My niece Katie’s husband, David, was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer that spread widely. He is only 30 years old. As you might imagine, the shock of his disease was profound. The fear of what might happen constantly went through both their minds.
The doctors decided to remove David’s thyroid along with a number of lymph nodes. When the surgery was over, David returned home to begin his recovery and further treatments. He lay on his couch, unable to speak due to the surgery, when Katie came into the room unsure what to say. In the middle of the weighty and scary experience, both wondered what the future might bring.
Katie had her own news. She held David’s hand and told him, “I’m pregnant.” It doesn’t take much to imagine the complexity of that moment. And David couldn’t even speak to respond to the universe of meaning in Katie’s short sentence.
David has now recovered from surgery, and Katie is six months into her pregnancy. He told me, “It was the most profound experience of joy and God in my life. I felt I was at the same moment brushing aside death and fully embracing life.”
While David and Katie’s experience of the transcendental was dramatic, it was similar to what all of us encounter nearly every day. Despite our wishes, we don’t get to have just life-affirming events. We want our lives to consistently be good, but the reality is that we almost always have pain and joy going on at the same time. When our experience doesn’t match our expectations for a life free of disappointment and challenges, oftentimes sorrow drowns out elation.
For David, however, even though his cancer was a clear reality and, at the time he could not speak because of the surgery, he was able to let the power of his love take over to determine who he is. And months later he remembers not only the sorrow, and not just the joy, but the presence of God in his life in that moment of seeing a future life. I can’t imagine he will ever forget this moment of great hope.
We should learn from David and practice letting the strength of joy win out over disappointment.
Katie and David have chosen not to learn the sex of their baby before the birth. They have concluded, as Katie told me, “This is one of the few surprises in life that will certainly be joyful.” She is so right.
Next week, David begins his last radiation treatment for the cancer. He and Katie have good reason to hope that he will be cancer-free by the time the baby arrives. No matter what, they are focused only on the experience of becoming parents. In the midst of suffering, they have let love be their guide. May we all be so determined.