When it began…

I just wanted to lose 5 more pounds before Christmas; that’s all, just five more pounds. Weight Watchers was working really well, but, my weight loss had stalled and I needed to try something new. Beans! Beans are zero points, and I happen to really like beans. Searching the internet for a good recipe I found one, the “best” black bean soup, ever. I ate the soup on and off for two weeks until I was pretty much sick all the time and really bloated. I convinced myself I had gallstones. Then, I convinced my doctor I had gallstones, and he ordered an Ultra Sound, as he said, “just to be on the safe side.” A few days before the Ultra Sound, I wised up and stopped eating the beans. I started feeling better, but that little voice inside me urged me to get the Ultra Sound anyway. As it turned out, there were no gallstones, but there was a large mass in my pelvic area that the radiologist cited, “is very indicative of ovarian cancer.” Thus, the search for a diagnosis began.

Having already lived through a cancer diagnosis of endometrial cancer 20 years earlier, I was quite shocked by what the findings presented. Could it have come back after 20 years? Could the cancer have metastasized into the one ovary I had left after the partial hysterectomy from 20 years ago? Well, my gynecologist/oncologist certainly thought that was probably the case. Shocking! It came out of no where and it was shocking. “Lord,” I thought, “is this it?” Well, I thought to myself, at least I’ve had 20 good years. I was just grateful to God for giving me that. I was a little numb but not afraid, no fear. I attribute that to my faith. My belief that even if this cancer kills me, I’ll be with Jesus and with all my loved ones who have gone before me – and there are many more of them with Jesus than there are left here on earth. I couldn’t for the life of me be mad at God. He gave me a good life and a long one; 66 years is not bad. Actually, with all that had been going on with my family lately, Heaven seemed infinitely better than here in this earthly realm. Of course, then I started thinking of my family and friends and pets, and ministry and responsibilities and I realized, “Yes, I do want to live.” But, only if it is God’s will. And, that is what I’ve been praying ever since. “Lord, if it is your will, please heal me; and, if it is not your will that I be healed, give me the courage and strength to endure whatever it is that I will have to endure. The Ultra Sound was done on December ll, 2018.

Here we are today, February 8, 2019, which happens to be my anniversary, and I am pondering all that has happened since that fateful day. God has been so present in each and every moment.

On January 7th, I had surgery to remove “the mass” and my remaining female organs. My doctor was wrong, the mass was an enlarged lymph node and the pathology report confirmed it to be Grade 3b Follicular Lymphoma. When I woke up and heard this surprising news, it was as if a great weight had been lifted off my chest. Though all cancer is bad, Lymphoma is a much better diagnosis than ovarian cancer or a return of the endometrial cancer. I didn’t know much about Lymphoma, but I was sure going to begin to learn all I could! I tend to struggle with OCD; so, of course, I got on the internet and read all about Lymphoma, incessantly, day and night, while I was recuperating from my surgery. Praying and reading, reading and praying, asking for God’s guidance in all my coming decisions. I talked about all I’d learned ad-nauseam with my poor husband, who was caring for me, and anyone else who would listen to me. But, for me, talking it out is good. It relieves stress and actually comforts me when I share with others. If there is nothing else you can do for someone, listening to them is such a wonderful gift to them. I have been truly blessed with so many family members, friends, and acquaintances who have comforted me and shown their love for me, just by listening.

I’ve had my ups and down these past five weeks. I can’t believe it’s only been five weeks; it seems like a lifetime. Prayer gives me solace.  I’ve been doing a lot of it.  There are moments during my prayer time when I talk to God and spill my guts to him, and I feel so close to Him and know He is really listening to me and loving me through this tough stuff.  Some days I am stronger than others and I feel hopeful and grateful, and loved. And, other days, as my brother, Jerry, was want to say, “I’ve got the blues.”  It is all too much for me. I had one such day a few weeks ago when I wrote this in my journal:

It makes me angry that this cancer is going to dictate what is happening to my body for the next 4 – 6 months of chemo and Lord only knows how long it will take me to become whole again after that.  I feel so good now; I’m healthy and fit, how can anything be wrong with me?  How can there be these little cancer aliens running around inside of me trying to kill me!  I don’t feel them yet, they are not making me sick yet, but the doctor says they are there.  It seems so unreal!  I’ve tried all my life to take good care of myself and now this.  Now my body is betraying me and the medicine to annihilate the little cancer devils is going to almost kill me to cure me. THAT seems unreal too.  I don’t want to feel sick and tired and whatever else the stupid chemo is going to do to me.  I dread the cancer school where they are going to describe EVERYTHING to do with the chemo and its side effects.  I think I would rather not know.  Just let me be surprised so I don’t have to agonize about it before it happens for goodness sake! 

During those times, when I think to myself, “Oh, woe is me,” I can hear my mom saying to me, “Marie, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Mom was ever the motivator and such a bright light in my life.  I need her NOW!  When I was younger, I can remember my mom, whenever something reminded her of her mom saying, “Granny is flying low.”  There have been times since my mom died, like now, when I am going through some struggle in life, that I will find myself singing a song that mom used to sing to me, or hearing in my head words of wisdom she used to say to me and I think to myself, “Hi Mom, you must be flying low, please stay with me, I miss you so much.”

That is how God works too!  It never fails that just the right scripture passage will come to my mind, just when I need it; or I’ll be listening to gospel music and I’m suddenly filled with joy and peace; and, whatever troubles or concerns I had before, seem to fade away.

These past few weeks, during every step of my journey I have felt God’s guidance, moving me this way or that, sending prayerful friends to discern with me the most important aspects of my treatment options.  And, when that discernment is done and a decision is made, there is a peace that is beyond human understanding; a knowing that God just stepped into my life, in such a personal, intimate way because of His great love for me.  

Just this week, I was dreading having to get a Bone Marrow Biopsy; I had heard so many horror stories about how painful it was.  On Tuesday, I had an appointment with a surgeon about getting a port put in (for administering chemo).  During our conversation, I mentioned that I was having a Bone Marrow Biopsy done at the hospital the next day.  She said, “Really, oh, wait a minute let me check my schedule.”  Checking her computer she said, “I can’t believe it, I don’t have any surgeries tomorrow morning.  I could call the doctor and see if we can piggy-back the surgeries and I’ll put the port in, and then he can do the BoneMarrow Biopsy.”  Now, they usually just give you a local anesthetic for the bone marrow, and she had told me that she would give me a “twilight” sleep where I would be sleeping during her procedure AND through the dreaded bone marrow biopsy, so, I was ecstatic.  

It all was worked out, and it was on.  When I got to the hospital they told me the doctor who was doing the Bone Marrow was delayed because there was fog on the Causeway and the police were convoying the traffic, very slowly.  My husband, the voice of doom, said to me, “Oh, I hope the doctor is not too angry and frustrated after being in that awful traffic this morning.”  Just what I wanted to hear, right?  So, when the doctor came in the room, I asked him if he was still feeling agitated from the drive and he said, “Oh no, I don’t mind the drive because I say my rosary when I’m on the Causeway and it relaxes me.”  Praise God! I knew then that it was all going to go well.  And, it did!  I’m still just a little sore from the surgeries, but no big deal.  Isn’t God just SO amazing!

I had been considering getting a second opinion from the cancer center, MD Anderson, but after much prayer and discernment, and “listening” to medical specialists and prayerful friends, I have decided not to go for a second opinion. The discernment process left no doubt in my mind. I felt so so strongly led in this decision that my heart was filled with peace and tranquility. and a rightness that only comes from God when we follow His promptings.

So, now that I’m not waiting to get the second opinion, I can begin my chemo treatments on Monday, February 18, at 9:30 am.  I’m told it’s going to be an all day affair.  For those who “know” me they will understand when I say, “I am SO excited and looking forward to getting my first treatment and meeting all the health care workers and patients who will be journeying with me!”  I’ll just have to temper my enthusiasm when I meet people so they won’t think I am a little cuckoo to be happy on my first day of Chemo.  

And, to top off this fabulous week, I will have time to go on a short retreat for five days.  I’ve garnered a room at a retreat house and will make a silent, directed retreat in a lovely wooded setting where I can enjoy being in the outdoors and nature. My favorite place to be!  How awesome is that going to be, spending prayerful time with the Lord before the chemo regimen begins. I am looking forward to “resting” in the Divine presence and being filled with everything I need. 

I truly believe that everything has worked out just as our Lord has planned it for me. I’m feeling such peace and joy of heart at the moment, reveling in God’s love and the many graces He has bestowed on me.  I pray each day that God will give me “eyes that see” and “ears that hear” whatever it is that He wants me to do with the rest of my life, however long that will be. I ask Him to put me in the path of those who need to be ministered to BY me, or those he sends to minister TO me.

But, I’m not so foolish that I think I won’t be going through some struggles and dark times ahead as I go through the Chemo treatments.  It is at that time when I may need some assurance and a reminder of God’s love and constant presence.  And, I will depend on family members, faith-filled friends, and my spiritual director, to talk me through those tough times. 

I’m looking forward to having lunch with two of my favorite cousins tomorrow and then I’ll be off on retreat the next day. May God bless everyone who is willing to accompany me on this journey of healing. I’m certain God will teach me what I need to learn along the way.