I was 23 years old when my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer – likely the same cancer that I have now. 20 months later she would die from that disease, and during that time, I experienced such a range of emotions – anger, sadness, fear, hope, dread, gratitude, despair…
I remember having this vivid fantasy that I could physically fight her cancer, as if her disease could somehow take human form and I could have some time alone with it in a room. I’d fight unfairly, I thought. I’d be nasty, I’d sneak in weapons, and I’d come at it with everything I’ve got. I’d be ruthless.
Now I have all the time in the world to be alone in a room with that cancer. And the human form it has taken on is, well, my own. Only now I’m older, a bit wiser, less prone to violent fantasies, and more receptive to the reality that these cancer cells in my body – they’re my cells. They’re a part of me and they’ve just lost their way, growing beyond what my body was designed to do.
Today is Ash Wednesday. This evening the Farm Church community will gather at one of our gardens here in Durham. We’ll stand there on the soil, we’ll get out the ashes, and we’ll face each other’s human form and say the old words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
I know those words now in a way I didn’t last year. And I live into hope that while my dust-self is coming, I still have time – time to love, to work, to give and receive… time to live fully into the life I’ve been given. And as I consider that which is temporary, I ponder that which is eternal, and wonder again about my mom, about her light that still shines, about the dust to which she has returned and to which I one day will also return.
I have stage IV lung cancer and I write about that here. If you're out there and you're fighting cancer, solidarity. If you read "lung cancer" and you wonder if I was a smoker, read this. Living with cancer is a daily, death-defying reality - one that pushes me to not simply defy death, but to affirm life, bless goodness, cheer for wonder, celebrate beauty... you get the idea. I hope I do that here.