My Deja Vu 5-Year Cancerversary
How a surprising cancerversary experience increased my gratitude and joy.
(Pastor and Colon Cancer Survivor)
Recently I set out to mark the occasion of my 5-year cancerversary.
While the moment didn’t unfold quite like I envisioned, a deja-vu like experience gave me a newfound sense of gratitude and joy for my cancer journey.
As you may know, déjà vu means feeling like you have already experienced the same situation. Here’s more about a recent one that happened to me.
A different kind of celebration
My regular practice on a cancerversary would be to have a piece of cake or go out for a special meal as a family. We always did something to mark the day of my diagnosis but in a relatively low-key kind of way.
A few weeks ago, Hope Has Arrived shared a post that spoke about the many different ways people recognize their cancerversary.
Reading the article motivated me to make my 5-year cancerversary a little special. I spent a few hours putting together a blog post to share some of the lessons I have learned along the journey of these past five years.
I completed a draft of the post Thursday, April 29, but I waited to post it until the next morning.
Friday morning, I awoke a mess.
A surreal experience
The previous night, I began experiencing fever and chills. My temperature ran upwards of 101.6. I started my morning in the bathroom, reviewing what I had for dinner the evening prior. Something was seriously wrong.
A quick call to my oncologist, and I was off to their office.
We spent less than five minutes together before they sent me to the Emergency Room.
I spent my 5-year cancerversary in the same hospital where I had received my diagnosis, which was surreal.
My cancer background
To grasp the impact of my 5-year cancerversary you have to understand a bit about my initial cancer diagnosis.
There were no warning signs for me.
My journey began when I experienced a strange pain in my shoulder Thursday, April 29 and then struggled for a full breath of air on Friday, April 30. This resulted in my spending the first weekend of May 2016 in the hospital undergoing all sorts of tests. You can read more about my story here, and also check out my book.
A doctor diagnosed me with stage IV colon cancer on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.
May 2021 was my 5-year cancerversary.
A return to the beginning
And now five years later, instead of spending the time at a nice restaurant or enjoying a vacation, I found myself back in that all-too-familiar hospital.
Rather than celebrating the milestone it felt like we were starting all over again.
The doctors soon determined I wasn’t dealing with a recurrence or progression of cancer, but more so complications from treatment.
Part of my treatment journey did severe damage to my liver. As a result, we had some stents put in so I could pass my bilirubin.
It did not take long to discern that my stents were blocked and required attention. I spent Friday thru Monday on IV antibiotics. Tuesday, we performed an ERCP which removed a stone and cleaned out some sludge from the stent. Wednesday evening, I was well enough to head home.
Déjà vu insights
Throughout the six days in the hospital, I was struck by the way in which events were lining up to the exact day five years prior. And it wasn’t just being in the same clinic.
The night of my initial diagnosis (Tuesday, May 3, 2016) was a sleepless night for me. I had just heard the man who would become my oncologist tell me I would probably not survive two years.
That night I found comfort listening to U2’s 40, which the lyrics are taken from Psalm 40. Through the dark of the night until early morning, I played it on a loop.
Psalm 40 celebrates the faithfulness of God…
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:1-2
while at the same time capturing a sense of urgency or great need…
“Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord; may your love and faithfulness always protect me. For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased to save me, Lord; come quickly, Lord, to help me (Psalm 40: 11-13).”
U2 captures the urgency, longing, and sense of great need with the chorus of their song.
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long
How long to sing this song?
I wrote about this song in a previous post on Hope Has Arrived.
Asking some serious questions
This song caused me to ask some deep questions: How long must I cry out in the face of the trials and tribulations of my life before God hears and lifts me from the slimy pit and places me upon the solid rock?
How long must my heart break, my body grow weary before I am filled with strength from the Spirit of God?
On the first Tuesday of May 2016, that chorus resonated deeply with me. How long before you lift me from the slimy pit of cancer and place me upon the solid rock of full healing or at least remission?
Five years to the day I was spending the night of my diagnosis in a hospital room recovering from the ERCP. It was another sleepless night.
Filled with energy, I found myself wandering the hospital halls. My soul was filled with joy. It felt like there was nothing I could not do and I could not stop celebrating the fact that I was still alive.
My cancer has not been cured. I am dealing with side effects from four rounds of systemic chemotherapy, a microwave ablation, and a hepatic artery infusion pump that did more damage than good, yet, I am still here.
I found myself drawn to U2’s “40” once again. Laying in bed, trying to sleep the chorus “How long to sing this song?” took on a different meaning for me.
God used this most unusual experience to speak into my life. What did I learn, or re-learn that night in the hospital celebrating my 5-year cancerversary?
Five years of systemic chemotherapy have not been kind to my body and I am not the person I once was. Yet, God is alive, well, and working in and through me.
Finding joy and hope
The chorus that once filled me with heartbreak and frustration at God’s not healing my cancer took on a different meaning.
It became a chorus of wonder and amazement, even joy.
How long do I have to sing this song? How long do I have to praise the One who continually lifts me up from the slimy pit and places my feet upon a rock? The One who strengthens me when I am weak, gives me rest when I need it, peace when I am undone and fills me with hope. And even though life may not be playing out according to a script of my choosing, I can find joy amidst the journey.
I found my spirit singing with wonder and amazement, how long, how long, how long to sing this song? How long are you going to allow me the joy of traveling with the Spirit of God alive, well, at work in our world? How long am I going to have the joy of traveling with those who I care, and those who love me?
Living with gratitude
Five years ago, I believed my time was limited—severely limited. Yet, I decided to live as if that was not true and make the most of every moment I was given.
My five-year cancerversary hospital “celebration” helped me remember that commitment.
I hardly slept Tuesday night. These realizations filled me with energy and excitement. It was time to get about making the most of the time God has for walking the face of this earth.
How much longer do I have to sing this song?
I can’t answer the “how long” question, and honestly that does not matter. What matters is what I do with the time I am given.
God has been faithful over the past five years and I believe God will continue to be faithful for whatever time I am allowed to keep singing here on this earth.
As you set out to mark your cancerversary, whether it is your first, 5-year cancerversary or even your twentieth, remember to be thankful. For many of us, even just being here another year is cause for celebration! May this gratitude help you live hope today and every day.
For more help with finding gratitude, see Every Day is a Gift.