“When life gives you lemons, hurl those lemons right back at life.” –Unknown, but clearly someone brilliant.
Cancer is one of those things that might make you think, “I know this a terrible reality, but it probably won’t affect me.” But when it does happen, the reality of how immensely horrifying cancer really is falls on you like all the lemons life could possibly offer.
When I say “falls on you”, I mean it. When my mom was diagnosed with Stage III malignant melanoma on April 1, 2011, my world fell apart. I was thirteen and unequipped in every way to cope. After all, thirteen is the age one should begin learning how to cope with things as an individual. Not be handed a situation requiring understanding of real hardship. I quickly learned how to be anything my family needed me to be. Little did I know, this was where Christ would begin His work in me.
My mom has always been the roughest, toughest, real stuff-est person I know. She is so positive that, at first glance, it would be hard to imagine she’s gone through something so physically, emotionally, and spiritually taxing. But, the thing about cancer? It changes the way you see things. Consequently, my family became closer than ever. I would not wish the cause of this effect on anyone, but it is a result I am grateful for today. My relationship with my mom has always been strong – think Rory and Lorelai. That plays a role in the way we coped with this hardship.
I knew I should be leaning on the Eucharist, but eighth graders generally have a hard time conceptualizing the depth of what the Eucharist can really do for our souls. I tried my best, because:
- I knew I should, I just didn’t know why and
- Because my sweet father reminded my little brother and I to offer up our Masses for mom’s healing often.
Even though I couldn’t grasp the gravity of this Eucharistic devotion, I continued because I was desperate for anything that could bring my mom back to perfect health. Again, here was Christ beginning His work in me ….
My mom underwent a form of chemotherapy for twenty-two months. After chemo, the scans came back clean for months, allowing the visits to MD Anderson to become less frequent. As a result (and wrongly), my prayers of thanksgiving dwindled because my experience with cancer became a blurrier and blurrier part of my past. After all, my family had survived that already! There was no way it would happen again. Nope nope nope, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime cross to bear. We had done our suffering due diligence.
In June of this year, I received a call from my parents. They told me the cancer was back and in the same spot on the back of my mom’s neck. All of life’s lemons had fallen on me again, and the weight was even heavier than I remembered – because I knew just how hard the road ahead would be. Interestingly, I was in the parking lot at St. Thomas Aquinas on my way into adoration as they called. Huh. Try to tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor, I’ll fight you.
I almost drove away before going in the chapel, but I decided to take a leap of faith and pray despite everything I was thinking. I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. Slowly, my anger diminished and my prayer became… genuine. Desperate. Honest. I recognized so sincerely that I am nothing without Him and with Him there is nothing I cannot handle.
Remember when I told you about the moments Christ was beginning His work in me? Here’s where the fruit of that revealed itself to me in a painfully obvious way. As my anger faded, I reflected on the growth I’ve experienced with my time at St. Mary’s. I recalled my deepened faith and devotion to Him that had developed over the years I’ve spent in College Station. While I was used to trying to be everything for everyone, I’d learned (and am still learning) to receive love more graciously and trust in the sincerity of other’s efforts. My experience and my faith have changed me from the inside out and I reassured myself I could handle this differently than the first time.
And I have.
My mom is currently receiving bi-monthly treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center and fights as gracefully as one could. Melanoma is a mean one, but if anyone can conquer it, it’s my mom. With an army of prayer warriors behind her, I have no doubt that she’ll throw every lemon back at cancer harder than they came at her. There is not an easy day, but given my early understanding of suffering and reliance on prayer and the Eucharist, my life between cancer eras has propelled me to a new place. A place that allows me to trust in the grace of moving forward amidst the struggling. I’ve recognized that allowing others to love me well is precious part of the human experience, not a weakness.
Colossians 1:24 tells us, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body…” What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Nothing!!!!! He invites us all to cooperate in His saving work, and nowhere is that more powerful (and hard) than when your suffering is offered up for something beyond yourself. Accepting suffering as it comes is a learned skill, but running into His outstretched arms with all of life’s lemons is an easy first step. Trust in Him, despite the difficulties you face, and you will never be let down. Rather, you will be lifted up into Love Himself.
Friends, if you feel yourself overwhelmed with any kind of suffering, be it great or small, I encourage you to lean on Jesus. Even in the darkness, even if you struggle to feel His presence – I challenge you to allow yourself to be open with Him in a safe space. I believe that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, entering into the real presence of the Sacred Heart, will stretch your heart in radical ways. I believe that faith has the power to move mountains. I believe that Jesus watches us with loving eyes when we say “I can’t do it,” because He knows we were made for all we are given in this life.
Growth comes with time and by sustaining yourself in Him. He is thirsting for you with an infinite and eternal thirst, and patiently waits for you always.
O Lord, that our suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next.
Jesus, we trust in you.