Once cancer has become part of your life, even after “beating it,” its effects still linger. It’s never completely over with, this side of heaven. There is always that nagging thought, as subtle and far away as it may be, that it could come raging back with a vengeance. These past three weeks I thought mine had.
It really started months ago with the death of a friend. Her breast cancer, same type as mine, returned and spread throughout her body taking her life just one year later after it returned. Then another friend also had hers return and is presently going through treatment, again. These circumstances made me pay a little more attention to some vague symptoms I had been experiencing. Including some numbness and pins-and-needles feeling in my hands at night, different from my neuropathy symptoms. Also, back spasms and numbness and tingling sensations on the side of my head. I waited until my 6 month check with my oncologist and brought up everything to her. I complained about the usual side effects, of course, my body trying to decide if it wants to be in menopause after chemo which brought on heat intolerance, joint pain and fatigue, to name a few of the worst symptoms.
My oncologist is very good and willing to run tests to look into suspicious symptoms. My symptoms triggered her suspicion. She ordered an MRI of the brain and spine. One week later I spent 2 full hours flat on my back in an MRI machine. That was not easy. The results came back showing degenerative disc disease (rather common), but also some “nonspecific findings” in both the brain and spine. This triggered further testing to rule out the worst case scenario, if the cancer had returned and metastasized to my brain and spine.
This past week was a crazy week. I spent 3 days at City of Hope. I had labs drawn, a PET CT from skull to thighs and a Lumbar Puncture to check for cancer cells. In the midst of all this my annual PAP smear results came back with abnormal cells. So a colposcopy, endometrial biopsies (ouch!) and a pelvic ultrasound were also completed.
Initially, when I heard the MRI results, I wasn’t too worried. My God has walked this valley with me all along and I knew he would not leave my side now. I trust Him, completely. I knew that most likely it would turn out to be nothing. I did not feel any impending sense of doom and I had peace. My husband, on the other hand, could barely talk about it. He was terrified and majorly stressed out. Poor man, I have put him through a lot. He is a trooper and my rock! If Jesus is on one side, then my husband is on the other!!
When I heard that abnormal cells were found on my PAP smear, things shifted for me. Even though I knew it could be a coincidence, my thoughts kept going there: “what are the chances of it being nothing now?” “God must be preparing me for something bad” “what will this mean?” So inevitably I started thinking about death, my life ending, what that would mean for my husband, my kids, my grandkids. Closure, all that was required, writing letters to loved ones, decorating for Christmas in June! Wait what?!? I know you’re asking what Christmas has to do with this?Everything!!! If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna enjoy my favorite time of year throughout the process. And I know how to do Christmas!
These are the thoughts that fluttered around in my head. I didn’t obsess or dwell on them, by any means, but they happened. God truly gave me peace. But the reality is the unknown takes your mind many places. Sometimes it can be scary, sometimes practical and sometimes sentimental.
Yesterday’s appointments included a follow up visit to my oncologist. All the results were back except my ultrasound which was scheduled to follow my appointment with her.
Good news!!! Everything was negative. No evidence of disease. No cancer cells found. Nothing.
Praise God! I got a thumbs up from my husband. I smiled. I asked questions. I was kind of numb. What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I feel happier? It took some time for it to really sink in that I wasn’t dying. It really had been a fluke that my PAP came back abnormal, with no explanation, after 34 years of normals. Those “nonspecific findings” was just an overly cautious radiologist dealing with a patient “history” of breast cancer. My weird symptoms had no real explanation, I guess.
Somewhere along the way, in the course of just two weeks, I went from mostly believing it would be nothing to mostly believing it would be something. All the while trusting God that he knew what was best for me, even if it was calling me home.
I had actually started accepting that fate peacefully. Now she says it was nothing? All of this? All of these tests? Nothing? It took a couple hours for my mind to wrap around it. I texted out to those who waited to hear: “All good news. Tests negative.”
My doctor plans to take my case to the tumor board to discuss everything including my symptoms, she is referring me to a neurologist for my symptoms and to consult a neuro surgeons opinion for my spine issues. Also, a rheumatologist for my hands which she thinks could be carpal tunnel or just my neuropathy.
In the end, most likely I will hear that I’m almost 50 and I’m getting older, I’m not as young as I used to be. My body has been through a lot. I should loose weight and exercise regularly to relieve the joint pain and back issues.
But…I’m NOT gonna die…not yet anyways!
This time the “not knowing” was different than with my initial cancer diagnosis. That is because of where the Lord has brought me and what he has taught me. My trust and faith in him runs deep and real and I rely on him fully, not just in hollow words but in truth! That is a peaceful and light place to live. It’s full of hope and security, resting in the shadow of his wings. And maybe he is preparing me for something bad, eventually, and I’m ok with that too. The unknown isn’t fun, but at least I know I can count on the one who holds my future, it isn’t unknown to him. Knowing Him is all I really need. And I’m thankful!
There is hope beyond this! Praise be to Jesus all glory to Him!