Life is like a relay race. In a relay race, there are different runners responsible for running a particular lap of an overall race. While running, the runner carries a baton in his or her hand, and at the end of the lap passes it onto the next person on the team to continue the race. In our own lives, while we are the person running during each phase of our life, it is indisputable that different people, organizations or institutions function like batons during the various laps of our lives. Admittedly, we may not carry them in our hands; instead, they may carry us as we pass from phase to another throughout our lives.
The foundation of my cancer journey has always been my faith. Without this solid rock, navigating the winding paths with their peaks, valleys, and boulders would have been next to impossible. Thus, God has been the divine holder of the baton from the time of my first diagnosis. But there have been numerous earthly holders of the baton as well, and I’d like to talk about a few of them today.
Buffalo, New York was the setting of the first lap of my cancer race, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute there held the baton during that lap, which lasted just under a year. Being a complete novice to the world of cancer, it was the doctors and nurses there who introduced me to its complicated terrain. The words of one physician in particular are still embedded within me to this day. He told me that as a result of my cancer diagnosis, I would now be receiving a plethora of advice and recommendations from numerous doctors. However, and these words were key, he stated that I did not have to do what any of them said. He let me know that this was my journey, and that I was ultimately in charge of making all the decisions pertaining to my treatment. There would be positive or negative outcomes of following one route or another, but the bottom line was that the choice was mine.
These words were liberating and empowering. Given my faith, I did not consider that the decisions were uniquely mine; I made them in prayerful conversation and consultation with God and my close spiritual companions, listening for guidance in my soul about to the right direction to take. The Kirk Franklin gospel song “My Life is in Your Hands” played a pivotal role from the beginning of my cancer journey. These are some of the lyrics: “I know that I can make it; I know that I can stand. No matter what may come my way; my life is in Your Hands”. These reassuring lyrics not only solidified my knowledge that God was ultimately in charge in my life, but they also renewed my courage that whatever the road ahead held I would be able to make it. The hand of the Lord held the divine baton, and I would never take my hand out of God’s hand.
During my initial treatment, Benin was my beacon of light at the end of the tunnel. After completing treatment, I had every intention of returning to Benin to resume my fulfilling life in the motherland. I could not wait for God to pass the baton from Buffalo to Benin, and this kept me going the whole year, until I completed radiation treatment on September 11, 2001. Yes, THE September 11. The story of completing cancer treatment on the same day as America’s worst terrorist attack will be the subject of another blog!
My colon cancer diagnosis in November of 2001 ended any plan of my going back to Benin. The baton was not going to be passed to Benin; for the time being, it would remain in Buffalo. This news was difficult to digest, to put it mildly, since I thought that I was completing God’s plan for my life in Benin. It was during this time that I began to feel the stirrings of my call to the ministry. I believed that since God had healed me from two cancers by the tender age of 34, surely it was for a purpose far greater than I could even begin to fathom. God must want me to use the blessings of my experience to bless others. God had shown me tremendous favor by allowing me to heal from cancer. As a result, it was incumbent upon me to let others know that cancer did not have to break them; that what began as a burden could actually become a blessing.
I am now 49 years old, and there have been many batons in the relay race of my cancer journey in the 15 years since that time. But I want to bring us up to the present day and tell you about my current baton. From October 2013 until January 2017, the Newnan, Georgia location of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) just outside of Atlanta held the earthly baton to my cancer relay race. You’ve probably seen commercials for CTCA on television, and to be frank, that is what initially caused me to consider seeking treatment at CTCA. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made on this journey. The compassionate, patient-centered care infused with the ever-present spiritual dimension sustained and strengthened me, and has brought me to where I am today.
January 9 was my last trip to CTCA for the time being, due to the progression of my cancer. After over seven years of the breast cancer remaining confined to my bones, in November scans showed that cancer had moved into the lining of my right lung. Because this would require more frequent care than trips to Atlanta every six weeks, I had to make the difficult decision to return my care here to the Smilow Cancer Institute in New Haven, where I live.
My last visit at CTCA was emotional. My incredible chaplain, Rev. L., told me that as spiritual advisors, we know we have done our jobs well when we send the people we have cared for out empowered on wings of their own, rather than as emotional basket cases. She said that if the people we cared for are broken and battered, we have not done our jobs because we have caused them to depend on us rather than on God as the source of strength. Her parting words to me were “God is passing the baton”. Those profound words moved me greatly. They let me know that the spiritual anchoring she provided me fortified me over the past three years. Therefore, as I run the next lap of this race, I am even more prepared to knock the branches out of the way and clear the path ahead so I can keep persevering toward the mark of the high calling, which is a victory over this cancer. God passed the baton from CTCA to me, and I’m holding on for dear life with no plans to let it go!
My friend, I do not know what lap of the relay race of life you are running right now, or who is holding the baton. If you are holding it and it’s time to pass it on, then let it go and pass the baton. If someone else is holding it and it’s time for them to pass it on, then let them pass it on. Whoever is holding the baton for you will help propel you across the finish line of this lap and prepare you to run the next leg. I’m a witness. See you on the next leg of the race…