After a couple high doses of radiation and a few days on steroids, the tumor in Peter’s chest had shrunk by a third. His chest was visibly smaller and the blue veins radiating out from the bulge were much less visible. The topography of his chest had changed so much that the lasers that align the machine to the marks on his chest (made with the high-tech medical instrument known as a DecoColor pen) no longer lined up right. They had to do another CT scan and recalibrate the machine that delivers the radiation. The radiation oncologist decided to lower the dose of radiation to something gentler, in the hopes of producing less pain in his esophagus in the short term and less damage to his heart and lungs in the long term.
After a few days in intensive care, Peter was able to return to the oncology unit. A day later they discharged him to stay at the Family House and do radiation as an outpatient. This weekend we expect to return home. He will be back for radiation each day next week.
This is all good news.
We have been in this place twice before, where the tumor responds so well to treatment, then stops completely. So as I wrote before, we are still hoping for healing, but preparing Peter for heaven. Our approach has been to hide nothing from Peter. He knows all we know. We talk openly about the possibility of death.
Never have I been so grateful for the central article of faith, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.” The prophet Hosea said it and the Apostle Paul repeated it at the end of a section of writing on the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15): “Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Death still brings terrible sadness, but it doesn’t terrify. Because it isn’t the end. In fact, for those who belong to Christ, death is the entrance into his presence. The previous verse quotes Isaiah, “Death has been swallowed up in victory?” And a well-known passage in Romans 8 says that nothing in all creation, neither death nor life, can separate us from the love can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” I find it thrilling the way victory over death is combined with the love of God in these verses. So death is the entrance into the presence of the love of God.
The gospel gives confidence and hope. This confidence has allowed us to have open conversations with our son about the possibility of dying, and dying soon. Look, even if Peter is healed completely and miraculously, he still needs the resurrection because someday he will die. Healing is temporary, pointing us to the eternal reality of the kingdom of God, in which there will be no more death or dying, pain or sorrow.
There are other families whose children have been sent to hospice care, meaning there is no possibility for further treatment. Their child is going to die. Some parents choose not to tell their son or daughter that they are going to die. The confidence that comes from the resurrection lets us talk openly about life and death. Because “Where, O death, is your sting?”
Other people are unable to accept the fact that Peter might die. They insist that we just need to have faith. That we need to keep hoping. We do have faith! We do have hope! Strong enough to face death. Isn’t this a great part of what Jesus modeled and taught? Jesus came not only to heal, but to conquer death itself. Our desire, of course, is for our son to live many healthy years, but we have no guarantee of that.
In the past few months I have faced greater fear than ever before. And that fear created more fear. I have wrestled with doubts. There were weeks in a row where I felt like all I could do was simply exist, not do. I have cried a fountain of tears. I have prayed desperate prayers. I have waded through waters of grief and sorrow.
What I feel now, surprisingly, is confidence in the love of God. And with that comes peace. As I prayed and meditated yesterday my heart surged with love for God. This feeling may be a temporary respite before the next onslaught, but I am grateful for it even so. I fully expect to face more pain, especially if Peter declines towards death. It is not going to be comfortable to watch. But I expect this confidence in the love of God will continue even then. Or at least it will return.
Where does this confidence come from? It comes from the resurrection, of course. But I feel I have received this confidence in the love of God and the victory over death in a small part through the practices of prayer and fasting. But this is so unexpected that I am convinced that the greater part is received as a gift from God given in answer to the prayers of so many. I am experiencing the gospel in deeper ways.
What about those socks? A family that I’m not sure we even know sent a pair of socks with lightning shaped slices of pizza on them. Their quirky gift hit the mark. Peter pulled those socks on immediately. Combined with his T-Rex shirt his clothing attracted a lot of comments and drew a lot of laughs. When you know there is resurrection, laughter is appropriate even in times like this.