“I have a little breast cancer.” Those words came out of my mom’s mouth, but they didn’t make any sense to me. My mom has breast cancer. My mom has breast cancer?
Time stopped. I couldn’t breathe. The fear and grief instantaneously descended over me like a black curtain.My mom, who is also my dearest friend and biggest cheerleader, has now fought breast cancer twice. This is her story.
It was an ordinary day, having my routine annual mammogram when my life suddenly changed. This mammogram showed a difference from previous years and so I was sent to a surgical oncologist who prescribed a needle biopsy.A few days later as I drove home from the biopsy, I was overcome with a sense of peace and what I truly believe was God’s voice telling me, This IS breast cancer, BUT you will be a survivor. I felt confident that something would kill me someday, but this wouldn’t be it.
With this message in my mind, I wasn’t surprised when the surgeon called a couple days later to tell me that I had a “little” cancer and he would do a “little lumpectomy” and fix me up in no time. (As it turns out, this surgeon was incorrect and that “little” cancer was two different tumors that required a mastectomy). Although I felt prepared for the diagnosis, it was very frightening to my husband and children.
In My Daddy’s Arms
When life is full of celebration, I am so very thankful to God for all He has done. When life is running along smoothly, I seem to run along smoothly as well, sometimes being in such a rush with my smooth life I might not even remember to pray or thank God for all the small things in my smooth life.
However, when the journey takes a sharp curve and a bump in the road, I find God really fast. In fact, I run to Him with open arms and it is amazing to me that every time, He is there, just waiting for me.
After my diagnosis, I actually told people I welcomed breast cancer, because I knew I was in God’s arms and would grow spiritually through the journey. God truly gave me a peace about it. I knew He would hold onto me like my Daddy did when I was a little girl on the roller coaster. I could close my eyes and not be afraid because my Daddy had me in His arms.
I’ve Got a New Song
People were shocked by how “well” I handled the news of my breast cancer, although I don’t think there is actually a good or bad way to “handle” news of cancer! I did know that God was in control and I was not. Since I didn’t have the faintest idea what God had planned for me, I decided to just go along for the ride and let Him do the driving.
I also decided to lighten up about all the cancer talk. Since I had to have a mastectomy I decided to rewrite “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to “I Left My Breast in Chattanooga.” I thought that could be my theme song and had a lot of fun with it. A sense of humor in the midst of turmoil is such a gift from God!
The Day of Surgery
Apparently, doctors can remove your breast very quickly. The mastectomy was a simple 35 minute operation. It’s hard to believe that your cancerous breast can be removed, and you don’t even spend the night in the hospital! I was so happy to go home to my family after the surgery. My daughter brought dinner over and my 2 yr. old grandson made me smile.
When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t alone wondering what my changed body would look like. My husband stayed with me, helped with the drainage tubes and took care of me. A few days later when it was time to unwrap the bandages, he was beside me to cry with me and tell me that I was still beautiful.
The surgery was actually not that bad, and I felt honored to share God’s blessing of His Presence with me UNTIL I had my first chemo treatment and was lying in bed, nauseous, dizzy and very tired. I did not feel His Presence; I only felt pious that I had told everyone my story.
My statement of “welcoming” cancer a few weeks back haunted me. How could I welcome something that was making me sick, had disfigured me, was making me lose my hair, and brought such intense nausea that I spent my daylight hours waiting for darkness to come so I could go to bed?
This is the reality of cancer treatment. When poison is infused into your body, it is anything but pleasant. It kills the good cells along with the bad cells. It is miserable. But, here is where the beauty of the Lord shines—we can go to Him in our distress, in our agony and He hears us.
As I was lying in my bed I heard this verse over and over, “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And as my heart settled into this wonderful scripture, I slept…in His Presence. This verse became my mantra and His Word carried me through my cancer journey.
Losing My Hair
When my hair began to fall out in handfuls, Kimberly came to cut it off for me. To show their support, Kimberly cut her hair short, and her husband, Jeff, shaved his head!
After we shaved my head, I took a bath but was afraid to look in the mirror at my bald head and mastectomy scar. Seeing each one on its own was enough of a shock; I was terrified to look at my whole broken body in the mirror.
But when I worked up my courage and opened my eyes to survey the damage, I was surprised at the image that met my gaze. Instead of seeing a very sick woman, I saw a bold, courageous woman who I knew would be a survivor! In the incision scar, I saw what breast cancer did to me. But in my bald head I saw what I was doing to fight breast cancer.
The prognosis was good after my first breast cancer, but those cancer cells are sneaky. When it came back two years later, I was terrified.Have you ever gone through a horrible experience and then found you have to go through it again? How can you possibly do something that you know is going to be devastating to you? YOU can’t. It’s as simple as that. YOU absolutely cannot do it. But, GOD can and He does.
God did not take away the pain, the nausea, or any of the other chemo or radiation effects. But, somehow He gave me the ability to get through it. He held my hand, He loved me, He provided people to love me like His angels in every way possible. And in some amazing way, He helped me to do the impossible – face breast cancer treatment again.
On the Other Side
I am now cancer-free, but please don’t think that I tell my story to show you how “holy” I think I am, because I don’t feel very holy! I do feel very loved though and at peace with whatever the future brings to me.
I haven’t come to the end of my journey yet. I don’t know how many more trials I will go through on this life course. But, I don’t have the fear I had before. I know that if the worst thing possible happens – my life ends – then, it won’t really be the worst thing. It won’t be the end. It will be life in glory with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears, a reunion with my parents, my brother, my friends who have gone before me, and I will see Jesus face to face! I can only imagine!!!
The Healing Balm of God’s Word
Throughout my life and especially in my cancer journey, God’s word has healed, sustained and strengthened me. It got me through countless nights of pain and fear and nausea. I want to share a few of the verses that helped me the most, and I pray these will be beacons of light for you as well!
I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave. …. You have made known to me the path to eternal life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:8-11
It is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you, he will not fail or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed.
I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all-oh, how well I remember-the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
Lamentations 3:19-24 (Message version)
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2