September 21, 2009

Seeing God's Grace in Bad News

(I write as a Catholic, but with a broad religious education that helps me dialogue with other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and as many other denominations as I can.  This post will resonate with most monotheists, but I think it could have value for anyone regardless of your proclaimed religious position.)

In Christianity, we refer to "The Good News".  Jesus brought the Good News to us, that God loves us and we can be redeemed so we might join Him after our mortal lives are over.  Mass and other religious services are opportunities to spread the Good News formally, and in our own lives we are encouraged to do the same through our actions.  However, while God's nature is partly revealed to us in the Good News, that is not His exclusive residence.  He reveals Himself to us everday in countless ways, through blessings and beauty, but also through pain and fear.  And, it is in these ways that we can truly see His grace.

I mentioned a few times now, I think, that my dad most likely has kidney cancer.  I say 'most likely' because so far doctors have told us they are 90% sure that's what they are seeing, and it won't be until his appointment in over a month with a nephrologist that they may say 100%.  However for simplicity's sake in this post, let's just assume that's what it is.  This small cancer 'spot' is possibly a budding tumor on my dad's fact, it's so small I'd really just call it a cancer cell bundle. 

A few weeks ago, my dad had an MRI done on his spine in relation to back and leg pain that has been plaguing him for quite some time.  In reading the MRI, someone noticed a small spot on his kidney.  Initially supposed to be a cyst, the doctor ordered multiple tests to be executed quickly.  In short time, they ruled out a cyst, and began considering if it might be cancer.  After more tests and discussions with doctors, my dad finally began getting a few answers...the 'spot' or 'cell bundle' is 15 millimeters in size and located on the end of his kidney.  This is actually wonderful news - 15mm is INCREDIBLY small (go get a metric ruler and see for yourself...your ruler may not even show millimeters; if so, look at 1.5 centimeters, it's the same thing).  Additionally, the location of the cells on the end of the kidney (as opposed to the middle) is great, because it means it is possible to deal with the cancer without destroying the entire organ.  Assuming that it is cancer, it was caught extremely early.  In fact, one doctor commented that it was the smallest spot of its kind he has ever seen!

As you may already see, there is a lot of good news here even in the face of something as negative as cancer.  A 'cell bundle' of that size and location is so minor in relative terms that there are multiple treatment options, and plenty of time in which to carry them out.  My dad's prognosis is great.  However I see more than just this "Good News".

Think of how they caught this spot...on an MRI of his spine.  A close friend of mine used to work as a tech for an MRI location, and has a lot of experience looking at these images.  When I told him this story, he interupted me with surprise that it was noticed on the spine MRI.  When I told him how small the spot was, he interupted again in shock and declared my father incredibly lucky.  I totally agree.  I don't know if you've had a chance to look at any MRI images, but they're pretty tricky to read in the first place.  Obviously a trained technician or doctor has an easier time than I do, but even with the proper training it's not an easy task.  The location of the kidneys relative to the way the spine is being imaged in an MRI usually makes them appear as a mass in the background, nothing more.  To have been able to see the spot on the kidney that clearly is remarkable in itself, and frankly to have had someone reading the images pay enough attention to see and make note of the spot is almost unheard of.  Normally, this kind of cancer would not be caught until it was much farther progressed.  If someone were 'lucky', the tumor would have grown large enough to cause discomfort that required imaging tests, and if unlucky, they wouldn't look for and find cancer until the kidney and possibly other organs were being destroyed.  My dad is more than lucky, he has experienced God's grace.

A number of people in my husband's family have been diagnosed with different cancers - breast, lymphoma, and stomach.  Naturally, we've all been affected by their experiences.  So far all are doing reasonably well, and I could go on about how they too have benefited from God's gift of grace.  But I have to think my dad's case is the clearest example.  He and my mom are not in any position to handle the types of treatments and situations my inlaws face, and I believe God knew that, and that's why He had the MRI show the kidney so well and the person reading it be so attentive. 

So, in this instance of "bad news", of cancer in the family, of potential surgery, we have SEEN God's grace and lived His goodness.  We all know He will carry us through our trials (whether we all believe it or not is another story), but this time we're also seeing Him rescue us before we get too far in. 

Personally, I love the TV show "Roseanne", and just last night one of the most moving episodes was on.  In this episode (one of the last ones in the entire series), Darlene gives birth prematurely to a baby girl at only 28 weeks into her pregnancy.  Despite bringing in LITERALLY the top doctors in the world, nothing can be done to help the baby besides keeping her on a respirator in an incubator.  Darlene and David decide their child "deserves the right to experience life not hooked up to all these machines".  By unplugging them, they will give the baby a chance to survive on her own, or pass on.  When the baby is disconnected from the machine, all the women in the family take turns holding her and telling her inspiring things.  When it's Jackie's turn, she tells a story about when she was a little girl and started to fall out of the car as it sped down the highway.  She recalls seeing the pavement rush closer to her face, when all of a sudden her mother grabbed her and pulled her back in the car, and she tells the baby that if she feels like she too is falling away, not to worry because they'll pull her back.  In this life, as our souls speed down highways in the car that is our mortal body, we need not worry when we feel we're beginning to fall, because God will pull us back to Him every time.

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