It’s a Sunday afternoon with the clearest of blue skies, a breeze that rustles through the trees and the sense that this summer will be better than the last. Lockdowns became a catalyst for breakdowns of relationships, the mind, the body and much more. There was so much loss felt in 2020 by so many. Nobody was left untouched by the changes.
The bright days with birdsong and fresh laundry dancing to the breeze gives the impression that all is good again. When the sun is out, it lifts the mood and somehow we can remember that it is always shining above the clouds (as the saying goes) and we have all experienced an extended period of cloud cover in our lives at some point. For many, 2020 might have been the year. For me, 2020 was the beginning of a relentless flood of pain. As another saying goes: ‘when it rains, it pours.’ This is going to be an update of what has been happening in my life and future posts will explore bits more reflectively and I cannot cover everything in one go. Right now, we just have a lot of catching up to do, so please grab your favourite drink and put your feet up…
Life and Death
My last post on the blog was July 2020. I was about five months pregnant with my second child in the middle of a pandemic. I had spent the whole pregnancy having to inject myself with a blood thinner which was an act of endurance (from 12 weeks until six weeks postpartum). As I would soon find out, it was a training ground for all that would lie ahead. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Anna, near the beginning of November. I hope to write more in the Mustard Seed Mum series on motherhood about her and my son, Jonathan who is now almost four. After the celebration of Anna’s life, there came a death in the family.
Anna shared the same birth month as my precious Nan, yet on December 17th 2020 my Nan died. I couldn’t be there for my family because of the restrictions and them living halfway across the country. We are all a close family and my Nan had been a loving, constant presence in my life and an anchor of support. We were anticipating that her death was not far away when she was admitted to hospital and she was struggling to breathe. She died in the night and Mum told me early in the morning. We sat together over a WhatsApp video call. I felt like all I wanted to do was cry, but I just couldn’t shed a tear at that point. Maybe it was shock. She was really gone. Forever. I couldn’t be there to put an arm around my Mum or hug my sisters. I couldn’t go to the funeral and just love my own Mum who lost hers.
Not Covid, but the other Big C
A few weeks before Nan’s death, I had discovered a small lump on my neck two weeks after Anna was born. It was a miracle that I found it as I randomly felt my neck one night. I decided to get it checked out given my history of lymphoma as a 19 year old, but the doctor thought I was still recovering from the birth so told me to come back at my six-week post-baby checkup and they would look at it again. The lump was still there although I had no other symptoms. I was sent away again with wrong information given to me and decided to get a second opinion from a different doctor the following day.
It was Christmas Eve 2020. I called the GP surgery, was called in and spoke with another doctor who felt my neck and asked me a lot of questions. He then planned the next course of action – an urgent referral to haematology within the next 2 weeks. I sat in the chair and wept when he left the room. In my heart, I already knew that was what was needed and by this point I had begun mentally preparing myself for the news that I had cancer again. It was almost exactly 10 years ago since the first diagnosis.
Walking home after receiving the news, the Christmas lights in the town centre were blurring because of the tears in my eyes. I was sobbing as I knew I would have to go home and tell my family news that would turn our world upside down. Picking up some groceries from Aldi, I was thankful for my mask as it was collecting every tear and hiding my pain.
I saw a friend from church outside her house on my way to the GP and told her I was going to get a suspicious lump checked out and could she could pray for me. She said yes and to let her know how I got on or if I needed anything. On the way back as I was passing by my friend’s house and not wanting to go home just yet, I decided to ring the doorbell. She opened her door and I stood in front of her not uttering a word before bursting into a flood of tears. What happened next was a glimpse of heaven on earth. She stepped outside and put her arms around me. You could almost feel the curtains twitch by onlookers as we broke every lockdown rule to find comfort and peace in the hardest of times.
Here we go again
A second cancer diagnosis is not easier than the first. It was much harder this time. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2011, I was mostly devastated because I had just started my journey as a university student and that was now slipping through my fingers. I was saying goodbye to friends I had just made to return back home for six months of chemotherapy. I just wanted to get through it so I could crack on. This time, I realised I hadn’t given cancer a second thought for nearly a decade. That turned out to be a huge blessing to not think about the possibility of a relapse. Now, all I could think about was having a husband and two young children. Would I be there for them? It was the first time that I felt death was very much a part of my life. I was facing up to the reality of my mortality. Like everyone, I know I will die. As a Christian, I believe that death is not the end and that Jesus is greater than death for He overcame it. However, when those thoughts entered my mind, I was frozen and had more questions than answers.
Look at the next tree, not the mountain
There were blood tests, scans, a neck biopsy and other tests I am sure I’ve already forgotten. I had a PICC line inserted into my arm where the chemotherapy went through. I started salvage chemotherapy where I was at hospital from Monday to Friday as an outpatient and had a bag of chemotherapy that ran over 24 hours when I was at home. I only had to do this once in February and once in March. This was to clear as much of the cancer as possible before preparing me for an autologous stem cell transplant. This is where your own stem cells are harvested (taken from your blood stream), frozen and then returned to you after having high dose chemotherapy. I had to stay in hospital as an inpatient for my stem cell transplant which involved six days of high dose chemotherapy followed by the return of the stem cells. Having high dose chemotherapy without stem cells would be too much for the body to cope with. I will write more about the transplant at a later date, but I was in hospital for just over two weeks and it was a time of testing and refining of my faith.
I now have a scan at the end of July and a telephone call with my consultant in August. Learning to live each day at a time has been the way I have navigated this season. I have had mountains to climb, but rather than looking all the way to top and feel defeated (which happens more times than I’d care to admit), I have started training myself to look to the next tree on the mountain as I climb it (a blood test, a day of chemo, an appointment etc.). More importantly, I aim to keep my gaze on Jesus above all.
From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,source unknown
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
Trusting, Resting, Praying
These three words summarise where I am at. Through it all, I have been honest before God with my anger, frustrations, tears, questions, despair and everything that leaves you feeling as if you’re all alone in the bottom of a dark pit with no one there who can help. Yet, I know that He has been there and I have recorded countless mercies along the way which I will share with you all when I can.
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.Psalm 139:7-12 NLT
Sometimes, even if it feels as if we are so lost in darkness and are so terrified, we can know that there is hope. Death is real and it will happen to us all at any moment. But there is a hope. His name is Jesus and He is the one I continue to cling to. Death could not hold Him down. He is risen. He overcame death. Even death is a defeated foe. I urge you if you haven’t done so to turn to Jesus. Be honest before Him. See that He died for you on the cross so you would not face the penalty sin deserves – death and complete separation from a holy God. God loved you and me so much that He paid the price of our sin – God dealt with it once and for all. No amount of trying harder or doing better is going to make us right before God. Jesus finished it. Death is not the end for those who trust in Jesus. This new life can start today. Call out to God. Have a look at my resources page for some more information or get in touch with me and I would love to encourage you in finding real, lasting hope.
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.Hebrews 2:9 NLT