The last couple of days I’ve￼ been in the throes of battling a particularly nasty chemo side effect. I had expected nausea and vomiting but I hadn’t expected pain. I have a pretty high threshold for pain but this caught me completely off guard! Within an hour I went from being able to walk on my treadmill to incapable of walking at all without excruciating nerve and joint pain in both legs. My knees and ankles felt like they were exploding under the skin! After calling the triage nurse at the cancer centre, it was determined I was suffering from chemo-induced neuropathy, a particularly nasty side effect that can be quite intense in its severity. While I writhed in pain by the phone, the nurse consulted my oncologist and pharmacist, as to how they could help me battle through this. I know that any additional medication taken while I’m on chemotherapy must be approved by my oncologist to ensure that there are no other adverse or allergic reactions, but all I could focus on in the moment was doing whatever it took to make the pain go away! Time seemed to slog by while I waited for a call back from the cancer clinic. I reached out to our church’s prayer group to pray specifically for my current situation and need. My husband and children prayed and I prayed. When the phone call finally came back from my nurse and I was given clearance to take a strong over-the-counter pain pill, I didn’t hesitate to take it immediately. A few hours later, I was able to drift off to sleep and the next morning the pain was gone!
There is no greater relief after an episode like that to make me appreciate the difference between experiencing pain to being pain free. My Dad used to say it’s like banging your head against a wall just so you can enjoy what it feels like when you stop!
It brought to mind a memory of my father when I was a child. My Dad was busily working out in our garden one afternoon. Weeding was definitely not one of his favourite things to do but our mini orchard with about two dozen fruit trees was starting to be overrun with undergrowth. After a full day of clearing grass, mowing, trimming and picking up apples that were strewn haphazardly under the trees, my Dad was ready for a break. I was outside sitting in the hammock that he had strung between two cedar trees in the back yard. Too young to help him with the yard work, I was content just watching him and playing with my dolls. I heard the commotion before I saw what had set my father to do a hopping dance around me.
Growing like a sentinel in the middle of a stone patio overlooking our rows of apple trees was a small quince tree. The tiny, pear-shaped fruit it produced was extremely bitter to taste so we left the tree alone for the most part and at the end of the season when it dropped its fruit, we picked them up and pegged them like rocks into the forest. Today, however, Dad had noticed some wasps swarming around a rotting piece of fruit on the ground and rather than risk being stung, he decided to kick the fruit off the stone patio. It would have been a great soccer kick if he had managed to connect with the fruit rather than the tree root that he hit instead. As my Dad hopped around the yard on one leg, while holding his injured foot, cursing to the Viking gods of his ancestry, and weeping in pain, my mother came running. She shooed me into the house, trying to shield my young, sensitive ears from learning anymore Danish curse words spewing from my father’s lips.
It took several minutes, for my mother to calm him down, but finally my Dad limped into the house and took his shoe and sock off revealing the damage to his big toe. It was already swelling and turning blue and the nail was gone. He sat in his chair, whimpering bravely while I watched with great interest my mother clean and bandage his broken toe. When she was done, she brought over a footstool and told him to elevate his foot and not put any weight on it for the day. Practical advice my Dad had no problem adhering to.
My mother waited on my father throughout the rest of the day and brought him snacks and anything else that might distract him from his pain. My brother and I were sternly warned to give Dad some space and adequate time to regain his composure before we disturbed him.
He spent that day mostly confined to his chair but the next day he was moving gingerly about testing whether or not he could put more and more weight on the foot. It looked torturous whenever he tried to move but he persistently and purposefully flexed and stretched his foot despite the pain. I finally asked, “Dad, why do you even try to move your foot when it hurts so much?” He grimaced, “Because it hurts so bad when I move it but it feels so good when I stop moving it!” I suppose that was logical reasoning for my Dad, like his saying about banging his head against a wall, to experience pain to learn to how to appreciate life without pain.
I’m not a philosopher, like I thought my father was then, but there is Biblical precedence that states that pain and suffering are necessary components to fully appreciating a time when there will be no more pain or suffering. Christians fix their eyes on “future Glory” knowing that this present life is nothing compared to an eternal life we will spend with Jesus.
Romans 8:18; 26-28. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.. ”
Romans 5:1-4 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.“
My husband calls chemo “short term pain for long term gain”. That’s true, but isn’t that also true of our lives this side of heaven? I will remember Hebrews 12:1. I will continue to run the race set out for me fixing my eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.