I walked into the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center at 8 o’clock this morning and didn’t leave until nearly 6. I spent the morning having more ultrasound imaging and 14 additional x-rays, then spent a good bit of the afternoon consulting with nurses and doctors.
Good news: Their initial assessment was that I need to have a complete mastectomy. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to breathe for a while after hearing that news. But once I started to absorb the information, I also started to make my peace with it. HOWEVER…after all the specialists met in what they call a “tumor board,” they decided to postpone the mastectomy until they had done a few more biopsies. They’ll be taking out portions of two more hot-spots (discovered today–not the mass biopsied last time) and several lymph nodes. If there is cancer in any of those, a mastectomy will be the best course of action, followed by chemo and possibly radiation. If they’re clear, we might still be able to keep the treatment to a lumpectomy and radiation. There’s a small glimmer of hope and I’m clinging to it! Please pray along those lines too…
Sobering news: I need to hope and pray for the best, but begin to process the other too.
Non-news: It’ll be another couple of weeks before I know anything for sure.
These have been long days of waiting, but good days—days for evaluating, constructing and grieving. I find myself facing the upcoming, protracted battle with a clear mind and a steady heart. I know that shouldn’t be the case, from a strictly human point of view, but God’s promise in Philippians to guard our hearts and minds seems to be availing itself to me in a miraculous way.
The first four days after diagnosis were truly difficult. I lived them in a surreal state of numbness, being broadsided again and again by the multi-faceted repercussions of this disease. I nourished my lack of information with online research and breast cancer chat rooms and a nearly constant calling on God for sustenance. I was bathed in the words and tears and support of my closest friends reaching me from Canada, the States and Germany. The knowledge that prayers were going up on my behalf literally around the globe by friends and strangers was a shield against the winds of incomprehension that tried to sway my faith. The image of God grieving for me even as He “armored” me for this battle was my comfort and my strength.
There was never despair. There was fear and there was rebellion. There was laughter too and a healthy dose of irony. There were tears that burst from me unexpectedly, usually accompanied by a wordless plea for God’s help, whatever may come. And then Wednesday came. I felt a lightening of the weightiness in my spirit, a greater clarity in my mind. I have a wonderful cousin who is possibly the world’s most boisterous optimist. He called me that afternoon and, when I hung up the phone, I KNEW that I had turned a corner. The fog of shock had lifted and I was fully myself again. Thank you, Fred, for cheerleading me back into the world of the living! It’s a good place to be.
The final shove into lightness of spirit and clarity of thought came from a student named Kristoff. Back in January, at the beginning of my first battle against cancer, he made his patented “cookie-pops” for my Creative Writing class and designed one just for me:
t-shirt to wear to all my future appointments!
Kristoff wasn’t undone by Cancer #2. He launched into full Kristoffian mode and started a group on Facebook that made me giggle myself silly. It’s entitled, “Those for Miss Phoenix getting the heck married before she finally cops out” and currently boasts of 61 members. I think he meant to say “before she finally checks out,” but he’s an MK, and MKs have trouble with idioms! For those of you unfamiliar with the world of Facebook, these groups aren’t anything more than a means to pledge one’s loyalty, but still… The inventiveness and funniness of it all still makes me laugh out loud! New members welcome!
The introduction to the group reads:
all agree that it seems fairly obvious that two bouts of cancer at middle age
to a single woman as grand as miss phiphi is quite a hefty shove in the direction
of speedy and holy matrimony. and sometimes, we like to resist these. so let’s
help nature push miss phiphi right over. just like on that tram in prague!”
[Note: he’s referring to a tram ride during which the driver took off so fast that I was
knocked on my keester. The choir boys standing right behind me did nothing to catch my fall
(heaven forbid) and merely parted like the Red Sea as I plummeted to the floor!]
There has been a lot more giggling since my diagnosis. A lot more praying. A lot more bracing for the weeks ahead.
While I wait, I continue to dwell on the important things in life:
Things that make me giggle – The Facebook group (which ironically boasts of no single, middle-aged male members who might actually allow it to serve a purpose!), the antics of a Labrador fetching sticks on the beach, emails from kindred spirits, ridiculous cancer jokes (mostly unpublishable here!), and the prospect of buying a blond Dolly Parton wig (if it comes to that) to fly in the face of breast cancer—how ironic would that be?!
Things that make me stronger – Walking into the bathroom each morning to see verses and quotes for the day, written in my mom’s hand, taped to the mirror. She has been a vulnerable and determined anchor to me, and I can’t imagine journeying through this without her steadfast presence by my side.
Things that make me certain – On the night I was diagnosed, a dear friend in Florence (SC) whisked me away to her peaceful and beautiful back porch for a few moments together. At that point, the shock of the news had sent me into a full-fledged ulcer “attack.” (I’ve had ulcers for about 4 years, and they’ve mostly been under control.) I was wracked with tremors and so severely nauseous that I couldn’t really make the effort to speak. Deb simply sat in the chair next to mine on that warm South Carolina night, with a nearby fountain’s music softening my spirit, and read scripture after scripture to me. It was an experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. One verse she read was from Psalm 84:
(5) Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage [McJourney].
(7) They go from strength to strength…
They go from strength (Jan. 08: MAC) to strength (July 08: breast cancer). His supply of courage and peace will not run dry.
(12) O LORD Almighty,
blessed is the man who trusts in you.
Blessed is the [woman—the incredibly fortunate woman whose life has been so full of great healing and joy] who trusts in Him.
7411 Mud Creek Trail
Port Franks, ON N0M 2L0
continue to hold you in my prayers
Tears and laughter both emit from me this morning as I read your update from so far far away geographically, but so close in my heart and soul! If Kristoff were in front of me right now, I would hug and squeeze him to embarassment! Dear, dear manchild! It is comforting to know that you are over there where there is a plethora of former students and now adult friends. They have always been the dose of “green juice” you are willing to take. I love you and continue to pray you up over here. PAGA Renee
Michele…we pray for you and think of you and talk about you to people where ever we can. You know you are famous? We are at our mission headquarters in London ON, and today someone said, “you were at BFA?… Then you know Michele Phoenix!” (She said you spoke at her church…wish I could remember which one it was… Laverne? Merla? Elaine?) We boasted that we do, that YOU were more a fixture in our dorm than WE were, and told her about your latest journey. So she is likely praying for you, too. Thank you for letting your pain be our lesson. We love you.