While I was in bed with mouth sores, Sarah was one floor up in the hospital’s little family room ministering to families. She met Matthew and learned about his sister. She met Barb, and was eventually introduced to her daughter, Karen. She met Michael and his family. And she was reunited with Pam, who gave her an update on her husband, Bob.
Sarah laughed with them. She cried with them. She prayed with them. But, most of all, she loved them and showed them hope.
I met Barb right before Christmas and had the opportunity to pray with her for Karen and give her a copy of my book, “The Cancer Diaries.” Karen was about to go through a double cord blood transplant. It was a longshot, but Barb was hopeful. It seemed we both had a long road ahead.
Eventually for me, though, my new immune system started to grow and the stem cells started latching on, turning into useful cells. As this happened the nausea and vomiting faded, and so did the pain in my mouth and throat. I had reached the point where they had to get food in me with a big yellow bag that looked like… Well… I won’t say what it looked like among polite society. They also threw me on a morphine drip after a while on general principle when I complained about my throat hurting. It didn’t help my throat much more than my oxycodone did (which did eventually get up to one whole pill), but it was fun to have a button, and it made them feel better. People had been saying how well I was doing the whole time, and there had been many occasions where we had heard talk about me getting out. It never happened. But, finally, doctors and nurses started talking about it and meaning it.
As I was getting better, Karen was getting worse. Then several setbacks undid all of the treatment that had been administered through the double cord blood transplant. It was a crushing blow. Barb, of course, wanted to keep going, but Karen told the doctors that she was done fighting. So the doctors started just trying to make her comfortable.
Sarah had been feeling like she needed to go up and see Karen, but she hadn’t wanted to intrude on their privacy. I had been telling her she needed to just head there and do it. But then Doctor Sorror came in and told me I would finally be able to check out. Sarah went upstairs to gather her things and get ready, and I started packing. Some time passed, and I had squirreled away about as much as I could. Sarah still wasn’t back. So, to pass the time, I made the mistake of looking at a YouTube video I had been intending to watch, called “Moving On” by James.
I had seen that it was told with yarn puppets which I thought was inventive, but what I didn’t know was that it depicted a person dying in the hospital while his loved one tried to keep him there. Perhaps needless to say, it wrecked me. Why was I getting out of the hospital, when so many others were staying in? Why was I getting better, when Karen was one floor up dying? I began praying in anguish for her and for the others, asking God to touch them and give them peace. I wept, and I prayed.
Sometime later Sarah returned, and she was glowing. I asked what she’d been up to, and she told me that she had gone to see Karen. Upon entering the room she met Karen’s husband, Dan, in addition to seeing Barb and Karen. You can read more about their encounter in my previous post “We Are Reborn.” But the crux was, she had delivered the peace I had prayed for. It was some time before I could stop my tears. The next day Karen passed away.
We were released from the hospital, and with a feeling of elation escaped down the street to a comfortable little apartment minutes away. The first thing I remember doing was taking a bath in a real tub, and the second thing was going out to a Thai restaurant. Why would I do this, you ask? With no immune system, a shrunken stomach and a mouth that was still raw, in a city I didn’t know to a restaurant that I’d never been to? The answer is simple: because I could. And it tasted. . . like dirt. That wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, though. Everything tasted like dirt. Textures, consistencies, flavors, they were all dirt. (Liquids were mud.)
Time passed in our quaint little lockdown. I discovered I was not, nor could I ever be, a Seattlite. I was enlightened to the fact that SyFy channel is the only reason to have cable. And we learned how to do IV infusions. Our girls came to visit us and stayed for a few nights. Those were bright days with them.
Barb and Dan got out of the hospital, raw and numb. Barb needed to get out, so we helped her pack up and drove her to the airport. She was so grateful for the help, and we cried with her and hugged her as she headed into the airport, scarred but strong. We were able to help Dan as well in his turn. But then it seemed like weeks passed where we weren’t really doing anything, and we started to get frustrated in a sense. Why were we still in Seattle if there was no one else left to help? The day we were leaving I got my answer when I met Debbie, who was about to go through my exact same procedure and was scared of the unknown that lay ahead. She was a Christian, and I had the opportunity to pray with her as I shared my story. Being able to help her made those weeks worthwhile, and aiding those three made Seattle bearable.
In the last days of January they released us. They took out my second pair of tentacular chest dongles, we said goodbyes to the friends we’d made, and then we packed up and headed back south. Do you have any idea the feeling of exultation possible over the course of a simple one-hour drive? Or the elation that can overcome you at turning down a driveway? Our adventure was much more mundane than Frodo’s or Sam’s or the other great questing heroes, but it was our adventure, nonetheless. And we were changed through it.
Though that is technically the end of the story, there is one more detail I must mention. Because, even though the story ended, life (as it does) went on. And there is one miracle that, during the adventure, I have touched on but not elaborated about. During the time before, during, and after the hospital, one thing we never had to worry about was money. I was unemployed, with no source or real hope of income. But God, through the use of wonderful, giving people, saw that our needs were not only met but exceeded. During that time we had a mortgage and rent (which was two-and-a-half times the mortgage,) hundreds (if not thousands) in travel costs, regular bills, Christmas, sizable medical bills, and other expenses as well. They were all paid for. Through people just like you. But, as I mentioned, that was a part of the story. And then it ended. We still had several months covered, but eventually the money started to run out – and I still wasn’t able to work.
We reached our last $300. Tension started to build. But then, just when the stress was threatening to crack us, I decided that enough was enough. Casting aside all of the fear, I prayed to God, and thanked Him that He was our provision. He was our source. I thanked Him that our every need was covered, and that He would supply for us.
That night, we were invited to Panera for dinner. We declined, saying we should save the money as things were starting to get tight. Plus our dryer had just broken, and Sarah mentioned she wasn’t sure how we’d fix it. To my knowledge that is all that was said.
The next day, an email went out from someone that we were out of money and in need of help. The day after that a family member stopped by and dropped off $1,000. The day after that some dear friends left an envelope with $500. And then we learned that some other friends, the ones who had volunteered to support our kids with $1,000 a month, wanted to sell some stock and give the money to us. A few days later, Sarah’s mom stopped by with a check from them for $5,000. I ask you: does God answer prayers today?
I used to see miracles in everyday life, maybe more so than many. But now I see that every day is a miracle. Both figuratively and literally. We live off of miracles, my family and I. We wouldn’t survive without them. I still live in that place of complete natural uncertainty, and, honestly, I’m starting to think it’s the only way to go. It is, ironically, the safest place to be.
Einstein couldn’t have been more right when he said that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (1) Every day we’re alive is a day to be grateful. And so, too, is the day we die. Yes, that’s the day our earthly book ends. But it is just the beginning of the grand story we will partake in.
How about you? What’s your story? Ah, don’t give me that. You do have one. The only reason I thought I had one was because I had the eyes to see it. But I see yours, too. Your life is special. Your actions have meaning and purpose. And God is in it, whether you see Him and His miracles or not. Maybe it’s time to see your story. Maybe it’s time to see the miracles. Maybe it’s time to start living like everything is.
Well, that’s my story, such as it is. I feel like I haven’t done it or you justice, to be honest, but it’s what I’ve got right now. Thank you for sticking with me through this, long gaps and all. Don’t take this weird, but I love you. As such, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. And, until we talk again, may you feel God’s joy and peace overflow in every aspect of your life.