The turning point was a week ago today. A friend e-mailed me to tell me that she had cervical cancer, and she’s okay, and I’m going to be okay too. I said I believed her. My sister called to tell me she has endometriosis, and maybe I have it too, and that’s what the pain is from. I said maybe. And then my urologist’s office called to say, whaddya know, I do have a UTI. I said I KNOW.
I left work at noon to fill my antibiotic and go home to rest. It’d been a hell of a week. After nearly four weeks of showing UTI symptoms but being told repeatedly that I didn’t have one, the middle part of my body felt broken. My kidneys had been aching for days, and everything felt kind of crowded in there like something was terribly wrong and all my organs had swelled up. The pain reached a climax that night, and I was popping the pills the urologist had given me every two hours even though they were supposed to last six. Boyfriend arrived and he held me as we drifted off to a very unsettled sleep.
When I woke up, I felt brand new, my symptoms almost entirely gone. I began to think for the first time that maybe I didn’t have cervical cancer, after all. Maybe everything was going to be okay.
That feeling lasted until the second Boyfriend left late Sunday night. I watched his car drive down my street, walked back inside, and was whacked in the gut with anxiety again. My heart began to race. The next day was the day I would get my answer.
I waited until noon on Monday to call and ask after the test results. In my message for the medical assistant, I said I’d waited a week, but now I was going kind of crazy. I didn’t confess that I’d been going crazy for a full week and was actually now reaching new, obscene, in-need-of-anxiety-medication levels of crazy.
She called back a couple of hours later, and I swallowed my heart as I answered the phone. The doctor biopsied four areas. Like the face of a clock, four, six, eight, and twelve. Six, eight, and twelve were fine. I held my breath. Four was mildly dysplastic (precancerous). We’ll keep an eye on it. I’ll need to go back in for another screen in six months. It might go away on its own or it might get worse, but all we can do is wait and see. No treatment is required at this point.
Only mildly? Why did the doctor think it was so bad? The doctor can only see so much and guess. The biopsy tells us for sure. Okay, then.
It was better than the best I was hoping for.
When I’d called my mom the week before to tell her the bad news, she told me she’d pray for God to heal my body. I said that’s nice, but I don’t believe in that. She said maybe this is happening so that I will. I said I don’t believe in that either. She said she does and that I should pray because she’d sure be praying for me.
Saying “I’ll pray for you” became a running joke at my small Christian college. Hearing it so often put a bad taste in our mouths. Some people would include a caveat at the end, like, no, really, I mean it in the least clichedest sense possible. I took to saying I’d “think good thoughts” for someone, similar to the way I insisted on carrying a leaky water bottle from Walmart around campus instead of the ubiquitous Nalgene.
I don’t really pray anymore, at least not the way I was taught from a very young age, with whole words and sentences and paragraphs and some “our heavenly father”s in the beginning and middle and an “in Jesus’ name, Amen” at the end. I kind of like Anne Lamott’s theory about prayer, that there are only two prayers, and they go “thank you, thank you, thank you” and “help me, help me, help me.” The truth is, I only ever intentionally pray the latter one but believe that when I feel grateful or thankful or joyful or content that I’m praying the former one. And when I’m not desperate or afraid enough to pray the latter one, I do it just by feeling worried or anxious or hopeful or sad. Either way, I’m pretty sure that God hears the cries of our hearts even when they’re not verbal. And that’s how one prays without ceasing. Merely by living and feeling, we’re constantly communicating with the infinite, our wishes and dreams and hopes and fears and worries flowing out into the universe even when we don’t realize it.
When people told me they would pray for me last week, I sincerely thanked them. I needed it, and whatever I thought about prayer didn’t really matter anymore. It couldn’t hurt, in any case. Others were doing what I describe above, thinking of me, worrying for me, hoping for me. Maybe others still were doing a whole different kind that I don’t know about yet.
The craziest thing of all is that it worked. All of it. I felt acceptance by Thursday. Calm by Friday. By Monday afternoon after hanging up the phone, I turned my attention to my body just in time to hear it say, for the first time in a week, “Great. Now, let’s eat.”
By Monday evening I was in the bathtub again, finishing Cold Sassy Tree. And I read this passage.
“Faith ain’t no magic wand or money-back gar’ntee, either one. Hit’s jest a way a-livin’. Hit means you don’t worry th’ew the days. Hit means you go’n be holdin’ on to God in good or bad times, and you accept whatever happens. Hit means you respect life like it is–like God made it–even when it ain’t what you’d order from the wholesale house. Faith don’t mean the Lord is go’n make lions lay down with lambs jest cause you ast him to, or make fire not burn. Some folks, when they pray to get well and don’t even git better, they say God let’m down. But I say thet warn’t even what Jesus was a-talkin’ bout. When Jesus said ast and you’ll git it, He was givin’ a gar’ntee a-spiritual healin’, not body healin’. He was sayin’ thet if’n you git beat down–scairt to death you cain’t do what you got to, or scairt you go’n die, or scairt folks won’t like you–why, all you got to do is put yore hand in God’s and He’ll lift you up. I know it for a fact, Love. I can pray, ‘Lord, hep me not to be scairt,’ and I don’t know how, but it’s like a eraser wipes the fears away. And I found out a long time ago, when I look on what I got to stand as a dang hardship or a burden, it seems too heavy to carry. But when I look on the same dang thang as a challenge, why, standin’ it or acceptin’ it is like you done entered a contest. Hit even gits excitin’, waitin’ to see how everthang’s go’n turn out.”
“Jesus meant us to ast God to hep us stand the pain, not beg Him to take the pain away. We can ast for comfort and hope and patience and courage, and to be gracious when thangs ain’t goin’ our way, and we’ll git what we ast for. They ain’t no gar’ntee thet we ain’t go’n have no troubles and ain’t go’n die. But shore as frogs croak and cows bellow, God’ll forgive us if’n we ast Him to.”
I thought about how my life was given back to me. I thought about the children I still might have and the books I still might write and the places I still might go. I thought about the people who don’t get good news, who haven’t had their lives given back, who might never get their lives back. I thought about all of these things and then I prayed for them, just for good measure.