Cancer is always a major disruption in a person’s life but for some the disruption has the impact of a tornado that reduces a house to rubble. The lady I was talking to was such a case. Her sister had convinced her to come to Milwaukee from out of state to be treated for her cancer. So now she is far away from her home. She is facing chemo and all the side effects that come with cancer treatments. She is dealing with the fear of what the outcome will be. She has had to quit working as a special education teacher.
Not being able to teach her kids is especially troubling to her. “I’ve been teaching for over thirty years,” she said. Her husband added, “Her kids love her. They thank her for helping them to become self sufficient.” She said, “My role as a teacher was my identity. I don’t know who I will be if I can no longer teach special ed.” So her cancer has not only invaded her body but has changed who she is and what she does.
As she spoke about this the image of a tornado flattening a house came to my mind. I shared with this lady my thoughts that she was like a homeowner who looks at the rubble that used to be his house. That homeowner is now picking through the rubble trying to find any treasures that might be in the midst of that rubble. And as the homeowner salvages the treasure he begins to clear away the rubble one board at a time so a new house can be rebuilt.
The patient thought about the image I had described and she agreed that the picture fit what she was feeling. She was devastated. She was angry. She was afraid. She was overwhelmed. She hardly knows where to start to find a new identity. She doesn’t know if she can handle all the challenges that cancer treatment will bring.
So she is going to try to sort through the rubble that now faces her. Maybe there is something that can be salvaged from what has been destroyed. Maybe her skills and talents as a teacher can be used in some other way if she can no longer teach. Maybe she will find her identity is bigger than what she thought it was. Maybe she will learn new insights that will prepare her for new ways to impact the lives of others.
As we meet again in the weeks to come I wonder what will come out of the rubble of this woman’s life as we sift and sort and discard and rebuild. God bless all of you who are walking with someone who is facing a time when their life is a pile of rubble. Put on your work gloves. Pitch in. Start picking up the pieces. Help them to begin the process of going on.