Faith Walkers

Walking through cancer with Christ

Vonnie Michels

 

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

Great is Your faithfulness. 

 

Lamentations 3:22-23

 

My Life B.C.

My breast cancer was not my first time to hear the “C” word.  Back in 1980, we had just had our third baby in four years.  My husband and I were thrilled with our two precious boys and a daughter in the middle.  It was early December when I had a suspicious mole on the back of my neck change.  Being a nurse and in Southern California where we spent a lot of time in the sun, I knew to go in immediately to have it checked by our doctor.  He excised the mole straightaway and sent it to the lab.  He phoned me to come in and I was told that it was a melanoma and I was not to lose time in going to the surgeon. 

For three days between this appointment and the appointment with the surgeon, I thought I wasn’t going to make it…I knew how serious melanoma is.  I was extremely shaken yet also had much confidence in my God.  What I remember most is rocking our babies in tears, talking to God about how much I want to be there to raise them up and teach and nurture them.  Yet, I gave them again to Him knowing that He would take care of them and He is totally faithful. 

When I got to the surgeon three days later, and he was able to tell me that it was superficial Level 2 and that there was very good prognosis by surgery and he would remove a wide margin of tissue.  I almost kissed him!  Thank You, Jesus!!  It was not so easy with three little ones but it was such an important spiritual exercise to go through with Jesus that was foundational in raising our children—knowing God’s Presence and Faithfulness and Peace.

Breast Cancer Times 3

Because of this medical history, I was used to doctors worrying about me and I have had many moles removed and biopsied and a number of breast biopsies that were benign through the years.

In 1988, we were transferred with Hewlett Packard to Fort Collins and were so happy and thankful to have the opportunity to raise our children here. 

We had another move in 1996 with HP to Stockholm, Sweden.  HP was doing a joint venture with Ericsson Telecommunications.  God led us to a wonderful church there and we experienced some amazing growing years there.  While in Stockholm, in 1999, in a routine mammogram, they found my first DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).  Stockholm is a leader in mammography and women’s health issues and I was thanking God for such good care.  I was advised that a lumpectomy would take care of it.  At that time, they were just experimenting with radiation follow-up but it was only an option and they didn’t think it would be necessary.  I had clear mammograms for the next seven years.

We came back to Fort Collins in 2000.  Our oldest had graduated from CSU and was working.  Our daughter went to nursing school at UW at Laramie and our youngest son was just beginning at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  The following year, Greg was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and was laid off from HP in the big layoffs—they allowed him to early retire since he had worked for them for 31 years and was 54.  We knew God was in this and we sought Him for our next steps.  It was a challenging time and not so easy.  Although, our three children were all meeting their spouses-to-be during this time and by January 2004, all three were married to wonderful and Christian spouses.  We praise God for being able to be available during these years. 

At the third wedding (our daughter’s), Stacy’s Israeli friends surprised her and came to the wedding.  They invited us to Israel that summer to come and teach in a discipleship ministry for three weeks.  This was a new season for Greg and me and such a great opportunity opening.  We were continuing to seek the Lord.

To make a long story short, that led to our living in Israel for 3½ years until 2008.  In September of 2006 while we were here for some summer months, my routine mammogram showed a calcification that needed to be biopsied.  They attempted a static biopsy but couldn’t do it and told me that I needed a surgical biopsy which I had the next week.  They found my second DCIS, which was the other breast.  Ten days later, I had the lumpectomy.  With no problems from the first time, I opted not to do any further treatment.  We had prayed much about it and believed this was what we were to do.  We went back to Israel and I didn’t worry.  Both times, I received much prayer and prayed much myself as well. Both times, I experienced much peace about our decision.  I have always been faithful in doing my mammograms and follow up.

When we had to leave Israel due to our visa situation, it was a big disappointment but Greg had put off knee replacement long enough.  We knew that should be next.  He also needed a new shoulder…so for the next year and a half, Greg had his surgeries—both knees and shoulder had rare complications and the three major surgeries actually became five!  Following his double knee replacement, on the third day he had to have an emergency colon resection as his colon had ruptured!  We walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” together and once again experienced God’s amazing presence and guidance and healing.

We had a little time in between Greg’s knee replacements and shoulder replacement.  Greg had brought all the family together in February for my 60th birthday and it had been the first time in two years we were all together (they lived in Sweden, Washington state and Guadalajara, Mexico).  Our four grandchildren were there as well—another on the way.  It was wonderful!  I was so thankful for the memories and that we’d just all been together.  But also having them all live far away for all these surgeries was a bit tough…for them and for us.

During Greg’s last recovery (second shoulder replacement surgery due to infection/six weeks PIC line and IV antibiotics/physical therapy), I was undergoing further examination on a spot that was barely seen on my last mammogram.  I had sought much prayer and prayed much and believed it was nothing but also knew to follow through.  I had an MRI biopsy as it looked suspicious once again—the same breast as the last time.  I had a new doctor and when she heard that I had two DCIS’s, she told me that I should consider a mastectomy since my risks were great for more aggressive breast cancer.  “This is fixable,” she said.  That thought was a big surprise and shook me up quite a bit but she told me strongly that that she wanted me to talk to a surgeon and to an oncologist to get a consultation. 

When I got home, I cried out to Jesus and asked Him what to do—He immediately gave me a verse that comforted me and brought His Peace right back into my heart and whole body.  It was Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will guide you with My eye.”  Such an intimate verse.  I asked Him next who I should ask for counsel.  He gave me the name right away—it was the godly, skilled general surgeon we knew in Denver.  I wanted to have a consultation with someone who I knew had “God in the equation.”  I actually thought he would have different advice...but God was preparing me as his advice matched the first doctor’s.

The MRI biopsy was not conclusive and I was advised to have it surgically biopsied.  I had the spot surgically biopsied by our surgeon in Denver.  Both the surgeon and we were trusting and believing that it was nothing and that this would be the end of it.  My dear sister came out from California for the out-patient surgery—Greg still had the PIC line and was recovering himself from his last surgery.  I was so thankful my sister was here...especially with the added drama of a flat tire on  I-25 on the way!  She is great in a crisis—long story short, I was taken to the hospital by a policeman in the squad car!  (My sister was hoping she could take a picture of me in the back seat behind the bars!  Thanks, Karin!  Such compassion…but the police made room for me in the front seat J and looked quite amused by this.) This was on Wednesday morning.

On Friday morning, Greg finally had his PIC line removed—we celebrated!  My sister and I decided to go shopping on our last day together.  While we were out, Greg got the call.  He called me—the surgeon had called our home on his way into surgery—he knew it would be fine to me that he tell Greg.  The biopsy showed that I had an invasive ductal carcinoma and should have the mastectomy.

Greg has been so supportive, praying for me, encouraging me and being there for me as much as he could.  I thank God so much for his love which was only strengthened through these years of adversity.  Greg and I had chosen that I would not have reconstruction….we have always done things naturally and that is what we decided to do.  Our surgeon told us that I could still choose to do so later and that complications or infection are less likely when you wait to have it done later.  WE were content with that.  I had the bilateral mastectomny surgery on September 23, 2010.  The cancer was Stage 1 and there was no cancer in the lymph nodes. 

Something special that God gave me the day before the surgery was in my prayer, “God please make me still attractive to my husband.”  It was a prayer not because of anything Greg made me to feel by any means, it was my own feelings.  I was going to Psalm 84 because our youngest son had given me some precious verses in that Psalm (4-8) but it was the first verse that God wanted me to see that moment: “How lovely is Your tabernacle, O LORD of hosts…”.  It struck me with great emotion and tears...it was the “lovely” word and the “tabernacle” (dwelling place) word---we are His tabernacle and He is our true “loveliness.”  He intimately answered that intimate and deep prayer of mine with Scripture and in the walking it out.  He is so incredible.

My Healing Journey

Along with Greg being here, our daughter, Stacy, who is a nurse, came the first three days I was home.  She brought her 5-month- old grandson (our youngest), Enoch, and he brought such joy.  Stacy brought such great care that I will never forget.  Her hero husband stayed home with their other adorable sons so she could come on those critical days.  I had some fever and she made sure I was up every few hours to breath in the deep-breathing apparatus.  She got me up walking and it was life-giving to walk outside a little more each day. 

My dear sister-in-law, Susan, came from Illinois and stayed the rest of the week with me….overlapping an evening with Stacy.  It was so wonderful how she just took over the care, making meals and taking prayer walks with me….so good for the body and soul. 

 I was told that I needed to raise my arms in the air at least 15 times a day to keep my range of motion and I took chose to see it as my “lifting holy hands to His name” and praised Him for His healing and intervention on my life.  I could tell how important it was to my range of motion as it felt so tight each time.  I have full range of motion now for which I am so thankful.

My daughter sewed up some of my teeshirts with pockets so when I got dressed, I could hide those drain neatly away.  That was a wonderful gift!  I could wear them under a nicer shirt and be out and about.  I wasn’t so happy that I had to keep two of the drains for five weeks—a celebrated milestone to get those out!

Having a lounge chair was terrific for sleeping and keeping comfortable in the day.

Because we have been coming and going from Fort Collins for some years, we hadn’t been really connected here before all these surgeries.  I felt a bit lonely going through the recovery time.  Then, God was so good to connect me to B&B through an old friend who knew Carolyne...this was definitely a SWEET blessing to meet these new friends who walked the journey with God and were such an encouragement to me!

Things I Want You to Know

  • I needed to avoid reading too much on-line about breast cancer.  It was too much for me to take in infinite information and everyone's worst case scenario.  My sister was so helpful at "screening" for the websites she knew would be benefitial to me.  I was reall thankful for that.  She also scoped out websites that had products for those who didn't choose reconstruction.  That was how I got the idea to ask my daughter to sew the pockets for the drains in my tank tops (we just used tee shirt material for the pockets). 
  • I learned first hand that while statistics are helpful in making decisions for treatment, I am not a statistic—I am a child of God and He is intimately involved with this whole situation and He would guide me—even to the doctors as well as treatments.
  • I appreciate so much my oncologist who is skilled and also recognizes the importance that we “believe in” the treatment that we choose.  She said how important it is for our body’s healing that we “believe in” the treatment that we undergo—her job was to help me make the most informed decision possible.  We do have options.
  • Each time I have encountered cancer, I have known keenly God’s presence, His strengthening me in knowing Him and in growing in having Kingdom eyes—to see more like He sees…“that I may know Him, the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” 
  • “The secret power of death”: this concept is strong—it was taught with these new words to us last year by Brett Costigan.  It is of course from the scripture John 12:24-26.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.”  Brett pointed out that Satan would have never wanted to put Christ on the cross if he would have known the outcome!  So that was my prayer  that I made mine—whatever I had to put to death (here,specifically my breasts), I wanted to give God the power to raise up and do for eternity something beyond all I could imagine.  This was a great Hope!  Satan may think he’s destroying us—but our secret power is in Christ “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”…and for His purposes to bring a world to Himself.

     

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