The verdict is in! We saw Dr. Patel today. We also went to the surgeon’s (Dr. Sales’) office and watched two videos about mastectomy and reconstruction. That was not easy for me. One thing is certain- 5 doctors have all agreed that a bilateral (double) mastectomy is in order. The loss is going to be so tremendous for me, I am wondering if I should do something special to commemorate it? I know that seems silly to those who would say, “what’s the big deal- they’re just boobs?”, but if I have to explain it, it probably wouldn’t be understood anyway. I’ve heard that women who lose breasts often have the “phantom breast” phenomena in the same way those who lose limbs experience. I’m not resisting it, just grieving it. Surrender is never easy, is it? I mean, even if we master it with grace, we still must grieve it. Sometimes I think I have gotten more than my share in this young life………of grief and loss that is.
To be honest, I’ve been an emotional train wreck this past week. I think at least in part this is due to the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy on my body, and the resultant alterations to my delicate brain chemistry. I am so tired I have to drag my body, and yet I can’t sleep at night. I cry at the drop of a pin. I have hot flashes that come out of nowhere. My two times above normal white blood cells counts have plummeted to the lowest they have been yet. And my reds steadily inch lower and lower each treatment. My blood is so thin it is literally like water. And with all this I must fight against the underwater currents of this vast oceanic vortex that wants to swallow me up. Have you ever seen a water vortex- you know, the little swirly that happens when you let the drain out? Well, these occur in the ocean as well. They are called eddies. There was a ‘Christian’, funky, psychedelic band in the early 90’s that called themselves the “Swirling Eddies”. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but just thought I’d share it. Sometimes through this quirky little e-mail journal I share I can cheer myself up! Anyway, I truly have felt like a disabled swimmer fighting against the currents of an ocean tornado. And having been at the brink long enough to catch a glimpse at what is in the middle…..I can tell you it is death.
I have revisited my own mortality issues this past week with at least the same degree of emotion that I had at the very beginning of my diagnosis. But rather than receiving flashing images of my funeral, I just get flashes of Swirling Eddies (I really think I am starting to suffer from “chemo brain”). In all seriousness, it has been a rough week. I have cried a lot. I have felt so discouraged. I have wondered if all of this fighting I am doing just to stay alive is worth it, especially when my close family seems to have no idea of how hard it really is, and that I endure these treatments for them. How much easier it would be to just give up!
I have said it before, and am reminded of it again- God uses people like me. Not that He’s using me unwillingly. I know I am blessed and if I have any willingness at all, it is to serve Him. Jesus suffered in His body more than I could imagine. So even though I have resisted, even though I have told God loudly, “I’ve had enough! I don’t want any more!”, even though I have harbored tinges of anger and self-pity, I have still come back to the understanding that there is a purpose. Christians who get cancer do one of two things: they either die of cancer, or they are healed and they continue to give testimony to their healing. I have envisioned myself living to give testimony. And I have asked myself what message God would want to give through me- through my cancer. And He clearly revealed it to me this week……….
People die. Everyday. We have no choice but to walk through this valley of the shadow of death. The moment we are conceived in our mother’s womb this shadow attaches itself to these vessels of clay that harbor our souls. Most of us are not even conscience of it. We spend our lives day by day almost like they are limitless. But our consummation with our own selves abruptly gives way when we even as much as catch glimpses of the shadow. Maybe it’s a close call on the freeway. Maybe it’s the toddler who chokes on a hotdog. Or the work associate who loses a spouse to a sudden heart attack. Maybe it’s the house that burns down across town……the tornado that consumes a town as we watch in detached horror through our televisions……or even the squashed kitty on the road, observed with brief disgust during a hurried trip to someplace important.
It is increasingly harder for me to hear all these claims of healing. I heard in a sermon just this week that God heals people for His glory. It is not that I don’t believe that. It is the truth with a capital “T”. But I think about all the people who have suffered, who have lost, who have died. And I imagine with such vividness it as if I have been there myself, that telling people that God brings healing for His glory does not strengthen their faith, nor bring them comfort. Is God so selective with His glory? Even Job in the midst of the most extreme devastation known to man knew that God “wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal”. And Paul, nearly hunted by the shadow, writes from prison: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death”. Do we deprive one another of the blessing and beauty of acknowledging God’s glory in the lives of those who are suffering? Are those who suffer not as worthy to express their testimony of faith just as boldly as those who are miraculously healed? Should those who are in pain be ashamed, as if God has passed them by?
Even though we catch glimpses of the shadow of death, until we have grabbed hold of it most of our walk through this valley could probably best be characterized as self-absorbed. Careers. Marriages. Kids. Church. Cars. Homes. Friends. We strive for the raises. We work towards better marriages. We seek refuge from storms. We become so busy scurrying around that our feet seem to actually start to stick to the ground! And then next thing we know, we’re cluttering our hopes, our dreams, our goals, even our prayers, with all this selfish ambition. We get sick. We pray for healing. In our self-absorbed frenzy we call “life”, we seem to fail to stop long enough to even consider that these things we hope for may not even be in God’s will. No. As a Christian my hope should not be in healing of my physical body while here on earth. It should be in the glorious eternal salvation of my soul! It’s interesting to me that the most prominent message I have encountered in stories of women with breast cancer is: Live life to the fullest, and concentrate on what really matters. For most people that would be more of the same….maybe just in different orders: spouses, parents, children, friends……..earthly relationships.
“I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)
So there it is……my testimony of cancer. Cancer sucks. But praise God anyway!
You know…there are two facts about ocean eddies that I find most interesting. The first is that they are 30-125 miles wide. Isn’t God awesome? The second is that as scary as they seem, they actually serve a vital purpose by stirring up the rich nutrients at the bottom to bring them to the surface so that sea life can thrive again in a stagnating eco-system. I don’t think I have to draw the parallels there………
So…the appointment with Dr. Patel? Well, he wasn’t as enthusiastic as I had hoped. While he conceded to pieces of Dr. B’s plan, he quite literally laughed his way through the appointment. I think I am a little offended by that. But it doesn’t change my confidence in him as a doctor. He admitted that his bias is towards the high does chemo/stem cell rescue, but he understood my concerns, and didn’t force the issue. He was very clear about the fact that he holds the physicians at City of Hope in much higher regard than he does Dr. Blumenschein. After all, they have 130 people for their study, which is a bona fide clinical trial, registered with the federal government and everything. He insisted that my lymph nodes have decreased in size, but he squished them so darn hard that I think he probably squeezed the cancer right out of them! He says that if my blood counts haven’t come up by Monday, I will have to start getting daily shots of a medication that will cause my body to make more blood cells. He did agree to modify the protocol to accommodate Dr. B’s recommendations for the next two cycles of chemo- and to an MRI of my brain to rule out mets, and another CT scan as an objective measure of nodal size. So that means that my next treatment will consist of all 3 of the chemotherapies at the same time. It will without doubt be a harder treatment. I will need to take time off work. After these two more rounds, I will have the surgery (mid to late October). I am being referred to a plastic surgeon at the Woodland Hills Kaiser facility first. But after the surgery, I resume chemotherapy at the same 3 week cycle, with no breaks in between. That gives for a next-to-nothing recovery time from the surgery. Then will come the radiation. So in all, it looks like it may be another 6-8 months before I begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Thanks for listening. I hope my intensity hasn’t scared you away. By the way, my next scheduled treatment on 9/19 is also the day of the final hearing for the adoption. We will all officially and legally be “Shaw’s”! Isn’t it more than coincidence that we started this adoption process well over a year ago for the very reasons that have come to fruition in our lives?