Early yesterday morning, my friend, Tricia, drove 100 miles to meet me at Caribou Coffee across the street from Mayo’s Saint Mary’s Hospital. She hugged me with the longest hug I’ve had in a very long time, we chatted, had some tears and covered a whole wide range of topics in just one hour and thirty minutes. After I received the phone call from Mayo’s business office reminding me that my husband’s PET scan had been denied and that we needed to show up to the office and make a $7,500 payment before we had the procedure (which I am absolutely NOT going to do), Tricia handed me a a necklace from which hung the TINIEST of keys with the word HOPE on it. She chose a tiny key because she knows I don’t wear a lot of necklaces and agreed it would be understated. But this morning as I type each uncertain word out on the keyboard, I realize an even better reason for that tiny HOPE key necklace.
It’s okay to have the tiniest bit of hope.
Whether it springs forth in abundance or remains a tiny seed nested amongst a host of worries, HOPE is HOPE.
I wish I was a super-happy, super-hopeful, happy-hopeful, beyond-hopeful kind of person that sprung forth with “everything’s going to be okay” language around every turn. Honestly, I’ve wished for that kind of personality, that kind of perspective, more than I’d care to admit. Christian and American culture has tried to convince me that it’s totally in my power to decide how much hope, how much positivity I have about life’s circumstances. Believe me, if I could turn on a switch and become super happy, super hopeful, happy hopeful, beyond hopeful at a moment’s notice? I would.
But try as I may, God made me a certain way.
I’m the woman whose once-upon-a-time very serious career aspiration was to be a psychologist. I can listen to your stories and your burdens ALL DAY LONG. Bring me your tears, your pain, the things that have hurt you most. Bring me your impossible circumstances, your most unlikely of hopes, your NOT understanding why this or that happened or didn’t happen. I can handle it all. It doesn’t bother me that your life has been complicated, twisting, turning, filled with a whole bunch of things that were hard, don’t make sense or have tested your faith beyond measure. I believe, with all my heart, that there’s purpose for our pain, that beauty and glory are waiting to shine through our stories. I believe that life’s challenges are meant to strengthen us, fortify us, prepare us for an eternity of peace, hope and the Greatest of Loves. I believe the best stories are those in which everything imaginable falls apart, but then there is that flicker of hope, that light of hope, that tiniest key to life, HOPE.
When my husband, Seth, and I walked through Door B yesterday, plopped on the exam room couch, and waited for the oncology doctor to arrive, I must admit that I had the tiniest bit of HOPE for the news we were about to receive. Seth had a MRI of the brain the afternoon before to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread to his brain. To be honest, I was pretty worried. The only physical symptom Seth’s had through all of this is headaches, bad headaches that have required him to take Tylenol almost every day for the past two months. He thought it was just stress, but now that we’d found out the melanoma had spread to his liver, they’d ordered the brain MRI, and said they wouldn’t be surprised if the metastatic liver lesions were “the tip of the iceberg,” there was legitimate reason to fear.
So when Dr. M arrived and announced “the brain scan was clear,” the tiniest bit of HOPE turned to a swelling, overwhelming HOPE. I didn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d been worried, and so had Seth. This was one HUGE blessing, one very big RELIEF. If nothing else good came from yesterday, this huge hit of HOPE overpowered everything.
Dr. M went on to describe immunotherapy treatment in more detail than we’d ever heard. The goal, in layman’s terms, is to “turn on the immune system,” rev it up, and “get all the good guys on this thing.” Immunotherapy has proven to be effective on metastatic melanoma when the originating tumor is choroidal melanoma (eye cancer). With Seth’s very rare version of melanoma, there is at least a 30-40% chance that immunotherapy will “shrink the tumors immediately.” If immunotherapy isn’t working the way they want it to, they will try other more conventional treatments. And then there was the list of potential side effects, questions we maybe didn’t want to ask, treatment in Seattle three weeks from now, treatment and tests at Mayo in Minnesota six weeks from now, more treatments, and the reminder that this is “an unusual version of an unusual tumor.”
Whether it’s bursting and swelling out of us; whether it’s super hopeful, happy hopeful or beyond hopeful; or whether it’s the tiniest of hopes, HOPE is HOPE.
From here on out, I place no judgement on the amount of hope I have vs. the amount of hope Seth has vs. the amount of hope our kids have vs. the amount of hope Seth’s parents have vs. the amount of hope my parent’s have vs. the amount of hope pastors have vs. the amount of hope our friends, family and colleagues have.
HOPE is HOPE.
That is what I will embrace today. That is what I proclaim today. That is what feels right and seems right today.
HOPE is HOPE.
It doesn’t really matter how much you have, how loudly you yell it from the streets, or how quietly you guard it inside your heart.
HOPE is HOPE.
So I had hope, a swelling of hope and a bit more guarded and exhausted sort of hope, when we arrived for Seth’s first immunotherapy treatment at Mayo Clinic yesterday afternoon. Nurse Bert was helpful, hopeful. She’s been working in oncology for 35 years, many of those years alongside Dr. M. She reminded us that he is a world renowned physician, sounded genuinely excited about how much HOPE immunotherapy has brought to the world of cancer, and had a fierce, but friendly positivity to her that made you believe, yet again, that there was TRULY HOPE, even amidst these darkest of circumstances.
The nurse prepared Seth for the infusion. Bag one. Bag two.
The tiniest of hopes. A swelling of hope.
HOPE is HOPE.