I’ve always been a fan of pop-ups. One of my favorite cards ever was a birthday greeting I received from a friend in college that featured a scantily clad older woman whose body was seriously suffering from the tyranny of gravity. There was a pull-tab to the side of her that functioned as a sort of lever. One good yank and all her “dangling participles” lifted up into their rightful places—underarm flab, saggy thighs and all. Talk about a “pop-up” card! It was downright miraculous and had me looking off to my left, for the following few days, in the hope that I’d find a pull-tab there that might work on me…
There have been other pop-ups cluttering my life since the beginning of my McAdventure (adventure with MAC). These aren’t quite as cute or entertaining as I’d like them to be. Nor are they the annoying computer variety of pop-ups that inform me that I am the sole winner of a 12 million dollar cash prize or the new owner of a luxury yacht. No, these are more subtle and infinitely more treacherous…
When people ask me how I am these days, I’ve come to assume that they’re generally referring to MAC. I usually give myself a moment to take stock before answering, and my answer usually goes something like, “I’m doing well.” At which point they look at me like I must be Mother Michele, the patron saint of Courage in the Face of Oncoming Scalpels. Those who go on to ask more personal questions might (wrongly) find more reason to consider canonizing me. (That means “sainting” me, not blasting me with a cannonball, for those students who aren’t familiar with the term!) It’s not that my answer is dishonest—I really AM doing well. I really, truly CAN say that I am at peace, that I am confident that what awaits will be tolerable and that God has been (and is) my sustenance through all the unknowns.
Mostly, my pop-ups come in the form of questions these days. And they’re most frequently preceded by the word that has driven parents mad since the beginning of time: “Why?” I guess I’m hitting my Terrible Twos a little late. I’m not proud of the whys that come slithering out of the dark when I’m lying in bed with nothing but my future to occupy my thoughts. And I’m not pleased either by the whys that startle me mid-frenzy during choir practice or on wogs in the hills or while watching a delightfully insipid TV show about people whose lives make my pop-ups look like Dr. Seuss subplots. I’m not particularly fond of any of the whys and yet—they’re there. And there’s nothing much I can do about preventing them because they’re simply the manifestation of my humanness.
The worst of them go something like this:
Why me? I hate that one. It makes me feel infantile and petty and utterly self-absorbed. Ew. But seriously–I’ve spent the better part of my life avoiding both sweat and the sun, and I’M the one who gets cancer of the sweat duct, which is directly linked to sun exposure?! Come on! Other members of my family have roasted for decades without any physical side effects! If anything, I should have cancer of the cheesecake-bulge! But nooooooo. Far be it from me to exhibit any predictability!
Why my face? Why the center of my cheek? This one has some historical foundations. I have never—NEVER—considered myself beautiful. In fact, I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to convince myself that I was just one step up from repulsive. Only in recent years have I begun to consider upgrading my self-assessment to “occasionally mildly attractive”—if seen in the right light from the right angle. So as I contemplate the possibility that my right cheek might have to be entirely excised in two months, there are moments when the “after” picture in my head is a Frankensteinian ode to disfiguration and frightfulness. Jagged red scars and a patchwork of mismatched flesh. This cancer often occurs on the scalp or behind the ears. So…drum roll please…why my face?
Why while I’m alone? I haven’t ever whined about being single. Mostly because I’ve always been able to find the silver linings in a life spent loving others in spite of being unmarried. Yet I sometimes wonder how this experience would be different if there were someone by me to love me and support me in a way only a husband could. Granted, I’ll have my mother by my side every step of the way and she has committed her entire summer to whatever my needs are—I couldn’t be in better hands… Still. I can’t help but wonder. And while I’m wondering, my thoughts sometimes drift back to my pal Frankenstein and contemplate the post-surgery marriageability of a scar-faced woman. Again—I know these thoughts are the exaggerated meanderings of a sleep-deprived mind, but brief as they are, I’ve got to acknowledge their existence if I am to combat their influence!
Because. That’s why. Because humanity shot itself in the foot (in my case, the face) for the sake of an apple and the lure of rebellion. Because bodies get sick. Because environmental toxins damage us. Because some people get Alzheimer’s. Some people get cystic fibrosis. Others get common colds. And I got MAC. There isn’t anything fair or unfair about that. It is what it is. Period.
I’m going to go out on theological limb here and state what I believe with all of my heart to be TRUTH: God did not give me cancer. I believe—I KNOW—that God grieved as this cancer began to grow in me. That He wept on the day I received my diagnosis. That He shuddered when I learned of the surgery ahead. He loves me too much to have reacted any other way.
Here’s what else I know to be Truth. He has been saying it to me over and over since this McJourney began: “I won’t let you go through this without benefiting from it. I won’t let them cut into your face without showering you with enough Gifts and Blessings to mellow that pain.”
And he will.
I cling to that promise with both hands, and in those brief, unexpected moments when the pop-ups blur my vision, I cling with whitened knuckles and quaking muscles because I dare not let go of that certainty. It is so much more important than the whys. Am I the patron saint of ANYTHING? Absolutely not. I am flawed and feeble and prone to pop-up overload. But “I’m doing well.” I really, truly am. And every time another why pops up, like plastic ducks in a shooting stand at old-fashioned fairs, I take careful aim and blast it to smithereens with scriptures and Truth.
When facing his Alzheimer’s battle, Charlton Heston spoke words that resonate to the core of my undeniably “unsainted” soul:
Every “why” is another chance to do exactly that: to rise with courage, to bow in surrender, and to hold to the Truth that will make of this challenge an opportunity for new Joy: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Is. 41:10)