Monday, March 28, 2011

Stalked by the black panther

Come Friday I hope to again be purged of the metastatic nodules that continue to materialize just beneath my skin. It’s bizarre how my melanoma manifests itself as small, black seeds of corruption. They’re black because they’re mostly composed of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in skin that determine its color. After more than a year of plucking them out, it’s still hard for me to grasp how uncontrollably fast these cells are multiplying. Left untreated, the tumors would eventually grow grotesquely large, as online photos will attest.

Regardless of their biology, their blackness seems fitting as they can powerfully darken my mood. Today is one of those days, as I contemplate my next trip to the OR. I don’t get this way often, but when I do it’s pointless to resist. The emotion I feel is mostly trepidation as deep and mysterious as the mutant cells themselves. It’s as if I’m being stalked by a black panther in the gloom of a place I've never been.

I’ve plumbed the Bible for nearly every reference that relates to the circumstances of my life, and sucked both the sweet and the bitter from its stories. Just this morning I again read the passage in 2 Corinthians where the Apostle Paul describes the “thorn in his side”—some sort of physical ailment that persists and humbles him. It’s been speculated that this “thorn” may have been epilepsy, migraine headaches, or even partial blindness. It’s possible that Paul didn’t have a physical affliction, but that he was referring to his tendency toward conceitedness. Regardless of what was buffeting him, he regarded it as a “messenger of Satan.” He could hardly have chosen stronger words.

This implies that God allowed Paul to experience something evil, but which God also used for good. I don’t believe that everything I’ve experienced in life is sent from God; he also permits bad things to happen that are not of him. I can sort out the obvious into categories labeled “God’s” and “Not from God,” but I’d be guessing about most of what happens to me. Sometimes, what appears to be misfortune turns out to be a blessing in disguise. I’m not prepared to say that’s true of my melanoma, but I do know that God’s grace is sufficient to negate what appears to the eye to be pure, unmitigated evil. That grace doesn’t spare me the emotional turmoil, as I can't deny the reality of what I feel. But the unmerited favor that I receive concurrently gives me the strength to carry on. Against all logic, I am content in my weakness. I allow the cancer to be what it is.

A fallacy I've long believed about myself is that my body is my own. For most of my life I’ve sensed that who I am begins and largely ends with who I am physically. I still have a high regard for the bodies we've been given, and for the need to care for them, but I can no longer depend on my own as I once did. As my fingertips slowly scroll over my skin, feeling every imperfection, I sense that my body is indeed weak. It has let me down. The bumps that I discover startle me, and remind me that a creeping corruption persists. There is blackness within me. I am mortal.


Anonymous said...

Hey Peter, I can relate in some way. Even though my scans have been "normal" the past two, I continue to be plagued with GI issues I can't seem to shake. As for Yervoy, another case of an incredibly expensive drug that Bristol will make billions on and insurance companies will be slow to embrace. Yet we survivors continue on through the grace of God.


grsmouse said...

"I am content in my weakness. I allow the cancer to be what it is"

I read these words and almost weep and rejoice at the same time. These, to me, are words of victory.

God bless.