Friday, December 26, 2014

What Cancer Means to Me: A Creative Writing Essay by Judi Murphy

Do you remember elementary school? Those silly creative writing assignments: "What Christmas Means to Me." I don't think I ever wrote that Christmas means long hours and chaos; Christmas means a lack of, or completely ineffective planning, and cramming hundreds of thousands of packages through a building equipped for far fewer. Christmas means short tempers and even shorter periods of sleep. Christmas means managers you haven't seen all year standing over your shoulder anxious to help -- and by "help," I mean tell you how to do a job you've done for over ten years, a job they've never done. Christmas means uncertain arrival times for aircraft, uncertain departure times for tractor trailers, and an endless stream of phone calls regarding said uncertainties. Christmas means upper management popping in to high five their partners, congratulate themselves and exchange gifts, while you remain another nameless peon in a sea of nameless peons. Christmas means warm lunchmeat sandwiches, and cold, crusty refried beans left over from the night shift's Christmas buffet.

As I left work this morning, I couldn't help but feel some sense of accomplishment for making it through my twenty-fifth Christmas ("peak season" as we refer to it) with UPS. I was thrilled to be making my way home to enjoy Christmas Eve with my family. But by the time I got there, the rain had soaked through my shirt, the sinus infection I'd been fighting had KO'd the top of my head down to my throat, and the "other thing," that thing we weren't going to discuss had gripped my heart. I'd been looking forward to Christmas, to the phones at work falling silent, to the glow of candlelight piercing the darkness of the sanctuary of Christmas Eve, to the joy of time spent with family. But with Christmas Eve finally here, it dawned on me that "the holidays" had arrived, and in just a few short days they'd be gone, and dealing with "the thing" would be back.

"The thing" is cancer. The "Big C." The thing I thought I'd been rid of last summer. The thing that showed up in my last round of blood work. "We'll talk about it after the holidays," the oncologist had said. And I'd been OK with that. The holidays seemed so far away. But now...

So, once again, my husband is a nutcase, and I am vacillating between trusting God for good health and facing the reality of bad health. I trust that God is good - no doubts about that -- but, I'd like to know the end of the story. I'm terrible when I'm really invested in a good book. I will turn to the last chapter and not read, but skim, for a name I know, a character I like -- "Did he make it OK? I'm not going to get all wrapped up in this guy if he's not even going to make it 'til the end of the book." It's  no different with life. If I'm going to have to undergo radiation I'm going to live differently than if my next three sets of tests show negative. If I'm going to be sick for a while there are things I wanna do now; if this was just a mistake in labs, I can go on about my business.

When I really start to break this whole thing down, and focus on specifics, I have to ask: What, exactly, would be different if I knew these things? Would I do that whole "live like I'm dying" thing? Skydiving. Rocky Mountain climbing. Or would I just take care of those things that mean something to others: the Last Will & Testament, the final thoughts, the "where to find the buried treasure?" Or is it simply doing all the stuff we've been talking about: switching insurance companies, refinancing -- silly details crossed off my list, so I can concentrate on getting better?

But life is not a book, at least not one in which we can peak ahead. With the same tenacity and persistence I do what I am called to do, what I've been trained to do, with the same patience and calm I refuse to get caught up in the panic and emotion of "peak season" at UPS, I will move forward in life. I will trust that God is good, that He holds the future -- my future in His hands, that He loves me; I will serve Him no matter how blindly, day after day, hour after hour. And will one day feel that sense of accomplishment as He says to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter into the joy of your Master."

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