I realized on Day 3 that I was subconsciously, yet intentionally, hiding from the world. The news was too vast. Too joyous. If someone asked, how would I speak in such a way as to give God’s unexpected gift the importance it deserved? I couldn’t, even in my mind, rehearse what I’d say out loud without choking up. So, on Day 4, I decided that I needed to write it all out.
But writing it all out has been hard. I’ve started and stopped a hundred times now. I’ve hesitated because I know so many of you are hurting, and I’ve been afraid our rejoicing might somehow cause you discouragement. I’ve hesitated because the quiet wound of childhood cancer has been our daily normal, and I’m not quite sure how to move on. And I’ve hesitated because I don’t feel capable of proclaiming God’s goodness in words that seem weighty enough.
I must try, though. I dishonor Him if I do not. So in words less weighty than I’d have wished, and with thoughts still not fully explored, I need to simply tell our new news. As I tried to do when clouds were still dark and fear thick and childhood cancer’s course unknown, I want to again proclaim God’s goodness.
For my heart both leaps with joy, and bows in humbled gratitude, at the news we’ve been given:
Patrick’s cancer has been declared cured.
Cancer’s course has been run. The quiet, deep wound that has been six years of cancer treatment has seen a new dawn. And to those of you, and the thousands through you, who have prayed for Patrick, we say a thank you from our depths. You are so dear to us! To those of you who gave parts of your own life to support us, through prayer, and through moments of service too numerable to name, we can never thank God enough for you!
A new request
After years of requests, can I make one more? Would you pass our news on to others who’ve prayed, many of whom prayed faithfully for a little boy they never even met? We so want each person who prayed, and each person who hears of Patrick’s story, to be encouraged and strengthened in their faith when they hear of this precious outcome.
And since I still can’t speak without tears, here’s a written account of the day we got the news:
We’d driven that same busy highway so many times before. Six-and-a-half years of fear-filled, middle-of-the-night emergency trips, of weekly chemo infusions and spinal taps, of surgeries and hospital stays we thought might never end.
But this day, we drove in sweet, companionable silence. Past well-remembered landmarks, past the same congested exits, both of us lost in our thoughts. Mine turned to memories of the pain he’d endured, and my memories turned into thankful prayer that he was still with us. Only two more years of this, Lord? Is the cancer really gone? What will today’s blood-work reveal? I also wondered what he might be thinking, sitting so quietly next to me.
Then, with an hour left in our drive, I found out. He began to ask questions he’d never asked before.
“Mom, I can’t remember. How many kids were there who’d ever had my cancer?”
“In the whole world?”
“Yes, in the whole world.”
“I don’t think I ever knew. How many of those kids lived?”
“None of them, honey.”
Why is he asking today, Lord? Give me wisdom to answer. Grow his faith in You if he wants to hear more details.
He did. And we talked. About the direness of his original diagnosis, and about the mysteries of God’s kindness, often experienced most fully in times of intense suffering.
Arriving at the underground labyrinth that is the hospital parking deck, by then running late, and with no parking spaces available, he for the first time went in alone. As I drove off in search of a place to park, tears flowed at the sight of him in my rear-view mirror. No longer is he the eight-year-old who first entered through those elevators. He’s tall and strong and almost 15 now. How can that be? O thank you, Father, for the gift of these years!
I’ve written about Patrick’s oncologist before. He’s quiet, kind, intelligent. His care reassures. His ability to sit and chat with Patrick about mountain hikes and middle school and movies always calms my anxious heart. His lack of arrogance, and his careful decision to research and craft a never-before-tried chemo plan for Patrick’s cancer still fills our hearts with gratitude.
On this day, he looked with what seemed like quiet happiness at our son. He, a very busy man, sat and gave us his undivided attention. He and Patrick talked of waterfalls and plunging into the frigid water in the pools beneath. They talked of entering high school, and as I listened I thanked God over and over.
Then he stopped, and made his pronouncement.
“It’s been almost seven years. Three and a half of chemo. And this month marks three years off chemo. I think you don’t need to come back.”
“Don’t need to come back? Ever?”
“Ever. Of course, we’re always here for you. But I think you’re cured.”
This is where my writing skills fail me. I can’t describe the rush of emotion, the look Patrick and I shared.
“I just told Patrick for the first time, on the drive here, all the details of the original direness of his diagnosis,” I said.
“Patrick, I want you to hear me saying that, even though all your mom told you was true, I believe you’re now cured,” he said.
“You mean you really think my cancer won’t come back?” Patrick asked.
“I do. And I think you should leave this place and live your life fully. I don’t know what you’ll end up doing in life. And of course, you’ll always remember these years. This has been almost half your life so far. But I don’t want you to live in fear that your cancer will come back. Today, I’d call you cured.”
What to do when cancer is called cured? Gulp back tears. Laugh. Gulp back more tears. Hug your God-sent oncologist, and take pictures. Wander (in confusion) out through the infusion area (for the last time?) and call dad, surprising him with the unexpected news. Then, still not ready to leave, spend time in the hospital garden — a time of reminiscing, of sweet togetherness, of prayer — a time I won’t try to describe.
I know this is getting long. I’ll save more end-thoughts for another day. For now, I’d like to close with part of what Patrick wrote during those moments when we couldn’t quite decide to drive away from that very special hospital. After all he’s been through, his words are much more poignant than mine:
“In the end, I think my cancer was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
I want to live my life like that.
(If you don’t know Patrick’s back-story, I’ve written about those first days, and God’s goodness toward us each day since. To read a couple of those posts, you can click here: Better than a thousand substitutes. And here: Don’t waste your pain. Or, for a follow-up post, please read: forever changed by deep wounds. As you read, I pray God will use Patrick’s story to turn your heart toward Jesus, who is the greatest gift of all.)