Molly grabbed my arm as her mother, clutching a sheet of paper containing the doses of chemotherapy she was starting that day, exited the examining room. Molly wanted to talk with me — alone.
The night before Molly had witnessed a scene, most poignant for the present circumstances. Her mother was standing in her kitchen making chocolate-chip cookies for the family. Her mother’s face was radiant as she folded the chocolate pieces into the cookie batter. Quietly humming a hymn, her mother was smiling as if she expected life to continue the way it had always been and confident it would.
Yet Molly was concerned. Her mother appeared oblivious to what Molly could see on her laptop — what was going on in her mother’s body and what frightening chemicals would be injected into her veins the next morning to fight the cancer that had invaded her blood and bone marrow.
“What are you thinking about, mother?” Molly asked.
“Nothing, dear,” her mother replied, “Just making cookies.” Then her mother sighed and added, “It’s OK dear. I can tell you’re upset. Don’t be, I’m not.”
How much more should her mother know? Her mother had seen the words “cancer medicine” on her appointment card and had in her pocketbook the pathology report given to her by her family doctor with the grim words on it. How much more did her mother need to know to feel like Molly who understood the threatening outlook her mother faced?
Molly was puzzled that her mother was not worried, or at least not worried enough. “My mother’s facing a new normal, that may not include making chocolate-chip cookies. Couldn’t she wind up in the hospital in a few days from the toxic effects of the chemo or die from it?”
Molly was trembling as she spoke with me. “If my mother isn’t worried, shouldn’t someone be? I am. I’m nuts with worry! Talk to her!”
During the great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus focused on the most pressing issues facing people of his day. These included violence, anger, adultery, divorce, judging others and worry — all in one sermon!
Is it amazing that worry is included on this list? Who does not worry? Worry seems impossible to live without, then and today. Yet Jesus exhorted those listening to him on that green hillside in Galilee long ago not to worry about our life, what we eat or drink, our body or what we wear because worry does not help. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 7:27).
We now know there are biochemical downsides to worry. Scientists have discovered that stress produced by worry leads to physiological changes in our bodies that weaken our immune system, leading to serious consequences affecting our physical and emotional health.
What is Jesus’ recommendation? “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 7:34).
How can we reduce or eliminate worry? Jesus provided the answer: “Your heavenly Father knows your needs” (Matthew 7:33).
Jesus did not mean we will always learn the answers to the big questions such as “Why me?” or “Will I get better?” but we should trust the heavenly Father for the ultimate outcome because we are in His care.
I asked Molly what hymn her mother was humming. Molly recalled that it was “It Is Well With My Soul.”
This hymn was written in 1873 by Horatio Spafford. Two years before, Spafford had lost his young son from illness and experienced financial ruin after the Chicago fire. As he penned this hymn, Spafford was waiting to learn the fate of his wife and four daughters who were passengers on an ocean liner that collided with another ship on the Atlantic Ocean.
He wrote: “When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou (God) has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’ “
Molly’s mother did not know everything that was to happen, but knew enough to help her face each new day without undue worry. As Spafford had written, she knew she was in God’s hands.
“That’s enough for me,” she told me as I chased after her into the treatment room at Molly’s insistence. Molly’s mother was not going to succumb from undue worry.
“Life’s tough enough today,” she winked.
Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, writer, playwright and director, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.