Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Many Faces of Breast Cancer

It was my very first day of chemo, nearly 5 years ago now, and John & I sat nervously in the waiting room.  A woman came into the room in a motorized wheelchair. It was hard not to stare at her and wonder what horrible form of cancer had ravaged her. She was missing both legs and one of her arms. Fortunately she still had one arm with which to operate the controls of her chair. As I recall, she had an oxygen tank too. In spite of all this, she was very nimble in getting around in her chair and was cheerful and talkative.

We chatted and she asked me what kind of cancer I was being treated for. I told her I had breast cancer.

"Oh, mine started out that way too!" she said.

John and I looked at each other and I tried not to let the shock and fear show on my face. Oh, NO, I thought, I JUST have BREAST cancer -- it's not that serious, and certainly couldn't do THAT to a person! I'm just going to have my treatments, then my life will get back to normal. This poor woman must have some different type.

I envisioned crowds of women in pink tee-shirts that you see on TV commercials for breast cancer walks. Everybody smiling and holding hands with their mothers. Surely these are the thousands of women who survive breast cancer -- not this woman before me in the wheelchair! Statistically, many women do have early stage, non-invasive, non-aggressive breast cancer and they do go back to normal lives following only minor treatment.

But then there are also women who can't make it to those walks. Their cancer spreads and their battles are difficult. Like the woman in the wheelchair. Our paths never crossed again and I don't know any more of her story.

It's been nearly 5 years now and "just" breast cancer has invaded my breast, lymph nodes, brain, and 3 times in my lung.

This is where I left off when I started writing this blog about a week ago, where my inspiration ran out. I just wasn't sure where this story of mine was going at this point, so I decided to leave it for awhile.  I was just finishing a rough course of treatment and dealing with side effects and a new, yet unidentified pain. As we waited for scan results, I braced myself for bad news, convinced it was more cancer and planning for whatever treatment would come next.

I talked with my cousin Ann who has been fighting her own battle with cancer for several years. She and I are kind of a mutual support team -- sharing our experiences, side effects, nausea, baldness, hats, fears, and prayers. Others can sympathize, but there's nothing like sharing with someone who's been through the same battle. Doctors had recently found that her cancer had spread -- a nodule in her lung -- and she was scheduled for a biopsy. It was not going to be a pleasant procedure and seemed to be just a formality, as the doctor was certain it was malignant. He told her any hope that it was NOT cancer was a "pipe dream." Ann and I talked about her planned chemo and my potential further treatments as well.

Rather unexpectedly, my doctor told me that my scan showed fractured ribs and not cancer. I was quite surprised, relieved, and yet cautiously optimistic. Over the next few days I began feeling better, my pain easing and my energy improving. It was wonderful, and when I told Ann about it I almost felt guilty. 

On the day of Ann's biopsy I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to pray. I prayed that she would have peace about it, that she would be protected from fear, that she would have safe travels, that the procedure would go smoothly and that she would not experience pain. I prayed that the Lord would be at work through each doctor and nurse that would be working on her today and I prayed that God would guide each needle. I prayed that the results would be good and lead the doctors to good decisions about her treatment. I prayed for everything I could think of. 

Then I realized that I was praying as though the cancer was already a forgone conclusion.  I needed to pray for a miracle. I don't usually pray so specifically, but felt God was leading me to specifically pray that when they did the preliminary scan for the biopsy they would find there is NOTHING THERE! I knew it was impossible, but I prayed anyway.

A few hours later, I got a call from Ann who was then on her way home. The most amazing thing had happened.....

She had been on the table being scanned and heard the hum of the machine. Then a long pause. Then it hummed again. The doctors and nurses had left the room and left her on the table for the longest time. She started wondering why the delay and wondered if the cancer had spread more and there would be additional spots to be biopsied. Time crawled and her mind was going wild.

Finally the doctor came in and told her she was done and could go home. WHAT? The scan had showed the spot was completely gone. They were all buzzing about it and said they had never seen anything like it! 

Wow, it's so fun to see God in action! What I had felt led to specifically pray for was EXACTLY what happened! Here, just a week ago she and I had both been facing a fearsome enemy and heading into a dark time of sickness and struggle. Now, we both had good news, a bright hope, and miraculous healing! 
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.The Lord's loving kindnesses indeed never cease,For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning;Great is Your faithfulness."The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.Lamentations 3:19-25

1 comment:

  1. Erin, I really love this blog and don't quit! I've shared it with my family! My daughter's mother-in-law has been gone a little over 6 months from the pancreatic cancer and I miss her and I know they do too! Now my son's girlfriend's mother just had a double masectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer a couple weeks ago. Your blog is very inspiring and insightful! You are always in my prayers, Kari