Musings

The Month of Kidney

Sorry I’ve been MIA. No news is good news? Dr. V said at my last appointment there’s nothing much for him to do for me right now, in the best way possible. My labs are great, my side effects are what they are, my CTs are still mercifully clear, so I’m kind of boring right now. Which, I’m perfectly fine with! I mean, if I can just be boring forever, that would be great. I’ve had enough medical excitement for one lifetime.

I’ve just completed a large project outside of work regarding kidney cancer that took up a substantial amount of time – more on that later. So, I’ve had kidneys on the brain. Coincidentally enough, March is Kidney Cancer Awareness Month. Since kidney cancer is usually diagnosed in advanced stages due to the lack of early warning signs – usually by the time you’re having symptoms, you already have a monster – it’s a little funny but nonetheless appreciated that we have a whole month dedicated to the Big Bad Kidney Beast.

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Tonight, I attended a class at church, and part of it was ironically enough on redemptive suffering. Sounds funny, right? I’m no theologian, but I may know a thing or two about suffering. I’m probably going to butcher the explanation, but essentially the idea is to give your suffering to Christ. That suffering isn’t of Christ necessarily, but a product of original sin.

Hang in with me for a minute, OK? Let me explain.

This doesn’t make suffering suck any less, I assure you. But it reminded me of the first time I’d heard of redemptive or sacrificial suffering. It was when I was hospitalized at UCLA. I’d been released from ICU, so I was getting better, but I was in a terrible amount of pain. I finally shared on Facebook what was going on with me, and a friend from college encouraged me to use my suffering to bring people to Christ, to pray for the other people in the hospital.

Now, I admit, my first thoughts were not charitable towards others. They were about me, myself, and I, and about the horrible pain I was in, and how much things sucked, and how could I really, possibly be asked to turn this pain into good when it was clearly oh so not good?

But then, a while later, I got up for my walk. The walks were important because it helps you heal faster and helps with the pain management. At this point, I was walking a couple of times a day, sometimes more, for longer distances each time, but it was still a major struggle. I sometimes walked when I didn’t really feel like it, and I walked even though every step was an accomplishment. I’d walk pushing my walker while having others help with my various carts and IVs. There’s a lot of tubing involved with major surgery, in case you were wondering.

My temporary home was the liver unit, since I’d had liver involvement and they could keep a close eye on me there. One of my two surgeons was the UCLA Chief Surgeon, and his specialty is liver transplants, so he wanted me on his floor. There were a lot of transplant patients on my floor, and a lot of patients desperately waiting for a transplant.

For the first time, I started really paying attention to the other people on my floor. The patients in isolation. The patients I could hear moaning and crying from their beds. The patients alone, with no one at their side. The patients who were clearly dying.

I thought, “I’m not that bad. My cross isn’t that heavy compared to these people.”

Me, as I’m pushing a walker. Me, with my accompaniment of machines and tubes. Me, that just had a 13 centimeter tumor and multiple body parts removed. Me, I’m not that bad, all things considered.

I’m not saying this to glorify me, or to make light of what I went through. But really, comparatively speaking, I still had a spark of hope. Not everyone did.

I understood what my friend had meant. So I started praying silently for each person and his/her family as I crossed by the patient’s door during my rounds. Lifting my pain, my discomfort up, asking for my suffering to amplify the intercession.

It’s why even when some days I am tapped out, when the whole candle is on fire because I am beyond burning the candle at both ends, I still reach out to patients and caregivers that I know need the support, the lifeline, the glimmer of hope. Because I’ve been there. I remember grasping on so tightly to two young kidney cancer survivors that were generous with their time with me when I thought there was no hope, when I had just been diagnosed and the idea of someone who had survived was so monumental, so inspiring that it gave me the strength to keep putting one swollen leg in front of the other.

It was said tonight to “trust in God in your suffering because that’s when He’s planning your resurrection.”

I now understand that all those painful, horrible, awful experiences were stepping stones for things that were greater than I could have understood then. And even now, whatever may come, both good and bad, will bring about even greater, more beautiful things than I can comprehend today.

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