Grace: You’ve Either Got It or You Don’t

By Penelope Foran

Grace: You've Either Got It or You Don't

Only a few short hours ago, I had walked into the hospital a normal person. Now I was walking out a CANCER PATIENT. It is always one of the things we fear the most, even more so for those of us who know most of what is coming. We care for these patients, and we go home every day praying that we will never be one of them.

As soon as I arrived at home, I called my dad first. He had overcome a lot in his life, and I sensed that he may be able to help. Daddy had lost his leg in a train accident on the job at the age of twenty-three. Rather than accept a life on disability, common in 1943 before the advent of physical therapy and high-tech prosthetics, my dad fought tooth and nail to win back his job as a fireman on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Not only did he regain his previous status, he became the first amputee on the east coast to become a locomotive engineer. Quitting was not in his nature, and now I hoped it would not be in mine.

“Hey Daddy, it’s me. Yes, I’m back from my test.” My voice cracked and the tears flowed, as I blubbered on. “It’s really bad. I have colon cancer. It looks like it may have spread into some of the surrounding tissue.” By now I was sobbing, great heaves and running nose. “I’m just so scared.”

“Well, let me tell you something. You can be scared, and sad, and bitter, and have colon cancer. Your other option is to be at peace, accept the situation, try to beat it, and have colon cancer. Isn’t that the way, Penny? Don’t you have colon cancer either way? That’s the way I see it. You have colon cancer. It’s up to you, and only you, how you choose to live with it. Penny, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here. I-I-I guess you’re right,” I choked out. Part of me had expected an “I love you. There, there, honey. Daddy will make it all better.” But, if that’s what I wanted, I didn’t get it. Never had and never would.

I’m sure, however, that’s the precise reason that it was the first call I made. It was the call I needed to make. It was the call that eventually just might help to save my life. I knew that when I dialed the number.

Looking back at the conversation over the next few days, through a haze of shock and terror, I realized that what Daddy’s suggestion required was a gigantic dose of grace. As Elaine once said in a Seinfeld episode, “You can’t get grace. You either have it or you don’t.” I was convinced that I didn’t. As Elaine said, grace travels with the likes of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. I was coming up completely empty.

Eventually, I realized that there was a place that I could go to get some of that grace. I prayed. Even a lowly earthling like me could do that. I didn’t have to be married to a President or a Greek tycoon to pray.

Over the coming weeks and months, I survived seven weeks of simultaneous chemo and radiation. The regimen was grueling and exhausting, but I did my best to weather it with a daily smile and joke for my radiation therapist and chemo nurse. They could each use a healthy dose of happy to brighten their days.

When I completed that round, I received life-saving surgery. My surgery was of the radical nature that came with my diagnosis. But even that was okay. I had my life, after all. Somehow, I even found the chutzpah to crack jokes with my ostomy nurse.

Many times on my journey, people told me how I handled it all with such grace. Imagine that! Elaine had it all wrong. Grace is ours for the asking. It is inside each of us, if only we ask.

Fourteen years later, I remain grateful for my cancer experience. I learned so much about myself and every person in my life that I would never have discovered without my cancer journey. The stern words of a loving father led me to a place inside I never would have found without his words and my search to not just survive, but thrive. God’s grace is sufficient for me.

About this writer

  • Penelope ForanPenelope Foran resides in Pawleys Island with her soul mate Gene and their four cats. She ticky-tacs away at the computer daily and is currently pursuing several writing projects.

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7 Responses to “Grace: You’ve Either Got It or You Don’t”

  1. This author shows the beauty of her character in her writing and what is so essential when faced with Cancer .

  2. Pam Haus says:

    This was so inspiring! I am fortunate enough to personally have seen the impact God’s grace has had on her. She handles her life with dignity, style, and, of course – grace.

  3. Mary Ann Crimi says:

    “Grace” is hard to define except by example. Thank you, Penelope, for a beautiful definition.

  4. Katie Purvis says:

    Beautifully said. And your dad was right. 😀

  5. Anita Ibeakanma says:

    A good one Penelope. Indeed Grace is God’s favor on us that enables us to achieve those things that seem so impossible with man. Though sometimes undeserving or unmerited, Grace saves us because God loves us. Thank you Penelope for sharing.

  6. Michele says:

    You are an amazing woman indeed. You are full of grace and prosperity!

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