Her face literally glowed with her peaceful smile as she looked up at me. It was the first week in the radiation center in the late Fall of 2012 and I’d fallen into treatment routine, into exhaustion, and honestly, into a sense of self-pity that Chase’s diagnosis was one of the worst I’d heard of at that time.
And then I met this woman. She was petite, energetic, had the biggest smile, and was waiting for her son. She sat folded into a kid’s chair in the play room while her older daughter danced across the room doing math facts on the white board and checking in to make sure she got it right. As the blond girl and the math facts moved around us, this woman with the peaceful smile would tell me that her son had a cancer with no cure. They knew it from the beginning: every treatment was but a buyer of time. And as I worked to accept the words that came from her mouth, she spoke of knowing True Peace and making the most of what they were given. In her own words, describing the same moment by moment refrain that I was coming to know. She’d gone before me, into harder places, and her wisdom held me up in those first weeks and new treatments.
Within a month, I’d stand in the radiation center and cheer on her darling son as he graduated. Bald and emaciated with his “radiation tan”, he got his coin and his certificate and he was done. As I watched him stand there, I was so encouraged that Chase would soon be done. Rusty had gone before us that way and seemed to say “Hey, this can be done.“
And then the good news came as Chase finished radiation the following month. A reprieve had been granted and Rusty’s health was strong.
Our families saw each other rarely even as we shared some doctors and hospital floors. But this is the strange bonding of cancer. People may be different as night and day or live in far away places and yet, in unusual ways, we become brothers, sisters and neighbors because of the halls of a children’s oncology ward. One time, while Chase lay too weak to rise and the central line bled out (again), Rusty was being prepared for hearing assistance and he made a special trip upstairs with a picture he’d colored just to cheer Chase up. He stood by Chase’s bed and as he had done at radiation, he seemed to go before and say “Hey, this can be done”. His hair was back and his color was good and I hoped Chase would look like that some day soon.
Time passed as Chase would scan and clinic and then Rusty would scan and clinic and over and over again, the hope and faith of this family rushed over us in encouragement like water on parched ground. They went before us and proved God faithful in so many ways.
Then the summer came and with it, news. The cancer was back for Rusty. We were all together at a hospital function and it was beautiful. But at times like that, there are no words.
Then the holidays came and the news of hospice came and we held our breath – not now, please not now at this season – as if praying this would make any other time less awful. Yet Rusty pushed back and lived greater and bigger still. He walked when they said no more and he ran and he played and his joy and strength – the whole family’s joy and strength – was larger than life. And one frozen winter Sunday, we watched our computer screens in awe, tears streaming down our faces as the video showed his father gently lifting him into the water and laying him in under the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit”. He publicly identified with The One who has always gone before.
And now, we’ve read that the time is near. We’ve read that his body grows weary, but we’ve also heard that he’s ready. And soon, he’ll go before us yet again…
Please pray for this family.
“Man, I cannot wait to see the baseball field. I bet I can hit a home run on heaven’s field.” Rusty, age 7
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39