I have been trying to write this post for weeks… at first I was anticipating posting a picture of a shiny new RV that would carry our family to neat places around the country. We planned an epic adventure, a family sabbatical, one of trusting God and waiting on his timing to reveal what was next for us. We looked forward to reconnecting as a family, investing in our girls who are rapidly approaching tween years, exploring the beautiful land of the free, and living in the space between. But in the last few months our plans have taken a drastic change, an unbelievable turning of events.
After we were finished at camp,
after I gave my two weeks notice to the school,
after I communicated the plan for our family sabbatical,
after we found the perfect RV and researched our route,
after I packed half our house,
after I thought the change was enough, I went to the doctor…
In a routine physical that was scheduled earlier in the summer, where everything appeared healthy and normal, as it has for years, a lump was found. A mass growing in my left breast that threatened our dreams and further complicated the reality of our present situation. My heart stopped. Really? now? how…?
My doctor looked at me, reassuring “It’s probably nothing, can you come back in a few weeks, sometimes these things dissolve.” Overwhelmed with emotion I admitted, “no, we’re planning on be gone. There’s a contract to buy an RV on the table when I get home. I have only two more weeks of health insurance.” What do I do? How can we be certain? Everything is already in the works for change, there’s no turning back.
And so began a series of tests, years before the recommended age of 40. Mammograms, ultrasounds and multiple biopsies, each leaving nurses and doctors with tears barely controlled in the corners of their eyes. After the biopsies the Radiologist asked to sit down with my husband and I. We asked him what was the likelihood that this was cancer, knowing full well that he is not allowed to give definitives before the test results. He turned and looked me in the eyes only saying, “I think you know.”
It only took one week for all that, we were not left waiting. Monday morning my doctor called and confirmed the pathology results. It was certain; invasive ductal carcinoma found in two masses and also confirmed in the lymph node under the armpit. Not only was it cancer but it was spreading. This all happened in October, a month of inescapable pink ribbons and well wishes of cancer stories. Admittedly, I had never paid much attention to the cleverly packaged marketing scheme but now I know full well the importance of awareness, research, and self exams.
I am an unlikely candidate, at 36 my known risk factors for breast cancer are that I am white and I am female. Like many things in my life, my health has been “by the book.” I eat healthy and I exercise. I had two natural deliveries, resulting in beautiful babies that I breast-fed. I am the youngest of three girls and there is no history in my immediate family. The truth is cancer can happen to anyone, so why not me.
Given the series of life events, I felt like there was a full on war in my heart and in my chest. There is nothing sexy about cancer, no matter where it is found. If I had cancelled my appointment then I wouldn’t have known, which is far scarier. We had two different doctors in two different states recommend the same surgeon – Dr Lisa Newman at the University of Michigan. So my family doctor referred me to the UofM Cancer treatment center. Dr. Newman is regarded as a top surgeon in her field. We learned when we called to set up the appointment that she was soon leaving for other research opportunities. I got in the LAST week she was accepting new patients.
When I think about all that has happened in the last month, the magnitude of each stressor on our family, it contrasts sharply with the peace in our hearts. God’s provisions, His timing and His grace were clearly evident. Before the diagnosis I had been clinging to a verse in my heart from proverbs 31, “she is clothed is strength and dignity and laughs without fear of her future.” As the days unfolded, the depth of this verse has settled in my heart; If I can’t trust God now, why follow him? I have put Him at the center of my life, He is my firm foundation that will not be shaken!
Over the next few weeks I began to speak with family and friends, updating them on the crazy real time events. It seemed that everyday was packed with stories of God’s hand at work. I felt very little pain those first few weeks. One thing I did notice after my biopsy was an aching under both armpits. As I talked with friends, time and time again I heard “I wasn’t sure why you were on our hearts but we have been praying for you.” It was overwhelming to hear this from people all across the US who had no idea of the changes happening within our family. As I thought of why I had the underarm pain I kept reflecting back on Exodus 17. It records the battle of Joshua and the Amalekites. Moses was camped out on a hillside nearby and was praying over the battlefield. As he grew tired his hands lowered and the Israelites began loosing the battle, so Aaron and Hur came along side Moses and propped his hands up with rocks, so they could remain raised until the battle had been won. I truly believe those weeks the temporary pain was due to feeling the prayers of family and friends “lifting me up.” Thank you for those prayers.
In the early days, we named my growth the “glory lump” citing that God was going to get the glory for every detail of this story. This week I am three weeks post-operation, I had two tumors removed (both classified as different cancers) and 25 lymph nodes removed, 2 of which were found to have cancer, as well as 6 more with isolated cells. Nevertheless I remain hopeful and give thanks for my quick diagnosis. Many of us live in fear of the future, what if I lose my job, my home, my family, my health… I just want to testify that if you put Jesus at the center of your life you will never lose. It may be unexpected and require deep trust, but His presence will be with you every baby step of the way!
I have been blessed during this season with an amazing support group of prayer warriors, an amazing team of doctors, generous donations to cover my COBRA medical expenses, a gracious place to live and a deep peace to focus on beating this. My prognosis remains extremely hopeful after a successful surgery. I am just beginning the first of many rounds of aggressive chemo, and as treatment progresses I will undergo radiation as well. I have learned a great deal about cancer, it is not an equal opportunity disease. Each case and treatment are as unique as the individual.
When our family thought about leaping into something new and taking a year to trust God, I would have never imagined this would be our story. Ironically breast cancer typically takes a full year to battle. I hold this time as precious, it has already been so rich and close with family and friends. So for now we submit ourselves fully to His hand over our lives, we have lacked no good thing and our spirits remain high. When you take the leap and the ground gives way, Jesus intervenes to show the way. I truly believe that we are merely vessels for his purpose and if this is what he wants to do with my shell, it is well with my soul.