Challenge of Faith and Endurance
I have debated about blogging this story, but as most of you know, I process difficult things through writing. I’ve decided to put it out there – not to seek attention or “tell all my business”, but to process and maybe help or encourage someone else. Plus, I know that I will want to look back at this story down the road and remember how faithful my God has been.
In the summer of 2010, I was having some pain in my left breast. Despite the fact that I was only 34 and not scheduled to start getting mammograms just yet, my doctor ordered one to see what might be causing my pain. I went for the mammogram and ended up also having an ultrasound. Apparently, the tissue in my breast is very dense and difficult to image. I also have fibrocystic breast tissue, which causes “normal” lumps and bumps that are nothing to worry about. My doctor told me that everything was fine and my discomfort was just related to hormones or caffeine – nothing to worry about and really nothing that could be helped.
Fast forward one year to June 2012. I remember because I mentioned it to Rudy when we were unpacking in our new house. I began to have some discomfort in the lower left part of my abdomen. It actually felt like the sensation of fetal movement, which would NOT have been a welcome surprise at that point. Besides, there was absolutely no way I had made it to the second trimester of a third pregnancy without knowing it (not to mention Rudy’s vasectomy and my uterine ablation). Over the course of the summer, the odd sensation turned into sharp pain. They started off very randomly at first, but since then have become more constant and more intense. At that time, I had a close family member who was preparing to have surgery on an ovarian cyst, so that was the first place my mind went.
Life kept moving on. Rudy started a new job. I started a new job. The kids started new schools. I remember consciously thinking, “wow – things are really going well right now.” Well, let me tell you something: that’s the first sign that life is about to change. Over the course of the next few weeks, I got a call telling me that my grandfather’s congestive heart failure was worsening, Nola’s behavior at school went haywire and she continued to wet her pants, Caleb got in trouble at school for not paying attention, Rudy’s job got crazy stressful as football season kicked into high gear, work got overwhelming, and I hit our brick mailbox with my 3-week-old car. Through all of that, I didn’t think a whole lot about my abdominal pain. It was just sort of there and uncomfortable, but it was pretty much just another piece of the craptastic puzzle I seemed to be trying to fit together to make a pretty picture. One morning it got noticeably more painful, so I texted a friend to get the name and number of a local gynecologist that she had recommended.
I went to my appointment last Wednesday – a week ago today. I met my new doctor and I felt like I had known her forever. We have friends in common and we are the same age. We both have young kids. I felt like a big ol’ whiner as I laid out my litany of ailments: breast pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, frustration with trying to lose weight, the mystery condition in my legs that I’ve been trying to solve for years. Getting older is for the birds, y’all! Thirty-five is kicking my tail and I’m about to turn 36!
Dr. McGraw listened to me. She is the first doctor who has done that and not written me off or told me that they could only address one issue and I would have to make another appointment to address other issues. The first thing she ordered was bloodwork – a complete work-up, a thyroid test and a panel to screen for diabetes. (That all came back normal!) After that, she did a breast and pelvic exam. That’s when my challenge of faith and endurance really began.
I heard two words as I lay there vulnerable on that table. The first was “lump.” As in, “you have a lump in your breast.” The second was “mass.” As in, “you also have a mass near your left ovary.”
After that, things got pretty fuzzy for a while. I vaguely remember getting dressed and gathering my belongings to meet the doctor in the hallway. She walked me to a desk where a very kind lady scheduled an appointment for a breast ultrasound. That’s when I snapped out of my fog and began to think a little more clearly. I asked the doctor the questions that any normal person would ask: What does this mean? Do you think it’s cancer? Should I be concerned? Where do we go from here? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? CANCER? All the while, I couldn’t stop thinking about my kids and Rudy and the journey that we were potentially headed for. She told me that she didn’t *think* it would be cancer, because I’m only 35 – though I know multiple people who have had breast and ovarian cancer in their 30’s. She even went so far as to say that my abdominal pain could be a hernia. If everything checks out gynecologically, she might send me for a CT scan to see if that could be the case.
I came home and sat on the porch swing with Nola for a while. I called Mom and told her what the doctor said. She (of course) wanted to know the game plan and assured me that whatever happened, I would have my lifelong cheerleader/partner in crime beside me. When Rudy got home, I mustered the courage to tell him. I did my best to answer his questions and promised that I would NOT Google it and scare myself even more. (For the record: He did. I didn’t.) I spent the evening trying to wrap my mind around what was happening. I texted (because I couldn’t talk about it without getting choked up) some of my dearest friends and biggest prayer warriors. On Thursday, I told my bosses. They were very supportive and told me to do whatever I needed to do. Everyone offered prayers.
The past week has been a fog of worry and a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve gone through everything from "whatever God gives me I can handle it” to “I’m going to die before I’m 40.” I’ve cried and made really bad jokes. I’ve worried about losing my hair to chemo because I’d rather be described as the girl with the big, curly hair than the girl with cancer. It’s amazing where your brain goes when you’re faced with this kind of thing.) I’ve prayed and begged and avoided and tried to change the subject. I’ve been angry and sad and accepting all at the same time. Mostly, I’ve just been scared and exhausted.
Yesterday was my breast ultrasound. I went to the hospital after work and laid on a hard table in a dim room as the ultrasound tech did her best to make me feel comfortable that my bare chest was exposed and being scrutinized by a machine. She told me that she wanted to show my ultrasound to the radiologist and that he might want to come in and take a look for himself. She assured me that he was the best breast specialist she had ever worked with and that I was very fortunate because he isn’t at the hospital every day. When he came in to repeat the ultrasound for himself, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes again. He poked and prodded and finally said, “You do not have breast cancer.” They were the most beautiful words I had heard in a long, long time. He explained that the discomfort that I was feeling was simply a result of fibrocystic changes and that, unfortunately, there was nothing much I could do about it. He said that it will likely get better as I get older and my tissue becomes less dense. I told him I’ll take ibuprofen over chemo any day.
I left the hospital with half of the ton of bricks lifted off of my shoulders. I let all of my prayer warriors know the good news, picked up the kids from daycare and then met Rudy for dinner.
My pelvic ultrasound was this morning. I guzzled a ton of water and tried to keep my bladder from exploding as the ultrasound tech did the external imaging. After that was the dreaded transvaginal ultrasound, which I strongly contend should be preceded by nothing short of dinner and a movie. I made sure to let the tech know when she hit the spot that just about sent me off the table in pain. She ended the appointment by telling me that she didn’t see anything glaring, but that the doctor would have to look at it. She said if she had to guess, she would say it was probably an ovarian cyst.
I left there, sent an update to Rudy and my mom and went back to work. While I was at work, I got a call from my doctor’s office telling me that I had to reschedule my appointment that was supposed to be on Friday to one day next week. When I called back to reschedule, I asked to speak to the doctor’s assistant. She assured me that she would let me know if the results came back tomorrow so that I wouldn’t spend the whole weekend waiting and wondering if it wasn’t necessary. But – she did tell me that if the results aren’t ready tomorrow, the earliest I would hear from her would be Tuesday, which is when my appointment is scheduled anyway. Ugh. More waiting. More wondering. More worrying – no matter how hard I try not to.
So, now there’s nothing to do but wait and pray. In the meantime, I’m holding so tight to the verse that has seen me through my most difficult times,
“In the midst of my anxieties, Your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)
I continue to pray. I thank God for the good news to this point and the lessons that I’m learning from this trial. I pray for understanding and for peace. I pray for the patience to endure the wait and the faith to know that no matter the outcome, it will be what He needs it to be for a reason.