Over these past months, when someone has texted asking how I’m doing physically, I’ve often responded with something like, “Sore, tired, slow….but better than yesterday.” I have been determined to choose to see improvement, even if it could only be measured in millimeters. One less pain pill than I took the day before. A little more movement than the day before. A little farther walk than I could manage the day before. These millimeter mercies have been rescuing me from my emotions and lifting my eyes from the pit when bad news has come. And they’ve kept me holding on for a day like today.
I needed this news, badly. Yesterday I got the results from pathology regarding my last surgery. 16 lymph nodes removed. Number of lymph nodes that showed metastatic carcinoma - zero. I read the report in my online chart but couldn’t bring myself to react until I’d spoken with someone at my surgeon’s office. I left a voicemail. An hour and a half later, they called me back and the case manager confirmed what I had read. No sign of cancer in these lymph nodes. Big, BIG sigh. And a few tears.
I had prepared myself to be okay if the report had shown cancer in even a few nodes, due to the fact my oncologist had told me I had an 80% chance of the cancer having moved beyond the nodes they had already taken in the previous surgery. But to get the news that ALL were negative…well, this was above and beyond.
As much as I’ve shared with you on this journey, there is a whole lot more I haven’t shared. Maybe someday. But when I tell you how badly I needed some good news, I mean I REALLY needed it. If you look at my cancer chronology in my journal, you will see how every piece of news I have received since the day I was diagnosed has been worse than expected. Every. Single. Time. It hasn’t always been a lot worse. Sometimes it was. Sometimes it was just millimeters worse. But always worse. I was starting to feel like nothing I had been putting my body through over the past six months was working. I had been telling myself the physical pain was worth it because it meant progress, even though it rarely felt like progress. But I was beginning to think it was all for nothing.
Having to process all that negative news takes a toll. And when you heap that upon the pile of physical crap you’re dealing with, the weight of it all feels like more than you can bear. Worst of all has been having to continually deliver bad news to the people I love most. It brings me to tears even as I type this. So in the days since the last surgery while I waited for pathology, I had many conversations with God begging him for even the smallest amount of good news. Something I could pass along with joy and relief; not more news I would have to deliver with a positive, reassuring tone, all the while about to crumble inside. I prayed, “God just give me something small. Even if we’re talking millimeters better. Just please not worse.” And God came through.
Yesterday I got to send texts I hadn’t been able to before. Finally. And while this particular news doesn’t change my course of treatment at all, it does give me enough of a boost in my spirit to dive into the next phase of radiation, hormone therapy, and those stupid grapefruit-joy-denying chemo pills. I’m a long way from being able to be declared cancer free, but it’s okay. Today, I celebrate something good. And I’m just so, so grateful.
Health Update: After much deliberation, I have decided to go ahead with surgery tomorrow to remove additional lymph nodes and have a lymphovenous bypass. Because the results won’t necessarily change what my treatment will look like from here on, I wasn’t sure I could put my body through any more procedures this soon after the last one. But after meeting with both my medical oncologist and radiation oncologist, and coming to terms with the likelihood that there could be more cancer lurking in there, we decided it’s best to get as much out as we can. After that, I’ll do radiation later this summer, every day Monday through Friday, for five weeks. Then, a chemo pill for two years and hormone therapy for 5 years. Onward.
It felt like the last straw. I was reading through the paperwork my oncologist had given me about the chemo pill I’ll be taking for the next two years. Most of it was medical mumbo jumbo. Then I got to the part that said I couldn’t eat grapefruit while on this medication. WHAT?! I read it again. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said out loud, sitting at the kitchen table. “Well, let’s just suck ALL the joy out of my freaking life!!” It was too much. “Nice, cancer. Take my hair, take my eyelashes (which, by the way, eventually all fell out), take my boobs, take my energy, and now you’re taking away my favorite fruit!! You’re the worst.” Harrison was in the kitchen by this point. I’m sure my little tirade was confusing. He was probably thinking, “Is this supposed to be funny? How am I to respond to this outburst? Yeah, my mom is losing it.” Okay, I know it’s just grapefruit. But seriously, I was done.
After learning that cancer was found in the lymph nodes taken out during my mastectomy, I felt like I needed to adjust my thinking a bit. Reassess. Recalibrate. Refocus. This journey wasn't going to look like I thought it would. Sometimes I think back to the conversations early on when I was assured that a year from now I’d be cancer free and this whole mess would be behind me. I guess that’s not my story after all. Things haven't quite gone as I planned. Ha! Welcome to life, right? A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Yeah, I know that verse. I like that verse. Except when it feels like God directs my step right into a big pile of horse poo. (I would use another word, but my husband hates "colorful" language so I shall refrain.)
There have been a few days when I feel like I'm looking up at God saying, "Uh, do you see this? Do you see the crap I have stepped in? Could you not just make me step a little to the right, the left, anywhere but here?" But here's what I'm learning about poo. Crap. Manure. Those other words. As gross as it may seem, it really does help to grow good things. I'm a little disgusted at the thought of that, but apparently there's stuff in there that nurtures the soil of my life and allows me to blossom and bloom into something better. Something stronger. Something healthier. More beautiful.
When I have those little chats with God regarding what I've stepped in on this path, I picture Him looking at me, sometimes smiling, sometimes sad, always compassionate, and saying, "Oh sweetie, I know you don't like it, but you are exactly where you're supposed to be. I don't like it either, but I'm using all of it to do something truly amazing. Just trust me." I also usually picture myself stomping off like a pouty six-year-old. "Fine," I say indignantly. "It's a good thing You're sovereign." As if my six-year-old self understands the sovereignty of God.
I'm dreading another surgery and recovery. I'm bummed about needing radiation and chemo pills for two years. And I'm grieving my stupid grapefruit. But I'm also comforted know God is growing something good in me and He'll fertilize it however He darn well pleases. And I really do trust Him. So, onward. Day by day. Step by step. Even if the places my feet land really stink sometimes.