From Chaos To Calm

I’ve spent most of my life wishing I was dead and, over the years, I have regularly begged God to let me die sooner rather than later.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any desire to kill myself, I used to be suicidal but that has not been the case for many years now.  I just don’t want to get old and lose all the things old age takes from us and I don’t find life enjoyable enough to want to prolong it.

I always thought it was simple.  Ignore all health warnings and hope you die before life deteriorates to the point where you are senile and incontinent.

I’ve never taken care of my body.  Quite the contrary.  For years I have done many of the things they say will shorten your life.  I eat lots of junk food, I got fat and stayed fat, I avoided exercise, drank litres of diet coke every day, and smoked like a chimney.  The only things I haven’t done to ruin my health is drink excessive amounts of alcohol or take drugs.

It doesn’t surprise me, therefore, to hear I have cancer.  I deserve it for the way I have treated my body over the years.  What does surprise me is hearing that, apart from cancer and deficiencies in protein and vitamin D, I am actually in pretty good health.

This whole experience has thrown me off balance.  My thoughts, feelings, emotions, everything is totally chaotic.  I’m all over the place.  I don’t know what I think or how I feel most of the time now.

As soon as I learned I was vitamin D deficient I went and bought some vitamin D and I have taken it every day since and when I was told I should be eating more protein I started trying to do that too.  It was almost as if I suddenly wanted to take care of my health.

Yet the news I have cancer has made zero difference to my smoking and I still drink four litres of diet coke a day indicating I am just as self-destructive as I always was when it comes to my health.

I always thought I was a genuine pessimist too.  I certainly thought of, and feared, plenty of worst case scenarios before the first operation but I really didn’t expect it to turn out to be cancer.  I thought I was expecting it but, when I got the news that it was, I realised I hadn’t really believed it would be.

Now I know it is cancer and the same thing is happening.  I don’t seem to be able to really believe it will kill me although I am certainly able to contemplate the idea that it might.

Perhaps pessimism makes you contemplate but denial is instinctive and it prevents us from genuinely believing in our own demise?

All of a sudden I am struggling with the whole “To be or not to be” question too and I really didn’t expect that!  I’m starting to suspect there might be forces beyond our control that come to bear when we find ourselves confronted by a life or death situation.

My first reaction to the news that I have cancer was a resolve to cancel or postpone the second surgery but I didn’t do it.  I attended the pre-admission appointment and signed the consent to surgery form instead and I didn’t say a word about not wanting to fight the cancer.  It’s the exact opposite to how I always thought I would react.

Ever since they first began telling us that smoking causes cancer I have vowed that, if I ever got cancer, I would accept it as God’s answer to my prayers and I wouldn’t let them try to cure me of it.

Now I do have cancer and, suddenly, it isn’t as easy, simple, or straight forward as I thought it would be.

I thought it would all begin with a diagnosis.  “You have cancer.  We will have to operate to remove the tumour and give you radiation and chemotherapy afterwards.  If you are lucky the treatments will cure you but there are no guarantees.  It may come back and you may not survive.”

I’m convinced letting air touch cancer cells is like throwing petrol on a bush fire so I would have had no problems saying no to treatment in that sort of scenario.

My cancer, however, didn’t start out as cancer!  It started out as a lump that was most likely benign.  A lump that was pressing on my windpipe and causing discomfort which could be fixed by taking it out.  A lump that had to be removed and examined under a microscope if I wanted to know whether it was cancer or not.

When I broke my ankle I let the doctors fix it.  When I had problems with my tonsils I let the doctors remove them.  If I developed appendicitis I would let the doctors operate so it seemed crazy to refuse to let them remove a lump that was causing me discomfort.

Now the lump has been examined and we know it is actually cancer but it is too late to say I don’t want them to try and cure me of it.  The fight has already begun. The cancer has already been exposed to the air when they opened me up and took the lump and half my thyroid gland out.

Now they want to take out the rest of my thyroid gland and kill off any remaining thyroid cells with radioactive iodine.

The rest of my thyroid gland is not causing me any discomfort.  Quite the reverse in fact.  It is contributing a lot to my well-being.  There is no need to take it out apart from the fact that, if it does not already contain cancer cells, it is highly likely to develop them.  Given that there are several small lumps in it there is a very good chance that it actually does contain cancer.

That does not bother me but it does bother everyone else.

Society does not want us to surrender easily to death.  Society thinks there must be something wrong with us if we would choose death over life.  Doctors, in particular, are so committed to the belief anyone in their right mind is going to fight to stay alive that it is very hard to voice a different attitude.

They didn’t even think to ask me if I wanted the second surgery.  They were certain I would and proceeded as if their assumption was correct.  That left me with the job of trying to explain that, in this case, their assumptions were wrong.

I couldn’t do it.

If I were a soldier I would be looked on as a deserter.  If I sided with the enemy I would be viewed as a traitor.  Instead, as a foot soldier in the army of the living, I am likely to be viewed as deserting those who love me.  Death is the enemy of life and accepting death makes me a traitor in the eyes of anyone who opposes death as a whole, such as doctors, or my death in particular, such as those who love me.

Everyone would understand if I was facing defeat and I chose to give up fighting but giving up without a fight is seen as an unacceptable way to think at best.  At worst it is viewed as being selfish and inconsiderate of those who will be left behind.

I couldn’t cross that psychological line.  Something inside me actually agrees with society and I don’t want to be selfish, inconsiderate, a traitor or a deserter so I went along with their assumptions and I go into hospital for the second operation in about 24 hours time.

This cancer is, supposedly, easy to cure which makes refusing to fight it even more unthinkable to society.  Just remove the thyroid gland, swallow a radioactive iodine pill, and go on thyroid replacement medication for the rest of your life.  What is so hard about that?

They say beating thyroid cancer is quick and easy.

They also said the lump was unlikely to be cancer.

Most of the fears I had before the first surgery have come back along with several new ones.  Before the first surgery I was afraid they would take the whole thyroid gland, it would turn out not to be cancer, and I’d have to take thyroid replacement medication for the rest of my life for no good reason.

I was afraid they would damage my vocal chords leaving me unable to breathe without artificial help.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to talk and would not be able to work after the surgery.  I was afraid I would lose all four of my parathyroid glands and have to take medication for that for the rest of my life too.

As far as I can tell, the worst case scenario now, is ending up with just one of my parathyroid glands and only a partial paralysis of the vocal chords which means no risk of needing help to breathe.  They told me they managed to save one of the two parathyroid glands at risk in the last operation and that blood tests have shown it is still working.  They said they should not need to mess around with the area that has already been operated on so that gland, and at least one vocal chord, should be OK no matter what else happens in this operation.

And there it is again!  I am simply unable to believe death is the real worst case scenario but is it because I am in denial or because I am not afraid of death?

The potential misery I have seen talked about on the internet that comes from having to go on thyroid replacement therapy is something I will have to face now and I am really spewing about that!

Since the surgery I have had symptoms of hypERthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland) which, among other things, leads to weight LOSS and I have lost about three or four kilos already since having the surgery despite not eating any less.  The night after surgery I wandered the hospital buying, and eating, vending machine junk for example so the weight loss can’t be explained by any change in my eating habits.

I was hoping I’d gone hypER and, if so, I intended to lose all my excess weight and THEN let doctors treat the condition.

Losing the whole thyroid gland means there will be no chance at all of being hypER, I am certain to go hypO (underactive thyroid gland) instead, and that means weight GAIN!  I can’t afford to gain any more weight!  My knees are struggling to hold up under the weight they are already carrying around.

I wasn’t at all concerned about my appearance before the last operation but I am not happy about it now and I fear it will be made worse by a second operation.  Before the surgery I had fat on my neck but it wasn’t anywhere near as noticeable as it is now.  The scar is acting like a tight waistband so now I have a muffin top neck and the scar hasn’t healed evenly either so there are little dents in it too although it is not possible to see that without a close inspection.

There are other fears now that I didn’t have before the last operation too.

Now I have had the operation and seen the emergency kit they put beside the beds of patients whose thyroid gland has been operated on I am afraid of bleeding out.  One of the nurses talked to me about that possible complication.  She said if it happens it happens very fast and is quickly lethal.  She said it happened to a young man a couple of months before and he was asleep when it happened so he could not press the buzzer and let anyone know.  He was dead when they made their routine check on him.

If you do begin to bleed out they have to open you up again to let the blood out and stop it from suffocating you and the kit is there for the nurses to use if there is no surgeon nearby.  I don’t relish the idea of having to undergo yet a third surgery let alone one that is performed by panicking nurses instead of experienced surgeons.

I don’t understand why I am not hoping I will suffer from this complication because it actually sounds like a great way to die.  It must be fast and painless if it did not wake the young man up and give him the few seconds of time he would have needed to be able to press the button that would have alerted the nurses.  If I am as ready to die as I have always thought I was I should be hoping this will happen to me but I am not.

Now I know it is cancer my pessimism is kicking in and I strongly suspect they will find it has already spread.

From the day they told me it was cancer my condition has deteriorated.  There is a lump in my throat again although now it is in the middle of my throat instead of on the right where it was before surgery.  The cough has come back and I have trouble swallowing sometimes.  I have even had an episode of the painful breathlessness that I stopped having after the first operation.  It feels like the small tumours in the other lobe of my thyroid gland are rapidly growing and are taking up where the large tumour in the removed lobe left off.

My vision is rapidly, and noticeably, deteriorating which makes me think they will find cancer in my brain.

I have pain in my right knee, left foot, back and both elbows which makes me think they will find cancer in at least one of those bones.

There is a lump that I think will turn out to be bowel cancer now I know cancer is a possibility.

Has the cancer really spread or am I just super sensitive to anything that might be mistaken for a sign the cancer has spread?

Then there is the whole “Am I really going to die soon?” issue.

I’m not afraid to die but if this is going to kill me I would like to know how it is going to happen, what it will be like, how long it will take, if it will hurt and so on but I can’t find any information about any of that.  I’m not afraid to die but I am afraid dying will be a long, painful, distressing and messy process.

I’ve always felt life was not really worth living.  I’ve thought of myself as just a little cog in a big machine that is designed to ensure a handful of people live the good life.  I trudge through life making money so I can pay bills and the people I pay have to pay other people who pay others and, eventually, all that money makes it to the people on the top tier of society where it is spent on fancy cars, mansions, yachts, private airplanes, jewelery, art, designer clothes and shoes, fine wine and dining, holidays and holiday homes and so on.

This world of ours is wondrous but so much of it is out of reach if you don’t have the money to get to it.  I will never see France or the eifel tower, England or big ben, the USA’s grand canyon or statue of liberty, the pyramids of Egypt, the great wall of China, or any of the other wonderful sights the world has to offer.

No matter how long I live I will never be able to afford to indulge myself with all, or even some, of the great sights, sounds, tastes, or experiences this world has in such abundance.

Even the things I could have had are out of my reach now.  If I had been wiser with my money over the years I might have been able to buy myself a nice house in a safe neighbourhood but it’s too late to aim for that now.  I’ll be renting from now until it’s time to move into a nursing home and, if this cancer is actually going to kill me, I could be moving into a nursing home a lot sooner than I expected.

It isn’t just the financial side of life that I’d like to leave behind though.  It is all the people in this world who get their kicks out of harming others that make me think death is not the worst thing that can happen to me.  Every time I think of the suffering that goes on in this world I want to turn my back on life.

Greed, corruption, injustice, cruelty, poverty, prejudice, hate and crimes inflict untold misery, unimaginable pain, and unbelievable suffering every day and cause the destruction of countless lives both human and animal.  Whenever I think about it I want to die because I don’t want to be on the same planet as people who can do such awful things.

Worst of all, deep in my heart I know, I am actually one of those terrible people!

I’m fat because I eat when I am not even hungry.  I spend thousands of dollars every year on things that are actually bad for me like food I don’t need, cigarettes, diet coke and gambling.  In that big machine there are cogs that are even smaller than me and I get fat whilst they die of starvation.

Now I have cancer and the death I have always believed I would welcome is knocking on my door and I am not so sure I’m ready to receive it.

My life is not as bad as the lives so many other, smaller, cogs have to live.  I am well fed.  I don’t own my own home but I have a home and it is much nicer than any house I could afford to buy anyway.  I have a pretty comfortable life, a good job, a loving family and even good health apart from the cancer.  I have probably got quite a few good years left to me if cancer doesn’t take me so why be in a hurry to die?

I’d like to believe God will welcome me into heaven when I die but will He?  What if I am wrong about Him?  What if He will actually say to me “I never knew you” because I did get fat instead of sending that money to feed the starving?  What if the God I know is not real?  What if God is not as loving, understanding, forgiving, accepting and merciful as I have come to believe He is?

I’m not at all worried about whether God actually exists or not.  I am positive He does but, if He doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.  If there is no God then death will be the end of me and I will not know there is no God so I am not worried about that.

I’m worried about God rejecting me.  I don’t think He will but I don’t deserve to go to heaven.  Nobody does.  Even the purest saint is stained with, at best, original sin.  Every one of us comes into this world selfish and self-centered.  That is the original sin and there is not a single baby born who cares more about the needs of its caregiver than its own needs.  Nobody would condemn an infant for that.  We all know the child can’t help it.  I’m pretty sure God forgives infants even if nobody asks Him to but what about me?

It has been more than 50 years and I am still just as selfish and self-centered now as I was when I was born.  The only difference is I no longer expect my mother to supply my needs.  I expect the world to supply them.  Farmers grow my food, others prepare and sell it to me, others manufacture and supply my toys, clothing, housing and other needs.  My bosses give me the money to pay those people and I give them my labour in return but the earth is the one who unselfishly gives of itself that I may have these things.  I took from my mother as an infant and I take from mother earth now and in both cases their needs have come second to my own.

We are all guilty of that.  Even people who try to take care of the earth don’t put the needs of the earth ahead of their own needs.  They just try to reduce the damage they do to the earth in the course of getting their own needs met.

It is impossible to live a life that is completely free of selfishness and God knew that so He sent Jesus to provide a way for us to cleanse ourselves.  Jesus paid for my sins past, present, and future and every day I turn to Christ and have Him wash the stink of sin off me so God can welcome me into His presence.  I believe God will accept me into heaven when I die because Jesus will ask Him to and He won’t refuse Jesus anything He asks.

But what if I’m wrong?  What if Jesus doesn’t acknowledge me?

The whole situation has gotten too big for me to deal with now.  I don’t know what to think or how to feel and I just can’t get my head around it all so I am letting it go.  I am putting it in God’s hands and going with the flow.

I’m assuming God wants me to let the doctors treat me.  I’m basing that on the fact that He loves my family every bit as much as He loves me and, if I refuse to let the doctors treat me, my children would be upset.  They might even blame Him as so many people do when something bad happens to someone they love!  It’s less likely in my case as my heavy smoking habit makes a far more likely culprit to blame than God but I would not be blaming God even if I had never had a cigarette in my whole life.

We know smoking can cause cancer but thousands of non-smokers die of cancer too.  Is it just physical poisons that turn cells cancerous or can psychological poison do it too?

Seven years ago I was attacked in my own home by five youths.  My neighbours heard the attack and did not try to help me.  I called the police for help and they did not come.  That experience left me feeling a lot of poisonous emotions which I have not been able to get rid of.  Would those emotions have triggered this cancer even if I had lived my whole life without ever doing anything harmful to my health?

Perhaps neither of those things is responsible for my cancer.  Maybe I was actually supposed to die of whooping cough in infancy and my life was extended because all infants were immunized against the disease back then.  Maybe I was actually supposed to die from infected tonsils but, again, death was thwarted because penicillin had been discovered and doctors were able to safely remove my tonsils.  It is possible that I was meant to die from the prolonged and difficult labour I had with my first child but medical advances prevented that death too?

Perhaps my thyroid gland has become cancerous because it has been doing its job long past its natural use-by date and, far from being cut short if the cancer kills me, I have actually lived for many more years than I was really supposed to.

A lot of bad things have happened to me but I don’t blame God for any of them.  Shit happens and there is no point asking “why me?” because the answer is “why not me?”.

I have cancer and it might kill me but I am lucky.  If I had been born in another country, to a life of poverty and violence, perhaps I would not have been able to get fat or smoke or avoid exercise and the deprivations might have resulted in no cancer but I might have already died of starvation or brutality instead.

I presume God does not intend to heal me of my thyroid cancer himself because, if He did, He would have done so already and surgery would not be needed.

I am not asking God for anything specific.  I am just asking for His will to be done in me and in my life.  I believe that, whatever happens, there will be a good reason for it whether I can see it or not.  I know that, if suffering comes to me, God will enable me to bear it.

I’m only human.  I worry and fret and fear but, at the end of the day, when I have finished thinking of all the things that frighten me and I have completely exhausted myself worrying and fretting I turn to God and say “Thy will be done Lord” and He is there to bring order to the chaos, calm the storm, comfort my distress and banish my fears.

For me the real worst case scenario is not any of the things I have worried about or fretted over.  When I say “Thy will be done” to God I really mean it.  I can survive anything as long as I have God.  I don’t pity myself at all right now.  I pity those who don’t have God to turn to at times like this!

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