A Cancer Journey Part One
Today I share with you Part One of a story from someone near and dear to me, Nicolas Henderickson. Henderickson is a survivor of a rare form of cancer called NK Blastic cell lymphoma. His story shares his spiritual belief of why he survived this deadly disease.
I wish I could take credit for being alive but the truth is there is only one reason why I am here and it is grace.
It has been much easier to look back on my life and see how God was transforming who He needed to me be. As a child, I could remember being afraid of death. In particular, I was afraid of my loved ones dying, not so much me dying. I remember thinking I needed to conquer this fear. I could feel something guiding me towards this overcoming this fear. I felt a need to comfort others while they appeared, not themselves. When my aunt died, I had a strong sense to deliver a eulogy that would focus not on her death but on her life. This intuitive feeling would not relent and even persisted through my nervousness of not knowing what I was going to say. There were many times I wanted to stop talking but somehow my lips would not listen to that fear or anxiety and instead I spoke words that appeared to help heal some sadness. I experience more loss of close family members as I got older and each loss would hurt deeply but this, in turn, would develop a narrative in my mind. This narrative would become my purpose, which was that I would be the one to help my family, in their “time of need “as I got older.
The process of becoming a nurse practitioner, for me, was quite tumultuous. As a child, I had difficulty focusing my energy on tasks that I didn’t find interesting, which in turn was beginning to reflect on my report card. I started receiving ‘D’s’ in my classes (never F’s, thank you very much) and had to have a bunch of uncomfortable conversations with my parents on ways to rectify the issue. I had to learn how to structure my time better and commit to achieving short-term goals. Goals like getting as much money from my parents who would pay me 5 bucks for every ‘A’ I would get on my report card. I loved earning that money and I began to love learning because I saw how it enthused my parents. I did really well in high school even graduating with some college credits but when actual college came around that system I built slowly began to show its flaws.
As a young adult, there was another narrative that crept into my mind which stated that, “you should party because you only live once”. So, my disciplined, goal-oriented focus now pivoted and my new goals slowly became more social-oriented. As I was losing my identity as the straight ‘A’ student, I slowly began to develop another identity as the angry drunk. At my best, I could justify my reckless behaviors, at my worse, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror. There was a part of me who didn’t want to accept this new persona and even though my destructive behaviors would grow to all-time lows, I knew I could and needed to change my ways or they were going to kill me. My level of shame and guilt would manifest into morbid negative thinking about my own death, the thought of me not living past the age of 27 and I began to believe the only way to heal to retrieve who I used to be, would be if I were sick. If I were sick, I would have to separate myself from my “so-called” friends and then I could start anew with a different narrative. This narrative would strengthen me to become a well-rounded person, someone who was spiritually, physically, and emotionally healthy. I would see-saw between these two narratives. But as Jesus says “no one person can serve two masters.” The time was coming when I would be able to truly chose life over death and it would be obvious that there was no grey area to chose.
When I was diagnosed with stage 4 NK blastic cell lymphoma (now known as T cell lymphoma), I had reached multiple lower lows in my life. I never complained about my diagnosis but I must say it came at the most inopportune time as I had just been accepted into a special contracted nursing program through my local hospital. The hospital program would pay for my nursing education at a nearby community college and in return, I would agree to work at the hospital for four years. This was the break I was looking for, especially after recently having squandered an opportunity at a four-year university because beer and videogames were my major and minor.
I didn’t suspect the lump on the side of my face was cancer, initially, I thought it could’ve been a spider bite, dirty pillowcases, or my barber’s clippers. I was beginning to accept this new lump as something I will have to live with since I had endured months of failed treatments and appointments with doctors who offered convenient diagnoses without the possibility of imaging or biopsy. After meeting with a doctor, that a friend of mine recommended, I began to feel a sense of hope again when he told me that he wanted to cut into my face (I’m sure he said biopsy but this is what I heard) and take a sample. Upon a follow-up meeting with the same doctor who originally got my hopes up, they then decided to bring my hopes back down and bury them deep into the ground with this new diagnosis. It took me a while to accept that my dreams of a nursing career would have to be postponed but the nursing program and hospital were gracious and sympathetic to my situation and reassured me that I would have a seat available whenever I was ready to start the program. I must admit I was ambivalent about the diagnosis of cancer but once I decided that this was the opportunity to become the person I had envisioned, nothing could deter my mind from viewing this situation as positive, not even when I found out the final pathology was a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called T-cell lymphoma. If I am to be completely honest, when I thought about being sick, I must admit I was hoping for something smaller than cancer!
Making a choice in faith that this was going to be a new beginning and that I was going to change how I was living as well as bring me closer to God brought me a sense of comfort. It wasn’t until later when I began to read my bible and read stories about Job, or stories of Jesus healing the lepers and the blind that I could begin to understand what God was saving me from. Nevertheless, an unwavering decision to comply with my transformation furthermore helped me develop a peaceful outlook over every obstacle that was presented. This peace was like a cloak that covered me during the most difficult of times. I remained in peace even though my heart broke as I watched my mother’s eyes fill with tears that would run unceasingly through our appointment with her oncologist in hopes to find any help. This inexplicable peace would comfort me even after attending multiple appointments with oncologists in prominent New York hospitals who discussed the rarity of my cancer as well as the ineffectiveness of current chemotherapeutic regimens to treat and/or cure this type of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This level of peace allowed me to begin to see life with a clarity that shifted my focus from myself and I began to see the beauty through the hardships. Instead of being embarrassed by my mother dragging me through the waiting room, crying, I was able to appreciate my mother in a way that would help me understand God’s love.
More of Henderickson's story coming soon.