My last post was eighteen months ago. Yes, there's a reason. And I'm here to take up the tale.
But first, let me say with gratefulness . . . I am here! And I've reached another milestone. Last month, I turned 50! Since facing cancer almost 5 years ago, I have welcomed every birthday with open arms. And now they are doubly special, because of what happened just a dozen days after my last post.
On May 20, 2016, I went for my annual mammogram. The doctors had ordered a breast ultrasound, too, as a precaution after my questionable mammo results in 2015. Even though I was 3 years out from cancer, my heart was still anxious as I faced these routine tests.
And it grew more anxious the longer I lay on the ultrasound table. When the technician left to consult with the radiologist, and then came back to take another look, I was sure something must be up. I met my husband in the waiting room afterwards and, with fearful resignation, voiced, "I think they saw something. I want to talk to my doctor."
A quick walk around the medical arts building revealed that neither my family doctor nor my oncologist were in. (It was Friday afternoon on Victoria Day weekend here in Canada, and the hospital was eerily quiet.) As a last resort, we headed down the hall to the Breast Health Centre, and there I received news that sent my heart into my throat. The results of the ultrasound were already in ~ and they wanted to do a biopsy.
"We can get you in on Wednesday," the compassionate receptionist said. I just looked at Greg. We already had plans for the following week. We were to be in Ohio on a family vacation. Our boys were coming from their college towns and we were all going to be together. I had been so excited ~ this was going to be the "re-do" of my worst vacation ever, a chance to relax and rejoice with my family and put the spectre of cancer behind me.
Instead, it felt like deja vu.
We decided I should have the biopsy as soon as possible, even if it meant changing our vacation plans. Greg called the chalet where we had reservations, and they graciously offered to send us a gift card to use at another time. Our boys came home anyway and we had some precious, funny family days together.
The day of the biopsy, I woke up singing, "If Jesus goes with me, I'll go . . . anywhere!" My quiet time brought me the great encouragement of God's presence. My surgeon wasn't worried, and the radiologist was kind. I kept repeating my surgeon's words, that even if it was cancer it would be "early stage and curable."
The next day we headed to the States on an abbreviated family trip. And it was wonderful. I've been through these scares enough to notice a pattern ~ even though I stand aloof, isolated from my loved ones by my bubble of personal pain, I feel a depth and sweetness to our time together. Maybe I appreciate it more.
We wandered through Stratford, ON; browsed thrift stores; walked on the shores of Lake Huron; made a spontaneous stop to look at the teardrop campers I've always admired; and took the ferry across Lake Huron into Michigan (something we'd never done before). Then, a scenic drive along a peninsula in Lake St. Clair, a walk downtown to a frozen custard shop, a nephew's graduation open house and time with extended family . . . it all seemed special, even though fear still nagged at my soul.
One week after my biopsy, we sat in the waiting room at the Breast Health Centre again. These are the hardest moments for me . . . the breathless waiting while your future hangs in the balance. After all the other patients had been seen, we were taken into an exam room. And I heard the dreaded words: "This is breast cancer." Again.
My surgeon was surprised. My oncologist (whom we saw later in the day) was surprised. This kind of thing (a second breast cancer on the opposite side) doesn't happen very often. But they were both convinced that it was a completely different cancer from the first one, and that it was slow-growing and very treatable.
And so, in the summer of 2016, we made room for cancer . . . again. I felt more prepared to handle it this time around, but we had so much on our calendar already. "I don't have time for cancer!" I chafed. We basically just squeezed the treatments in between everything else we had planned.
Looking back, I don't know how we did it. In between church activities and six family trips, we scheduled a lumpectomy and several follow-up appointments. We also celebrated our kids' birthdays and twenty-five years of marriage.
And I found that I wasn't as prepared as I thought. Even though I'd been through all of this before and knew what to expect, waiting for the pathology report after my surgery was still terrifying. I felt paralyzed by fear and all of the "what-ifs."
But looking back, I also see the hand of God so clearly. I see His perfect timing, and His grace in allowing us to carry on with all the special things we had planned. I see how he met me for sweet fellowship during my quiet time. I see providential meetings where He brought people into my life to share a word from Him. I see phone calls with sweet encouragement from faithful friends and new acquaintances. I see sermons and worship songs that spoke directly to me in my need.
Praise God! Although the pathology report came back five days late, He kept me quite calm while I waited. And as my doctors had expected, the news was good: the lymph nodes were clear; the tumor was small and slow-growing; the cancer was only stage 1A. It was indeed a completely different cancer, not a metastasis from the first time around. I would only face radiation (not chemo) this time; but because this cancer was fed by hormones, I would need to take Tamoxifen for at least five years. And so the second journey began.
When I was diagnosed the first time, the stories that encouraged me the most came from people who'd survived cancer more than once. Now I'm happy to join them ~ to share with people that the lessons you learn the first time through a trial really can help you through the second. "God goes before you. Don't be afraid!" *
*Old Testament, Deuteronomy 31:8