All Posts, Blog, Cancer, Suffering

The Sides of Suffering

Yesterday marked two years since I received my own stem cells back after having several days of gruelling high-dose chemotherapy. Having a stem cell transplant to kick the return of Hodgkin Lymphoma after 10 years being cancer free was one of the hardest times of my life. For those wondering what a stem cell transplant is, the charity Lymphoma Action explains: ‘A stem cell transplant is a procedure that replaces damaged or destroyed stem cells (cells in your bone marrow that make new blood cells) with healthy stem cells.’

My healthy stem cells were collected and stored before I had high-dose chemotherapy. The high-dose chemotherapy wiped out my stem cells in the bone marrow. I spent the whole time in hospital whilst this happened so the medical team could monitor me. The stored stem cells were given back to me to help my blood counts to recover – and it marked a new birth of sorts. A rebirthday.

Hanging from a clear bag, the bright salmon-coloured cells slowly made their way back into my body. They would kickstart my recovery and save my life. As I look back at my bald head and hospital bed, I see a girl who was smiling because the worst of the treatment was over and the best was yet to come. After all of the pain, loss and sadness, there was the promise of brighter days ahead. Yet, behind the smile, suffering had left its mark.

Two sides of Easter

We have recently celebrated Easter and it will always be a time that I look back and remember that I faced my own personal Gethsemane. Two years ago, everything felt dark and I felt so alone. Being in the hospital bed in isolation, in a pandemic, far from family (including being separated from both of my children) and friends, it was a dark night of the soul. Even God did not turn up in the way that I was hoping for (a flash from the heavens and a clear, tangible hug from my Saviour were longed for). However, I was comforted by the truth found in His Word and the many mercies I was shown throughout my treatment.

Easter celebrates both the cross of Christ and His resurrection. Good Friday marked the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It was the day where God reconciled fallen humanity to Himself. The blood of the sinless, spotless Lamb of God sacrificed for the sin that separates us from Him. The love of God poured forth. His blood instead of my own. The justice and mercy of God on display, dealing with and atoning for sin at the same time.

Three days later, death was trampled, sin defeated, Christ had risen from the grave. Mourning would turn to dancing. Light overcame the darkness. Faith overpowered fear. What looked to a watching world as a defeated and downtrodden Jesus became the victorious, risen Saviour. He already secured the victory on the cross when His final words were ‘It is finished’ before He gave up His Spirit.

Christians can look upon the suffering of Jesus knowing all that it cost Him to purchase our freedom from the bondage of sin and death. They can rejoice knowing that He went willingly to the cross for them, and they can live a life of joyful hope knowing that He rose from the grave and is now with our Father in heaven. There is a certain hope in all that Jesus did through the cross and the resurrection. His suffering means that all of those who trust in His sacrifice for their sin will be pardoned. The guilty walk free. We are all guilty before God because of the sin in our heart, yet God declares us free because of Jesus.

Cancer’s ugly sides

The uncertainty of living with a cancer diagnosis or even in remission, can bring up many different emotions, fears, and thoughts. There is a ‘survivor’s guilt’ for those who have been treated for cancer, whilst so many have untreatable cancer or die with this dreadful disease. It’s a complicated experience. Shouldn’t I just be thankful? I am thankful for the life I have and intend to live the rest of my days wholeheartedly for Christ.

I will never know what is going on inside my body. I still carry the scars both physically and emotionally from what happened two years ago. It doesn’t seem all that long ago. Both times of having cancer have left their mark like a scar, and have eroded parts of me away. I am not the same person as I was before my life was affected by cancer.

However, like the nineteenth-century British preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” I may be eroding physically, (we all will have to face the reality of our mortality at some point), but the Rock of Ages will never falter or fade. The Lord God is an everlasting rock (Isaiah 26:4). My trials may come and toss me around until I seem unrecognisable, yet suffering continues to push me into the arms of Jesus. There is no safer place in the universe to be hidden in the cleft of the rock.

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

Isaiah 28:16

The side that matters most

God cares about the scars. He carries His own scars where His side was pierced for my transgressions. He has the nail marks in both of His hands where He carried the weight of my sin and shame. He will one day heal me completely in heaven with Him. Ultimately, the side I most care about is being at the side of my Saviour. Come what may, my rebirthday reminds me that I am reborn again to a living hope because of what Jesus did for me. He died to give me everlasting life and to know His love forever. In my pain and my sorrow, my anger and my doubt, I know that I can rely on the cornerstone, Jesus, my Rock and sure foundation in a fractured, fallen world. I am safe and hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3).