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Keeping the faith when cancer fills a room

By 
  • May 5, 2022

Each new cancer treatment has become a door to walk through. On the other side of the door is a new room. The door to the old room closes never to be opened again.

This latest door I’ve entered has led to my third room. I arrived there after chemo in April. I was told I might feel ill or some discomfort for a few weeks but I assumed that was for extreme cases. Not so. I feel sick in a whole new way and hope the sickness means the chemo is poisoning the cancer.

All I can think of doing is lying down. Ever notice when you are sick you curl into a fetal position and nothing feels so good as warm blankets piled high?

Aside from Kathryn making sure I’m okay, I have a 22-pound cat named Emmy who stands guard. Emmy hates everyone except my wife and me. She won’t move for hours, staring at the bedroom door keeping imaginary strangers at bay.

After my first tumour was zapped with electricity a few years ago, I entered a vague state of knowing I had cancer. It wasn’t quite real. In this new room I felt optimistic and calm. When the cancer didn’t return for a couple of years, I felt victorious. Take that, Cancer.

Then in February 2021, a new tumour emerged and I was told to take it very seriously as it could be lethal. I wish doctors didn’t call in the early evening. Tough to sleep on that kind of news. Sweet dreams.

It was removed with radiation. I was awake most of the time and felt nothing. I had entered the second room but felt fine. Hardly any side effects.

I was told this cancer was incurable but so far I seemed to be winning each battle.

The next few CT scans showed an absence of tumours. Had I dodged a big bullet?

But cancer is like the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. Two get bopped on the head and then…boom! More pop up.

In December, two new tumours emerged on my liver. Suddenly the idea of more blood tests, more stents, more uncertainty began testing my resolve. I began to feel real fear for the first time in this journey. They say knowledge is power but it can also undermine confidence. The third room looked scary.

For the procedure, I stayed overnight at Princess Margaret Hospital. PMH is a cancer hospital so seeing hundreds of cancer patients throughout the building was shocking. I knew, of course, I was not the only person in Toronto with cancer, but it’s another thing to see legions of fellow sufferers all hoping for something new, a cure, a chance to live a while longer.

I stayed in a beautiful ward. All the rooms were private with big picture windows overlooking the lake and the city. At night it was so quiet. The nurses were out of this world wonderful. They are not paid enough.

I left the hospital on a beautiful sunny day. I got home and felt perfect. The third room didn’t seem so bad… until it did. Within a day terrible pain developed. I experienced a complete loss of concentration, and insomnia. I can read a few pages at a time before I must rest. I adore music but right now it gets on my nerves.

It wreaked havoc with my prayer life. Almost every day I say the Rosary, read from the Liturgy of the Hours and recite a novena. I just couldn’t do it. It was as if I was speaking gibberish to no one in particular.

Mary, who I’ve always depended on, seemed to take off for parts unknown. How could that be? I needed her. I need her.

Fortunately, I’ve begun to pray again but it feels alien. I must trust in what I cannot see and do not know.

The pain comes and goes. This is normal, I have read. It should end soon. Soon I will have another CT scan. It will tell me whether the procedure worked. I suspect it has but, like Whack-a-Mole, it’s a matter of time before another tumour shows up and the dreaded fourth room looms.

I’ll make it through that room, too, but my courage is waning. Even so there’s nothing to do but go through it. I know only one thing: I’ll persevere to the end.

(Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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