A battle report from the home front
Raising four children, my husband Nat and I wanted them to know the world did not revolve around them. Not to diminish them but to free them. To release them from relentless self-focus to see a world of beauty and wonder, and need that is theirs to enter, enjoy, and serve.
When I took long reporting trips away from the kids, their dad made life at home rich and my travels a family affair to revel in. We traveled together too. One year we took from school two high schoolers, a fifth- grader, and a first-grader to travel around the world over several months. We celebrated Chinese New Year with friends in Macau, snorkeled off the Sinai Peninsula, and spent a week among garbage village workers in Cairo.
It was an unforgettable, eye-opening time, sleeping as a family in cramped quarters and moving among the 96 percent of the world who aren’t Americans. In our circumnavigation we saw our small place in an ever widening tapestry. We never regretted the bank account we emptied to do it.
With my children in their mid-20s to mid-30s, busy in far places with their own work and families, we find all our attention turned inward, back to home. My husband Nat has cancer. One of his doctors told me last week it’s the most aggressive bladder cancer he’s seen in his career.
Now our children empty bank accounts for plane tickets to be near.
This cancer has defied four rounds of strenuous chemotherapy, growing and metastasizing to Nat’s lungs instead of shrinking as we once hoped. Our options for treatment narrow. At the same time, he’s been beset by pain and overcome with sepsis, spending 20 days of the last month hospitalized with infection and complications. This past week while trying to start a round of palliative radiation, he suddenly worsened with fever and chest pains: Covid.
A journey requiring a lot of navigation skills for post-pandemic medical care feels more like a long drop over a bottomless ravine, or a toboggan race jerking us into hairpin turns. Having reported on refugees and earthquake victims who find their lives upended overnight, I thought I knew what rapid-fire loss could be like. War zones teach you that life is fragile and any day a gift. Yet I only witnessed these lessons. Now I am walking them.
With every impossible new detour, our children show up and make a way forward seem possible. They take turns sleeping at the hospital in a shifty recliner. They feed the dog, run errands, do laundry and oil changes in between singing at Nat’s bedside and reading him news of the world. Our grandchildren draw get-well pictures and video good-night wishes. Grandson Theo sent his favorite quilt to the hospital to “keep Pops warm and help him feel brave.” Together we keep logs of notes and questions for the specialists on Nat’s team—oncologist, radiologist, urologist, palliative care and infectious disease doctors, hospitalist and more.
This week Nat is weary and downhearted. He has suffered mightily, and the way forward in the midst of medications, pain, tubes, and Covid brain fog seems dim. Yet there beneath all that are everlasting arms and a Holy Spirit living on, one we know is powerful enough to raise Jesus Christ from the grave. We begin most days reminding each other we are new creations.
“If you need anything, ask for me,” said nursing assistant Katie on Wednesday. “My mom had lung cancer and I know how hard this is. I want to take good care of you.” Nat rallied and asked her mom’s name, then prayed for her.
Hard days don’t keep us from feeling nested in the love of Christ that already has made us alive—has made Nat alive no matter what cancer does. We feel confident the Lord God is walking with Nat through this valley, preparing a banquet table even in the presence of his enemies, cancer and death chief among them. We also know God draws near to the brokenhearted. And we are brokenhearted.
Suffering can refine us, make ordinary moments electric, and destroy our idols. But I am grateful to my friend Pete Wehner for reminding me, “Sometimes suffering is just suffering. There are no idols that need to be destroyed, no lessons that need to be learned. Sometimes suffering is just suffering. Yet we know God is on the side of the sufferer.”
We ask people who pray to pray for Nat to have relief from pain, to have comfort in his body, mind, and spirit. We ask that he continue to be the blessing he has been to hospital and medical caregivers, to all he and we meet in this special season. We ask prayers for his team of doctors to have wisdom and for us to rest in their care. We ask that any treatments and procedures ahead be worthwhile and effective, knowing God numbers all our days. We ask for prayers for our children, for Nat’s seven siblings, and all our extended family. We ask that we number our days aright. We are at once helpless and helped knowing only God and the wonders of modern medicine can heal him.