven and earth may fade and flee, firstborn light in gloom decline;
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.
But while God and I shall be, I am His, and He is mine.
Yours, believing, trusting and holding on to Him alone