Inter-Mission: Waiting for the next act

This story appears in the Inter-Mission feature series. View the full series.

by Janet Gildea


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I have never left a theater during intermission. Maybe the show has just not been bad enough to forfeit the price of admission. Usually there is enough curiosity to know how the story might be redeemed to keep me in my seat.

I just received the sixth (and I hope last) round of chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer. While in the throes of post-chemo side-effects I must admit that there are moments I'd like to leave the theater before the show is over.

One resource in particular is keeping me in my seat. The Year of Consecrated Life draws to a close on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple February 2, and in his letter announcing the year, Pope Francis laid out three desires for consecrated people: to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion, and to embrace the future with hope. Overall he encouraged us to "wake up the world" by the prophetic form of our religious life. I can't help but wonder how I have lived up to these challenges during the past four months.

Looking to the past with gratitude for a cancer survivor who has slipped from remission into recurrence is powerful medicine. This has been a time to review my salvation history. I remember how exactly eight years ago God heard my cry from the muddy pit of destruction, drew me out and set my feet upon rock, steadied my steps and put a new song in my mouth (Psalm 40: 2-4). The memory of God's saving power renews my openness to the healing gifts again. I remember not only the return to health after my initial treatment but also the many opportunities I have had to serve during my prolonged remission. The experience of cancer sparked a tremendous creativity in ministry with young adults, in vocation promotion and initial formation with my congregation, and in the service of children with special needs at our center in Mexico. I am curious to see what will happen in the next chapter.

Living the present with passion challenges me to make each day count. I do not want to just slog along, getting through this time so that I can "get on with my life," but to find meaning in this experience as I live it, even if I have to squeeze it out drop by drop. Writing has been an important vehicle for this process. Sometimes it is only from a distance that you have the perspective needed to understand an experience. I find it a blessing to be able to share with some immediacy the little discoveries and connections that occur to me as I live through this time of treatment.

Living in a formation community and serving as the director for three women in discernment also has kept me alive to the present moment. How could I not have a passion for the present when I have the privilege of accompanying women who have taken the risk of entering into a time of serious discernment of God's call? Their sincere searching, their courage and willingness to consider a religious vocation, strengthen my passionate commitment to live my own vocation each day. We began our intentional community life together just as I started cancer treatment again. Everyone has had to pitch in and be a quick study on the dynamics of communication, coordination and lovingkindness. Some days my "present" to the community is baking bread, making soup, or picking up pecans in the yard. Other days I am less available, flat out in bed, but even then sometimes in the quiet hours of the night when I lay awake I pray my way around the house, asking God who knows each heart's desire to clarify the call for each member of our community and to keep us living in the present with passion.

Embracing the future with hope poses the greatest challenge to me at the moment. My 2016 calendar has all kinds of travel plans and commitments starting at the end of February. I will have a PET scan in two weeks that will determine what further treatment or maintenance therapy will be recommended.

My spiritual director asked me how I am experiencing the prophetic dimension of this time of my life. For me to embrace the future with hope brings this prophetic vocation into focus. On a practical level, my very physical appearance these days is a kind of "sign." It is surprising to me how many people will comment about having been through cancer treatment or add a little "God bless you" as they hold a door open or give me a receipt at the check-out. I forget how I look, until even my oncologist remarked that, "This is really kicking your butt, isn't it?" I am a sign of both vulnerability and strength, of pain and possibility.

Writing also has a prophetic edge. There are days when I can't get myself to boot up the computer, but sometimes I am compelled to write. Other times I doubt that I have anything to say that is of interest to anyone. Right in the middle of a piece I will have the urge to delete everything I've written. Most always I am stopped by the awareness that regardless of whether anyone reads it or if it makes a difference in another person's life, I have the need to write. Sometimes it is even more direct: God has given me something to say. Like a prophet, all I can do is say it.

On embracing the future with hope Pope Francis wrote, "This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf.2 Timothy 1:2), the One for whom 'nothing is impossible' (Luke 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us."

I do not know what the outcome of these months of chemotherapy will be or what the future holds in terms of further treatment. I should probably write on my calendar in pencil, but I'm using permanent ink.

And I'm staying in my seat for intermission, reflecting on what I've seen and heard in the first acts of my life and on the amazing gifts of these present months. I can't wait to see what God has in store for me when the curtain rises!

[Janet Gildea, SC, has been a contributor to Global Sisters Report, writing on immigration and other topics from the U.S.-Mexico border. Janet began chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer on October 6, 2015, an experience that she will be sharing in GSR over the next several months. Readers are also welcome to visit her blog, "Each Day Counts" at Access her Inter-Mission columns on GSR here.]