6 min. to read.
Sometimes you find that you are a member of a club you never wanted or intended to join. The club is made up of folks who share some particular difficult or painful life experience with you. They know the feeling you’re having, they know the ropes of this situation, they’ve been-there-done-that. And now—even though you didn’t choose it—you are part of the club. I’m sure you’ve had this experience.
(Note: I’ve added an update at the end of this post to bring it up to date.)
It turns out that I’m a newly inducted member of the Cancer Club. Christina spotted an odd mole when we were swimming this summer. It took a while to wind my way through the medical maze to find out what it was. Finding a doctor that would take our insurance, getting a biopsy, getting referred to a dermatologist, getting another biopsy—lots of rushing just to wait. In October, this growth was finally confirmed to be Melanoma.
The chain of referrals ultimately led me to Dr. John Vetto at the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU. On Monday, the 27th., Dr. Vetto removed the Melanoma and took out some lymph nodes for biopsy. So, I’m home now, quite sore and thankful—and yet still in that difficult place of uncertainty. We won’t know until next week whether any additional treatment is required.
It’s an odd place to be. Everything could be fine. Or, everything could be very much not fine. Not only that, it’s a place that highlights just how much of an illusion control really is. Which is really the most painful part. (At least for some of us…. At least for me.)
Feeling vulnerable and out of control puts you in good company.
At our little church, the weekend of my surgery, the lectionary passage was Luke 2:1-20, Jesus’ birth story. We talked about the miracle of God’s vulnerability. In our culture, power means being in control, being the one to determine circumstances. That’s what we think would be worthy of God, and it’s what we expect of the influential people we see around us. But Luke’s gospel tells us we should not expect that from God.
The angelic host that announced the birth of Jesus said, “This will be a sign to you: You will find the baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger.” Those words were initially GPS guidance for the shepherds so that they could find the baby, Jesus. But consider the possibility that, in addition, those angelic words also help those shepherds (and us!) change our expectations for how God will show up in the world and our lives.
Think for a moment about God showing up as a baby. That baby can’t sit up. It can’t feed or clean itself. Without other humans to care for it, provide for it, and protect it, that baby will die. There is nothing more vulnerable, more out-of-control, than a human baby.
Imagine God putting God-self into that position! God was entrusting God’s self and God’s plan to human hands! God chose to enter our world in the most vulnerable of ways, and that choice continued to shape Jesus’ life and ministry. Jesus lived his life vulnerably. He depended on the support of others. He entrusted his message, not to scribes who carved it into stone tablets, but to fallible humans who would be witnesses with just their words and actions.
It’s almost impossible to imagine what it must mean for God to become wholly vulnerable. And yet that is the Gospel story. To save us, to identify with us, to be with us, God became vulnerable. This may upend our beliefs about divinity! Regardless of your beliefs about Jesus’ level of divine knowledge, as a baby, he certainly didn’t know anything more than any other human baby! In the baby Jesus, God entered into the human experience of not being in control.
So, as I sit here on my couch, aching and sad about this new club I get to be a part of (and knowing that many of you have also been inducted into your own unchosen clubs), I have no triumphant claims to make. I’ve been around long enough, done enough funerals, lost enough friends who were well-prayed for, to be cautious about making any declarations about victory or what God wants to do. I’m not going to pretend not to be angry, sad, or scared.
Even so, I am reminded that Jesus entered into a similar position. We worship a God who knows what it’s like to be vulnerable, in pain, dependent on others, and not in control. In our most vulnerable moments, when we feel the most isolated, the truth is that we are not alone. For me, for this one present moment, that suffices.
Update, as of 2/2/2022
As I shared above, I was able to have the melanoma removed on December 27th, 2021. Such good news. Along with the excision, they also removed 4 different lymph nodes, and sent all of it off to the lab. The lab report came back clean, which is the best possible news! The wide margins around the melanoma were clear of cancer and there was no indication of cancer spreading to the lymph nodes.
Presently, I’m undergoing one last round of tests. The oncologists at OHSU want to make sure that there is no need for me to undergo immunotherapy. The depth of the melanoma was just at the threshold where that course of treatment is usually proscribed. So, shortly I’ll be getting a full-body PET scan and some other tests, and the experts will use those to recommend what’s next. I may be done with treatment, other than periodic surveillance for future skin issues, or if it’s needed, I may need to do immunotherapy. So, we’re in waiting mode again, but at least with the happy result that the melanoma is no longer on my body.