Today, August 14, marks three years since one of the pivotal moments of my life: when my surgeon, the amazing Dr. Greg Midis, told the lovely Sarah and me that the pathology report was clear. Here’s the story of that moment, as written in my book, It’s Not Harder Than Cancer:
One December day, in the throes of a mental fog caused by chemotherapy, I realized I had finished all the books in my stack and went searching on Sarah’s bedside table for something to occupy my time and my mind. In her stack was one thousand gifts, by Ann Voskamp, a book given to Sarah by a print vendor she works with at her advertising agency.
One thousand gifts is indeed a book about gratitude. More important, Voskamp writes about gratitude during tough times: loss of a child, death of a parent, diagnosis of illness.
Voskamp writes about the concept of Eucharisteo. It’s the Greek word that means “thanksgiving” or “to be grateful.” She writes that God gives us gifts every day, but because many of them are small, we miss them. Her challenge to readers, and thus the title of her book, is to be intentional about discovering the gifts God gives us every day and write them down. On her website, www.aholyexperience.com, she offers daily prompts to help readers discover these gifts. Roughly three gifts a day, which comes out to one thousand gifts a year.
Have you ever been grateful for the play of colors when the sun shines on a sinkful of soapsuds, or the thud a pinecone makes when a child tosses it into a bucket, or the butterfly that flits by the window on its way to the garden? In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, one of the characters, Shug, puts it this way: “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”
I don’t know that it pisses God off when we don’t notice, but I do believe that, as one of the songs in the movie says, “God is trying to tell us something.”
In my favorite passage, Voskamp writes that “Eucharisteo — thanksgiving — always precedes the miracle.” We see this every Sunday in Communion, when we remember the Last Supper. Jesus raises the bread and the wine, gives thanks to God and then tells us do this in remembrance of Him. He is crucified, and then there is the miracle of the Resurrection.
To explain my understanding of Eucharisteo always preceding the miracle, I want to take you back to the day of my surgery, August 10, 2012, a Friday.
The plan was relatively simple, as cancer surgeries go. My surgeon would go in, remove the tumor and then hook the disconnected sections of my colon back together.
Turns out it wasn’t quite that simple. I was not present for any of this because I was high on drugs in the recovery room, but I know that my usually ebullient, smiling and upbeat surgeon was seriously downcast when he came into the waiting room to talk with Sarah, our family and our friends. The surgery was much more difficult than he’d anticipated, the tumor much larger than expected. Because of its size and the amount of scar tissue from radiation therapy, my entire rectum had to be removed, leaving me with a permanent colostomy.
Even more worrisome, he wasn’t sure he’d gotten all the cancer. The male pelvis is a very tiny space, and the margins between the tumor and other organs were very, very small. He told the assembled group that everything would depend on the results of the pathology report: future treatment, future surgery, life or death — everything.
We prayed for a good report, of course, but we were also very grateful. We were grateful for the amazingly gifted surgeon, for my medical team, even for the research that led to the development of the colostomy.
Four days later, while Pastor Amy was visiting with us, my surgeon practically floated into the room. He’d been pressing the pathologist for the report to the point that the pathologist called him in the middle of another surgery to report that there were no living cancer cells in any of the tissue he examined.
No living cancer cells. The treatment worked.
I’m not embarrassed at all to report that I wept like a baby. After the doctor left, Sarah, Amy and I prayed though tears together, giving thanks to God. Then I cried some more.
Gratitude did indeed precede the miracle.
(A short time later another visitor, a new friend who would play an important role in my life after cancer, stopped by. To learn more, though, you’ll have to read the book.)