Last Sunday I spent the day feeling like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting to dive over and into whatever lay before. Chemotherapy had finished three weeks prior and I was preparing to launch back into full-time work, leading a busy department, catching up on things that had happened over the past 6 months of me flitting in and out of work as I could, while others took care of the day to day running of things. Last Sunday I struggled with knowing that with what I’ve been through, I can’t just pick up where I left off, things have to change. My life pre-breast cancer was crazy, juggling work and family and community commitments.  It was a big, full, enjoyable life, but crazy all the same.  I can’t help wondering if the stress and busyness of the years preceding my diagnosis led to a breach in my immune system to allow damaged cells to survive and grow into a tumour, along with the high blood pressure, chest pain, pneumonia and a general feeling of un-wellness that I’d had for quite some time.  While the past year has seen things at work settling down nicely into a happy, efficient and low-stress place to be, the 2 – 3 years prior to that were incredibly stressful, such that I ended up in Emergency with chest pain, that ultimately turned out to be “nothing but” stress.  A public blog is not the place for me to detail work – place specifics, but four major events outside my control occurred over the course of 2 – 3 years for which I, as Director, had to bear the full brunt of how these events were managed, and minimise the impact on other staff, external stakeholders and operations. I and the department survived all this and came out all the more stronger and improved for what we went through, but looking back now, I wonder was my health collateral damage?  I know all this sounds melodramatic, and perhaps it is, but the events of the past 7 months have changed me. I am not the same person I was at the beginning of 2013.  If faced with those sorts of work challenges again, I don’t know if now I would just walk away, recognising the personal toll it would take on me to work through the challenge, or would my new – found skills in mindfulness and resilience protect me as I navigated and managed my way through to resolution.

These were the sorts of thoughts racing through my head last Sunday, as I panicked with knowing I was far from recovered from the ordeal of chemotherapy, while all those around me, including myself, would expect me to jump back in and be back in charge.  I love my job and gain great satisfaction with knowing we save lives and make a difference in the world, but the feeling of knowing that “something needs to change but I don’t know what”, was messing with my head as I sat once again on my front porch grasping at stillness. What was I meant to do? How was I meant to change things? Do I need to change? Does my work situation need to change? Will I have the physical and mental fortitude to dive back into work? Am I up to the task? Is there a new career path I should be taking? If so, what could it possibly be?  I became so distressed and overwhelmed with the searching inside my head, as well as the doubts and fears about returning to work the next day, that I wept.

I didn’t cry for long though, as I suddenly heard loudly inside my head, above the din, “….lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths”. Wow, sledge hammer material again.  I stopped the sniffling and immediately looked up the verse on my iPhone. There it was, Proverbs 3: 5 – 8.  The search engine on my phone pointed me to a published homily on this passage of scripture by Maria M. Kneas, all of which was insightful.  But then I reached the thoughts on versus 7 and 8, and I was convinced that I was meant to find this sermon.  I have copied an excerpt from the website below.

Following the guidelines of Proverbs 3:5-7 will bring blessings in our lives. Verse 8 says, “It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.” The King James Version says, “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”

When we lean on our own understanding instead of fully trusting the Lord, then we can become stressed or anxious. According to medical research, sustained stress can cause arthritis and anemia, which are diseases of the bones and bone marrow. (The bone marrow makes the blood.) Stress can also cause, or aggravate, other health problems.

Verse 8 mentions health for our “flesh” or “navel.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word used here literally means the umbilical cord. How do babies in the womb get everything that they need for life? Through the umbilical cord. If it doesn’t function properly, then the baby won’t get adequate food and oxygen.

Babies in the womb are totally dependent upon their mothers for everything that they need for life. They are connected to their mothers by their umbilical cords, and they receive what they need through those cords. Similarly, Christians are totally dependent upon God for everything. Receiving what God wants to give us depends on having us be rightly connected to Him. 
Whatever we need, in order to receive it, we have to be rightly related to God. Do we need strength or comfort or courage or healing or wisdom or protection or provision? Proverbs 3:5‑8 gives us some keys for receiving such things from God.

“Health to thy naval and marrow to thy bones” !! I’ve heard this passage many times before, which is obviously how it came to jump into my head just when I needed it. However, I had never thought about it in terms of umbilical cords and bone marrow. Cord blood and umbilical cords, haematopoiesis (blood cell development), bone marrow reconstitution, diseases within the blood compartment due to problems in the bone marrow, the link between stress and illness…..all these are things I know well, my career is built on knowing this area well. It’s what I do.

I have no idea what it means that I was led to read this random webpage, but the fears and uncertainties immediately left me and that wonderful sense of calm and peace enveloped me, and travelled with me into work on Monday. I knew then that I did not have to figure it all out; I did not have to lean unto my own understanding.  As much as I continually strive for wisdom, it is not my job to know the answers; all I have to do is acknowledge Him and He will direct my paths. And by following these guidelines and being intimately connected to Him, I do not need to be stressed and compromise my health. Phew!


About stemgir1

Scientist, mother, survivor of childhood cancer, diagnosed in 2013 with breast cancer. Lover of life.
This entry was posted in breast cancer, cancer, chemotherapy, Faith, inspiration, life, mindfulness, Religion, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Pathfinding

  1. lmarieallen says:

    It will be interesting to see what path you take. I completely relate to your sense of being a different person and not knowing whether you are willing to face the same kinds of challenges that used to consume your life. Personally, I don’t have that energy anymore. I don’t tolerate stress as well. My happiest days now are those spent with few obligations and plenty of time to daydream. I, like you, am figuring out my new normal.


    • stemgir1 says:

      Yes, I really have no idea where things will end up. As horrid as chemo was, I really hope I don’t lose the introspection and non-busyness it gave me. Just one week back at work and I can feel myself rushing from one place to another – it is going to be a challenge holding on to what I’ve learnt.


  2. Take your time. It will come to you. You are at your first real t-intersection after treatment. as you choose the next intersection and next intersection will be presented. The balance will be found and you will find the new “normal” that suits you . Be true to you and the rest will come


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