I was in the shower a couple of weeks ago when I noticed a lump just above my left collarbone. Being the trained medical professional that I am (ahem), I knew that it was a lymph node but thought that perhaps given a day or two it would resolve on it’s own. Because our lymph nodes are part of the system that fights infection in our bodies, they can sometimes pop up for reasons that are somewhat difficult to explain and then just as quickly go away.
This one, however, seemed to be a bit stubborn. I eventually showed it to my colleague Terri and when she decided that it had perhaps gotten bigger over a couple of days time, insisted that I go get it checked out. You see, JD and I were scheduled to leave for our first real vacation without the girls at 6am on that Saturday morning and better to be safe than sorry. We hoped that some antibiotics would clear everything up and eliminate any possibility that it would cause some sort of ruckus while we were in Seattle.
Last Thursday I saw my primary care provider. He was young. Like I’m pretty sure he’d only been practicing for a couple of weeks. But he was very thorough and ordered a chest x-ray and put a prescription for Augmentin in at the pharmacy for me.
The next morning I got a call saying there was something on the chest x-ray that warranted further investigation. Could I have a CT of the chest done the next Monday or Tuesday?
Uh. No. I’d be in Seattle on Monday or Tuesday sleeping late and eating good food with our friends Jim and Julie.
So they worked me in that day. The CT showed a 44mm (a little under 2 inches) mass in the upper lobe of my right lung. I don’t know when I’ve ever felt sorrier for anyone than I did for my practitioner as he broke the news to me. I found myself comforting him. He’s going to be great. He was really compassionate and will have a long and wonderful career.
From then until now, things have been going at warp speed. I went to pulmonology, then to ENT, then had a scope stuck up my nose, into my sinuses, and down to my vocal cords (all while being told not to move my head), then had a needle stuck into the node on my neck.
Without any numbing medicine.
The tiny devil scope was worse.
Monday morning we received the news that I have adenocarcinoma of the lung. It started in the right lung, spread to the lymph nodes in the middle part of my chest and then up to the node above my left clavicle which got me to the doctor in the first place. That information in and of itself makes my cancer a stage 3B. This means it is one hair’s breadth away from being the worst possible stage 4. Final staging involves a PET scan on Friday along with an MRI of my brain which will hopefully tell us that I don’t have any distant metastasis. We will get those results on Tuesday of next week.
Yesterday we spent over 4 hours with the hematologist/oncologist and the radiation oncologist who both outlined possible treatments available to me. Basically, if it is stage 3B I will undergo a very aggressive combination of chemo and radiation for about 6-7 weeks. They will use very toxic drugs and it will probably make me feel really bad for at least a few days after every treatment. I will get radiation treatment every day for the entire 6-7 weeks. I will then be given a rest and then if it appears to be working as documented by repeating the scans, I will take 3 more months of chemo.
If it is stage 4, they will be less aggressive with the chemo. It becomes more of a question of quality of life at that point.
There are a few variables that could change this scenario. Tomorrow I will be having a port placed in my chest through which they can draw blood and administer the chemotherapy without starting a new IV each time. At the same time, I will have an open biopsy of the lymph node done which will be sent away for genetic testing. There are a few new drugs that I may qualify for if my cancer has a certain gene mutation. So the game plan could change.
Of course we are all reeling from this news. It seems unimaginable that I, who has never smoked a cigarette in my life, has absolutely no other symptoms short of the enlarged lymph node, and has no other medical issues could get a diagnosis this grave.
And yet, here we are.
But guess who else is here?
God is here. And He will sustain us through this trial. From the first inkling we had that this was a bad situation, I have been overwhelmed by His presence. Overwhelmed by the evidence I can already see that His hand is on us. That He is not surprised by this and that He has been preparing us for this for some time. Let me share a few of these things with you.
This is happening now and not a year ago. So our girls have had time to make friends and become involved in sports and clubs and activities that they are very happy about. The teachers have had time to get to know them and love them. They will look after them and let us know if they see them struggling. Can you imagine if this had happened when we first got here?
We have had time to expand our circle of friends. The outpouring of love that we have gotten just in the very short time we’ve been dealing with this has been nothing short of overwhelming. We know that we are surrounded by friends who will come to our aid at the first phone call. I can’t tell you how comforting that is. (Thank you to all of our out of town friends who have sent their love and offers of help as well. You guys are amazing.)
My mom came up last Friday thinking that she was going to watch the girls while we were on vacation. Slight change of plans! She has had some health issues for the past year which have kept her from enjoying life very much and had her feeling pretty lousy a lot of the time. Just about 6 weeks ago, after months of different tests being run, everything came together to give her a diagnosis, which led to a simple surgery which completely restored her health. There is no way she could have done for us what she has been able to do if this had not happened.
JD’s job allows him to work from home. That means that I won’t be here alone when our families can’t be here with us. It means that he will be here when the girls come home from school and to get them off in the mornings.
Those are just a few of the ways I know God is here and God is good.
I also know that He has been preparing me for this fight. I have been a believer all my life. I can say, however, without a shadow of a doubt that my faith has never been more solidly grounded. That I have never been more sure of who He is and who I am in Him. He has been working on my heart in so many ways these past couple of years.
I do not believe God gave me cancer. I don’t believe that it is punishment for anything I did or did not do. I do not believe it is because of some sin my ancestors committed.
Here is what I do believe. I believe that God is not surprised by this. That he has a plan for me and my girls and my husband and my family. That He has begun a good work in our lives and that He will see it through to completion. That this is the path set before us and that our job is to walk that path with our faith intact and strong.
Frankly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the final answer on the staging of my cancer. I’m afraid of the treatments. I’m afraid of leaving my family. I’m afraid of losing my hair. I’m afraid of many things.
But what I am most afraid of is that my faith will fail. That bitterness and anger will rule my heart.
So when you pray, please pray for that. That at the end of this journey, whether we are celebrating my healing, or my family and friends are celebrating my life, that the one thing above all else that is said of this time is that my faith held. That when the rubber hit the road I did not falter, but walked firmly in the grip of my Savior. And that this time was used to draw people to the Lord.
All will be well. In my heart, amongst all the sadness and the fear and the early mornings when JD and I hold each other and cry, I know that all will be well.
God is good.