“Suffering, like nothing else, shows us what we really love.”
A beautiful and sweetly raw post by Carolyn B as her 3 ½ year old daughter, Ruby starts her 4th phase of chemo on 8/6/16. You are teaching us all in your pain. Thank you for taking the time and energy to share.
“You come right up to the thing you’ve been dreading, and stare it in the face, quaking in your boots. Imagining what might lie ahead puts knots in your stomach. What if it’s the same as before? you think. I just can NOT watch her suffer again. It was agony the first time, when we didn’t know what to expect. I can NOT do it again.
And you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep breathing hard, in and out. Keep focusing on the next tree, the next bend in the path, pulling it doggedly towards you step by step.
Made to fast from breakfast, she’s whiny and clingy. At the hospital for a general anesthetic and spinal tap, but she’s last on the list, so while we wait she’s given her two hefty chemo drugs for the day — the dreaded red one, Doxorubicin, that shredded her insides from mouth to bum last time…
Please God, don’t let it happen again.
Click, click, the IV pump ticks the seconds away. You try not to watch, but your eyes are drawn in terrible fascination to that red syringe emptying into the tiny tube feeding the drug into her port and through her veins. Poison to heal… targeted medicine… it only takes one cell to bring it all back…
Back in for another drug… Entertaining an almost 4-year-old for 4 hours in an isolation room: watching screens, sticking stickers, painting watercolors, doing puzzles. The minutes tick past. Finally the drug is done, the flush goes through, and the nurse is ready to de-access Ruby’s port. Although it’s supposed to be routine by now, it’s still hard every time. This is the bravest one I’ve seen her do… Crying huge tears the whole time, she voluntarily lifts up her little t-shirt so the nurse can gently peel off the 10cm-square sticky dressing – which after 5 days is stuck tightly to her tender skin. “Stop!” she cries out once through her tears, and the nurse obediently pauses. “Go…” she whimpers bravely a second later, and the nurse finishes peeling off the dressing. Then the painful pressure on the titanium port, sandwiched between tender layers of skin and muscle, as the nurse holds it firmly to steady it as she skillfully pulls the needle and dressing off together with one quick tug. Ruby doesn’t want a bandaid (one more sticky to remove later). She reaches across her tummy with a small hand, still trembling, to hold the gauze in place herself until the oozing stops.
Still heaving with sobs, she lets me gather her into my lap. Unlike some days, she’s not mad at me today, because I’ve obediently followed her request to “just sit on the bed but DON’T TALK.” Today I was silently supportive, my heart aching at her bravery, marveling at her maturity beyond her tiny years. As I gather her in I dissolve a bit myself, welling up with relief that it’s over, sheer pride at her immense courage, deep grief that we have to do these painful things together at least twice every single week. Feeling my tears fall on her soft, fuzzy head, she sits up abruptly and looks at me, fat tears still rolling down her own cheeks. Switching immediately into compassionate concern, she says sweetly, “It’s ok to cry, Mommy.” Mute, I nod, patting first her cheeks and then my own with the same crumpled tissue.
Later, on the way to the car, with her all soft and tender and sucking her thumb (a rare gesture) for comfort after her ordeal, we talk together about how crying is good because it lets all the yucky feelings come out. I tell her how proud I am of how brave she was, that I was so amazed at how she could cry so hard and yet keep herself so still and hold her shirt up so bravely. I asked her whether I had done what she wanted, staying close but quiet, and she said, “Yes, I don’t want you to talk – I just want you to stay with me.” She’s outgrown all my attempts to reason and explain her through it. She just wants me to trust her now that she knows what’s coming, she knows how to handle it, and she knows what she needs from me. It’s pretty remarkable that she’s only been on this planet for 46 months.
In the car I ask her if there might be something we could say together next time, something that would calm and settle us and give us courage, something that would remind us both of the Source of our comfort… (She wouldn’t let me pray out loud with her today before the nurse came in – I think she was already deep into trying to get into the right space for what was coming. So I just prayed for her silently…)
“We could say Psalm 23,” she chirps brightly.
“Yes we could,” I agree. “Shall we say it now?”
“The Lord is my Shepherd,” she begins promptly, tears forgotten already, “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…”
“He leads me beside quiet waters,” I continue. “He restores — ”
” — my soul,” she finishes happily.
We keep on driving and reciting, and we come to “He prepares a table in the presence of my enemies.” We talk about how “enemies” can mean fear or anxiousness, or something yucky we don’t want to do, and that “preparing a table” means Jesus can pour into our hearts the sweetness of His love and courage, through the Holy Spirit… Then even when it’s dark or scary we don’t need to feel afraid because Jesus has poured his sweet love into our hearts. And perfect love pushes out fear.
“I love you, Mommy,” she sighs contentedly.
Another day in this journey, fighting cancer, growing holy, saving Ruby’s life, watching her faith and mine deepen and expand… Mingled joy and pain, happiness and tears, relief and despair, heaven and hell, sin and redemption, ugly and beautiful, bitter and sweet.”
What am I learning from my own suffering?
What can I learn from others’?