By Grant E. Christensen
On Tuesday, Nancy and I once again drove to Seattle for my quarterly blood draw, PSA test, and appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Heather Cheng. When we got off the elevator, a nurse immediately interviewed us about any COVID-19 like symptoms we might have and if we had been recently exposed to the virus.
As I arrived in the building, I was struck with just how much Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is a tragic place and at the same time a wonderful place. While heading to the lab, I was again confronted with seeing so many people with cancer. Every couple, family, or group we saw had at least one person battling cancer. I saw an older man sitting in a wheelchair by the front entrance waiting for his ride. Just by looking at him, I could tell that he was very sick. Two women walked by with their husbands, both with terry cloth caps covering up their bald heads, hair loss from the chemotherapy, and faces ashen and pale. While waiting for my injection on the fourth floor, two younger women sat in front of me. They might have been sisters or friends. One had the tale-tell hospital wrist band indicating that she was the one sick. We were sitting on the floor’s mammography side, which suggested why she was there. I sensed their uneasiness, an anxiousness with which I too am familiar. A man sitting across from me sat slumped back in the chair, his feet stretched out in front of him, sighing out an occasional moan. His wife sat next to him, full of foreboding, while comforting him with a hand on his shoulder. The nurse called a young man with cerebral palsy, his turn having come to see the doctor. As he painstakingly walked towards the door leading to the exam room, I noticed the hospital band on his left wrist. He was there with cancer, too. My heart sank into my stomach.
Having already had my blood draw and Lupron injection, Nancy and I waited for the medical assistant to call my name. “Christensen, Mr. Christensen.”
I stood, gathered my things, and followed her into an exam room. She informed me that Dr. Cheng would be with me soon. With an afternoon appointment, I expected her to be running behind, just the nature of giving extended care and of listening to her patients. Minutes dragged on, while I tried not to think about what the result of my PSA test might be. Worry hung like a shroud, difficult to shrug off. Mentally, I recited Psalm 62:5-6 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. Yet, I was already shaken by everyone I had seen. Repeatedly, I recited the words of the verse in my mind. Finally, Dr. Cheng came in, kindly greeting us, then taking a seat at her desk.
“Before we begin any other conversation, your PSA is once again undetectable,” she said with a warm smile on her face. Nancy gripped my hand, both of us relieved to hear the good report. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is a wonderful place because of the depth of care and the doctors’ and staffs’ expertise. Dr. Cheng was not in a hurry to leave; she spent time with us, answering all our questions. I am so grateful to have such an excellent and compassionate doctor!
Nancy and I drove home listening to praise music, singing along with the songs. I wondered to myself if we would be still praising God if the report had been unfavorable. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic from the Fife curve into Tacoma, I could not shake thinking about the people I had seen, each with their own story, each sharing the experience of waking in the middle of the night to that lonely thought, “I have cancer.” I said a quiet prayer for each of them. I wondered, “Do any of them have eternal hope? Do any of them have the understanding surpassing peace of Jesus even amid the anxiety and worry?”
My PSA has come back undetectable three times, each report ushering in three months of life, while revealing that cancer is not growing. I am grateful for these three-month slices of life, for this most precious time with Nancy, Sarah and Nicole, and my mother. In the sixty years I have lived, three months is but a sliver of time. Each sliver of time is another three months in which I have the privilege of feeding and caring for those in the much-beloved congregation I serve.
I awoke the next morning, feeling depressed and sad. I had come to realize that this cadence of life, three-month slices of life and three-month slivers of time, is now my lot. As the day of my next appointment has drawn near, the anxiety and uneasiness have grown proportionately. I have given my concern and worry over to the Lord Jesus repeatedly, only to find myself worrying all over again. Yet, I have come to understand that I am unable to carry myself through these days; I rest in the One who holds me, anxiety and all, day-by-day, moment-by-moment. His grace is always sufficient!
Years before, I had prayed to be led out over my head in the river of the Holy Spirit, to where I would be carried along wherever the river current would take me. Now I find myself far out over my head in the wild river current of the Spirit, sometimes in the rapids of a cancer diagnosis, sometimes in the tranquility of still waters. As my life has now been carved up into three-month slices of life, I am painfully aware of the question behind all things, “Who are you going to trust?” In each of the three-month slices of life ahead, as I come to the end of my ability to cope, Jesus has already been before me and has carried me through. In my weakness, all I have is Him.
I am a pastor within the Evangelical Covenant Church, ordained to Word and Sacrament in 1992. I am privileged to serve–for 25 years now–as pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Bremerton, Washington. My wife, Nancy, is a retired nurse. We have two beautiful, adult daughters, Sarah and Nicole, who live in our greater community as well.