Three Weeks and Counting
5 Things I’ve Learned on This Cancer Journey
It was Sunday afternoon three weeks ago. I was packing to go spend a week with my Mom. I had been in South Carolina for a visit just three weeks prior. Mom seemed sad, so I thought I would drive up to do some fun things and make some memories. Mom was the picture of health for a 76 year old…. or so we all thought.
My car was packed. I was inside enjoying the company of family when my phone rang. My sister was calling. I was unprepared for what followed. My mother had been feeling poorly, so my sister had taken her to the emergency room. Suddenly, she was saying a stream of horrifying words. It sounded like she was screaming them in a tunnel.
Pancreas. Stomach. Colon. Uterus. Liver. Metastasized. Malignant.
I know these words. This is fifth time I have walked with family into this journey of cancer.
I cannot stop crying! I am gasping! Nooooooooo!
My mother is so healthy. She just finished caring for my dad in his two year journey with bladder cancer. Due to his health concerns, she has been primarily house bound for years. Now she is free to travel. She has no mobility issues. She is building a house close to her sons and grandchildren. She wants to see Israel. She is surrounded by a large loving family. She is actively counseling women and walking them toward freedom as they grasp who they are in Christ. She has dreams. Surely, we have many more years together.
We can’t be out of time.
As we start week four, I sit in the hospital radiology room waiting for my Mom to come back from a liver biopsy. I am alone this morning with my thoughts. We are still fact finding. We do not have a diagnosis. Lab reports and doctors’ opinions are conflicting at this point. One doctor says that it originated in the stomach. Or did it? Where else is it? The constant pain in her back makes me suspicious of pancreatic cancer. I read Psalms this morning. It is hard to concentrate.
As someone who values her health and disciplines herself to exercise and to eat properly, Mom was so happy to free of medical paraphernalia that accompanied my dad’s journey. She did not say a word of complaint this morning, but I felt her thoughts. We are that close. She was thinking, “How did I get back to this place? I hate the hospital. I work hard to stay well. I don’t make careless decisions as I take care of my body. Will this end? Will I be healthy again? I would rather be at my yoga class which is meeting this morning. I have two young women who need me at the counseling office this afternoon. I must not complain. I am God’s girl. He has brought me to this place on this day.”
As a little girl, I would wake up to her singing, “This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice. … This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made.” I work to refocus my thinking on what I know to be true. This is the day that the Lord has made. My emotions are so unreliable. I renew my mind with truth.
Dear God, if she is sick, surely she can recover. Inside I am thinking about the worst diagnosis they might offer. Outside I am voicing positive thinking. I am praying. When I am alone, I am playing loud praise music. Music speaks for me when I can not. It is often a prayer I can not speak.
Three weeks ago I canceled my life at home and came nine hours to be with my mom. I had been on my way to enjoy some time together before this awful news, but now I am here to walk beside her in this unexpected path. My thoughts are always racing. I am busy working through the information we are given and trying to move us along as quickly as possible in this maze of doctors and tests.
At night when I am not sleeping, I am sad. Often, I am crying. During the day, I am strong. At least I try to be strong for my mom.
What have I learned so far?
1. Love well today.
Tomorrow is an unknown. Sometimes I would like a peek into the future. Matthew 6:34 ESV reminds us “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” No matter the ages of our family or friends, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. This may be the last birthday, the last Christmas, the last Mother’s Day, the last vacation, or maybe the last day together.
So, celebrate today. Make it count. Love your people well.
2. When crisis hits, enjoy the healthy moments.
I have been saying something cheesy since this started. When we have a day free of doctor’s visits and when the pain is under control, I say, “Today is a good day to have a good day.” We strike out to do something fun. A drive through the mountains in my convertible with my Cavapoo, Sophie, who is our joy bomb. A trip downtown to have bubble tea with grandchildren. Lunch with a friend. A drive that leads to wandering. Meeting up with family somewhere. Buying new pajamas. Hearing a need or dream and doing what is needed to make it a reality. Sitting on the patio soaking up the fall weather and the happy endorphins from the sunshine. Just being together.
3. Keep track of your parent’s health like you do your own.
Mom and I had regular conversations about her health, but this situation has made me realize that I should have gotten more involved with the ongoing sense that she felt bad. Unfortunately, I trusted that she was seeing a reliable medical professional about her problem. Why didn’t we ask for a CT? So many doctors did not connect the clues of stomach complaints with back pain? She had gone to see her internist just weeks before this diagnosis. Unfortunately, someone had been filling in for her doctor that day. Seeing my mom’s healthy appearance and hearing about her healthy lifestyle, she congratulated her for doing all the right things to stay healthy. Nothing else. No more investigation past a conversation. I am sorry that I am just now hearing this story. Another professional has been offering a variety of helps for over two years. Why didn’t she just say, “I really don’t know what is wrong. This is beyond my expertise. Why don’t you request a CT from your medical doctor?” “Why’s” are haunting me.
Sometimes you have to ask for a test instead of waiting for a medical professional to suggest it. Sadly, something similar happened to my dad. He complained of bleeding for months after a small procedure. Five doctor’s visits into the ongoing bleeding, he requested a CT scan. It was too late. The culprit in this case was a tumor that was too advanced to prevent him from losing two organs and eventually his life.” What if’s” are ever present in these situations. I write this for those who might be cycling in the vortex of an undiagnosed medical situation. Ask for specific tests. Medical people are just people. Sometimes they just don’t know what is wrong.
4. Prepare yourself for storms.
My mother is in a close relationship with God. All her life she has loved the Lord. She carries on a continual conversation with Him. She invested over 50 years in mission work. Most importantly, she has spent time daily for 76 years reading the Bible, memorizing scripture and praying. She talks with God like he is her intimate companion. He is. When I was a little girl, I would sneak up to the area where she was praying and talking to God. It was early in the morning. She must have thought we were still asleep. She was talking to him like he was real. I believed He was real because he was a reality to my mom. Children are watching what we do more than what we say. The God of the universe desires to have a relationship with you and me. Because of my mom, I have been in that ongoing, daily conversation with God since I was a young girl. Scripture floods forward from the storage in my memory. That daily taking in of God’s thoughts slowly builds wisdom and courage for days like today. The spiritual influence of my mom is her legacy to me and to so many others.
5. Verses and Songs
Verses and songs have been the best comfort during these days. My closest friends and my mom’s closest friends have sent verses and songs as they walk beside us on this journey. As I drove for a day to come to my mom’s house, I put the top down the top on my convertible and played some of my favorite music loudly. In these last weeks, I have looked up verses. Scripture has flooded into my mind from years of Bible memorizing.
Some of my favorite verses:
“Fear not, for I am with you: be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my right hand. Isaiah 41:10
“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17
“…Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” Hebrews 10:22
“…the Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Ps 27:1
“Peace I leave with you: my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14: 27
Songs that bring strength and comfort these days:
“He Will Hold Me Fast” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;
Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.
He’ll not let my soul be lost; His promises shall last;
Bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast.
He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;
For my Saviour loves me so, He will hold me fast.”
“This Much” by Veritas
“Don’t hang your head
Why are you crying?
I have been with you every step of the way
Don’t be afraid
It isn’t over
Remember the promise that I made
I love you this much
I want you to know
The arms that hold the world
Will never let you go
I stretched out my hands
And gave up my life
Nailed to the cross
Your sin became mine
I love you this much”
“Goodness of God” by Bethel Music
“And all my life You have been faithful
And all my life You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God”
To this I say, Yes, Lord, I know your goodness.
“I Know Who Holds the Tomorrow”
Some of the best parts are…“Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow, and I know He holds my hand.”
My brother, Titus, shared the song “Oh, My Soul” by Casting Crowns
Oh, my soul
Oh, how you worry
Oh, how you’re weary, from fearing you lost control
This was the one thing, you didn’t see coming
And no one would blame you, though
If you cried in private
If you tried to hide it away, so no one knows
No one will see, if you stop believing
Oh, my soul
You are not alone
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know
One more day, He will make a way
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone
Here and now
You can be honest
I won’t try to promise that someday it all works out
‘Cause this is the valley
And even now, He is breathing on your dry bones
And there will be dancing
There will be beauty where beauty was ash and stone
This much I know
When you think of us, pray for my mom, Aloha. We covet your prayers for strength, comfort and wisdom.
If you have a verse or song to share with us, please leave it in the comments.
Thank you for your kindness in advance.