Change.

Change is a beautiful thing. It’s all about your perspective.

I was walking my girls to school this week. The temperatures have been wacky lately which has caused this crazy morning fog. It was a dank and dreary morning. Everyone was quiet on the walk, earbuds in, preparing for the day ahead. I brought up the rear of the group and had my eyes fixed on the path ahead, making sure I didn’t step on the heels of anyone’s Air Force Ones. All of a sudden, the morning brightened around me. As I quickly looked up to see where the glow was coming from, I realized we were passing under a tree whose leaves had transformed into the most brilliant golden yellow.

For anyone who doesn’t live in a place with leaves that change, I’m so sorry. You should probably take a road trip. Soon.

When leaves turn fiery shades of orange, yellow and red, it’s easy to look at that change and call it beautiful. However, when our lives turn fiery shades of disappointment, sickness and loss, it is much harder to see that change as beauty.

I have been stuck in a perpetual autumn since 2015 – lots of change, lots of beauty and lots of loss.

Most recently, we celebrated the good news of a clear scan – the first in almost 3 years! However, I am learning more than anything right now, the tension of holding two seemingly oppositional emotions at the same time. Of seeing the vibrant, magnificent beauty of the brightly colored trees and also seeing the leaves that have already fallen to the ground, brown and crumpled at the edges, beginning to decompose.

There has been cause for much joy lately.

The significance of showing complete response to a clinical trial that was not expected to work that well or that quickly is not lost on me. One year ago I was stuck in limbo. I knew my cancer was growing and I knew I was out of treatment options unless I wanted to do an allogeneic stem cell transplant, but I was unable to do anything about the cancer. Instead I had to take months worth of steroids trying to fix the problems caused by the failed immunotherapy. But all of that led me back to Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the most hopeful, kind and competent oncologist who helped me see that there would still be other options for me.

Every morning for the last 2 months, I have been exercising with some of my girls. It is amazing to me that after years of fighting cancer and going through treatments where I was unable to walk from the bed to the bathroom, that my body is able to do the things I am making it do. I am getting stronger and regaining little bits of lung conditioning too.

Speaking of my lungs, when I relapsed the first time that is the new spot my cancerous lesions decided to grow. In August, I had a bad case of the Rhinovirus (common cold) that lingered on far longer than I wanted it to. And considering you can’t cough within earshot of another person anymore without causing them to scatter, I brought it up to my oncologist. We tried a couple things – over-the-counter cold medicine, an antibiotic and finally an x-ray to ensure that there wasn’t more going on. This last PET-scan aside, I have had very little luck with imaging of any kind – especially of my lungs. But when the official report came back, it said “No active disease in the chest,” and “lungs are clear” and “unremarkable.” I have never been so happy to be remarkable.

COVID sucks. But even in this season of uncertainty and loss that has touched every family in one way or another, I am finding reasons for joy. I am thankful to not have to do 100% homeschool (and so are my kids!). I am grateful to still be employed. And I am thankful that one year ago I didn’t decide to pursue another stem cell transplant that would have left me in the hospital during this season, alone, weak and extremely compromised.

As I hold those joys and reasons for gratitude so tightly, I am holding in the other hand what can feel like opposing emotion. There is sorrow, frustration and loss.

Years of harsh treatments have left my body so different than I imagined it would be in my mid 30’s. Although I am getting stronger with exercise, radiation treatments, chemo and scarring left from disappearing cancerous lesions have reduced my lungs to shrunken balloons that are unable to hold the amount of air I want them too.

All of those treatments have also confused my body into thinking that I am in my 50’s and that it is time to begin menopause. Forgive me if this is too much information, but yes, I am going through premature menopause. It is pretty common for young women that have gone through lots of chemo and radiation, but I never thought it would happen to me. The loss of estrogen this early can have damaging long-term effects, so to combat that, I am taking 3 more new pills.

The pills. So many pills. Four spaced out through my morning routine and another 8-10 at night before bed. Then one shot a week to make sure my white blood cell count stays high enough to keep me healthy and a special steroid mouthwash to keep mouth sores from developing. For someone who hates medication, this is a lot. They are helping to get rid of the cancer and they help me manage the side effects of my clinical trial meds, so I am thankful. But I feel weary every night going through one pill bottle at a time, shaking out the right amount of each into a small pile, when I just want to crawl into bed.

To hold both of these simultaneously is to be fully human. To experience the heights of joy and the depths of sadness in one breath.

If you read the Bible, you know that Jesus’ disciples were almost always confused about what he was doing and why. They were convinced that he was the Messiah, but they could not grasp his plan {can any of us blame them?!}. In the book of John, Jesus is about to be arrested and ultimately crucified. He knows it. He planned it. It was His plan of salvation for you and for me from the beginning of time. But the disciples are completely lost when he tells them that in a little while he is going away and they won’t see Him anymore. They start to murmur amongst themselves. I am paraphrasing, but it goes a little something like this. “Psst! Hey Peter, do you know what he means when he says he is going away?” “No idea Matthew. You are one of the brightest among us! You don’t understand? What about you John – do you know what he’s talking about?” “Nope, I’m as lost as you guys.” The best part about their murmuring, is Jesus knew they were confused and he totally calls them out. What he says to them is so profound and speaks directly to this experience of being able to hold such contradictory emotions at one time. He tells them (again, my paraphrase) that they will mourn and grieve over what is about to happen to him, but that mourning will quickly turn to joy. A kind of joy that can not be taken away. He wraps it up by saying this:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

For me, I am able to hold on to joy and disappointment at the same time because as a believer in Jesus, I have a joy that cannot be stolen away by circumstances. I have a peace that this momentary grief is not the end. The leaves that have fallen and are brown and decomposing are preparing a fertile soil for new growth in the future and that is a hope worth holding on to.

6 thoughts on “Change.

  1. Crashley, we love how you encourage us, when you should be the one getting encouragement from us. God is good, and His timing is perfect. We continue to pray for you, Joe, and your family. We love you.

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  2. Ahhh, change. The best and worst thing about this life!! Lol

    I was blessed by your kindred spirit – the idea that joy and grief are intermingled is something I wrestle with (and probably most of mankind does too). I appreciate your candor and humility about the human existence…none of us journey alone!

    Thankfully when Jesus comes, it will be the last and best change ever 🙂

    Love you friend.

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  3. I don’t comment much but I want you to know how often I think about you and pray for you. You are one of the strongest people I know. I enjoy your writing. You are such a gifted writer! I love you and will continue to lift you up in prayer.

    Like

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