The Jigsaw Puzzle
~ Lori Tupper

Editor's Note: While Ms. Tupper is not an indigenous author,

we felt her message was an important one that would help

many who are facing medical issues. We are grateful for Ms.

Tupper's contribution, and continue our prayers for her

complete recovery!

On almost any given day of the year, you can walk into our home and in the corner of the dining room you will see a white 8-ft. table with a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle on it completed to some degree. The puzzles live in our entry closet before brought to life by our evening sessions of togetherness. We choose puzzles that are appealing to us or have special meaning (like the one of Venice, Italy) and then we order them from White Mountain Puzzle Company because the pieces are larger and they specialize in nostalgic scenery as well as interlocking pieces. We approach the puzzle in different ways as we get into it, but the first step is always the same…assemble the edge pieces in order to assess where it will go on the table. We also bought special “sorter” trays so we can sort the pieces and stack the trays in order to save space. Sometimes we will go days without working on the puzzle, but more often we will spend a day or two each week, sitting side by side, working together to recreate the picture on the front of the box propped on the stand before us, sometimes referencing color and sometimes referencing shapes.

I remember my older sister, who is an expert at doing jigsaw puzzles telling me about puzzle challenges where the participants have to do the puzzle without having a picture to reference, or having pictures on both sides of the puzzle so the participant is always unsure of which picture they are really trying to complete. There are also puzzles that are all one color so you have to rely on shape processing alone and of course there are 3D puzzles which require you to actually build something dimensionally out of puzzle pieces.

I have been thinking about puzzles a lot in the last few months as I feel like on February 10th, 2017 we were told we were going to participate in a puzzle challenge when we were given my cancer diagnosis. On March 10th, 2017, we were given a picture of the puzzle when my surgeon presented her recommendations to us in the form of a mastectomy, lumpectomy, and lymph node removal. The puzzle box was handed to us on April 25th, 2017 when I woke up from my surgery, and finally all the pieces were given to us on May 24th, 2017 when we spent three hours meeting with doctors, nurses, and social workers as they presented the recommended treatment plan at the West Michigan Cancer Center. And today, we received the details of how we will start to put that puzzle together on Friday, June 16th, at 9 am with a 6-hour chemo infusion.

In some ways, our puzzle pieces are challenging, in that we know the picture of a healthy, cancer-free body is the picture propped up in front of us that we are trying to attain, but there may be some pieces that will be difficult to interlock because of 40 possible side effects that may distract us or require us to complete smaller sections before inserting them into the big picture puzzle…and because of the aggressiveness of the upcoming treatment, I have the constant nagging feeling that this puzzle may have a few more than 1,000 pieces.

But, that is okay. Although I am not known as one of those champion puzzle participants and I wouldn’t dream of entering such a challenge voluntarily, I am so blessed to have someone sitting in the chair next to me, reminding me to turn on the light when the natural light is clouded by a dark day or sunset. He sorts the pieces for me, randomly rubbing my back and giving me whole sections to complete. When I am tempted to pity myself, God reminds me to stand back a bit from the overwhelming big picture, say a prayer of thanks for the many who are supporting me, and to just start putting it together…one piece at a time…one day at a time…one step at a time…one minute at a time, if necessary.

And somehow I know that when the picture is complete—it will never be quite what anyone expects. It will be more than a healthy, cancer-free body. It will be a spirit of peace and thankfulness. It will be eyes that see every leaf on every tree, hands that hug closer and hold longer, It will be less anger, more forgiveness, more swimming, less sitting, more smiles, fewer tears and way more music…loud, smooth, heart-tickling jazz…and maybe even some dancing with the guy who sits next to me at the puzzle table, reminding me to turn on the light when the natural light is clouded by a dark day or sunset working together to recreate the picture on the front of the box propped on a stand before us.