Last fall I sat in the waiting room of a doctor’s office holding a copy of my ultrasound. To my left and right were young couples gushing over their little fetuses on the sonogram pictures. I was holding a photo of my fibroid friend who had decided to set up shop in my uterine lining and I was waiting to talk to a doctor about my surgical options. As the mamas-to-be that surrounded me all discussed their current sleep deprivation, I thought of my own. Theirs will end eventually when their sweet little ones begin sleeping through the night and I sat there with the stark realization that I may never have good sleep given Mark’s general disinterest in sleeping. I felt the dread of comparison and anger began to overwhelm me.
Several weeks earlier my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and just a month before that our son received the rare genetic diagnosis. The reality I faced was suffocating and terrifying. My dad passed away when I was three years old leaving my mom alone to raise me by herself. We have a special bond, she’s my person. So two of the most precious people in the world to me were facing big medical challenges and the helplessness was crippling.
I felt like my little medical blip on the radar was just more salt in the wound. I cried that day in the waiting room and felt ridiculous. This was nothing compared to anything else happening to my people. I barely cried since this entire storm of doctor’s appointments began the year before with Mark. And when Mom called me at work to tell me that she had cancer, I was just stunned and dumbfounded. This wasn’t supposed to happen. My dad passing away when I was little was my turn with tragedy, I wasn’t supposed to get another one. And for this to happen to her was such a blow. Mom walked with Dad through his suffering and his eventual passing. In my mind, a cancer diagnosis was the worst thing that could happen to her. Not now. This was not good timing. I suppose there’s never an opportune time for cancer but now seemed worse. I was trying really hard to be brave for my family but this day I cried because I was angry. So incredibly angry about many things, but mostly angry with God.
I’m fully aware that life is not devoid of suffering, and that in suffering we are to draw nearer to the Lord, but that is absolutely not what I felt like doing.
I tried to see the silver lining. I tried to think about how I could use this season to be a blessing to others, but those thoughts and feelings felt fake and forced.
I didn’t want to hear that everything happened for a reason. Or that someone’s neighbor or friend had cancer and they survived or didn’t. And most people didn’t know what to tell me with regard to Mark. It was a rare genetic disease without a name. Nobody’s second cousin had dealt with that.
And I completely know that I am awfulizing, which is when we lament over all of the terrible things happening and then neglect to recognize the positive. I get it. It’s just where I lived for quite some time. How could the train go off the rails this badly?
And then in November, we faced a new, weird challenge. Radon.
At some point that fall, I thought that we should check our house for radon. Seems random I know. My boss had recently discovered that there was a problem in his home so I thought it would probably be wise to investigate the possibility in ours. After sending away a test we purchased from Amazon, we received the results. Our radon level was 413. As a point of reference, anything above two is bad. Two. Not 200, two. The chart on the results only went up to 100, stating that our risk of lung cancer was exponentially higher if we had anything up to 100. Our level was 413! Thinking it was a mistake, I called the First Alert company. Nope. It was so high, they tested it several more times to be sure.
Evidently, our house was built on a large bed of shale, which is essentially uranium and the source of radon. Super. So just like any other problem, I dove in headfirst to figure out what person we could get to our house ASAP to fix it. However, I quickly learned that there are only a handful of people in the state that mitigate radon, and the person who actually answered his phone couldn’t come to our house until the end of the year but did manage to share that in 25 years of doing this, he had only ever had one other home as bad as ours. Well, you know, we go big or go home!
So if we’re keeping track for awfulizing purposes, we had the following going on here:
- Son with rare genetic condition with no name or prognosis with a new fear of seizures
- Mom with an aggressive form of breast cancer
- Imminent surgery for me
- Home built on a natural toxic waste dump, with our lung cancer risk being the same as if we all smoked a pack of cigarettes every day
The Nathaniel Ratecliff and the Night Sweats song called S.O.B. played on the radio the morning after our radon problem surfaced. I’m not much of a drinker, and I limit my use of foul language but I heard this song and just starting laughing, so hard that I started crying. I drove to work, cranked the song, and just cried the ugly cry. It was my white flag moment. My “I give, you win”.
Never was it more abundantly clear that I was not in control than at the end of last fall. Control is such a continual struggle for me.
I didn’t even know how to begin unpacking the baggage I was now dragging around. Feeling powerless, many nights I would sit with Mark as we “watched” the music. I would play his songs and he happily sat on my lap, staring at the screen, as I wrote blog posts I never shared. We also watched the videos of the SCN2a children. Mark loved the Rachel Platten songs that accompanied them, and they became some of our theme songs. And slowly over time, I began to realize that my job on this earth is not to solve the problems, any of them really. Instead, it’s to join alongside in the trench. That’s my job. Be there. Be there for the people I love and to teach my children to do the same.
And so I went to Mom’s first chemo. I rode along to Hopkins for the second opinion. And I helped Mom pick out her wig when her hair fell out.
I drove Mark to his therapy appointments, held him during medical procedures and cheered like crazy when he finally figured out something that had been challenging him for months.
I lived in Jillian’s world of anxiety, trying to make her laugh in a sea of scary things.
And I threw myself into fundraising events for SCN2a research.
We marched on, we showed up and held each other’s hands. Things, of course, aren’t perfect now. Mom still has a port in her chest for one more treatment. Mark is three and a half and just figured out how to clap. And our basement is torn apart because of the work that Ike performed over the past year to thankfully remedy our “little” radon catastrophe. Yet despite the slow pace of our progress, God has grown me, molded me, and shaped me through this season of uncertainty. My anger has dissolved into thankfulness for His grace and goodness in this tough season, and for never abandoning me even when I abandoned Him.
I recently ran across this version of Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
May we continue to hold each other’s hands, as we live freely, and lightly and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.