After I was diagnosed in March of 2016 I realized that a cancer diagnosis, like a new car, an old house, a bad road, or an overgrown garden, is sort of like a card board box that has stuff in it. We don’t know what’s in it until we unpack it.
Stuff received in cardboard boxes may indeed be unpleasant and difficult. It maybe also be fluffy and sunshiny. The contents of the box are the stuff of life. The box is disposable. It helped me to draw on that impression and resist silent demand that I concentrate on the box.
Yes, I had to open the box up and deal with the contents. I did not have to move into the box.
A little over twenty-five years ago Grant and I were preparing our Minnesota country house for Christmas which, that year, included the presence of our eldest son and his three young sons.
The oldest of the three, about six at the time, had asked me for a small cardboard box as he helped his younger brothers prepare their gifts.
Their activities reflected joy and anticipation as they came rushing up from the basement to put the box under the tree with the rest of the presents where it would wait until Christmas Eve.
It was still obviously a cardboard box – a small one, about 8″ on each side. No Christmas wrapping. Some drawings on the outside in ink and crayon. Some hearts and their names printed carefully on one side. It was very light.
As the presents were distributed on Christmas Eve, the three boys excitedly brought their little box to Grandpa and Grandma, ready to have us open it. Grant and I made ceremony over it, and opened it slowly – his’s big mechanic’s hands working on a couple of the cardboard pieces and my smaller hands gently opening the other side until we could see in.
It was empty.
We looked at the inside and the outside, again, to see what we had missed, and finally I said quietly to the boys, “It’s so nice but I don’t think we understand what the gift is….?”
Then squirming with the surprise they had planned, the three of them grinned widely as the oldest announced, “It’s a box full of love!!!!!” Cardboard boxes are kind of like a box of chocolates – you just never know!
Cardboard boxes ought not be the focus: the issue is what’s in them.
So that was one of my first internalized lessons after the cancer diagnosis: Cancer is a cardboard box. I didn’t have to move in to the box: I did need to unpack it.
Human experiences are like that.
Don’t fight with the box.
Don’t move into it either.
Everyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer or required to have a root canal or an appendectomy will have their own stories and lessons. These are mine.
I found the process interesting. Very interesting. Not all fun, but very interesting. (Kind of like World War II).
Three years ago my husband and I walked together through four months of grace-supported days, knowing that he would be leaving us due to a metastasized, untreatable liver cancer. Lots of lessons there, too.
It is what it is.
Each time, full of grace.
Each cardboard box is eventually emptied – having done its job.