Chemo-Induced Depression?! & Early Morning Struggles


King David’s ancient words of hope in his psalms speak forward into one woman’s early morning struggles with cancer and chemo.

There’s no doubt.  For those who are in a season of struggle, mornings can be tough.  As far back as the 11th century BC, we have Jewish King David crying out to God in distress in the morning.  These honest, searching verses penned by David are found in his beloved psalms:                                                                                                                               

  1. Give ear to my words, O Lord; Consider my groaning.                                                      Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God.                                                 For to you do I pray.                                                                                                                  In the morning, O Lord, you will hear my voice;                                                                          In the morning I will order my prayer to you and eagerly watch.                                      (Psalm 5: 1-3)                                            

Fast forward to just the other day in 2013…    A client describes, almost defeated, a diagnosis of cancer followed by energy-sucking chemo that has stripped her schedule of pastimes she loves.  Pain and exhaustion prevent the pursuits which colored her life with joy—serious play with well-loved little ones; soccer (still at 60!),  tennis, golf, and long, luxurious treks with her husband in the inviting mountains surrounding her home.  Retirement at 55 had her waking up each morning with that “kid in a candy store” feeling—so much to do, so eager to do it.  Enter cancer…

 She detailed her new “schedule” to me: “I’m still an early riser--6:00 to 8:00 AM are good—and then begins the struggle with a long, empty day.  The hours just hang heavy.  I’m exhausted, hurting…  I don’t know what to do with myself.  It’s the worst part of cancer.  Do they have a diagnosis for ‘chemo-induced depression’?”  

            “Wait…” I wasn’t ignoring anything she said, but honed in on a striking detail.  “What do you do from 6:00 to 8:00 AM?!”

            “Same thing I’ve done for decades…I go get a Starbuck’s; then I settle in my favorite cushy recliner in my study, with a window overlooking those awesome mountains, and I read my Bible, pray the Psalms, and journal spiritual insights.   Lately, the spiritual insights are abounding!!!”

            We both got it at the same moment… a profoundly hopeful realization that here was one corner of her schedule the cancer had not been able to overthrow.  This piece of who she is and what she does lived on, unscathed.  She’d done it for decades; she’s still doing it--pursuing God and praying the psalms. 

            With that realization came a little energy and a little hope:  “I can do this.  I’m still the same me; God is certainly the same … with his help, I can do this.”  Mobilized, she began to face the new task before her:  mourning and letting go, for now, of her old daily structure and well-loved pastimes and forging a new structure, new pastimes, woven around her pain and exhaustion, one day at a time, grounded in what has never changed: her profound faith in God and her daily habit of leaning into him for strength and wisdom to pull off the day. 

It’s the way God works... breathing life and energy into one woman’s early morning struggles through King David’s early morning struggles, expressed in his beloved psalms thousands of years ago:                                                                                   

 Weeping may last for the night,                                                                                                                                                                   But a shout of joy comes in the morning!                                                              Psalm 30:5b