Life & Health

Contemplating Chemotherapy: Round 4 – Thanks(giving) for Chemo?

November 22, 2016

Yes, that’s a question mark in the title – as in, I’m wondering if I should be thankful for chemo, not saying I necessarily should be thankful.

cancer-card“But Jason,” you might be thinking,  “I thought we should be thankful for everything? Isn’t that in the Bible somewhere? And especially right now, during Thanksgiving week?” An equally pressing thought you may be having right now also is: “Can you even put question marks in titles? Is that good grammar?”

Well, first of all, this is my blog and I can do what I want, good grammar or not. Second, Chemo Jason don’t care. And third, have you forgotten that I’m a licensed chemo card carrier? In fact, I think all of my titles and subtitles will have question marks in them just because you asked that question.

But back to the less pressing question you had about whether I should be thankful or not… after a quick update.

Chemo Update?

I know that question mark doesn’t make sense in that subtitle, but I’m sticking to my guns now.

Yesterday I started my first day of Round 4 of chemo. Since I’m doing a total of 6 rounds, this puts me at the halfway point, so I’ve been looking back at some of my old posts and reflecting on my experience so far. The initial two rounds honestly weren’t that bad in hindsight. Yeah, there was lots of fears and getting used to the “new normal”, as well as some consistent fatigue and chemo brain. But overall, I started to think: “Well, this chemo thing isn’t all that hard, all things considered.” I mean, I’ve been through some pretty miserable stuff before physically. Probably the worst was my “infamous hospital stay” when I was stuck in the hospital for 17 days after I had my colon removed back in 2010 at 24 years old. You can read about it in the blog post linked above, but basically, my bowels didn’t wake up after the surgery so I was stuck with an NG tube down my throat, constant nausea and vomiting where my stomach would slam against the brand new massive incision along the length of my belly, complete with 35 metal staples – very painful. This combined with constant gas/pressure pains (which, unfortunately, pain meds don’t help very much) and many sleepless nights, made for a pretty lousy experience. The doctors had no idea why my bowels wouldn’t wake up, so they were running all kinds of tests to figure it out. I remember for my CT scan I was so feverish and uncomfortable that they had to literally strap me down to a board on my side so I wouldn’t squirm or move, and I had wet washcloths wrapped around my head while hopped up on anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, antibiotics, and all sorts of other anti-drugs, which made me feel like a manic psych patient. Literally zero fun was had, by all parties involved.

All that to say, Rounds 1 and 2 weren’t that bad in light of the other things I’ve been through in my life. So I started thinking, “I’ve got this – no sweat.” That was until Round 3…

Round 3 definitely upped the ante. Normally, along with the low-level fatigue and chemo brain, I’d have a loss of appetite at times and then crash for a day or two of sleep and then everything would be back to normal (or at least the “new normal”) for 3 weeks until my next round. Things changed with Round 3, though. I started feeling the effects of chemo earlier on when I was getting my 72 hours of infusion. I crashed for another day after the first two. And then I kept feeling the nausea all the way into the third week of that round. All the other symptoms were more pronounced too – I was more fatigued and worn out all the time, I had more trouble sleeping at night, my chemo brain went on overdrive at times, and I’ve had a harder time eating food. I also had a day or two where I’d lie down, then feel nauseated, then get up and feel exhausted, then lie down again only to have the nausea return – and that cycle went on for hours leaving me antsy and frustrated.

What’s worse is that I finish my 72-hour infusion on Thanksgiving Day. That will be fun. Hopefully I’ll get to enjoy at least one day of eating good food. But the leftovers are sometimes the best thing to eat for me. This year I’ll probably just crawl out of bed enough to get my grimy mitts on any leftovers then head straight back into a chemo/food induced coma.

I also hear that Rounds 4-6 will just get cumulatively harder. And I’m supposed to be thankful for chemo?thanksgiving-chemo

Do I have to be Thankful for Everything? Even Chemo?

I mean, I know I have so much to be thankful for (really, I do!), and if I ever forget that there will be plenty of social media posts coming up in the next few days telling me to make a list of all those things and then just: “Be thankful! Be thankful! Be thankful, Jason!!!” And let’s be honest, most of us will feel obligated to post some of the things we are thankful for on Thursday, just to tell the world we are good people who know what day it is. I mean, come on – we’re Christians… and Americans! Don’t pretend you haven’t already been thinking of a pithy-yet-equally-deep-and-spiritually-sensitive status update for Thanksgiving to show the world how good of Christian and American you are. You might even be feeling extra thankful this year and post about how thankful you are for something political, even if that will make some people uncomfortable.

Now, I’m not wondering if I should be thankful about the effects of the chemo. I’ll take chemo any day (and living) over losing my intestines (or dying). Chemo brain hasn’t messed my reasoning up that much. But what I’m wondering is if I should be thankful that chemo is a thing, and that I’m doing it in response to my tumor. I know I should, according to Paul, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess 5:18), but do I need to be thankful for the circumstance itself? Would Paul have been thankful for chemo? I know he was thankful for being imprisoned in Rome because it led to people knowing Christ – but was he thankful for the imprisonment itself? I’ve always just assumed that I was supposed to be thankful for everything hard because God could teach me something out of it. But does that make the bad stuff good? Paul says he “beats [his] body and makes it [his] slave” (1 Cor 9:27), so maybe that’s what chemo is doing – beating my body (or more specifically “the little bastard” / tumor that is trying to kill me). But then again, that’s more about discipline. So is chemo bodily discipline, or is it part of living in this broken world?

Maybe a harder question I’ve been thinking about is: would Jesus be thankful for chemo? Would Jesus even need chemo? I’ve often wondered if Jesus, being the perfect God-man that he was, would have ever gotten sick. Did Jesus eat a perfect diet and thus never get sick because he knew what we should eat? Or would Jesus have gorged himself on Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving? If Jesus lived past his death on the cross and grown old – would he have gotten cancer? Would he then choose to do chemo if it was available? If he did, would he be thankful for the chemo, not just the results? Those sorts of questions used to be sacrilegious to ponder a while ago for me, but now they flood my mind all the time. And I’m honestly not sure about the answers anymore.

What is Chemo?

I mean, I hear everyone talking about it like a poison. A poison that heals you – kind of an oxymoron. How did they even come up with it in the first place? Was there an administration error where someone accidentally switched two test groups of rats and: (presto!) chemotherapy? Or did some pharmacist working on poisonous chemicals call in sick and leave another guy with double-duty so he switched two drugs in a sleepless fit and gave poison to one group and medicine to another, and it just turned out to be lucky? Or was it just a patient (or doctor) at his wits’ end who decided: “What the hell, it’s crazy giving someone poison, but it’s worth a try!”

I actually just looked it up and apparently it was discovered during WWII when they noticed that patients exposed to mustard gas had reduced white blood cell counts – so they experimented and found out it was a way to attack rapidly reproducing cells (like cancer cells).

I’m not sure I wanted to know that.

Chemical warfare was the precursor to chemotherapy. That’s something to be thankful for…

So if Jesus was thankful for chemotherapy, would he then have to be thankful for mustard gas and chemical warfare? I sort of find that a hard pill to swallow. Maybe Jesus felt that dying on a cross to save the world from death was a hard pill to swallow, though. I mean, he took a symbol of political warfare and criminal warfare (the cross) and turned it into a symbol of hope and new life. But was he thankful for the cross itself? Should he have been thankful for the cross itself?

By the end of writing this post, I was sort of hoping that I would have an answer to my initial question. The truth is, I almost have more questions than answers. That’s how my life seems to go these days. Sometimes that bothers me. Other times, it feels great. Maybe this is because of chemo brain. Maybe that’s because my questions are getting bigger, maybe it’s because I’m not sufficing for pat answers, or maybe it’s because I’m getting more comfortable in a world where I don’t have to understand everything to appreciate it.

What do y’all think?

Should we be thankful for chemo itself (not just the results)?

Should we be thankful for things like chemo themselves (like the cross)?

More posts from the Contemplating Chemotherapy series:

Round 1:

Round 2:

Round 3:

Round 4:

Round 5:

Round 6:

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  • Reply Tristan L. Evans November 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Two words for you: Redemptive Suffering

    • Reply Jason Custer November 30, 2016 at 10:08 am

      True, indeed.

  • Reply Kathryn Goettsch November 22, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    You are hilarious and intriguingly introspective simultaneously, chemo Jason!… I think first ask if you are under a faulty premise: is there a subconscious premise that actually we get what we deserve…and next ask if the answer to whether we ‘should’ be thankful actually involves guilt. Guilt is easier to take than the unknown. Since we live in a fallen world and the rain falls on the good and bad, cancer is just life. And like the big born blind, Jesus said it was not from his or his parents’ sin. It was to being glory to God. I don’t think there’s any way to understand pain without having gone through it. And only survivors can truly help sufferers. I see Godly people suffering with infirmity and I secretly feel as if I need to inform God, hey there’s a case over here, can ya speed up the results? This sjust isn’t fair and it makes me uncomfortable, the waiting….ya ya ya, God I’m relying on you in the interim….now back to the take at hand…..and my sister keeps reminding me: Jesus, I trust in you. That is her only answer when I cry out in fear or anger or despair for my medical situation and uncertainty. And what draws us closer to God is a stumbling block to the wise because it’s not fair and it’s not predictable. And there we are back full circle to waiting on the Lord. And when we wait, even in misery, we can trust the chemo itself that Satan intended to crush us with God can work together to our good for those who love Him. And then we can surrender ourselves to the process regardless of the outcome. …I want to ‘win’ and sometimes I don’t know which outcome is the victory.

    • Reply Jason Custer November 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Thanks, Kathryn. Yeah, things never seem as simple as I think they are at first, and yet often my response can be simple: wait and trust. Easier said than done, though.

  • Reply Eric November 22, 2016 at 7:20 pm

    This is a good post

    • Reply Jason Custer November 30, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Thanks, “Rick” – I mean, Eric.

  • Reply Pete November 22, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    This is indeed a good post.

    • Reply Jason Custer November 30, 2016 at 10:11 am

      Thanks, Pete!

  • Reply Amy Littlepage November 30, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Really appreciate this post so much because this question has been on my heart continually, with different health crisis in my family and honestly watching you and your family fight for health. As you touched on previously, there is this expectation in Christian circles that to trust God means no questions, always cheerful, thankful, etc. Often in a glib, mindless, facade like way. The thing the Lord is walking me through is that I don’t have to be thankful for the circumstance itself, but I can watch Him make that circumstance obedient to Himself. For example, He hates cancer just like we do because He hates death and it’s battle for our lives, but He can make any circumstance useful in His hands. So He has redeemed even chemo, in all of it’s awfulness, to break down lies and reach more deeply into your life and show you His LOVE and pleasure of you. As you’ve mentioned chemo specifically strips away so much self reliance, taking you to a deeper place of need, which, when you see the Lord’s love and provision for you, takes you to a deeper place of security and steadfastness in your relationship with Him. My vote would be that you don’t have to be thankful FOR the specific circumstance but you can be thankful IN the specific circumstance. Not for the circumstance itself, but for the way it chases away the shadows that we live shackled to and illuminates the TRUTH of WHO God is and His POWER. (if any of this doesn’t make sense I currently have strep throat and that is my excuse)

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