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A Day On The Roller Coaster

Don's Journey

My favorite amusement park ride is the roller coaster. I always thought that an amusement park with nothing but two or three-dozen roller coasters would be awesome. Let me just say this. Roller Coasters should be limited to theme parks, not daily life.

Dealing with Gail’s cancer is a near daily roller coaster ride of various levels of crisis. Last week Gail decided to wash her long, beautiful hair one afternoon. She had been advised to only wash it about every three days or so, and it was now time. She was beginning to lose her hair, but what now happened in our bathtub was a total surprise. When under the water, her brown curls turned into a huge knot, larger than my fist. All of the dead and dying hair entangled itself with her healthy hair in a rats nest like I never even knew was possible.

Our daughter Kristin was with her mother, and the two of them spent the next hour, futilely trying to disentangle the brown ball. At this time, they were both standing in front of the mirror in our bathroom crying. This was not expected.

“Gail,” appeared on my phone as I was feverishly trying to catch up emails. When we connected, there was silence. I knew this could not be good. “What is wrong dear?” Silence. Then, quiet whimpering, like my daughters sounded when they were little girls and they needed their daddy to love on them. Slowly, brokenly, Gail began to reveal the problem. Within fifteen minutes I was home, holding my hurting wife.

For the next hour and a half, I tried my hand at disentangling the mess that I have always known as my wife’s glory. Nothing was going to resolve this crisis tonight. The coaster car had crossed over the peak and raced downhill at breath-taking speed, and was now stuck at the bottom. It’s no fun when the ride gets stuck at the bottom. Actually, it was sheer misery for several hours.

They warned us that Gail would likely lose her hair. Other chemo-survivors told Gail how tough it was for them when they lost their hair. But now the words became reality. Many women share how their hair loss was one of the worst parts of chemotherapy treatment. A woman’s hair is often deeply connected to her sense of beauty and wholeness. The Bible tells us that a woman’s hair is her glory. My wife is a very strong woman, not given to emotion, but not today.

What they don’t tell you is that the loss of your wife’s hair makes this disease ten times more real for her husband. I would never claim that it will hurt me as much as it hurts Gail when all of her hair is finally gone. But let me tell you, it sucks for the husband too. It sucks on several levels. Let it now be known, my wife officially has cancer and it’s wracking her life with pain on many fronts. Emotional pain is just as serious as physical pain. There are few events that can wreck the emotions like the sudden loss of your glory. This is not a fun roller coaster ride. It was a long, quiet evening. The next day . . . the coaster starts back up.

I am presently reading a book about the reality and work of angels. The Bible teaches that angels are “ministering spirits,” sent to care for those who will inherit eternal life. I have no question about the existence or work of angels, but I’ve never seen one, at least the ethereal kind. However, God has sent many angels into my life – angels of the human kind. This is the story of one such angel.

At church the day before the hair debacle, Kathy approached Gail to let her know that, when the time came, she would come to our home and use all of her hair-dressing skills, accumulated over several decades, to help Gail through this difficult time. So the first installment of that promise was about to happen. Kristin called Kathy the evening of the problem and asked if she would help. The roller coaster was now headed back up. Kathy is an angel. Angels have skills!

The next morning, she came to our door with words of encouragement, strength, scissors, and the ability to turn the worst hair crisis into a new hairdo that makes my wife look even younger and more beautiful than she already did. This angel worked for over two hours to restore my wife’s hair and emotional well-being like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. But I would not go into the office today. My place was at home with my precious wife.

The roller coaster was back up again – for a while. Meanwhile, I’m tired. Thank you Kathy and all of the many people who are loving my wife and my family beyond my former understanding of caring. Angels, of all kinds, are all around us.

I could write about the next day when Gail decided to go to work for a few hours but became sick on the way. She initiated the Pennsylvania Turnpike along the side of the road, and then we went home. This was after God helped us dodge a five-hour traffic clog that would have left us helpless in traffic with a sick wife. Thursday was an up day. I took Gail to work, and she actually made it and worked a few rewarding hours. Friday – more tests. It should have been a short blood test day, but the coaster started down when we learned that her sodium level was now even worse and needed treatment. She would also require a blood transfusion. I can’t explain why except that she was really tired all week and it was getting worse. She would go in Saturday for preparation and then Sunday morning for the transfusion. This was a complete change of plans and required phone calls and adjustments.

All the while, I’m trying to complete my sermon for Sunday and prepare for our trip to Gail’s parents for a couple days. Those plans changed when they figured out a way to do the testing and give her the transfusion all the same day. By the time we attended the symphony that evening, the coaster was headed back up again. Just get enough energy, spiritual vitality, and emotional strength to preach the next day.

God graciously gave me all of the above. I enjoyed church immensely. I preached God’s Word with a true passion I felt for the subject – love your neighbor as yourself. No brainer, I can’t describe how wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of people loving you as you love yourself. Coaster was on top and we’re still riding high while visiting my wonderful in-laws.

Gail still has hair by the way. It’s coming out in handfuls and we’re sure it won’t be long until we will once again call upon our angel.