Sunday, 30 November 2014

Is There Really Joy In The Midst of This?

"Into the darkness You shine"
It has been three months and two days since my last blog post. I'd like to say I have a really good reason for taking so long to post, but in reality, like I said in my first post, procrastination is one of my finer tuned skills.  It’s a long post, so you might as well grab a cup of something or glass of something and sit back and enjoy.
We are still back in April of 2014, finishing up tests and scans and getting ready for surgery. Through all these steps I felt a range of emotions: I felt anxious, frightened, bewildered and yet determined to face whatever was set before me. In reality, the anticipation of every step was far worse than the actual appointment or test proved to be. This was true of everything from the initial colonoscopy  to the surgery to all of the subsequent follow-ups. My husband, who works as a physician, accompanied me to most of my appointments. I can't stress enough how crucial it is to have one's spouse, partner or good friend come along for support. So much information is relayed that it is easy to miss or misinterpret the explanations given by the surgeon or oncologist, etc.
      Our first meeting with the surgeon occurred on April 8 of this year. Once she had reviewed my case and reviewed potential treatments, she explained the type of surgery I needed and why my option was the best option…. Well, only option, really. Are you ready for this? Hearing it made me feel nauseated and breathless all at once. And yet, as bad as it seemed, it was also a blessing, Here's why.
The bad news was, the tumour was situated at the end of the rectum partially on the sphincter.
When excising my type of tumor it is preferred to clear a margin of 2 cm from surrounding tissue in hopes of removing all cancerous tissue. There was no way to do this in my case without sacrificing the sphincter muscle because of the tumor location. The procedure she was to perform would be an abdominal-perineal resection. I would be left with a permanent colostomy.
The good news was, the tumour was situated at the end of the rectum partially on the sphincter.
Because of the location of the tumour, it would get irritated every time I had a bowel movement, which would cause a little streaking of blood on the tissue.  As the volume and frequency increased I was prompted to check it out. Had the tumour been located elsewhere in the rectum, I may not have experienced any symptoms until the disease had advanced to the point of no return.
The thought of having a colostomy was appalling and a shock. I wanted to appear collected and intelligent, and say to my surgeon something like, "will this procedure leave me with a permanent colostomy?" Instead, I blurted out, one word: "FOREVER?" My dear compassionate surgeon (yes they do exist) respectfully and tenderly nodded. "Forever."
For a little while I was flooded with a mix of emotions; panic, fear, disbelief, and that breathless feeling after being kicked in the stomach. (I've never actually been kicked in the stomach, but I imagine it feels much like I felt). I did not feel angry however, at least at this point. That would come later!!
What is a colostomy? According to the online Oxford Dictionary a colostomy is "a surgical operation in which the colon is shortened to remove a damaged part and the cut end diverted to an opening in the abdominal wall."  
Someone actually came up with this idea? Really, who thought of that? After some online research into the history of the colostomy, I learned that in battles as far back as Biblical times, (see Judges 3:20-23) swords would often penetrate the abdomen puncturing the bowel and a natural “ostomy” would develop! So it stands to reason the idea had crossed someone's mind after all. I had assumed the colostomy was a fairly new discovery in medical history, say within the early to middle of the last century. I was wrong.
The following information is a paraphrase of an essay titled, "The Origins Of Ostomy Surgery," written by Kerlyn Carcille RN BSc (Nsg) ST, Silver Chain Nursing Association, Perth, Western Australia.
  The first planned colostomy was performed in 1776 by a French surgeon and was seen as a last resort when other non-surgical procedures such as purgatives, dilation and the consumption of 2 pounds of mercury had failed to clear a malignant bowel obstruction. The patient dies two weeks after surgery. Autopsy revealed that the death was not caused by surgery complications, but to a gangrenous small bowel from which was retrieved two pounds of mercury. the first recorded successful colostomy was performed on an infant in 1793. This patient lived for 45 years.
Several attempts over the next few decades to perfect and study this procedure met with various complications and outcomes. Some stories were quite tragic; surgical methods and treatments were used that would make us shudder today.
A 1999 article suggests a slightly differing timeline for the first colostomy but the information is otherwise similar.  This second article is more thorough and includes recent history. You can find it by searching for the journal, "Diseases of The Colon And Rectum" 1999, volume 42, pages 137-142. Peter A. Cantaldo, M.D. from the Medical Centre hospital, Burlington Vermont, wrote the article.
My surgery was held on April 17, 2014, the day before Good Friday. I felt quite poorly on Friday and Saturday. But I had imagined and prayed that I would miraculously awake on Easter morning free from the pain and the fogginess in my head, as a symbol of new life in the resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning.
Wait for it…. Can you hear the crickets chirping?…. Nope, it didn't happen. I still felt miserable on Easter Day.
On Monday, I started feeling like myself again. It was a better day.
Then night fell. It was the first time since my diagnosis that I had time to be alone and really process all the emotions I was feeling about what was happening to me. In the dark and quiet of my hospital room, I suddenly felt very alone and very, very sad.  I wept. I grieved. My heart ached. I had cancer. I had a potentially very aggressive cancer. I felt consumed with fear and such heaviness.
I am glad that no one was with me that night. No one was there to say, "don't worry, it'll be all right," or " there, there don't cry." We, in our society, tend to be very uncomfortable when others around us shed tears or suffer sadness and grief. We don't know what to do with it. But not only is it OK, I believe it is a necessary part of our healing. Crying brings a cleansing. It washes away the gunk, the pain, the garbage we carry with us. And so often it is in the midst of our pain that God meets us in a very real way.
In church this morning (November 30) we sang the song, "Our God" by Chris Tomlin.
Here are some of the lyrics: 
Into the darkness you shine. (He meets us in the time of our great need, in the midst of our brokenness and suffering)
Out of the ashes we rise. (He brings healing to our bodies and souls. He restores our hope. He redeems our lives)
And if our God is for us, then what can stand against? Because of what God has done for us, we know that neither trials nor difficulties will interfere with God's purpose for us.
As I wept, I became aware of God's holy presence with me and eventually I fell asleep. I didn't sleep well, but I did sleep.
Tuesday was a better day again and the night was not so lonely because my daughter had downloaded some wonderful music onto my iPad for me, ranging from Pharnell Williams' "Happy" to the very best work of music ever composed, J. S. Bach's "Mass In B Minor." 
It was very late at night, still in hospital, while listening to this great work, that I was overcome with a very real sense of pure joy. Not the light fluffy happy, happy, happy joy, but the deep joy that brings peace, contentment, confidence in God's direction and renewed purpose. I have never been more aware of God's presence with me than I was that night.
I think that because I was able to grieve and cry the night before, God met me there and poured out His healing and His grace allowing me to be lifted out of the darkness. I am well aware that healing does not necessarily mean a cure from the disease, cancer… but I sure would like it to be so!!

I slept very well that night and I gained energy and a renewed conviction to continue with strength and encouragement from Hebrews 12: 1b-2a… running with perseverance the race set before me.


  1. Conundrum! This is the word that is playing over and over in my head as I read your post. How can there be joy, peace and beauty in suffering! One wonders about this and, I think, to a great extent fears the time when it is one's own turn to journey through this. Jane, you have shed light on the raw beauty that comes with life's more challenging questions, Why suffering? Why illness? Why me? Thank you for your honesty and sharing.

  2. Jane: I had not known of your illness until now. You will certainly be in my prayers.

  3. It was quite a journey you went thru and the interesting thing is is that I felt truly happy when I was going through my chemo. I can not explain it, but people even picked up on it. My husband could not understand it, and neither could I but I reveled in it and excepted it as a gift. Whether it is a gift from above or our human self preservation kicking in, I can not say but it is wondrous. I have thought that when we have been put down as low as you can go, given such devastating news, we grieve as we did, we then get past it and look forward. We have a plan, our Doctors have a plan. There is hope and light at the end of the tunnel. We will persevere and come out stronger. I must admit I have had some hard times now the treatments are all over. I think the mind and body has to have time to let go and absorb the huge deluge to our whole system, mental and physical, and then we can truly heal. Hugs and prayers. xoxo

  4. Beautifully written and a wonderful message! Thank you for your honesty and heartfelt sharing.

  5. As I read this I grieve your loss and at the same time am filled with joy. Joy stemming from knowing you had such a deep relationship with our savior. That you reached for him as you were in the valley and that he comforted you in ways only Christ can. How we will all miss you sweet Jane. Praise be to God that you're home, in our Lords arms. Free of this cancer, pain and awaiting your family's embrace. Thank you Lord for allowing Jane this soul cleansing night to weep and wash away what she'd built up, drawing her closer still and easing her spirits.