Maybe I’m too old to introduce someone as my “best friend,” but that’s exactly what I say when I introduce Bill – “This is my ‘best friend’ of 25 years, college roommates and best men at each other’s wedding.”
Bill knows me better than anyone and one piece of trivia he knows about me is that I sometimes enjoy teasing folks with the well-placed use of the word – “again.”
For instance, if someone asks, “When’s lunch?” I might reply, “You’re eating, again?” If a friend arrives late confessing a speeding ticket, I might exclaim, “What? Again!”
But a few months ago the word “again” lost its humor for me when Bill said,” I have cancer – again.”
Eight years ago doctors diagnosed him with Acinic Cell Carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands. After a surgery that temporarily took away his smile nerves, his surgeon pronounced, “I got it all!”
Not quite. The cancer returned and surgery has again lessened both his smile and his odds for a cure.
Encouraging friends say, “Well, at least you’re a chaplain. You can help him.” The problem with that is that while I’m fairly good at supporting strangers, helping friends scares me to death.
Tears that come from walking with strangers through pain dry quickly, but tears that erupt from walking with friends through terrifying uncertainty flow like an unceasing spring.
The treatment is promising, but I worry, it might come back again. Is it just a gamble? Some gamblers believe that if they gamble long enough, the odds will reverse.
Is it possible that luck – good or bad – is limited by some quota? I don’t think so.
I’d like to be able to tell my friend that I’ve found a scriptural guarantee that limits tragedy to a certain quota in his life – like a grocery sale, “2 for $5, but the limit is 4.”
But in this case it would be more like – “Cancer, lifetime limit 1 per customer.”
Over the years of working in a hospital, I’ve seen several families experience heartbreak as they’ve busted their limit of lifetime tragedies as they heard that word – again:
a sheriff mourned the loss of a brother and then told she’d have to plan a funeral – again – this time for her only child.
a dialysis patient struggles for life – again – but this time loses to a totally unrelated cancer.
and last month – the mother of a 12-year-old receives the Mother’s Day news that her daughter has cancer – again.
It’s dizzying and almost every day sad. Again I ask myself “Why?”
A friend tells me that the only answer to “Why?” is “Because.” I find that answer wholly unsatisfying, but, unable to discover a different answer, I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.
Instead, I’m changing my focus. And as life begins to be less and less about “Why?” it is becoming more and more about “What?” – less about the destination and more about the journey itself.
And the neat thing about the refocus is that there is a shifting into the present moment and a greater awareness of who accompanies me through the moment.
While I am praying for Bill to be cancer free and his smile to return – again – I’ve come to know that there is no guarantee about the outcome. I can only promise that I’ll be there with him in the struggle.
It is much the same promise that God made to us as He encouraged us to seek the Kingdom of God internally and to know, as scripture promises, that He is with us “even to the end of the world.”
Fortunately, treatments are progressing. And I’m still walking with Bill, much like I walk with other patients – only in his case I use a bit more Kleenex. And each day Bill returns for treatment, his cell phone rings and he knows it’s me – again.
“Hey, Bill? How about lunch?” – To which he replies, “Again?”
Acinic Cell Carcinoma is a rare salivary gland cancer, comprising approx. 6%-10% of all salivary gland cancers. Salivary Gland cancers themselves only comprise between 0.3% and 0.9% of all cancers in the United States. Acinic cell carcinomas account for approx. 5% to 11% of those U.S. salivary cancers, although some studies have made that number much lower (2.5%). Source: http://www.aciniccell.org/