Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blessed Be Your Name

"On the road marked with suffering, though there's pain in the offering, blessed be Your Name"

The last few months have been a medical nightmare for me, not to mention for Ed and the rest of the family. I know I was run down from the stress of moving and adjusting to a new church and community, and of course the frustration of my inability to find a job in a library - my sense of self was severely effected. But come on, this is ridiculous!

It all started with a simple cold, that turned into a sinus infection, that turned into severe hives from an allergy to the antibiotic. After a trip to the emergency room I literally was turning blue from the intensity of the hives, couldn't walk because of the many hives on the soles of my feet, and couldn't bend my fingers - frightening. Steroids helped until I started having crazy side effects like a racing and pounding heart, extreme sensitivity to light and sound, fogginess, shortness of breath etc. In the middle of all this I had a routine appointment with my gynecologist where she found a large cyst on my ovary, which led to an ultrasound, and a recommendation for a hysterectomy because of possible cancer - no way was I jumping into something that serious! Off to Pittsburgh to my former doctor, another ultrasound and other tests, and a recommendation that nothing was seriously wrong and only a follow-up ultrasound was necessary. Whew, I dodged that bullet! So I went for my routine mammogram and lo and behold abnormal readings, a needle biopsy (inconclusive), another possibility of cancer and a surgical biopsy. This also came out negative (praise the Lord, but I was really freaked out at this point) though I am high risk and have to address that. I'm done, right? Wrong! Congestion immediately set in, another trip to the emergency room for a severe headache, exhaustion and lots of meds. Will it ever end? Hopefully the sinusitis will clear up, the followup ultrasound will show that the cyst is gone, and the high risk appointment at the Hillman Cancer Center will give me a good plan of action. But seriously, enough is enough. I've about had it with emergencies, cancer scares, and pain.

Well, the high risk appointment went well. Only a 2% risk of cancer in the next 5 years - I can live with that (no pun intended)! No such luck with the ovary though - it has to come out. But they are sure the cyst is benign so that is good. Things seem to going my way - only an outpatient surgery and all of this craziness is over. Or so I thought. I finally saw an ear, nose, and throat doctor about my constant congestion and sinus infections and got the scariest news so far. A CAT scan showed one sinus cavity is blocked and filled with what might be a tumor. Two surgeries later I am minus one ovary and and most of the tumor and still no cancer. Amazing! But the pituitary tumor is still partially there, fast growing, and will require radiation treatment and a lifetime of monitoring. I don't even know how to respond to this; I feel a combination of numbness and dread and my future is filled with unknowns.

All through this progression of events I have been really scared, and felt very alone. Ed has been with me every step of the way - every doctor's appointment, treatment, surgery, and symptom - but in the end it is my body that is betraying me and he can really only be my support and advocate. The hugs and loving words of my family have been invaluable but ultimately this is my battle. It reminds me of the old song:

We must walk this lonesome valley,
We have to walk it by ourselves;
Oh, nobody else can walk it for us,
We have to walk it by ourselves.

You would think that during this time I would draw closer to God, spending more time in prayer and leaning on Him through every trial. But instead I feel abandoned by Him - up until now my life has been pretty much filled with blessings and I can't help wondering what I did wrong to cause this avalanche of poor health and why God has withdrawn His blessings from my life. Of course I know, intellectually, that He is still there loving and taking care of me, and so I reach for Him and try to pray, but I just don't feel a connection. And this is where the power of the community of faith comes in.

Through it all one thing has become very clear - I have a great support group! I have been blown away by the way those around me have responded to my troubles. Our new church has been concerned and supportive with meals, cards, rides for Jonathon, calls, and many prayers. Our former church has also rallied around me, with calls, emails, texts, cards, and still more prayers. The library where I worked before the move has been great with emails, phone calls, a group get well card, and a wonderful surprise cookie/chocolate get well basket - I am touched by their generosity, and all I was expecting was prayer. My first surgery happened when we were at Jumonville for CAT Camp and we were surrounded by a loving Christian family with hugs, sympathy, advice, and an outpouring of prayer. And of course my close friends and family have been with us all the way, supporting us in any way they can, including many, many prayers. We are so blessed - I am humbled by the love that has been poured out on our family. Everywhere I look I see the face of God.

You see, by myself I couldn't find a connection to God, so He came to me in person. He has sent literally hundreds of believers to minister to me and my family in ways over and above anything I could imagine. I am so weak, and I still get lonely, depressed, and scared, but the strength of the community of faith is carrying me. Don't tell me God does not appear to us anymore - I know He is here among us because I have seen Him again and again.

"You give and take away, You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your Name."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The "C" Word

The "C" word. It's scary to even think about it, let alone say it. It all started with a routine annual mammogram. No anxiety, just get it done and don't think about it for another year. Then I got a phone call to come back for a follow-up mammogram - no big deal, this has happened before and I am in a new, smaller facility this time. The anxiety grew when I was told that there were some suspicious areas on the film and I needed a stereo-tactic biopsy (needle biopsy) - just the word "biopsy" gives me a cold feeling. Anxiety quickly turned to anger - did I really need this hassle, or were they being overly cautious because the facility was smaller and less advanced? Off we went to the best women's care facility in Pittsburgh for a scary, high-tech procedure that left me nervous and sore - this was getting serious! But I really did expect to get the news that all was well and nothing abnormal was found. Wrong again! I got a call from a nurse who (I thought) said that nothing abnormal was found but there was an overgrowth of cells in that area, which had to be taken out so they didn't become cancer (there's that word), and I should see a surgeon. I made the appointment, focusing on the good news - no cancer was found - this was preventative action; but the prospect of surgery was frightening. In spite of my deliberate positive attitude there was doubt lingering in the back of my mind. Isn't the overgrowth of cells the definition of cancer? (that word is starting to come up more often) Back to Pittsburgh for the surgical consult and reality set in - the surgeon clarified that the biopsy was inconclusive and they needed a larger area of tissue to test for cancer (the word has now exploded like a bomb into my world). The odds are in my favor - 80% of these biopsies come out negative - but I only heard 20%. I might have cancer. It's a small chance, and if I do the cancer is in the early stages and very treatable. But I might have cancer.

Images start flowing through my mind: the woman in the waiting room at my first biopsy with a head scarf (chemo? will that be me?), the woman in the wheel chair and the woman in the hospital bed who were also in the waiting room (what horrors were they dealing with? will that be me?) My grandmother died of cancer, one friend was terribly sick from chemo, another was weak and burnt from radiation, and the list goes on. We all have many heart-breaking memories of friends and family who have fought this disease. Have I become one of them? Our church supports a "Relay for Life" program that raises money for cancer research and treatment; it's an amazingly active community effort that culminates in a 24 hour walk/festival/celebration. The highlight is luminaries representing cancer survivors and victims lining the 1/4 mile track and up the bleachers. Will I be included in that glowing tribute next year, and will I be celebrated as a survivor or mourned as a victim? I know that is morbid and counter-productive - I have to stay positive and, after all, the odds are in my favor right? RIGHT?! Could someone please keep telling me that over and over again because I can't seem so focus on that fact!!

No matter what happens I know God will be with me and my family through it all - I felt His strong and comforting presence during my first biopsy, and I felt covered with the prayers of my loved ones. I KNOW He is with me and I will actively draw on his strength through the whole ordeal (it's already an ordeal even though nothing is conclusive). But I am weak. And I am scared. And the "C" word hangs like a cloud over my head, and sits like a lump in my gut.