Sometimes life gets fast and furious and there’s no time to slow down and reflect on what is actually going on. And then, usually, at some point, I must stop and think… chew on it. Which is why I started this blog in the first place. So, here’s today’s chew. I share it not because my life is so interesting but in hopes our lives might meet in the process.
I am guessing for many of us the C word and the D word (as in death) are probably always hovering somewhere in the background. Even when we are not conscious of them they are always lurking around in the shadows somewhere. No one wants to get cancer and no one wants to die.
A week before we moved to Corpus I was told I needed to have a tumor removed from my left breast. The surgeon was completely confident it was benign so I could wait until I had moved to have it removed. I went back for the surgery and even wrote about it in an earlier post. When the surgeon called to tell me the results I was fully expecting her to say it was benign. And she did. But then she kept talking. She said the pathologist had determined there had been a “little” cancer within the benign tumor she had removed. A small malignancy inside of the benign. Huh? This was a good news bad news moment if I have ever heard one. The doctor then said she was referring me to an oncologist who might prescribe radiation and estrogen blocking drugs. I was being pushed through a door I didn’t want to enter. A threshold from which there is no return. There is before the cancer diagnosis and after. Life changes. Ten minutes before the call I was busy working on getting settled in our new home in Corpus. Ten minutes after the call I couldn’t concentrate enough to work on anything.
During the next three weeks I received a lot of love from the people around me. And a lot of questions. And a lot of advice. All of which were expressions of love. The people I resonated with the most with were those who had also crossed the same threshold. The people who had faced a cancer diagnosis. I was now part of a club no one wants to belong to. The one where uncertainty is the only thing certain and fear is a constant intruder.
Instead of continuing with the hospital where I had had the surgery I went to M D Anderson. As a pastor I had visited many in this miraculous institution of vision and hope. I would now be a patient. I went back and forth between Houston and Corpus to go through their battery of tests and diagnosis and plan of attack. When the day came to actually see the MDA surgeon to hear results and recommendations Tom and I walked into the massive complex with wide eyes and anxious hearts. Tom was trying not to show his concern but I could see it clearly.
They called us back to the department and two nurses met me, weighed me, and took measurements of my arms….”In case you have to have lymph nodes removed we need a baseline of your arm.” Lymph nodes? Base line? This was a “little” cancer! And it’s out. What the…Fear plopped itself right dead center in my heart.
For the next thirty minutes I was asked questions and talked to and then finally given results. The doctor calmly spoke to me about this and that and then she said”…and our pathologist looked at the slides from your surgery and we found no cancer.” It took me a second to process the words. Wait, what. No cancer? Confusion took the place of fear. Relief was too afraid to show up, afraid I had misunderstood. How could one pathology department give a diagnosis of cancer, complete with description, size and grade, and another say there was none? As the good news attempted to sink in the doctor kept talking.
She said although they had determined no cancer in the left breast there was a suspicious spot on the right. It would need to be biopsied to determine if it was cancer or not. And, there it was….another good news bad news moment. I thought it had been difficult to walk around with a cancer diagnosis, but this was actually feeling no better. I have figured this out about myself. I can take fear, sadness, and I’m learning how to carry uncertainty. But, it is confusion that sends me into a tailspin and I was now confused.
For the next couple of weeks I tried my best to get back to life but I dreaded this biopsy more than I had dreaded the first surgery. This good news bad news journey was taking a toll.
When I arrived at MDA to have the biopsy I was met by a stern but nice nurse who told me it was really going to hurt and I’d have to lay still face down for about forty five minutes. She said I would want to move but not to because they would have to start over. Confusion was moving over so terror and dread would have room. I asked if I could have something to relax me. She said she would use some aromatherapy on me…which meant she would waive a lavender sachet in front of my nose at the crucial moments…
She took me to a holding area in the center of a group of rooms. I sat awaiting my fate, trying to keep my breathing to a dull roar. Perhaps they’d let me snort some lavender. Each room had a closed door with a sign on it, meant to inspire and comfort. One room was named Hope. Another Love. Another Peace. I looked at the room the nurse had shown me would be mine.
It’s name was Relax.
The nurse had been right. It hurt and staying still was maybe the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I think I realize I may have a little problem with fidgeting. But she was also right about the lavender sachet. I called for it frequently. I told the nurse I would dream fondly about her that night.
A week later I got another phone call. Much like the phone call I had received all those weeks before. Quick and to the point. But this time it was just good news. No cancer. No cancer. No cancer. So, I had not actually crossed the threshold after all. Relief is an understatement.
Even after writing all this down I do not understand what this experience was all about. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’m not supposed to. There were gifts during those weeks I thought I had cancer though, as there always are if we’re open to them. One was, I quit worrying about what causes cancer. There was no reason to worry about that anymore. I can’t tell you how liberating it was.
Another was the still calm presence of peace that patiently and persistently nudged my heart, amidst all the fear. There were actual moments when I surrendered completely to this peace, trusting that no matter what the future might hold I knew Love was there with me and I’d be ok. I would have never thought it possible before. Oh, that I would be willing to do this in all areas of my life!
One more gift. My scars. My scars are small and insignificant compared to what so many have to endure in the battle with disease. But they are my scars and I have come to realize they are a gift and reminder I’m still here and I’m still me. When I see my scars I am reminded of the scars Jesus bore when he reunited with his disciples, showing them the love he brought was a love stronger enough to endure anything. A love most visibly seen through vulnerability and , yes, through our scars.
I have a little bit of survivor’s guilt, for lack of a better word, when I think of the many who receive a cancer diagnosis. So many are pushed through the unwanted threshold every day. So many who are brave where I was a coward. Who are strong where I was weak. I pray for them. I pray for their healing. And for their openness to see the gifts of Love along the way. And, I pray if I am forced through that threshold again I will have the courage to do the same.
Something to chew on…