[A retrospective for World Cancer Day: this post was written two days after I discovered I had breast cancer.]
June 5, 2008 – After a series of surgeries that removed a large, tentacular tumor from my cheek, I leave the hospital with fourteen stitches and “You are cancer-free!” ringing in my ears, thinking Microcystic Adnexal Carcinoma would be the final cancer battle I’d wage.
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, ask a couple more questions of the soft-spoken physician and hang up the phone.
Thus begins another journey.
…………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 vow I’ve always made that I would rather risk recurrence than endure the torture of chemotherapy.
I thought of losing my hair.
I thought of mastectomies and disfigurement, 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 (video above), 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 frayed 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 turned out to be 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.
- A doctor’s appointment scheduled on a whim.
- 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 when I heard the news.
- The comfort-words and prayers of friends on two continents.
- The certainty that this diagnosis is no surprise to God.
God is good. I haven’t doubted it for a moment since my first diagnosis on December 31st, and I’m not about to start doubting it now. He is the infallible, gentle, powerful and compassionate foundation on which the next phase of my journey will unfold.
I write this while sitting in my mom’s bright red PT Cruiser, cruising (how appropriate) up I-77 from South Carolina toward my mom’s home in Canada. 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.
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…
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