Today’s the day I meet ‘Ipi’ – the day of my first immunotherapy treatment. As I’m lying awake, I’m aware that there’s a certain “well, this is the day” feeling. I’ve not been this way before. I’m not sure how my body’s going to take to this. It’s a relatively new treatment with apparently few side effects, but they’ve warned me there have been some major ones in a few cases.
Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to have what they call a “Chat on Cherrybrook”…it’s the introduction to the oncology ward at the hospital. It was a helpful session with nurse Amy, who talked me through the way the ward worked and what would happen each time I came in for my treatment sessions. Telling me about the possible side effects, she gave me my new ‘Blue Book’, with all I need to know and what to look out for. I have a feeling it’s going to be a closely read document over the next few weeks.
Amy showed me around the ward. Wherever we went, people were sitting in armchairs attached to IV drips. What struck me was that it all looked so ordinary…there they all were, reading magazines, listening to music, chatting to a family member. So ordinary. And yet each person sitting in one of those chairs has a story, a diagnosis that’s probably rocked their world. That there have been feelings, emotions and shockwaves that have engulfed each of them, families, friends; the numbness, grief and fears that many would be harbouring. Each of those armchairs and their occupants represented a unique story. And yet there they all were, levelled by their illness, all together attached to what might bring their cure. But for some, it probably wouldn’t.
I suddenly felt very alone. I felt myself plummet. Their situation was now mine. I was going to occupy an armchair. Me. Sure, I’m surrounded by my family, friends and church family, but it’s me who’s going to walk into this next few weeks, me they’re going to treat, me who is facing perhaps the biggest thing I’ve had to face in my life. Me with an apparent terminal diagnosis. Maybe it was a moment of self pity or my mind playing catch-up with all that’s happened, but I suddenly felt my body react, and it was all I could to stop the tears. I’ve shed them before with Catherine, the children and a few others. This however was coming from a different place and for a different reason. But as quickly as the moment arrived, something quietly, gently blanketed me again…comfort, peace. There it was again. There He was again.
Thinking about what happened, my mind went to the 23rd Psalm. Part way through, the old familiar words speak –
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Your rod and staff comfort me. “
Those last few words refer to the shepherd’s tools – the rod used to protect the sheep and, at times, prod them, awaken them; the staff to rescue. But in both cases they’re for the sheep’s comfort. And the word ‘comfort’ literally means ‘to strengthen’. He’d done that in Cherrybrook. I know that, at times, I might feel alone, but keeping company with the shepherd, practicing his presence, in those dark moments is going to be vital. Sometimes it’ll be a prod; other times it’ll be the staff pulling me up from a hole. I suspect those moments are probably going to come and go as the weeks move on. It’s going to be part of a deepening inner journey – but one on which I’m not abandoned to walk alone. And then there’s Christ’s family, his 1 Corinthians 12 body here on earth. I’m really not alone. Last night, we had an evening of prayer, with folk from various places coming to pray for us. It was such a tangible expression of the body, of the shepherd’s arms wrapped around.
As I’ve been thinking about how I gird myself, I know a good place to be is in the Psalms. I’ve often been strengthened in the past by Psalm 42 where you see David (the same one of ‘David and Goliath’ fame) having an internal dialogue – “Why so downcast, O my soul, why so disturbed within me?” It’s a gentle self-interrogation to help himself understand what’s wrong, whether it be that thing that’s crept up on him or an overwhelming sudden rush of despair. I’m helped by what he does next…he kind of preaches to his own soul. He tells himself, “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God”. As I read it, I see the hope. It’s right there in the trusting “I WILL YET praise him”…he acknowledges the darkness he’s experiencing, but “hey, soul, if you can just hang in there and trust Father in the middle of darkness, morning is coming”. The Psalms have a wonderful ability to pick up every human emotion – from disappointment to contentedness, despair to relief, anger through to sheer joy. I sense that the Psalms will be a good place for me to live over the days ahead.