“At some point you get tired of the constant pressure of fear and sickness and yuck.
That’s when cancer begins to implode on itself. What would be a wasting element becomes an agent for the blossoming of eternal things.
Faith, hope, love, and peace always triumph over cancer.”
Changes, so many changes! My life before cancer can only be described as one of transition. My husband, Nick, and I have four children and, one by one, they were all beginning to leave the nest. Each of them were in college in one way or another (yes, four at once – yikes!). It was a hugely exciting time for me, not one I would describe as an aching empty-nester. I was working part-time at my church where I organized volunteers for various needs like meals and house-cleaning for people who were sick or having surgery or having babies. I worked a lot with cancer patients helping provide for their needs.
During this time, we experienced a great upheaval in our family. In January 2008, our two middle children were caught in an avalanche while climbing one of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks. Our 23-year old son survived, but our precious 20-year old daughter was buried. It was almost six months before we recovered her body. I took a leave of absence from my job, and our family began the long, grueling process of searching and waiting and grieving. At the end of June, we finally brought our daughter off the mountain and laid her to rest. (You can read about this at http://www.heightsoffaith.org/ .) Within the following weeks, our other children left for their colleges. It was then I went to the gynecologist to find out what was going on with my right breast.
When I went for my first-ever mammogram in October 2007, three months before the avalanche, it was because something was unusual in my right breast and I just wanted to prove it was nothing. I’ve now come to love and deeply appreciate those who care for cancer patients, but at the time of this first mammogram, I thought the doctors were only confirming my opinion that they were trigger-happy and suit-scared. Not seeing anything specific, they recommended I have a surgical biopsy to identify what might be going on. I honestly felt they were way over-reacting and told them I’d be back in six months – planning to carrot-juice my way out of their clutches. Needless to say, in six months I was caught up in the search and recovery of our daughter. Throughout the year, my right breast continued to enlarge and began to feel tender on the outer edge. Still, I never felt a lump.
When I finally returned in September of 2008, on my 49th birthday (!), for a second mammogram, I agreed to a needle biopsy. A week after, on a late Friday evening, the doctor called with the report that it was indeed invasive ductile carcinoma, stage 3.
My husband and I sat in his office upstairs – stunned. There was simply NO WAY we could be facing such a thing as cancer at such a time. We were crushed. We sobbed and wailed. The pressure was unbelievable. We couldn’t breathe. I felt I was suffocating. Right away we pleaded with God to not let it be so. We knew His strength was great and sustaining - we’d experienced it first-hand that year - but we just didn’t want His strength right then, we wanted out.
We then called our families, specifically our sisters, who are strong believers in the goodness of God and had stood with us through the demands of the year. They wept with us.
One thing I know the Holy Spirit led me to do right then was to “give away” an unbearable burden to each sister. To the first one, I gave away the thought that perhaps our daughter would not have died if I’d let the doctors do a biopsy the first time; perhaps our kids would not have gone on their trip if I’d already been in treatment. To another, I released the thought I couldn’t bear that my arrogance the year before may have been thumbing my nose at a caution from the Lord of Hosts. To a third sister, I let go of the fear that Nick might have to be the husband of an ailing, dying wife. To still another, I gave away the fear that death was coming again. Each sister agreed to take their load and pray it through, to bear it for me. This was huge – a huge thing – for me. Slowly I began to see and think. After that, I never worried about those things again.
Honestly, getting the diagnosis was the hardest part. After that, it just became a matter of walking it out. Getting recommendations, we visited two different oncology clinics, asking the Lord to let it be obvious where we should go. He did.
I also visited a well-known naturopath, still thinking that I could beat the medical route somehow. This man had no testimonies of anyone beating advanced cancer without using both conventional methods and natural therapies. This was freeing to know.
Next, I bought a recliner for my bedroom and simply designated it my “holy” place – my “Tent of Meeting”, a place of grief and comfort, pity and resolve, rest, and … mindless TV watching.
I started chemo four weeks later in November 2008. My treatment included 4 doses of taxol, one every three weeks, followed by 4 doses of AC, one every two weeks.
In April 2009, I had surgery, choosing to have a double mastectomy. My choice was very personal- to me, having one breast ‘cut out’ would have been like a visual reminder of losing our daughter. I wanted something that showed victory over tragedy. I’m very happy still with the decision. Surgery revealed cancer was still throughout my breast and in four lymph nodes, though all was removed.
Radiation followed six weeks later. I had 28 whole field treatments, and five incision-only treatments.
Now, I am on an aromatase inhibitor to counter estrogen production in my body. Additional therapies I’ve used have been acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling, and what I call “what-else-are-you-waiting-for” treatment – ie. using the guest towels, wearing my nicest jewelry, eating on china plates, etc.
Yes, it was overwhelming in the whole, but each day, each step was manageable. Because so much of my journey has been tied to our daughter’s passing, healing came in relationship to that as well. I know that I have never been alone. Deep, pure joy has come, and I am not afraid.
This song is "Call On Jesus" performed by Nicole C. Mullen from her 2001 CD, "Talk About It" © 2000, World Entertainment, a division of World Music Group, Inc.