When we began this endless trek,
I feared I saw a darkened door,
Through which a line of marching sick
Were heading for some winter shore.
But now the news the doctor brings
Seems to promise other springs. — Jane Yolen
One year ago today, Jeff went into the local emergency room with sudden, acute abdominal pain that suggested appendicitis. That day I got a phone call from him in the ER with the kind of devastating news we all dread; news that would change our lives abruptly and irrevocably.
It was the beginning of a year that was to bring him two different cancers diagnosed (apparently unrelated to each other), four surgeries, four weeks in the hospital, two different courses of chemotherapy and one of radiation, countless trips to Bethesda, and further surgeries and treatments planned, with no completion of treatment in sight. The initial diagnosis of atypical cardinoid in the appendix was worrisome enough, but with the additional finding of Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the colon, with multiple tumors scattered over the liver and lungs, his prognosis was grim indeed.
On Christmas Eve 2010, a dear friend of ours had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sometime in the weeks following, Jeff picked up a copy of the book The Radiation Sonnets, written by the prolific and multiple-award-winning author Jane Yolen, who penned the sonnets daily as a way of coping with her husband’s cancer treatment. Jeff hoped the book might bring comfort to this wonderful couple we loved, who were facing a such a formidable challenge. He didn’t read it, but asked me to review it and decide whether it would be an appropriate gift.
By the time I was able to skim the book, our friend’s prognosis and condition had worsened, and I felt the hopeful tone on which the book ended might not fit the current circumstances. I set the book aside hoping the time would come when it might be more fitting for them, or if not, there might be other friends who could benefit from it someday.
Shortly after Jeff’s second cancer diagnosis in November 2012, I was going through the cache of gifts I keep on hand when I buy something perfect for a particular person, to save for the next Christmas or birthday. I found Yolen’s now-forgotten book and decided to read it, with the somber realization that the person I had been saving it for turned out to be me.
The poem I partially quote above, entitled “Ask the doctor,” falls slightly more than halfway through the book. I clung to it and read it often during the darkest days, with the fervent hope that there might someday be an appropriate time to feature it in this blog. I am filled with gratitude and joy that the time finally seems right.
It’s not that we’ve gotten any particularly good news lately, but Jeff has again managed to fend off some frightening and excruciatingly painful side effects from the chemotherapy that has ravaged his body, and with every comeback, I feel more hopeful. As did Yolen’s husband, Jeff still faces a very uncertain future, but one that holds considerably more hope than it did just over ten months ago when I began this blog.
All of you who have joined us on this path, through your visits here, comments, thoughts and prayers, have helped us reach a brighter place. I think of every reader with appreciation and a deeply thankful heart. You have created for me this supportive community that has upheld me through more than I could have imagined thus far. As we continue forward with a renewed determination to defeat despair, know always that you have played an important role in our ability to rise above the pain and sorrow. As I love to say in my comments, “thanks for being here!”
This post was first published seven years ago today. A few of these posts are so hard to re-visit that I actually dread returning to them. This is one. What makes it so difficult for me is remembering how I felt when I wrote this. Although I acknowledge here that Jeff’s future remained uncertain, I really did believe, indeed I felt certain, that he would beat the disease, and that this story would have a happy ending. My heart breaks knowing that Jeff and I, who felt so hopeful then, were all too soon to have those hopes dashed, and that his death was one of many profound losses in store for me. I thank God I had no idea what the future would bring.
Still, even back then I had looked up information to find out what happened to Yolen’s husband, who inspired her hopeful poem about “other springs.” Like Jeff, he had a few springs yet to live after this poem was published, but he too succumbed to one of the most vicious diseases known to modern medicine. Did Yolen ever look back on this poem with the same desolation that I feel now in my heart when I read this?
The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.
- Posted in: Uncategorized
- Tagged: belief, coping, faith, fighting cancer, hope, illness, optimism, renewal, springtime, survival, uncertainty
Dear Julia, I can’t imagine the devastating feeling and loss. I, too, agree that I don’t want to know the future. The present is enough. And while we can’t understand the mysteries of life, and the “human condition”, I am certain, as the Apostle Paul says, that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In Him, you may find hope and peace, and anticipate with joy a future reunion with Jeff. Grace and peace my dear friend.
Thank you, Chris. I so appreciate your encouragement, and your presence here!
Dearest Heavenly Father, lift Julia’s heart today.
Thank her for these many posts that have lifted my heart through difficult times and blessed us all with beautiful photographs and the insight of poets, authors and scholars, including Julia herself! I found her in the Upper Room in November of 2012 and enjoyed her online publications ever since. Remind her you are with her in her loneliness. In Jesus’ holy name I pray. Amen
Mary Ellen, thank you for this beautiful prayer. It lifted my heart to read your generous thoughts for me. I believe your prayers have a very direct result in my life, beginning with the difference in how I feel just reading what you wrote. You have my deepest gratitude for being here with me all this time! ❤
I’m so sorry, Julia. So much heartbreak.
Thank you, Susan. I try not to think too much about it, but some days that’s easier than others. I appreciate your sympathy and companionship on this journey!
Lovely photo of your wonderful man, at the seaside!
Sending much love, Julia!
Yes, who would have known that big strong guy would be given a terminal diagnosis just a little over a year later? Thanks for being here with me and sharing the happy and sad memories. Sending much love to you too! ❤
Dear Julia, thank you so much for this post. I feel a few days behind in reading your blog, but today is the day that I needed to read this one, so I’m glad and I thank you.
I’m praying for your coming springs on this autumn day.
Thank you Susan. I do still need the prayers, and I really appreciate your not moving on and forgetting me as so many have done.
Dear Julia, even if people “move on” for one reason or another, I am confident that no one has forgotten you. I can tell by the comments that you have touched a lot of people and I’m sure that we are all richer for whatever time we’ve spent journeying together.
Thank you for those kind words, Susan.