Today is September 17. Last year on this date we were blissfully unaware of Nate’s cancer, which was secretly taking over. He was still working six days a week, commuting from Michigan to Chicago’s Loop, still providing for his family.
On this day he left work before lunch to have a biopsy, because we’d learned via phone several days before of a “mass” on his liver. During a routine pre-op exam prior to back surgery, his blood numbers had been askew, so the doctor had ordered a scan.
“Try not to worry,” the doctor told Nate on the phone. “A mass doesn’t always mean cancer.”
We took his advice, at least outwardly. Nate’s response to the news was stalwart. “It’s probably nothing. Let’s not mention it to anyone.” We agreed to keep it quiet until we knew more, shrugging it off as a blip on his health screen.
That night when I couldn’t sleep, a legal phrase laced my thoughts: innocent until proven guilty. My greatest longing was to hear the doctor say the mass was innocent… benign.
The day of the biopsy, Nate insisted I not accompany him. “I’ve got a jam-packed day, and I’m sure it’ll be a quick in and out at the hospital. I have to go right back to work afterwards.”
But he walked in the cottage door earlier than usual, looking weary. “How was it?” I said.
“Brutal. Four zaps with a gun to the chest.”
The biopsy site was bandaged, but the next day his chest testified to the pain of having four pieces of flesh, even tiny ones, plucked from an organ.
Nate and I mentioned the mass and biopsy to no one, as if holding back that information might hold back bad news. Later, after we learned the deadly truth, we agreed it was good not to have known for those five days between the phone call and the diagnosis. As a matter of fact, it was good not to have known that whole summer. What benefit would there have been? Pancreatic always gets its patient anyway.
As the old saying goes, timing is everything, and God is the one regulating the event-clock. Despite Nate’s occasional physical complaints, summer had been good as we settled in at the cottage. We got to know our neighbors better and were liking the new routine. Our children came and went all summer, happily enjoying beach days with cousins and pals, without the burden of knowing their father was sick and dying. In a bad situation, God’s timing was good.
On the day Nate died, the Hospice nurse and Mary gave him a bath while he slept. As the nurse tenderly washed his chest, I noticed that the four biopsy punctures were still black and blue, a reminder of our journey’s beginning just as we were nearing the end. Although it had been a terrible six weeks, it could have been 12, doubling the misery, or 24, quadrupling it.
God knew what he was doing by bringing the cancer to light when he did. By waiting, he kept the blare of life’s alarm clock silent in order to give us a precious gift: a summer of time with Nate, without cancer… at least as far as we knew.
“To everything there is a season… a time to build up… and a time to break down.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,3)