June 5, 2008 – I leave the hospital with “You are cancer-free” ringing in my ears.
July 5, 2008 – Exactly one month later, I pick up the phone in South Carolina to hear a kind and gentle doctor tell me I have breast cancer. I mouth “It’s cancer” to my mom, asked a couple more questions of the soft-spoken physician and hang up the phone.
…thus begins another journey.
This was supposed to be a celebratory trip: taking my new scar (my “cancer-free” badge) to my favorite small town in South Carolina, reuniting with old friends and former students along the way. I never suspected when I arrived in South Carolina how my life’s course would change in the days ahead.
About a week before I headed South, I wrote to a dear friend at my Florence church to ask if there was any way he could set up an appointment for me with a doctor there. After so much medical work in the past weeks, it seemed almost redundant, but I had a strong urge to make sure that there was nothing else wrong with me before heading back to Germany.
Miraculously, Greg got me an appointment during the July 4th holiday week with one of the most prominent and respected physicians in the area. I had the physical, he said I seemed to be in great health, told me to stop picking at the suture sticking out of my cheek’s scar (I know, I know), and sent me off to the nearest hospital for a routine mammogram.
The hospital tracked me down the next morning and told me to come in immediately for further tests. Things snowballed from there and the life I had thought was about to settle down suddenly turned inside out again. More mammograms, an ultrasound and a painful biopsy later, I went home to my friends’ house to wait for results. They came yesterday, on a Saturday when most of the hospital’s staff was gone, but my wonderful doctor arranged for rush analysis and called in the results from his vacation home.
…………I’m not sure how to describe the hours since that phone call. One month—one month since my last surgery, and here I am neck-deep (chest-deep?) in cancer again. Only this is a far cry from MAC. This feels more lethal and more destructive. And too soon. I was just beginning to recover from the last brush with this disease.
My first thoughts were for my students. Some of their faiths are fragile, and I don’t want this to make them question, to cause the kind of cynicism that is more maiming than cancer. I thought of my niece and nephews and the impact this would have on them. I thought of my poor mom who will, sadly, be onboard for yet another journey into the medical unknown.
I thought of the relief I felt six months ago when I’d learned that MAC did not respond to chemo—and of the vow I’ve made all my life that I would rather risk recurrence than endure the torture of that therapy.
I thought of losing my hair.
I thought of the disfigurement usually caused by this form of cancer, of the scars, of the long-term effects of radiation, of the potential for other hot spots, for other metastases…
And then I thought of the lyrics I wrote for the song I’ve been singing all summer, intended as a tribute to my last journey through cancer:
And the sea billows roll, overwhelming my soul
Peace hasn’t drifted, but it has been rattled. It’s a little weak around the edges, a little less solid than I want it to be.
There is Joy in the pain, every loss can be gain.
I’ve clung to that truth since December 31, date of my first diagnosis. And I’ve seen it revealed in more ways than I can count. There has been Joy. There will be Joy. And I’ve seen my first battle bear eternal fruit, not only in my life, but in the lives of those I love most dearly.
He’s been hard at work trying to do just that—but the name of Jesus is powerful, even when uttered in the middle of the night, lying awake with stomach churning and limbs quaking in shock. “Jesus.” And the world seems to settle a bit. The arms aren’t tangible, but their comfort is real.
This journey I follow, with its joy and its sorrow,
Is a gift I embrace, for it flows from your grace.
He hasn’t failed me yet. My body has. My health has. He hasn’t.
‘Cause it is what it is…
There’s no changing the facts. I have breast cancer. I have breast cancer… The words still startle and appall. It is what it is.
And therein lies the courage and the comfort this new journey will require. The only way through it is forward—resting on His strength.
Lending faith to my doubt and hope to my fear.
The lyrics I wrote after MAC became a premonitory prayer. They’re my mantra when the myriad unknowns clamor so loudly that I lose my footing a little. He will dwell near. He will guide and appease. He will go before me, just as He has all along.
Remember the “Journey Penda
nt” to which I referred a couple blog entries back? I didn’t expect it to sprout a second string! But I choose–right now–to focus on the diamonds of this journey, the blessings embedded in the gold of His sustenance:
- A doctor’s appointment that shouldn’t have been scheduled—not with the odds stacked against it.
- The kindness of nurses and technicians.
- The southern venue in which “honeys” and “sweeties” uttered by strangers were truly a balm.
- The presence of my mother by my side and the comfort-words of friends on two continents when I told them the news.
- Staying with some of my dearest friends, and being able to come out of the back bedroom after the dreaded call and sit on the couch with Pastor Bob to receive the first of many prayers that will accompany me on this journey.
God is good. I haven’t doubted it for a moment since December 31st, and I’m not about to start doubting it now. He is the infallible, gentle, powerful and compassionate chain on which this new journey pendant hangs.
I write this while sitting in my mom’s bright red PT Cruiser, cruising (how appropriate) up I-77 from South Carolina toward Canada. I’ve already contacted the University of Michigan, hoping my doctor there can refer me to a breast cancer specialist. I don’t know what the next step will be. Surgery will happen soon. Followed by whatever the doctor suggests. I’m praying it’s not chemo… So much cannot be determined yet, and the control freak in me (who me? really?) wants to know it all NOW. Maybe one of those diamonds on my life’s pendant will be patience. Snowballs in hell might see a resurgence too!
But I’ve taken the most important step already: I’ve notified burger joints across the state of Michigan that they’d better stock up.
I’ll end with a quote I received from Sandee Shuman earlier this week: “Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God.” If Corrie ten Boom could believe it, so will I. I’m counting on yours, whenever you’re moved to pray. For sleep, for peace, for guidance, for miracles…
With determined Joy in this unanticipated journey,