Chemo is an ugly, ugly thing. It's like poisoning someone from the inside out, destroying cells that are valuable along with the cancerous ones, and ripping away familiar features to replace them with grey pallor.
I know my husband was already sick because the pain in his back was really intense, and because the scans and blood tests have told us so. But he didn't look sick before and apart from the pain, he could still do all the stuff he normally could.
The first lot of chemo had a few side effects that effected his energy and temperament and unfortunately caused blood clots. The second lot seemed even milder which we thought was good, until we realised it hadn't stopped the tumours at all. So now we're on the really heavy and toxic stuff, which we know is working because he feels like crap, his hair and beard have fallen out and his blood levels and spinal scans are looking much better. He can't go any further than from the couch to the bathroom at once, and it takes him twenty minutes of deep breathing to recover afterwards. He had to go back into hospital again after the chemo infusion because his white cell count dropped dramatically (as it's supposed to) and he couldn't fight a virus already at work in his body, but he's home again now until he has to go back in and do it all again.
The kids are thankful to have daddy at home, even if he looks very different and can't seem to do much. Thankfully winter is a good season to hibernate and enjoy lots of cuddles and movies and so we're making the most of that. We packed in a lot of family time before he went into hospital and so now we're about keeping things low key and simple, and waiting it out until he feels better.
It makes it harder when every night he's faced with a choice as he sits and looks at packets of drugs, knowing he has to take them, and that they will continue to break him down and make him feel worse the day after. He'd far rather stop this whole process now and begin to feel like his own self again and be everything his family want him to be, but he still chooses to put them in his mouth and swallow because he knows there's more at stake here than just how he's going to feel tomorrow.
I can't explain how chemo works and I wish I could suggest an alternative, but I'm just not clever enough. It's an ugly, imperfect, painful solution to a much worse problem. I have to accept that there's only one way through it and hope that one day a better one comes along. I wish things were different, but while they're not, we're going to trust the advice we've been given from people who know better than us and accept the horror we're going through in our quest for life.
But the same could be said for all types of suffering.
We don't understand it yet we can see the awful results of it all over. We ask all the time why it has to be like this and why things can't just be easy. Whatever the problem, is it really as bad as what we seem to have to go through in order to deal with it? Why can't God just let us get on with our lives in peace? We hate the suffering because it's so obvious, painful, life changing and heavy to carry.
But what's the alternative? Suffering changes, refines, weakens the bad and strengthens the good. It unearths stuff we didn't even know was there and brings it to the surface. It's an ugly, imperfect, painful solution for a much worse problem. Without suffering we could never understand our need for God, our frailty as humans, and the disease of self-righteous sin that seeks to destroy us from the inside out every day. And one day there will be a much better answer than this one.
I, for one, am grateful for suffering. I have learnt so much from it and have grown to love more, lean more and laugh more as a result of it. I don't understand it, and there are days when I cry out for no more, but I have learnt to trust the One who tells me to keep going and that it won't ultimately kill me, but instead it will destroy the bad and release the good. The suffering is unavoidable. If you're a human, it's part of the deal. But choosing life - that's the option we have.
I choose to accept suffering; I choose the medicine that looks like it's going to break me; because ultimately it leads to life, and that's what I want most of all.