More than a year ago, I stood in a shop downtown, waiting while the cashier rang up my small purchase. My bare head wrapped in a scarf, I was through the worst of the chemotherapy and gaining momentum to get through the 6 weeks of radiation treatment. While I waited, I was absorbed in my own thoughts, perhaps about where I was headed next or what might be for dinner that night.
You know how it is when you’re lost in your own miasma. People and noises surround you but you’re oblivious because, at that moment, your world is interior, not connected to the activities around you. But from that swirl of activity – other shoppers milling about, the cashiers in conversation — a voice pushed open a channel into my interior world.
“Are you in treatment?” the voice said.
I looked around for the source of the question and saw, standing a short distance to my left, a young woman with raven black, shoulder-length hair wearing a brilliant red coat. She was smiling brightly at me, and before I could respond to her question, she continued:
“Don’t worry. The hair comes back, and it goes back to normal.”
This angel in the red coat was offering me assurance – that things would be OK, that there was life after cancer treatment. And that someday in the not-too-distant future, I would be going on about life as I always had been. Her presence there was living proof for me.
I don’t know who the woman was, have never seen her again, have no idea why she chose to speak to me that day. But I’m glad she did. She was one of those gifts a fellow traveller told me would appear along the journey.
So now it’s my turn.
A few weeks ago, I learned that my favorite uncle has been diagnosed with cancer – of the lung, of the liver – we’re not sure, and he has some difficult choices ahead of him. In his 80’s now, he is a very dear man who has met the many challenges in his life with courage and integrity. I do not know what his journey will be like, but I can perhaps offer him the same encouragement the woman in red offered to me.
And so too for the friend and colleague who just received a diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer. When he first heard of my diagnosis more than 2 years ago, he told me that he knew I would come through the treatment OK. Given his closer proximity to God, I put a lot of faith in his words. For him now too, I don the metaphoric red coat, to offer what assurance I can for his journey.
To both of these brave men, I say — you too will be OK. You too will survive this.
I know it.