Remission: a period of time when an illness improves.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction” Romans 12:12
For me, remission did not bring to mind the words release, relief and healing, but felt more like the disease was lurking, insidious, and threatening.
After being discharged from hospital to do my final oral exam, I continued to present with acute symptoms and signs of ulcerative colitis. I had lost twelve kilograms which meant that basic activities like eating and walking used up so much energy that I needed to sleep for hours afterwards. The frustration was immense as I struggled with being unable to use the strength of my mind to make my body function.
Although the exact cause of ulcerative colitis has not been conclusively proven, it is believed to result from a malfunctioning immune system, genetic defects or exposure to certain environmental factors or a combination of all three. My grandfather died of colon cancer, and my father had his colon removed because his ulcerative colitis became so severe that death was imminent. My ulcerative colitis was thought to be triggered by bilharzia which I most likely developed whilst doing some seriously rough backpacking around Madagascar for my twenty-first birthday.
But my malfunctioning immune system was the most difficult to control after I was discharged from hospital. My white blood cells, which are part the immune systems fighting response, were being directed against my own body tissue causing chronic inflammation. Wanting to exhaust all options before considering surgery, my gastroenterologist put me on tablets used to treat leukaemia which radically reduced my white blood cell count. I had a standing Wednesday afternoon appointment with my GP to take blood to check on my white and red blood cells and adjust my medication accordingly. I was also on high doses of cortisone which had unpleasant side effects like sleeplessness, nightmares, increased facial and body hair, thinning skin, joint pain and probably the worst for me was a big round swollen face.
But hope became reality and I was cautiously declared sufficiently healthy to start my eight month backpacking journey around Eastern and Western Europe, the UK and Scandinavia with my great friend, Nicole. Our first adventure was a Contiki ski trip in Austria with another school friend and lots and lots of Australians. Truly amazing to be skiing two months after being so acutely ill. We skied most of the day and went out most of the night, laughing continually in the freedom and the experiences shared with old friends and new acquaintances. It was eight months of wondrous restoration of health and a time to re-evaluate and reflect. My disease was considered in remission. And the longer I was healthy, the less threatening that word felt.
It was too, a time of questioning my faith, particularly the power of prayer and the promises of God. I came to an understanding that healing comes in many forms. But my faith wavered as I felt far from God. Hope, like healing, also comes in many forms. An Australian that we’d met skiing and who then joined Nicole and me periodically along our travels, shared with me one night that there was something in me that spoke of God. This was a man who had shared our rather wild skiing trip and our total freedom from external expectations or confines. It was then that I realized that even though I felt people at home expected me to behave in a particular way according to, among other things, how I had been parented, which school I attended, who my friends were, which opportunities I had been given and if I attended church or not, the core of me was not defined by any of that. A revelation that brought much freedom and set me on the path of true and deep healing that felt less like remission and more like a cure.