An Unintended Journey

If not for this plain little table…

Life wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But we all know that life has a way of showing up with surprises. Especially when we least expect them. Or want them.

You, my wonderful readers, have not heard from me for a while. Nearly a month. That is because life showed up unexpectedly on August 14th: the day when my internist came into the exam room, her face half-covered with a pink mask with charcoal grey trim on top, and her eyes giving away her words to me even before she sat down and leaned toward me.

“It is lymphoma.”

Blood tests, biopsies, CT scans, a PET scan, genetic testing, all further delineated what was first seen on May 8 this year when I wound up in the emergency room at Mayo Hospital.

I had moved the table that you see above, being oh, so careful to do it correctly, with sliders even. It wasn’t that big, but it was solid pine. Heavy!!! Too heavy for a 79-year-old to be thinking of moving it…

The pain a few days later was what had sent me to the ER. I thought it was a heart problem. My family has circulatory problems in its long history. I was supposed to have a stroke. Or a heart attack.

Not cancer.

Being a top-notch medical center, the Mayo doctors had done a CT scan of my abdomen that night to see if the pain was originating from there.  They saw 5 enlarged nodes. Follow-up was recommended, and that was how I found myself hearing those words. Four of them had either shrunk or disappeared. One was enlarged further. And there was a new “smallish” undifferentiated mass as well that had shown up.

I saw “my” new hematologist who specializes in lymphomas (do you know that there are 50 of them???) a week later. Now it had a Big Name. Diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The kind seen most often in elders. Like me.

There was more, though. Genetic testing showed that two little bugger genes had decided to “rearrange” themselves, making treatment more of a problem. They call it a “double-hit” lymphoma. I am special! I always wanted to be special.

I learned all about bone marrow biopsies (the angelic doctors put me out completely!). And PET scans (looking for any more tumors anywhere in the body). And remembered the messiness of having gel all over from the echocardiogram (checking to see my heart health, since the treatment can be hard on the heart…oh, great! So my heart is part of this after all…). Nothing new was found! This is good.

The best estimate – given the rogue genes and my age of 79 – gives me a 50-50 chance of a cure. I’m going for the 50!

I shall lose my hair. A charming wig has arrived and looks quite cute. I am learning to tie turbans in 6 different ways. Otherwise, I should tolerate the treatments “quite well,” says my doctor. I intend to prove him right!

If it had not been for my “foolish” decision to move that table 22 steps from my living room to my bedroom, I would be sitting here without a clue that something so life-threatening was growing inside me. I have had no symptoms at all.

But for the table…and Grace…

I don’t know how White Hair Grace is going to fare moving ahead. I really don’t want to write “A Cancer Blog.” On the other hand, my intent has always been to lift up the graces that we may only discover in our old age. And already, there are dozens, each with the name of a loved one, friends from high school and college, people from so many places where I’ve lived; family that is surrounding me with everything possible, churches that I’ve served.

I have been so regular in publishing on Fridays. That may change. I’ll write when I can, because I don’t want to lose touch with the world outside and all of you who have so blessed me. You, too, have been grace.

As I finish writing this on Thursday, I have finally made peace with the reality that my chemo will not happen for another week: September 17th. Scheduling, you know. My doctor wanted it to begin this week. I have agonized over the long wait. But last night, I simply let go and surrendered it all. “It is what it is.”

And I was reminded of the prayer of all the Anonymous groups, written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Wisdom often lies in the very act of surrender. And unintended journeys often wind up leading us to the best and deepest graces that life offers. That is already happening.