The past five weeks have been a whirlwind. This is the very long version of how this all came to be. On February 17th, I received a phone call that took my breath away. Cancer. That was the only word I heard as the doctor continued on on for a couple of minutes. It was a sucker punch. I just didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t even cry because I was simply in shock. I caught my breath, cleared my head long enough to ask a few questions. In an instant, everything changed. One single moment that I never saw coming, shaped the past five weeks and in some ways the rest of my life.
It was mid-winter break and my three kids were all sitting at the kitchen counter eating lunch. I had stepped outside on the deck to take the call because there was no way to hear over all of the giggles and silliness taking place. I hung up the phone and looked through the window at my precious little miracles. My shock quickly turned to tears because at that moment I had no idea what would be ahead of me. My mind wanted to spiral to worst case scenarios very quickly. It was only a few seconds and I was quickly calling my husband, Lance. Hearing his voice was like throwing open a floodgate as I shared with him the news that had just rocked my world. He was on his way home as fast as I could even get the words out of my mouth.
I hung up the phone and prepared to head into the house. I stopped and took a moment to pray before opening the door and there I found it. Peace. Absolute, unexplainable peace. The past year has been the most difficult of my life. Stressful and full of indescribable pain. I have spent the past 16 months rehabbing a nasty back injury and it has no doubt been one of the most difficult things I have ever faced. There were so many dark, hard, painful days. I felt alone at so many points. It was awful. Here I sat not really on the other side of it all. It wasn’t dark any more or stressful, but I was far from healed and living a normal physically, healthy lifestyle. My first thought was that this, this sucker punch was too much. There was no way I could handle whatever was ahead. I dumped all my fears and worries in that moment and God exchanged them for hope. As fast as the tears and fears came, they went. This verse from Exodus popped in my head:
Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still”
I felt the Lord whisper to me to “be still, simply be still.” I instantly knew I would not be alone for a single step of this journey. This battle was not mine to win. I need only be still. Sure, I might have to pick up a weapon or two along the way and I have a major part to play but it’s not on me to win the battle. And then, I could hear my husband’s words from that short phone call in my ear saying, “It’s going to be okay babe. We got this. God’s got this.” And he has, every single step of the way.
It is clear He has gone before us and his hand continues to be upon us. We have seen miracles at every turn and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that in His mercy, God is working all things out for our good. There is so much to share that I honestly don’t even know where to begin.
Maybe the best place to start is with the phone call I took out on my back deck five weeks ago. The radiologist on the other line (who is absolutely incredible and kind I might add) gave me a moment to absorb what he just shared with me. I remember him saying he wasn’t sure what my personality was like and whether or not I wanted to take the weekend to process everything before taking the next step or if I wanted to jump right in. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t have a hard time guessing my response. I was all in from the get go. “What’s next Doctor? What do I need to know right now? What do I need to do next?,” I rattled off. An MRI was necessary to determine what type of cancer and it’s extensiveness etc.and the MRI needed to be followed up by a consult with a breast surgeon. I remember how kind and gentle his voice was on the phone that day. I was so thankful for his compassionate manner. He offered to fit me in for an MRI that day whenever I was able to walk through his doors.
It was after 11am when I hung up the phone with him and dialed Lance. While Lance was en route, I called the breast surgeon’s office only to be discouraged by the offer of his next available appointment which was 11 days out. I asked if there were any other options and even tried to throw the “I just got told I have cancer” card at the scheduler. She graciously reminded me that everyone calling her had cancer and it just takes a while to get in. She offered to put me on a wait list just in case his surgery schedule didn’t fill up for the following week and I quickly accepted the offer.
Fast forward 15 minutes. I’m on the phone with my bestie trying to fill her in on all that had happened in the last half hour when the other line interrupts our call. The surgeon’s office was calling back. “This is crazy,” she said, “but we just got a cancellation for this afternoon and that never happens. Do you want the appointment?” It’s not crazy, I’m thinking, God is just moving stuff around to get me where I need to be, when I need to be there. Lance was home 10 minutes later and one of my dear friends showed up 5 minutes after that to be with my kids. Lance and I hit the road before noon. I walked into the radiologist’s office and was taken in for an MRI. We literally drove across the street to meet the surgeon with only 20 minutes to spare before my appointment. Things have continued to go just like that and every day I’m given reason after reason to be grateful.
That afternoon, I met my breast surgeon for the first time. I was told he was the best in the state. He was exactly what I needed in the moment. He was kind, compassionate and an incredible listener. Lance, myself and my bestie who was joining us by FaceTime from out of town learned more than we ever thought we would need to know about breast cancer. We spent nearly three hours listening, learning and asking questions. For the first part of our conversation, we did not have the MRI results to know my exact situation which resulted in a lot of hypotheticals.
The doctor took a moment to introduce himself and gave me a gift. Now, if you know me at all then you know this is one of the fastest ways to my heart. Ha! He caught me off guard when he opened up the conversation by asking me “can you explain to me why you are here?” Unprepared for this question, I stammered for a minute and then explained how I had a mammogram and that they found a spot requiring a biopsy. I shared how just that morning I had received a call that the biopsy report came back and I was told I had breast cancer. I told him how I was fortunate to get in with him because of a cancellation. He kind of chuckled and explained that he knew all of that and had already reviewed my mammogram images and biopsy report. He clarified his question, “how did you get here? you are young and healthy. You have no major risk factors or family history. There is nothing that indicates your need for an early mammogram. I am befuddled as to how it is you are sitting in my office?”
Oh! I remember thinking that this wasn’t quite the introduction I was expecting. So I began to share from as far back as I could think was relevant. The first time I remember being aware of small, tender bump (smaller than a lemon seed) in my right breast was November of 2014. I didn’t have doctor at the time and went in to see someone I was referred to. She examined the spot I had found and was not concerned at all by what she felt. It was very small and located near my ribs. It was hard to find and it wasn’t clear if it was bone or tissue. She encouraged me to keep my eye on it for a few months because she believed it was most likely coming and going with my menstrual cycles. I kept a close eye on it for a few months and just like she suggested, it seemed to come and go along with my cycle. It never went 100% away but definitely got smaller and less tender at different points of the month. I kept a casual eye on it for the next two years and never felt anything alarming or a major change that caused me to be concern.
Fast forward to 2016, the year that couldn’t end quickly enough! Like I mentioned, it was a rough year and that is an understatement. I injured my back in November of 2015 and long story short, I spent all of 2016 working towards healing. After a nightmare chiropractor visit in February of 2016, I was using a walker for the first couple of hours each day in order to get around. The pain and numbness in my leg was getting so bad, I thought I may be going paralyzed. I finally opted to have a cortisone injection to decrease the inflammation. I worked hard in rehab and resting all year. I was making progress and could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel when I suffered three straight flare ups/re-injuries in the fall. The pain got too unbearably high again and had a second injection the week of Christmas but this time I had a very different reaction.
I woke up the 2nd morning after the injection to unbelievable pain in my right breast. I wouldn’t be able to wear an underwire bra for nearly two weeks. The pain was right at the little bump that I had casually kept an eye on for the last two years. When I went to go check the area, I was in shock to find that pretty much overnight it had gone from a small seed sized spot to a very large and painful lump. The next day was Christmas and we spent it with friends. I had my girlfriend feel it while we were there and she described it as a large lego sized lump. We are talking a 6 x 2 dot lego that just appeared overnight! It’s usually this point in the story when every doctor kind of scratches their head and says that doesn’t make much sense.
By the time I was able to go in and see my naturopath it was late January, 2017, a whole month had passed and the lego was now more of a 2 x 2 dot size at best. Again, this is the point in the story when doctor’s start raising their eyebrows at me and clarifying that the big lego became a small lego all on it’s own. Yep! Pretty much is all I can say. Well, my naturopath essentially felt it was nothing to worry about and that she was 99% sure she knew what it was. She went on to explain why she wasn’t worried and mid sentence she just paused. I believe the Holy Spirit whispered in her ear in that moment because she did a 180 and said that there would be no harm in getting a mammogram done. It would show me exactly what we were feeling and then I would have a great baseline for when I begin having regular mammos in my mid-forties. That sounded like a good idea to me so I set it up. Yet again I am grateful that she heard my story and made the referral. She started me down the path I needed to be on.
I’m telling this loooong story to the breast surgeon in response to his question of how I got to his office that day and I’m watching his face as he took it all in. When I finished sharing, he just looked at me and said “Young lady, I want you to understand something very important. I believe that this has been in your body for at least a year. If you were on time with the current recommendations, you would come in for your first mammogram at 45 years old. That’s 7 years from now and this cancer would be spreading that whole time. Based on your images, I believe this would have been very widespread and invasive. At that point we wouldn’t be having the same conversation at all. We aren’t even having a conversation about survivability and treatment options. At that point, we are having a conversation about quality of life. Your mammogram (plus the MRI we would later find out) show no lump, no cyst, no tumor. There is nothing on the images in the area that you felt the lump. You need know that your ‘lego angel’ saved your life. No doubt about it.”
What I learned was that the cancer was found in a different area of my breast. It was the equivalent of tiny grains of sands or specks of salt sprinkled all over. It was nothing I would be able to feel on my own but could only be picked up through imaging. Our jaws dropped. At that moment, our faith was deepened. Gratitude and joy bubbled up and I couldn’t hold back my tears. How could we not trust that God was in this and would continue to be. The doctor went on to share what he knew based on my mammo and biopsy report. We would need the MRI report to have a full picture of what stage this was at, if it was invasive, or if it had made it to my lymph nodes.
After we finished in the doctor’s consultation office, I was led into an exam room to change. But yet again, God went over and above on our behalf. In the minutes it took me to walk down the hall and change, the MRI report had made it’s way over. The doctor happily reported that my lymph nodes were clear and that my diagnosis was non-invasive cancer, Stage 0 – DCIS. We talked about the options I had but learned quickly that although my prognosis was positive, the area infected by disease was very extensive and I would need a total mastectomy. This also put me in a very fortunate category of not needing chemotherapy or radiation. The other information that came from my MRI was that a suspicious spot was found on my left breast and it would need biopsy. This was done and we received a good report back on February 24th that it was benign. I also had genetic testing done and it too came back negative. Like I said before, the best-worst news I’ve ever received and I am continually praising God for all of it!
We were headed home by 6pm that evening and we knew pretty much everything we needed to know about what I was up against. Many women have to wait up to a couple of weeks to get all of the information I was able to have within a 7 hour window. Yet again, we were humbled by the doors God opened for us and deeply grateful for my situation.
I am sharing all of this information openly because I believe there is a lot of freedom in shining light onto our darkest moments and I have had so many people want to know how this all came to pass, how did I know, how did I find it etc. We continue to feel deeply grateful and incredibly hopeful. When we shed tears, they almost always come from being overwhelmed at the goodness and graciousness of God. I look back on all that I suffered through with my back injury. I hated it. Every moment was hard. I tried desperately to embrace it, to learn something in the process. I tried to listen and be still, to seek out how God was going to use this for my good but honestly, I struggled to do that in the way I would have hoped. Then this diagnosis hits and I start retracing the the last few years trying to understand if there was any moment I missed something. If there were any clues I was ignoring. I didn’t find any but what I did find was thankfulness for all I had walked through with my back. Looking back, I realized that if it weren’t for everything I had walked through with my back, every single flare up and re-injury, every excruciating day…I wouldn’t know what I know today. I’d be going about my business while this disease was alive and well spreading throughout my body. Everything that happened last year led me to a second injection on December 22nd. I wouldn’t be able to rejoice about how early this cancer was detected without the pain and without the journey. For the first time, I was able to be thankful. To rejoice in all my suffering.
It’s an indescribable feeling but I feel like God reached his hand down from heaven and lifted me up off a path leading to death, one that I didn’t even know I was on, and saved my life. Every doctor I visit with is befuddled and amazed at how this was discovered and while they can’t make sense of it all, I praise God for each miracle we’ve seen. Lance and I have joked along the journey that it feels like we won the loser’s bracket of a tournament. It truly is the best, worst news we’ve ever received. I may have cancer temporarily, but it does not have me. It is an unwelcome intruder that we fully intend to kick out and slam the door on forever!
Fired Up, Ready To Go!