Monday, February 11, 2013
I prayed, "God, Surprise Me!"
Saturday, February 09, 2013
I try to laugh at the thought that comes to mind, as tears stream down my face, that God is going to have to find a bigger bottle for all these tears I’ve been dropping.
The news is still just hours old. My mind is trying to wrap itself around what is happening. It reminds me of a traffic jam. Hurry up to stop and wait.
It started three weeks ago. I saw a tiny little sun spot/mole like thing on my left breast. I thought, “That’s new.” So I touched it, and I felt a bump in my breast. Although I’ve come to learn that in the medical field they call it a lump. So to avoid confusion, I’ll go with that. At the same time, I knew that in a matter of days because of what should be an every month cycle but my body makes it an every other or every three month cycle, I would soon live in constant pain for two weeks. And knowing what I know about mammograms, this lump would have to wait. After the pain subsided and I could go down steps without pain, I called and made an appointment with Dr. Burroughs. Side note: If you are looking for the most caring and compassionate OB/GYN in the metro area, he is it. The end. I am most familiar with Dr. Burroughs because of the infertility path we’ve been on, but I’ve seen more of him than my general practitioner, so I called his office and made an appointment for later that day, January 31st.
He confirmed that there was indeed a lump and I should get it checked out. As soon as possible. The scheduling department called me and we set up a diagnostic mammogram with breast ultrasound. This is where is started to get weird. I work in mammo support at the hospital. All these terms and mammo lingo that began floating around me, were words I hear and use frequently. But now they were personal. I left Ella with Papa who was going to take her to her favorite restaurant, Olive Garden, and my mom and I headed to the breast center. I went in at 11:20 for my baseline mammogram. I think her name was Liz. Or Elizabeth. Or Beth. Maybe it was Lizzie. She was fabulous. Healtheast would be proud to know that she has perfected AIDET. For something that she does all day long, there was nothing about this routine for me. I accepted the Oshibori towel, only because I wanted to smell the lavendar! Oh, so calming! I put on the official mammogram attire. For those of you trying to picture it, think of a hospital gown, but no gown part. Just the shirt. And missing a button. On purpose. I did like the white robe though. After the squeezing was finished, (Ouch) I got dressed and went with my mom to get a Red Machine Naked Juice. We sat by the fire and talked. I love my mom. She is the most patient person I know. My sister Jamie is next in line. (If you want to avoid the lines at rides and character greetings in Disney World, bring my mom with you. That way, you go and ride the other rides in the area, come back forty-five minutes later and it’s your turn!) So we waited about a half hour, went back and put the mammo attire on again and went in for the ultrasound. I ended up waiting a while for the Radiologist, and thankfully the ultrasound tech didn’t sit there with me trying to engage in small talk, but left me alone with my thoughts and my phone. The words to a song I had heard earlier in the week kept floating through my mind, “I will bring praise. I will bring praise. No weapon formed against me shall remain.” Can you name that tune?! When my mind tried to wander to a dark place, I would repeat those lyrics over and over. I don’t think I got the tune right though, and I didn’t know any more lyrics to that song. What do you expect from a girl that can’t clap and sing at the same time! I checked my phone and was encouraged by the texts and e-mails from the few people that I had shared this information with. God has blessed me with some truly great friends. That’s what happened in my life between 12:35 and 1:40 that day. The Radiologist came in and pointed out shadows and white spots and things that to her looked like a Christmas tree, but to me looked like what I think the surface of the moon would like. Or like spilt milk. She said something about not being sure what exactly it was and that she recommended an ultrasound guided core biopsy. Ah! Finally something familiar. Where I come from, if you come in for an ultrasound guided core biopsy, you sit in the main waiting room. Not the mammo waiting room.
I met with the Nurse Navigator and she told me when I would be coming in for the biopsy. Told me all about the procedure and then told me I would n’t remember what she said, so she gave it to me in writing and I left.
The not knowing was too much, so I did what everyone does when they want to find out more about what they’re going through. I googled. I found a really cool teaching websites for those in school to be radiologists. I starred at images of ultrasounds, looking for one that looked like the Christmas trees, moon dust and spilt milk I saw earlier. I found one. Something about a 28 year old…no risk factors…ductal carcinoma…ooh. Let’s google that. BIG mistake. That led to other searches with ultimately ended in life expectancy and survival rates. This was at 6:15pm. Ten minutes later we left for small group. So you can imagine what happened when my sweet friend Kara looked at me and asked, “How are you doing?” This is when the tears started. I felt loved and cared for as I sat on the couch, friends all around me. What a great place to be. In fellowship and community with other believers to talk about the only thing holding me together; Jesus Christ.
What we had studied throughout the week in Francis Chan’s Forgotten God study had me excited. Between that and Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg, that I was almost finished reading, I was so pumped for what God had for me, and what he had called me to. I had been asking for his guidance in deciding whether or not I should take on the position as the director of our women’s ministry since my friend Dee was stepping down. I had talked with friends and family and knew that God was leading me down this path and was excited to step up and follow God. I love the women of Five Oaks. I love worshipping and listening and learning with them on Wednesday mornings. I pray for them. I am blessed to be able to use my spiritual gift to serve them.
The same chapter I’d read at least two times throughout the week suddenly took on new meaning as we all sat there discussing the Holy Spirit. James 4:3 says “You ask and do not receive, because you spend it on your passions.” Right there, that was God telling me HOW I needed to be praying through the position I found myself in. I would definitely be praying that after the biopsy and when the pathology report came back, it would be normal. But my top priority and the prayers on my lips would be that God would be glorified in the circumstance. Whichever way it went. At the end of our time together, Erik echoed my heart and issued a challenge to the whole group to live and pray this way.
Highly suspicious. Those words rattled around in my head all day Wednesday. Rick and I drove to school to pick Ella up. The conversation of babies comes up every once in a while since Ella prays every. single. night for “a baby brother, baby sister or both.” We briefly talked about what our next step would be with infertility treatment. Then we talked about baby names. We have a boy name picked out. We don’t agree on girls names. It’s nearly a miracle that Ella was named. I told him that we didn’t have a choice, that after now five years of trying, possibly more, we would name a girl Halle Joy (that would be short for “Hallelujah Joy! Look what God has done”) I convinced him that he didn’t need to come with me to the biopsy. All he would be able to do is sit and wait. If you know my beloved husband, rarely does he sit!
I stayed up late studying Ephesians 6:10-18. Good stuff there. My takeaways can be summed up into 2 tweets!
Eph 6:10 be strong in The Lord! You can't put armor on a weak soldier!
Eph 6:13-17 Put on the full armor of God. You only hold the ground you fight for.
Which led me to Ephesians 3:16-19: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Wow.
I woke up Thursday feeling refreshed and ready to face whatever came. I made Ella breakfast. Egg IN toast. How clever am I?! She was not impressed. She told me that when she went to Nan’s house she would have oatmeal. I was able to convince her that I could make her oatmeal and she would like it. She ate her oatmeal and watched “What’s in the Bible with Buck Denver: Volume 2” I jumped in the shower, knowing that I couldn’t shower for 24 hours after the biopsy. (I read that on the instruction sheet they gave me.) I was half listening to the movie with Ella and half scrolling through Twitter when the puppets on TV started singing. Do you know what they were singing?! “Hallelujah! Look was God has done!” Mind blown.
With Ella safely dropped off with Papa, my mom and I headed back to the breast center. We were late. My fault. And the orange cones that blocked me from making a right turn towards the hospital. Once there, I talked with the Nurse Navigator ( I feel like she should be wearing safari garb under her white lab coat!) once again about what to expect, what to do, what not to do and so forth. I put on the half gown thing again and covered it with the white robe and wondered if I took it home with me, would they deduct the cost of it from my paycheck?
Back on the ultrasound table Melissa Kathleen introduced herself and got everything ready. The Radiologist came in and told me what to expect, what he was going to do, what I shouldn’t do and so forth. My worlds collided again. I had written his name many times as the reading radiologist on the schedule for the day and now I was his patient. He had great bedside manner, and he said THE word: cancer. It was the first time I’d heard it out loud since I started down this road. I had thought it, I had read it, I had heard others skirt around it, but this was the first time I had heard it out loud. Strangely, it was calming. The procedure went smoothly and quickly and for the most part, pain free. They taped me up and wrapped me up and I headed home. To wait. This was Thursday. They would be calling me with the pathology results on Monday. That left all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday to be alone with my thoughts and Google. Not a good idea. My dear friend, Kara, brought dinner over for us. White Chicken Chili, salad, bread and cookies. It was really good, Ella loved it. I was blessed. I am astounded by how something as simple as a meal can shout love so loudly. Rick and I filled the weekend schedule: Coffee House at church, Tea with my mom, Ella and GG, dinner with friends, church, picking up horse poo etc. Anything that would keep us busy. I went to Bible study that night and listened to Beth Moore talk about the fruit of the Spirit. It was encouraging to be there with new friends, to discuss what we learned throughout the week and to have them pray for me. I laughed out loud when she quoted someone that has said, “If God ain’t messin’ with your life, he ain’t Lord of your life.” I took comfort in knowing that I was right where he wanted me.
My iphone shuffled to just the songs I needed to hear on the drive home which included: “I will bring praise. I will bring praise. No weapon formed against me shall remain. I will rejoice. I will declare. He is my victory and he is here.” Sweet worship right there in the car!
Friday I went to work. My sweet worship in the car continued. I used my short commute into work to share with God what was on my heart. I told him that I wanted my life to bring him glory. If that meant negative test results and continuing my new journey in women’s ministry with a fresh fervency, then so be it. If that meant praising him through cancer and chemo, so be it. His Spirit stopped me there and asked, “If you having cancer will be what glorifies me most, will you trust me?” Pause. Heartbeat quickening. Deep breath. “Yes, Lord.”
I spent the morning half losing myself in my work, and half trying to get my hands on the reports from my appointments to have something to hold that made all of this seem real. I finally got them on my lunch break. I wanted to see the ACR score. My training in mammo had taught me what each number, 0-5 meant. I knew that I may have to wait until the official report came back on Monday to get the official results. But reading through the report, seeing phrases like “if malignant as suspected,” “if breast conservation is considered, ” and finally, “ACR CATEGORY 5: HIGHLY SUGGESTIVE OF MALIGNANCY.” I knew the truth. I had breast cancer. 31 years old. No risk factors. No family history. But I had cancer. My first thought as I stood in the cafe’: Here we go, God!
I discussed the findings with yet another mammo tech and my boss. They knew it too. She tried to get me to go home early, but I finished the day. Contacted my job share partner to ask her to cover my shift on Monday when the official results came in. I got in the car and for the first time, I cried. I pulled myself together, picked Ella up from school and headed to get tabs for the snowmobile. The weather people said a winter storm was coming and we needed to be prepared. Then the phone rang. Ella was being a backseat driver and telling me this was not the way we go home. I saw Dr. Burroughs’ name and quickly thought, “Awww. He’s checking in on me. How sweet! But this is how the conversation went:
Dr: “Hi Melissa. This is Dr. Burroughs. How are you?”
Me: “Hi. I’m doing okay. How are you?”
Dr: “Are you in a place that you’re able to talk?”
Me: “Yes.” ( I lied.)
Dr: “The pathology results are in and unfortunately they are not what we were hoping for. It is cancer.”
Dr: ”…something about Tuesday, something about Dr. Ogren, something about infertility and pregnancy, something about surgery, something about cancer.”
Me: “Mmm Hmmm. Yup. Okay. Okay. Yes. Okay.”
Dr: “This is not a phone call I was looking forward to making. I don’t like this part of my job. We will be praying for you. We have a prayer list at the clinic and we will pray for you. After your surgery, if you are okay with it, I would like to come see you.”
Me: “Thank you.”
Somewhere in the early part of the conversation I glanced in the back seat. The little girl that was just bubbling over with endless chatter was now sound asleep. Thank you, Jesus.
I hung up and I cried. Thank goodness for the auto pilot switch in my car that got us safely home as I cried and cried and cried. I left Ella asleep in the car, in the garage. I ran into our bedroom where Rick was out cold having worked overnight to finish a project at work. I shook him awake and through sobs said, “Rick, it’s cancer.” Stunned, shocked, Confused, thinking he was dreaming (I guess nightmare would be more appropriate here)…I could have been a little more gentle. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me and tried to catch my breath. He held me as I cried. As we cried. When I was finally able to catch my breath, I relayed what Dr. Burroughs had said about Tuesday and Dr. Ogren. I searched for my phone and the number I had scribbled as I drove home. I made the phone call, got everything settled for Tuesday and hung up the phone. Numb. In shock. Yeah, that’s what I felt. And then scared. Not for me so much, but for my sweet, loving husband and our amazing daughter. Not sure what to do next, I did what anyone else would do. I grabbed my computer. I saw my reflection in the blank screen and almost smiled at the black mascara tears rolling down my face. I didn’t laugh though. I just made a mental note that investing in some waterproof mascara was going to be necessary. I called my parents. My dad answered the phone. Somehow in the two or three words I choked out, he knew and e and my mom were at our house in minutes. I called the insurance company. We talked about prior authorizations and deductibles and coinsurance and whether Dr. Ogren was in network or out of network. It was a lovely conversation. I looked into short term disability and FMLA and my Health savings account balances and felt like maybe I had done something since there really is nothing I can do. Although I don’t remember anything that I read. There really was nothing I could do. Except wait. And cry and pray without words, knowing that the Holy Spirit would intercede for me. And rest in Him. Tuesday please come quickly.
Friday night we went to church as planned for the coffee house. We hadn’t decided if we were going to tell anyone or not. Rick’s parents were out so we were not able to tell them. My parents had filled my sisters in for me and I talked with them while Rick helped clean up. We negotiated where our parents should be. Jamie has surgery to repair her torn ACL on Thursday in Missouri. I love my sisters. I don’t think you could find any three people more different. But I love them for that. We didn’t have to tell anyone. It never came up. And I’m glad. It was nice to have one last night of normal before it all begins.
So that brings me to now. Today. Saturday, February 09, 2013. I slept soundly in Him last night until 5:00am. Then I woke up and read and I was encouraged, I feel God’s love for me so strongly and I feel his presence so near. I hear him whisper to my weary soul: “Don’t worry, my child. I’ve got this.”