I was sitting in my absolute favorite place… toes in the sand with nothing but the expanse of the emerald waters of the gulf coast before me. To my right, my husband was drifting in and out of sleep. All around me the sound of my four kids and their friends enjoying the first day of our summer beach vacation.
My cell phone vibrated and my gynecology office number popped up. Ah, the obligatory phone call to inform me that everything looks good, but because of my dense breast tissue I’ll be receiving a letter to notify me.
I answered and Brandi explained, “something...something...anomaly...can you come in first thing Monday for an ultrasound?”
“Monday...ummm no. We are at the beach for the next week. You know I have dense breast tissue so I’m sure it's just ummm dense breast tissue.”
Brandi asked me to hold for one minute while she spoke to the doctor. She got back on the phone and explained, “the doctor would really like you to come back in as soon as you are able. Does the following Monday at 8 a.m. work? There is a small mass in your left breast that wasn’t there on your last mammogram. When I saw it, I pulled your previous mammogram to compare to make certain it was just dense breast tissue, but it is a change that is of concern.”
All I wanted to do was hang up the phone so I responded, “Next Monday is fine. Thank you.”
Anomaly. Mass. Did she say anomaly or mass? I should have asked that….should I call back? No. It's just dense breast tissue. I just had a mammogram a year prior. I’m fine. It's fine. Breathe. Don’t panic over nothing. I looked over at my husband. The steadiest person I know--until it comes to me. No. Don’t wake him. Breathe. I closed my eyes, but in that moment I felt the Spirit: open your eyes Carol. And, when I did, I saw the light sparkling on the water. I marveled at it’s deep jewel tones as it spread to the horizon, but up close the same water was invisible because it is absolutely crystal clear. I dug my toes into the sand and felt the warmth of the sun. I heard my kids laughing..maybe bickering...and I praised God for his goodness. I thanked him for surrounding me with the evidence of His majesty and my blessings. I thanked him for taking me out of my panic and reminding me that even if the worse lay ahead...I can count it all joy. In that moment, I surrendered my circumstance to Him. At that moment, I knew for the next week this was a private conversation between Jesus and me. Time enough for everyone else’s concern and worry. At that moment, I wanted to focus on God’s abundance: a week surrounded by his beauty, my family, and His peace.
The week that followed was a blur of biopsies, mammograms, a breast mri, radiologists, oncologists, breast specialists, and surgeons. The initial plan: lumpectomy to type and stage.
My breast cancer was caught early (Praise Jesus), but the lumpectomy was more complicated than thought: the mass was not only larger than anticipated, but they found multiple other areas of concern (11 to be exact!) As well, lab work revealed I carried the BRCA1 mutation. The breast specialist went over my options, but was quite clear that a total bilateral mastectomy was unavoidable. Chris and I prayed. We made the decision to get everything removed immediately, wait for the pathology report, and then take the results one step at a time.
As I write this, I am 1 ½ years cancer free. Reconstruction is almost complete (still waiting for some tattooed nipples….) and I am getting better at not bashing into things with a chest I cannot feel.
My story, however, is not about breast cancer, BRCA, mastectomies, or recovery. So many courageous women have fought much tougher battles and shared their hearts to encourage others walking that path (myself included). My story is not about what I lost to cancer. I realized early on my story is about the abundance I have in Christ.
Throughout my journey I wrote to God (I am a writer who frequently types her prayers and conversations with God). Today, I felt moved to share three of the entries:
The last month or so I’ve struggled to trust. My constant internal loop: I will trust. I will trust no matter the results. In the morning when I wake up and in the evening when I go to sleep: I will trust. I will trust. Trust is to relinquish control...it's not easy. Especially for a control freak like me. Honestly, my trust in this sounds more like: Jesus take the wheel! But I’m just gonna backseat drive in case I don’t like where we are going. Lord, give me a heart that turns “what if” to EVEN IF….
In my brokenness, I hear the Spirit whisper: BREATHE. BE STILL. SURRENDER. When I do, each time I do (because let’s face it I’m a multiple times a day arms crossed, foot tapping, obstinate girl), I feel my defiant spirit softening. I feel my unrest settling. I feel my fear receding. I feel His strength propping me up. I feel His peace filling every inch of me. He reminds me: my hope is secure.
In the stillness...I remember:
His Will...my protection
His Word...my armor
His Grace...my abundance
His Spirit...my helper
His sacrifice...my salvation
In my weakness, His power is made perfect. I remember the words of a dear friend...Jesus is not just a life vest; He controls the waves. I know with Christ, I have more than I will ever deserve. So, I will trust.
As I face this uncontrollable circumstance filled with uncertainty, I can choose to drown in my fear and self-pity or I can rise by delighting in your sufficient grace. So God, I thank you. I am simply overwhelmed by your goodness and desire to be near. You have protected me, strengthened me, and provided precisely what I’ve needed to take the next step in this journey, one I truly don’t want to take. You have given my spirit peace in the waiting. Evidence that you hold me in the palm of your hand. This morning I wrote Psalm 139 on my hand. To remind me of your faithfulness, goodness, and steadfast love when I feel uncertain and unsteady. I know just as you have carried me to this moment, you will continue to carry my broken, battered body. I know EVEN IF the worse news comes, you’ve got me and all those I love.
Please God bless all those that have covered me in prayer and showered me with such love that despair withered. Please stay near to Chris and our children while they wait. Please bless Lisa and thank you for having her, one of my prayer warriors, in the OR with me managing my anesthesia so my husband and children can have a bit more peace.
Thank you for your steadfast love...I will trust.
3 surgeries in 5 months. After a journey, I never anticipated traveling and one I am blessed to come out on the other side with more time with Jesus, more time to share the goodness of God, and more time to love and be loved, my thought: what precious treasure is found in the midst of trial. So many lasting gifts from God to be thankful for, but two that stand out. The first treasure was time in stillness. As a mom to four--a Martha through and through--this trial forced me into stillness. Forced stillness of waiting endlessly in doctors’ offices and weeks (that turned into weeks and weeks) of being confined to bed rest (some obnoxious healing complications). In that forced stillness, I sat at His feet, immersed myself in His Word like I’ve never done before. The more I sank into His Word, the more it filled me to overflowing. The more I realized the beauty of the simple truth: God’s Word is living. His Word breathes light and life into the darkest and deepest pits. His Word edifies as it comforts. It convicts and it transforms. I don’t know what God has planned for me, but I know these past months were a gift to teach me to surrender more fully and cling more desperately, a gift to remind me when God is the greatest desire of my heart it is well with my soul. A gift that every “what if” can be used for good and for His glory. The second treasure: this past year taught me with Jesus I have all the abundance I will ever need and far more than I deserve. That time not sharing Jesus is time wasted. I want, with all that is within me, to bless the Lord with my life. I want to burn with passion for Christ. I want every moment I am given in this fallen world...wrapped in my brokenness...to be used for His glory: because of who He is, all that he gives, and all that He did through Jesus.
My breast cancer journey ignited my faith in ways I never imagined possible. But, then again:
Through Christ all things are… He truly trades ashes for beauty.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33