I’m deeply thankful this Advent season. Joyfully awaiting Jesus’s birth is sweet; I feel keenly focused on the spirituality and meaning of Christmas.
You see, I had a brush with cancer this fall. To say I have a new appreciation for life is a huge understatement.
It’s a long story, but the upshot is that during exploratory surgery my doctor discovered thyroid cancer. It was a complete surprise; thyroid cancer is rare, and I experienced no symptoms.
The diagnosis left me in shock. I obsessively Googled information while fielding calls from concerned friends and family members. As it happens, I had more time than usual to think and worry since I was hospitalized with complications for several days.
While I was there, my doctors were concerned about my calcium levels. They said discussions about cancer could wait – the calcium issue was more critical and immediate. But you can’t tell someone they have cancer – or had it – and then act as if nothing has happened.
Still, while the wait was excruciating, I had time to process my feelings, opportunities to pray, and the chance to emotionally prepare for the future – whatever it might be.
They say there’s nothing like facing death to make you take stock of your life. Indeed, my world came to a screeching halt. Life – however briefly – was suddenly precious, my health precarious, and the future uncertain.
With contemplation and prayer, I’ve come to believe God spoke to me in those quiet solitary hours, urging me to count my many blessings, meditate upon His goodness, and showering me with His extraordinary grace.
And from the first moment I shared the news with my husband, children, and mother – and later with friends, extended family, and colleagues – I felt enveloped in love and support. I was profoundly touched by an unexpected, dramatic outpouring of heartfelt well wishes from near and far.
Friends visited me in the hospital. A colleague who’s battled cancer called to talk, knowing how the diagnosis must be affecting me. Friends sent get-well cards and flowers. My husband spent as much time as possible at my bedside.
Our youngest son, who lives in San Francisco, wanted to hop on the first plane home; our daughter, away at college, kept up a continuous electronic conversation with her father about my prognosis. Our eldest son and his wife cooked us meals, visited, and fed and played with Samson, our German Shepherd who was left alone at home for many hours.
Fortunately, my doctors think I’m out of danger. They removed the thyroid and I’m being observed, scanned, and tested frequently for any remaining cancer. Even if it metastasized, my surgeon notes that thyroid cancer is very treatable. He tells me that if any cancer cells remain, they’d take decades to kill me.
Eventually I came home and returned to my busy routine. Yet my life has changed significantly; each day feels like a gift, each encounter a unique experience, and I have intimate conversations with God every day.
When our family gathered for the Thanksgiving feast this year, we offered special thanks for giving me good health. Surrounded by people who love me, my prayers of gratitude felt intensely meaningful. With the beginning of this new liturgical year, the Advent season of anticipation brings me a much-needed fresh perspective of joy, gratitude, and love.