Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

I have been pondering what to say about my sojourn into chemotherapy on Monday.  Surgery gives you a starting point from which you can measure your progress. With chemo, at least from what I experienced, there was a descent into new sicknesses caused by the chemo itself.  I was going to describe some of what I experienced, but have opted instead to mention three Psalms which in some way capture the experience spiritually for me.  I am at the beginning of this sojourn, but it has been a very arduous week.

The first Psalm is 23, referenced in the title of this blog.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

There is no doubt that chemotherapy is connected to death as is the cancer it fights.

In one Orthodox prayer for the terminally ill, there is a petition which says:

“… allow this illness to be for the death only of those things which are the result of evil or sin.”

One needs that prayer  for the chemo itself because these drugs cannot discern what they kill. Whether illness or chemotherapy, we want it to terminate in us any evil or sin.

The rod and staff of the good shepherd can be weapons, but they can be weapons that comfort us as well.  This is a great paradox.

The second Psalm is 91.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, who abides in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge…  (91:1-4)

Chemotherapy is risky,  a deadly pestilence, because it is toxic.   Navigating through the living experience of chemo is mentally and spiritually challenging.   It puts the body to a real test.   The protection we need from God is both through our sojourn in this life and in the sojourn to the world to come.   God’s will be done.

Finally, I mention Psalm 107

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he sent forth his word, and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (107:17-22)

I experienced this through the chemo, especially the loathing of food.   And I felt that I had come near to the gates of death. I did not find my first treatment to be pleasant.  I had a very serious adverse reaction to the anti-nausea meds being given in the IV – this was before the chemo even started.   It was very painful, and colored my entire day and contributed to a difficult week.   And there are many months to go.  I thank God for bringing me to this day.  Psalm 107 continues describing a rough voyage, which no doubt the months to come will be.

Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (107:23-32)

In the end, despite sorrow and even despair, God is the Lord.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death or in Hades itself, Christ is present as Lord.