The Paradoxes of Life
“You have to save money to spend it.”
“If I know one thing, it’s that I know nothing.”
Or one of my favorites from the lyrics of a U2 song:
“I can’t live with or without you.”
These are all examples of paradoxes, or self-contradictory statements. Oftentimes, paradoxes remind us that life is not always as we initially perceive. Life can be full of events that are confusing and that range from one extreme to another. The year of 2020 was full of paradoxes for many, including me. Let me take a moment to share with you two events in the past year, one a mountain top experience and the other a valley.
It was a year ago today, February 26, when this picture was taken. It was the culmination of six years of doctoral classes and writing that led to the defense of my doctoral project. Upon completing the defense, my supervisor reached over, extended his hand in my direction (yes, this was before Covid when we were still shaking hands) and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Williams.” It was a mountain top experience, partly because of many of the difficulties along the path. Although it typically took my classmates around four years to complete their degree, it took me six years. This was primarily due to moving to Maryland halfway through and a year of health difficulties in 2018 with my liver disease, PSC. There were times that I wasn’t sure I would see this day come. Upon completing my defense, relieved and happy to be done, I even treated myself to a steak at a nearby Louisville restaurant. It truly was an accomplishment and a highlight of which I am proud. It will be one of the great mountain top experiences of my life.
Fast forward four months to June, when I was first diagnosed with stage 3 cholangiocarcinoma. You can look at several of my other blog posts to hear my heart/thoughts during that time, but what I want to share today is a picture of one of my last chemotherapy sessions from several weeks ago. This journey through cancer certainly cannot be labeled a mountain top experience; it is anything but. Plus, dealing with cancer as well as dealing with the risks and challenges of Covid as someone going through chemotherapy can cause the feeling of isolation. While I am far from being isolated with such loving family, friends, and my church, the lack of regular church attendance and lack of time with family and friends certainly is trying.
In some ways this valley experience has provided much better views of eternity and life than the mountain top experiences ever hope to.
I wish that I could tell you that I battle cancer like a pro and that I have this whole suffering thing down, but I don’t. However, His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I can share that from last June to this day that Jesus has been so gracious and loving towards me, despite my own sin and brokenness. I have come to know Him in a way like I have never experienced before in my life. While I wouldn’t trade my mountain top experiences, and while I sure wish I could trade this experience, I know that without cancer, I would not be able to see Jesus and love Him as clearly as I have during this time. In some ways this valley experience has provided much better views of eternity and life than the mountain top experiences ever hope to.
The second chapter of my doctoral writings was dedicated to the Puritans (16th-17th centuries) and their views on the family. I read and read and read so much about the Puritans and tried to summarize their views into one chapter. It was a tedious task. However, as I live in this valley of cancer, their words provide perspective and wisdom, which increase my understanding of God’s sovereignty and providence. Let me close this blog by sharing one poem/prayer from the Puritans called the “Valley of Vision.” Let that title sit with you for a moment. While we are in the valley, God provides vision, perspective, wisdom, and hope. Valley of Vision: this is the ultimate paradox. Father, in my valley of cancer, give me vision, perspective, wisdom, and hope. Amen.
Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter
Thy stars shine;
Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.
An Update on my Health
My apologies for no updates in the last two months, but there have not been many changes until the past two weeks when I had several scans and doctor appointments. It has been an up and down emotional couple of weeks. Originally, the Hopkins Liver Tumor board reviewed my scans and case and decided that I was not a candidate for traditional resection surgery (surgery to remove tumor from the liver) because it would require them to take up to half of my liver which would leave me with half of a diseased liver. My prognosis would not be good.
However, Shree and I were overjoyed when they shared that liver transplant may be an option. Now for context, I was on the liver transplant list for two years leading up to my diagnosis in June. When I was diagnosed, I was removed from the liver transplant list and was told that I would never be a candidate for liver transplant since I was stage 3, which means that my cancer spread outside my liver into the surrounding lymph nodes. The doctors have been so encouraged by my response to chemo–the tumor has shrunk from around 4 cm to about 1.5 cm–that they want to check to see if I still have cancer in my lymph nodes. The Liver Transplant team met and decided that they are willing to consider me for liver transplant. The first step is having an exploratory lymph node surgery; if the nodes are clear then they will move me forward in the process towards a new liver. If the nodes have cancer in them, then I will be ineligible for a transplant. Liver transplant would be the best-case situation as it would both remove the cancer and also my diseased liver from PSC. It would be my best chance at remission and a prognosis longer than several years. It truly is wonderful news. I even asked my oncologist if she ever had a stage 3 cholangiocarcinoma patient get a liver transplant, and she shared that I would be her first. There are still many things that would need to fall into place for the transplant to happen, so we as a family are guarded, but we are hopeful.
If you feel compelled to pray for me, please pray …
- That my exploratory lymph node surgery would be successful and that the lymph nodes would be clear.
- That the Hopkins Liver Transplant team would approve, based on what they saw during surgery, and would place my name on the transplant list.
- That if I get placed on the Liver Transplant list, I will move up quickly and would receive either a live donor or a cadaver donor quickly. (It is humbling to know that while a cadaver transplant provides my family hope, it is heartache for another family – talk about another paradox).
- Please continue to pray for my family as they are on this journey with me. Pray that we can grow closer to one another as well as our Lord.