After Mary Beth fought cancer, she still had to learn to live with the uncertainty that she was fully healed. She writes here about how she wrestled with the ambiguity that left her life in the balance, and how her faith became a source of hope — no matter the outcome.
After I finished cancer treatment, the doctors told me that the cancer was likely gone.
They wouldn’t know for sure for another year, though, because it takes up to 12 months for the treatment to take full effect. That reality meant returning to “normal life” for a year — all the while wondering if the cancer was gone. I entered into a liminal space of gratitude and anxiety.
That word, liminal, comes from the Latin word for “threshold, ” which means being in an intermediate phase in life. Like standing on the threshold between two worlds, one sick and one well.
This liminal time also meant recovering from the physical toll that surgery and treatment had taken on my body. It meant forcing myself out of bed every day for months, even though I felt exhausted. It meant eating a healthy and balanced diet when all I wanted was comfort food to distract me from the mental fog that plagued me. It meant going for 10-minute walks because that’s all the exercise my body could handle. Returning to normal life felt like clawing my way out of a hole.
At the back of my mind lurked the anxiety that the cancer was still there — the concern that I would return to physical wellness only to have to repeat treatment and start all over again. I had to choose to not to give in to my anxious thoughts, and the waiting became an exercise of hope. Repeatedly, I turned to God in prayer, expressing my doubts and hopes alike. Every day I had to stubbornly choose hope over anxiety.
The day of the full body scan felt like some sort of judgment day. Anxiety gripped me as I laid under that highly-specialized machine for 45 minutes. The wait to see the doctor meant overhearing another patient’s family discuss the ravenous spread of cancer in their mother’s body. My husband and I had to choose to not to give in to our anxious thoughts. Once again, we had to choose hope.
When the doctor called my husband and I back, he had a smile on his face and told us he had good news. There was not even a trace of cancer in my body. It was one of the best scans he had ever seen. Immediately, I felt a wave of relief — I could go on to live a normal and long life. Later, I felt giddy with joy because my body was my own again.
After a year of waiting, I had the joy of experiencing the fulfillment of my hope! Truly, it is a gift and I am one of the lucky ones.
Hope sustained me in a real way — no less than the love of my husband in this trying time — but even if the scan had come back with bad results, my hope would not have been in vain. I would have missed out on the joy I feel now, but I would remain hopeful that my life — both in the here-and-now and beyond — is in God’s hands.
For a time now, I get to live in this joyous place of relief and gratitude. I hope this “calm after the storm” lasts for many years, but I know that sooner or later, life will bring me a new challenge. When it does, I know I will be able to face it because in the past year God has taught me the quiet and stubborn ways of hope.