It was Wednesday, November 1st, 2017. Tired from a late night of watching cheesy Halloween movies with hubbs the night before, my Mom and I chatted on the phone. I had an itch in my armpit and felt a lump. It was only God that it happened during our conversation because otherwise I would have never called the doctor and I would still, unknowingly, be walking around with cancer. She, of course, all Mom-like told me I needed to call. It was round and hard, not painful at all and seemed to be the size of a gum ball or large marble. The next day, after pressure from Mom (again), I called my Primary Care Provider (PCP) and started Googling. It seemed to me like my lymph nodes might be enlarged because as usual, our house had been a Fall Festival of Germs and we had all been fighting colds.
I was given an appointment for the very next morning. Off I went, with my two-year old in tow. After a breast exam the doc seemed concerned. I was more worried about my two year old who was climbing around the room and messing with all things medical (and germy). As she did the exam I thought about my last breast exam.
"When had it been? When was my last pap? 2 years ago. But I was nursing, so they didn’t do a breast exam. So maybe 4 or 5 years ago? I mean let’s be honest, I don’t need to do those self-exams. I’m still young."
After asking me a bunch of family history questions about breast cancer (to which there was only one case in my family, my great Aunt who had it in her seventies), she told me I needed to get in for a screening…that day. I left to arrange care for my toddler and got the call to head to the Breast Imaging Center for a mammogram and ultrasound.
While sitting in the next waiting room of the day, two memorable things happened: our wedding song was playing (Billy Joel, the Way You Are). This song has a way of playing when I need a sweet reminder that God gave me Kevin, my best friend, to walk through this crazy life with. Second, a woman walked out with a small plastic bag in her hand - like the kind you get at the dentist, but pink. Almost like a party favor bag from a party you didn’t want to get invited to. I wondered if she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Pretty much all I knew about breast cancer was that far too many women had it and that it was symbolized by all things pink. Ick. Maybe that was the first time I really thought that wow, this could actually be my road to walk, too. This probably marked the time when my mind began to shift from “it’s nothing” to “this could be something, really bad”.
The mammogram was my first. An early “welcome to your forties” birthday gift. It wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. While I was waiting for the Radiologist to go over the results, the image was pulled up on a computer screen, so naturally I snapped some pics while no one was in the room. The ultrasound was just like baby belly ones – but with no reassuring “aww, there are his little feet” moments. I loved the Radiologist from the moment I met her. The perfect balance of bedside manner and being real and she laughed at my off sense of humor (which was a real plus). She noted two areas of concern: a mass on my left breast and a lymph node on the same side. She said she would need to biopsy both of them. That terrified me. I thought I hated needles (that was before I had a million and two needles and shots in less than a month). I continued on with my nonchalant attitude that it was probably just from mastitis I had while nursing (I had trouble with my kids latching but was determined, so I pumped for a little over a year with both of them. During that time I had my fair share of breast ailments – to which I was pretty sure caused the “calcifications” they were seeing in the images. Because I have a medical degree from the University of Google, I know these things.) In her experienced, yet gently, firm way she told me that yes, it could be nothing, but there was a 30% chance it could be breast cancer. This began my 13-day wait for an answer to that looming question.
I fluctuated between sheer panic and nonchalant complacency – neither a good place to be. If I would allow my mind to think worst-case scenario thoughts, the roller coaster would begin. It’s easy to see how people have such physical responses to anxiety and fear. Where and how we set our mind truly controls our body’s response. It is scary. I chose to be pretty private about my thinking (aside from with Kevin and my parents), but God definitely laid it on my heart to share one day with a few special girls in a small group study I was part of. And from sharing came the blessing of great conversations that showed me the Love of the Father and the wisdom of friends who reminded me how important my perspective would be in all of this.
One friend specifically, encouraged me to look for God’s Glory in this circumstance - a total perspective change. I began to think about the faith I claim and what it would look like for me to live it out in this situation. Game-changer. I cannot tell you the peace that washed over me. God began laying verses on my heart to cling to. I find that in most all, trying situations He provides an anchor verse. This is mine:
I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken,
For He is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad,
And my tongue shouts His praises!
My body rests in hope…
…You have shown me the way of life,
And You will fill me with
The joy of Your Presence.
Walking into that biopsy I really had peace beyond measure. (I was honestly more afraid of the procedure than the results because needles frighten me.) But in this, I asked boldly. Not just for peace but for the joy of His Presence. As usual, He delivered. My doctor and technician were literally the joy of His Presence in that room. The doc mentioned that in her devotional that morning she had read about the healing touch of a hand, so the amazing tech (I'll call her "S") took my hand. The whole experience was anything but frightening thanks to those two Lights of joy. We laughed and joked throughout the entire procedure and I hardly even felt the needles! S and I talked about our daughters and our faith and how our hope has to be in Him.
That was Friday, November 10th. I have had peace ever since. Crazy, unbelievable peace. That day during my quiet time the name of God that “happened” to be on the calendar for the 13th was Jehovah-Rophe (Rapha), the God who Heals. What I realized is a different aspect of His healing – that the remedy in all situations is the Gospel. The Gospel always makes a way. Then the Psalm I read (currently I’m praying a Psalm a day) was Psalm 16 the EXACT words of David that were quoted in Acts 2, my anchor Scripture.
The gist of this, the beginning of my cancer journey, is that I’ve been reminded of a few key lessons. (The teacher in me speaks.)
1. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow on this side of Heaven. While I was hopeful that the results would be just fine, the experience thus far was a good reality check. A time to take inventory of how I’m spending my days. To remember my priorities, my purpose and my posture towards Christ.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
I’m realizing that this kind of check should be like a routine oil change: to keep the wheels turning and headed in the Right direction, even when the road is smooth. Because life’s too short to wait for the bumps in the road.
2. God always heals. Always. I believe that healing comes in many shapes and forms and it’s not always physical. But His guarantee is that He will not let us journey alone.
You light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
In your strength I can crush an army;
With my God I can scale a wall.
God’s way is perfect.
All the Lord’s promises prove true.
He is a shield for all who look to Him for protection.
I’ve seen such proof of that in this experience. My heart has been healed (reoriented) in so many ways. Ways I didn’t even know needed attention. He’s so Good that way. I knew that whatever the results, He had plan and would work it out for my good and His Glory. I’m not saying, by any means, that the challenges we face are easy because they aren’t. But we always have the choice to remain in the dark, or to lean into Him and allow Him to Light up our darkness.
3. In addition to recalibrating my heart, He’s readjusted my eyes. He gently cupped my face with His hands and lifted my gaze a few inches higher. So that my focus would no longer be on the circumstance, instead it would be on Him. (Like when I hold my babies’ faces and look into their big, blue eyes and just think, “wow – you have no idea how much I love you”). What a difference a few inches makes!
When I’m tempted to zoom in on the what-if’s, I remember to lift my chin ever so slightly and take hold of the Promise that the God who holds the universe, also holds my heart.
“But You, O Lord, are a shield around me;
You are my Glory,
the One who holds my head high.
I cried out to the Lord,
And He answered me from His holy mountain.”
There is hard (uncomfortable) and Holy work that He’s doing in my heart through this circumstance. I share all this because I don’t want to waste a single ounce of this experience. I encourage you to share your story of that same work He’s doing in your life. You never know, that story – even if it’s still a work-in-progress (because aren’t they all?), just might be the Light someone in your world desperately needs to see.
And so I wait…
But like my wise friend reminded me: Don’t miss the Glory of God in these moments. She was right. It’s way too good to miss.
One last Scripture...
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens
and stay on the ground to water the earth.
They cause the grain to grow,
producing seed for the farmer
and bread for the hungry.
It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”