If you’re able to see the time that I post this blog you might wonder why on earth I am up so late. It’s presently 2:13am but it feels much earlier. That’s because for most of this evening I have been sleeping as a result of a difficult night last night and a difficult day today.
Right now I feel wide awake and following this blog entry, I intend to spend the rest of the night on my knees in prayer at our bedside until sleep or dawn comes first. For that reason, I aim to keep this post short.
I don’t know how often I’ve written the phrase ‘Today has been a difficult day’ in the life of this blog but I am fairly certain that I don’t use the phrase ‘Today has been the hardest day so far’ so liberally. The latter phrase was exactly Annie’s words this afternoon and they articulated precisely how I was feeling about the day.
One week ago, it was hard to believe that we were able to smile at one another from across the table of a favourite restaurant, sipping diet coke through a straw like love-struck teenagers. One week later and it’s hard to believe things were really that good just seven days ago – it all feels like a dream. One week ago it was hard to imagine that things might get hard again. This morning at 4am, it was unbearable to accept that things were harder than they had ever been. Of all the ways cancer effects a person, the effects on the mind are by far the hardest. If Annie was given the choice, she would trade a month of physical sickness over the day of mental and spiritual anguish she has wrestled with today; I would happily trade a month of bucket cleaning and stair carrying for the black fog that has descended over my dear Annie today.
A couple of weeks ago the doctors introduced another syringe driver into Annie which was carrying a small (2mg) dose of the drug, dexamethazone. We’ve journalled our previous experience with this drug unfavourably, particularly for it’s effect on Annie’s mind. However, this time round, in the syringe driver, it seemed to gel well with the anti-sickness (cyclizine) and anti-pain (morphine) and start to do what steroids do well.
As you know from previous recent articles, Annie has seen a dramatic improvement in appetite, strength and weight, seemingly as a result of this concoction. But ever since it was introduced, we have noticed that each time she prepared for bedtime, she’d experience at least the first hour with vivid dreaming and sleep-talking. We considered this a small price to pay in exchange for the other physical improvements. However, in recent days, Annie has started to experience a gradual growing sense of lowness which this morning descended to a new and desolate low.
At 4am today she was crying and suffering obvious mental and spiritual agitation. Wave after wave of panic attack and long periods of depression and fear, neither of which she has been able to put a finger on.
I recall a period early on in our marriage where I was prone to suffering great panic attacks the day before I would preach. At those times, Annie would attempt to comfort me with scripture and encouragements – all of which were true and lovely and good – but none of which were able to immediately take away that irrational and unending sense of impending fear and terror. In those terrifying hours I would just ask Annie to pray for me silently and hold me closely and at the first moment of escape I too would fall to my knees in prayer and desperation.
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. – Psalm 88:13-18
Those verses above come from the end of Psalm 88. If you’ve read some of the Psalms before, you’ll be familiar with the Psalmist crying out in honest anguish like this; but it usually doesn’t end there. Usually there is a great resolve, a relief of the tension, a solution to the problem, a remedy for the anguish. But unusually and, I believe, uniquely, this Psalm does not end that way but rather ends, unresolved, in the darkness.
That’s how a lot of today has felt for us both.
Of course, while Annie can’t put her finger on why, we have both attempted to put our finger on what might be the cause. It’s possible that this is the drug induced side effect of the steroid. In the early hours of this morning the closest Annie got to putting her finger on it was to rip the syringe driver feed out of her stomach. The doctor came by early in the morning and agreed with Annie’s early morning drastic solution and also supported the idea that this was a cumulative effect of the drug; that is, sometimes the side effects of a drug in small doses are delayed but will come suddenly following continued use of it over time. But of course, there’s always ‘the other’ possibility. The other possibility is that the cancer is effecting Annie’s brain in some way.
The doctor’s recommendation is to simply wait. Although Annie is released from the steroid in the syringe driver, it may take some days before it is no longer in her system. If the symptoms don’t go away then that probably rules out the possibility of it being a side-effect of the steroid. Time will tell.
Irrespective of the medical explanation of the cause, I believe according to the Word of God, that there is always a spiritual dimension behind these events.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12
Last week God enabled us to use the health Annie had to serve others. We had great opportunity to share the love of Jesus in our lives and home with three Czech farm workers as well as minister to Pearl our elderly neighbour. It seems that whenever we get opportunity to testify to God’s goodness in our lives during cancer, the enemy turns up the heat. As hard as this is, I am greatly encouraged that this battle is never about God versus Satan as if they were equal arch rivals. Satan is an enemy, but he is a conquered and limited enemy who is accountable to the Sovereignty of God.
Behind the drugs and cancer is a spiritual battle that is not won simply by the tweaking and addition of medicine. And so since 4am this morning I have known that much of the battle needs to be fought on my knees, in prayer. And I am thankful that none of God’s people are lone snipers. I have been greatly blessed by the support and prayers of God’s people today who have joned me in the battle beginning this morning with a visit from Rosie and Fran who sang God’s praises and prayed over Annie.
This afternoon our brother Dave came along too and sure enough the enemy turned the heat up again. Annie went upstairs to use the bathroom and next thing we knew she had passed out. I rushed upstairs to support her and I honestly thought she was dying – it looked as if all life had left her body. I carried her to our room and we lay on the bed crying.
All I have known to do today is cry, pray, cry, pray.
Later in the afternoon both of us were able to sleep which has done us both much good and for which we really do thank the Lord.
With Annie’s mind so clouded I’ve been careful not to bombard her with scripture but rather seek the Lord for wisdom and the right words. In between that, I have sang the praise of God to Annie.
This evening Annie thanked me for one thing in particular.
“Thank you for reminding me that Jesus has risen from the grave and that is all that matters.”
It’s hard to lead and pastor someone when their mind is overwhelmed. It’s hard to encourage them to remember what they know to be true when they feel like every inch of their mind is hijacked by fear and panic. It’s difficult to tell them to remember the Lord’s goodness when the very organ they use to recollect feels like it has been ravaged and scrambled.
The scripture that God has anchored my thoughts to today is this one:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, – 1 Corinthians 15:17-20
The Holy Spirit had anointed the Apostle Paul to share so much about our faith but the bottom line was that Jesus had risen from the dead. Everything that Paul had written would simply fall apart if it were not for the fact that Jesus had indeed, risen from the dead. How was it Paul could endure so much trouble and persecution? How was it that he could endure terrifying nights and brutal beatings? How was it that he could rejoice from inside a dark and terrifying prison cell? Jesus had indeed, risen from the dead.
How do you comfort someone whose mind is absolutely overwhelmed? Where do you turn? Which scriptures? All that I can say that I have pointed Annie to today can be summarised in no more than seven words: “Annie, Jesus has risen from the dead.”
“I will not boast in anything. No gifts, no power, no wisdom. I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart His wounds have paid my ransom.”
Because He lives,