Sitting on our kitchen counter is a block print of a Banksy work of street art. Since Bristol-based celebrated graffiti artist Banksy is somewhat local to us, we’ve always been big fans of his thought-provoking, often provocative works of art. From a work showing a crucifix where Jesus is holding Christmas shopping bags as a statement of what Christmas has become, to a child stitching flags as a scathing statement against government-sanctioned child labour, his works of art are often a satirical commentary on the state of the world. There is one in particular, though, that has always struck a chord in me. It’s an image of a little girl standing in front of a gust of wind, letting go of a red heart-shaped balloon. Seeing it always stirs up thoughts in me of a loss of childhood wonder & innocence; a little girl choosing to let go of her child-heart when faced with the harsh realities of life. It would potentially be a dark, depressing picture of the inevitable loss of childhood faith and optimism if it weren’t for these words written next to it: There is always hope.
It’s not known for sure whether Banksy wrote these words to go along with his stencil or if someone else decided to juxtapose the image of loss with this truth; the truth that no matter how much loss and grief we may face, it can never eliminate all hope. I’ve found that this is a truth that, though it is so simple, has the power to transform how we live life. How would we live if we truly believed that, even when faced with unthinkable circumstances and loss, there is always hope?
I have had to face this question again in my life recently. A few weeks ago, unbelievably, I found another lump. After having gone through two separate surgeries and intensive nutritional therapy for ten months, this came as a huge blow to us. Especially after we got the news back from the doctors that this time it didn’t look like surgery could be an option. Thankfully the CT scan showed that it hadn’t spread and was still localised to the lymph nodes in the same area as before, which came as a surprise to the doctors. After another long consultation with the oncologist, we came away having to make a hard decision. She reiterated what she had told us before, that because it is the rarest and most aggressive type of breast cancer there is (grade III, stage 3c and triple negative) and because of my age and circumstances, chemo would most likely not be effective in my specific situation. We had already started looking at other options before this happened, and thankfully already had made plans for me to go see a health and wellness treatment centre run by believers in Germany that we had been personally recommended.
I found it to be an incredible place, combining an intensive medical and natural treatment plan (custom-made, based on individual lab and blood test results) with emotional and spiritual healing and prayer in a peaceful, welcoming and restful atmosphere. They have many success stories of people who have come from around the world, many with more advanced stages of cancer who were only given days left to live, who were miraculously able to turn it around and live long, healthy lives (some of who we know of personally). After a series of events that seemed to confirm this is the way forward for me, I made plans to come back for an extended time of three weeks of intensive treatments.
These last few weeks have been challenging in more ways than one. The biggest challenge we’ve been getting to grips with has been to find the balance between living in wisdom, yet not allowing fear or worry to have any hold on our minds, and living in faith, yet not living with blinkers on shielding us from the facts or with our heads in the sand. We’ve had to have some hard conversations. There have been hard moments where the full harshness of the situation has made itself all too clear.
I had one moment recently where the possibility of having to leave my loved ones finally hit me like a sledgehammer with full force. It broke me. I had a strange experience of being detached from myself, looking down at my body collapsed on my knees with half an avocado in my hand, weeping my heart out on the kitchen floor. I had to come face to face with the very real possibility of having a life cut far too short. Yet, and I know this sounds crazy, it wasn’t a fear of death that overcame me. I had read this book a few years ago that completely changed my mind set about death. It changed how I viewed the end of life as we know it. I believe that facing death is not the end. I believe that it is only a stepping stone to the fullest, most thrilling adventure we could ever undertake. That there is more than we could imagine waiting for us on the other side. More intense pleasure, more freedom, more pure unadulterated happiness and sheer joy than we could ever experience in this broken world. I believe that this is the world we were made for, the world that the deepest parts of us craves and is homesick for. C.S. Lewis puts it like this:
“If we find in ourselves a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, we can only conclude that we were not made for here.”
So no, I wasn’t a wreck on the kitchen floor because I was feeling sorry for myself (though that is a totally valid response to anyone going through something like this and I have definitely had moments of doing that before). Thankfully because of my paradigm shift that had taken place before any of this happened, I can honestly say it wasn’t that I was concerned about myself. Of course, I would have regrets or things that I wished I had had the time to do with my life. But the most painful part of being hit with the possibility of this was thinking about my loved ones being left behind. My amazing family and friends, who have stood by me, supported me and who have loved me so well this last year. My incredible husband, who has sacrificed and given up so much of himself and his hopes and dreams to keep our family together. My beautiful little boy who brings so much life and joy wherever he goes, who loves nothing more than sitting on my lap, snuggling in and having giggle fests at random noises and words he comes up with.
The truth is, I couldn’t imagine them living life without me. I didn’t want to. I think the reason why I never was able to fully face the harsh facts was because I didn’t want to think that they would have to go on without me. And, although it was hard and I do still believe wholeheartedly that I am going to make it through this and live a long life worth living, I believe this was a necessary part of letting go. Of getting to the point where I could genuinely release my family and have the pressure taken off of feeling it was all on me. It was hard. But it was beautiful. It was freeing. And it made it possible for me to think about leaving them for an extended time of treatments, which I could never have imagined doing before. It’s still hard being away. But I can give them up to God and know that it’s not up to me to take care of them – it’s up to Him. And this is one of the most freeing things I’ve ever experienced.
After these hard conversations and moments, it would have been easy to dwell on the what ifs and dark possibilities of what’s ahead in the name of living in wisdom. Yet this is where faith comes in as the counterbalance. It’s been the kindness of God that, after carrying me through this hard experience of letting go, He has confirmed again and again that there is more in store for me. That this is not the end. That my dreams and hopes for my future are nothing compared to what He has in mind, and that this is only the beginning.
I’ve just arrived in Germany and have the guest house where the treatment centre is almost completely to myself. For an extreme extrovert and verbal processor like myself, finding it hard enough already being on my own and away from my husband and little boy (especially on Thanksgiving Day!), this could feel like a prison sentence. Instead, I’m seeing it as a retreat; a time to rest, get the treatment I need and have some spiritual rejuvenation. Time to write and come to terms with this news we’ve been given.
Time to come to a place of balance of living in wisdom, of being aware of the facts, yet living in faith in the conviction that this is not the end of my story. To get to a place of being able to be thankful and stay thankful in all things. I’m slowly learning to live from the place of knowing that no matter the circumstances, there is always, always hope.
(PS – Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers! May we all learn to be thankful every day, not just today;)