Sunday, July 8, 2012

Highly Suggestive of Malignancy...

I spent the past seven weeks in a faith challenge like none I’ve encountered in my forty-one years.  It began with a mammogram with bright papers stapled on the front.   On the inside was the analysis, “highly suggestive of malignancy”.  With the recommendation for a biopsy and excision, I figured fast action would be taken on my behalf, and consoled myself with my two previous benign biopsy results from 20 years ago.  But as the weeks dragged on, I came to more clearly understand the inefficiencies of the medical system in my part of the world.  I often felt as if my “appointments” were of no more use than a fax or mail-delivery system could have been.  Hours…weeks…hours….

When I finally saw a surgeon, he gasped, “wow!” several times as he examined my radiology reports.  When asked, he admitted that they were in fact concerning.  The big blow came when I asked about surgical options.  He said that if it were malignant, he would perform a mastectomy and we would wait until later for “reconstruction.”   Later, of course, most likely meant after chemotherapy and radiation.

At 41?  With five children depending on me not only as a mother, but as a homeschool mother?  I stressed to him that my youngest is only seven.  Tears came and my throat tightened so much that I was unable to speak.  He asked, “You believe in God?”  I could only nod.

That appointment threw me into a tailspin of research.  Yes, I was praying.  Yes, I was consoled by verses like Psalm 37:7 (Amplified) “feed surely on His faithfulness”.   But a looming dread and questions still hovered over me.  With today’s internet, you can figure many things out quickly. As I researched, I was puzzled by the major breast cancer risk factors, since I didn’t seem to have any.   I’m not overweight.   I’ve never miscarried or aborted.  I’ve breastfed my babies.  Don’t drink, or smoke.

I also got inundated by well-meaning friends who strongly advised leaving Puerto Rico for medical care because it is not up to U.S. standards.  I quietly established in my heart that, were I to have cancer, we’d need to consider leaving Puerto Rico.  This, in itself, was a new level of “disaster” seeming to ensue . . . What of the missionary work we’d felt called to five years ago?  Move our family with no money, no car, beds, furniture, or job?  In the weeks previous, we had made a decision to relocate to the nearby city of Mayaguez (half- an-hour north).  What about hearing God for the new move?  My life seemed literally scattered every which way and I know the enemy’s attack was on—to question God’s faithfulness to us.

At my second “paper-delivery” appointment with the surgeon, we basically had an argument.  When I expressed how frustrated I was at how long the process was taking to get a biopsy, he chided me, “You know you have the worst medical coverage in Puerto Rico?  It’s bad coverage and it takes long and it’s not my problem.”  I believe the doctor presumed that this white-American lady had neglected to take better care of herself as she clearly COULD have.  I believe Satan was basically mocking and teasing:  “How could you be out here by “faith” while not taking better care of yourselves and your children?”

“Neglecting” myself?  And now my children’s mother might have cancer… with presumed terrible, insufficient medical coverage and care to boot?

The psalms about the enemy desiring to put the righteous to shame became personal to me (Psalm 40:14-15).  Satan was saying “Aha, aha!”

A couple of days were spent weeping between my daily tasks.

I delved deeper into research and found a breast specialist in San Juan, but she didn’t even have a secretary and getting an appointment seemed elusive.  I found that there is one particularly aggressive type of breast cancer that seems to increase its risk in mothers of many children.  Self-diagnosis.  Greater discouragement.

Then, the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice said, “It is enough.  It is too much for you.”   Considering the possibilities of what this all SUGGESTED was more than I could handle.  He convinced me to cast it, ROLL it all upon Him and go to Him for rest.  And, I did.  When I was stirred, I asked others to pray.  I asked my husband to pray out loud again.  The Holy Spirit gave His peace.  He gave his assurance.  I can’t say He gave confidence in the outcome, but nonetheless, He gave assurance, rest, and peace.  I spoke more words of confidence toward a potential negative biopsy.  That was about a week before the procedure.  The Thursday before the biopsy, while I was spending another day waiting to sign papers, I heard several ladies behind the exam room door crying out in pain.  I had a stir, but had more peace.

The day of the needle-guide biopsy wasn’t as I had planned.  Julian wouldn’t be there because he was dropping our daughter to the airport (the only sensible flight to get her to our church Convention conflicted).  The sweet lady who offered to accompany me at 6:15 a.m. came with an ice-pack on her eye because she had fallen out of bed (but at least she was there).    Our almost-dead-vehicle that we usually limit to a two-mile radius stalled in the streets of Mayaguez when I was within walking distance of the building.   I forced the van to go for a few more blocks, apologized to Maggie for our “clunker” and vowed to remember to fill all the fluids after the appointment (every one of the fluids leaks!).  As Maggie and I waited from 6:45-10:30 a.m. for my biopsy procedure, we concluded that she needed to go to the emergency room on our way home.  She is exceptionally high functioning but has muscular dystrophy.

My name was called.  Assurance and peace guided me. The room was cold.  The nurse barely spoke English.  “God, hold me?” Rest.  Trust. 

The procedure was awkward, but pretty painless.  I walked with Maggie to a cafeteria to get her something to eat before the emergency room.  She’s also diabetic.  We walked to the vehicle, and as I poured oil, transmission fluid, and water into the clunker, I chuckled up to heaven and thought,  Are the angels getting a kick out of this?  As we pulled up to the hospital, Maggie suggested we park in the secure area (I usually park outside because it is free).  I thought I might be saving her a long walk, but the lot was very full.

Another day, I’d like to write about the shocks of this U.S. Territory’s medical system.  The cots lining the hallways to the emergency waiting room truly alarmed me.  One hallway alone must have had thirty people in cots, with family members in attendance.  They came with colorful blankets and pillows from home, and luggage for the long stay.  I saw one man holding his own IV bag up because there were no more IV stands.  In Puerto Rico it is unheard of to leave a patient without an attending family member with them in the hospital.  There is simply not enough nursing staff, and the medical staff expects the assistance.

Maggie and I had a six hour stay in the emergency room.  Her CAT scan showed no fractures.  We returned to the “secure” parking area to find that I had locked the keys in the car.  Luckily, because our automatic windows don’t work, Maggie’s window was cracked.  We found some branches and I was making good progress breaking into my car, while joking that security wasn’t worth much if I got away with it.  Just then, a security guy showed up and offered to help.  As he went to retrieve his lock-popper, I told Maggie he ought to at least check my i.d.  He never did.  I told Maggie that my husband should come later and claim he was missing his van.  We joked that we looked so innocent that we could start a burglary spree!

Peace presided in the next eight days as we waited for the results.  One thing I don’t want to lose is the awareness that we could be on “borrowed time.” It causes a certain type of cherishing that we shouldn’t let go of—Cherishing our children’s smiles;  Cherishing a meal together;  Cherishing my husband as he had his own silent challenge of faith in what was happening...

Getting ready for the results appointment was a bit surreal.  But I walked in assurance and peace that could not have come from my own strength.  My husband tried to replay a beautiful song we came to enjoy, “Never Alone”, but I asked him to stop because I was trying to stay strong and avoid tears (I didn’t tell him that at the time).  We had another typical wait.  With ten other patients we spent the first hour waiting, even though the doctor wasn’t expected yet.  I considered that many others experience these tense waitings in surgeons’ offices—and some without Christ.  I offered praise to the Faithful One for His orchestration of my life.  My name was called.  The doctor simply started with, “I have good news…your biopsy was negative.”  And it felt like newness was given to me like a gift.

I praise the Lord for this “good news”.   I was delivered from what seemed like an imminent change of life, geographical location and direct involvement in the lives of my five children and my husband.  God knew from eternity past what the outcome would be, but I believe that hundreds knocked on heaven’s door on my behalf in the last few months.  Prayer changes things.  Whether it changed the outcome, or carried us through, we needed both; we praise God.  He is eternally faithful and knows the plans He has for us (Jer. 29:11)!