When the king heard this news, he was astounded and badly shaken. He took to his bed and became sick from disappointment, because things had not turned out for him as he had planned. ~ 1 Macabees 6. 8
Outside of one of the CancerCare sites is this awesome angel bear that looks into the building at the people who are sitting in a lounge area. I discovered it just the other day after a meeting with my social worker. I do not know how I have missed it up until now, but the dusting of snow added another element of beauty to it. I had been thinking lots about a variety of challenging topics in the lead up to the meeting. Mostly, I had been picking up that shiny stone of language that I like to play with…and perception. Language has power. We give the events of our life power–or not–with what we say and think.
One night this week I was replaying these 11 months and realized that there are two ways to tell the story. I will tell them both so that you can judge the difference yourself.
On December 31, my doctor called me into her office and told me the shocking news–the ultrasound had revealed a mass on my liver, seemingly benign, and she wanted to do a complete physical as well as book an MRI and CT scan. I sensed her concern. When I pressed her about the size, she simply said it was large. Weeks later, the verdict changed. The new tests seemed to point towards cancer and a certain urgency filled the air. I was sent to a liver surgeon who did not mince words. He strongly felt it was cancerous and that liver cancer was rarely a primary source and so we needed to run head to toe tests to see if the cancer had already metastasized. I felt my world crumble at his words. Not only was the diagnosis different than I had hoped the cancer was much further along than I had imagined. We had to move swiftly. He made it sound like I was running out of time.
Test after test revealed that I was cancer free elsewhere and the liver was the primary source. The vampires in the lab had taken enough blood over the months to sustain a long stay in a lock-down situation. The amount of dyes injected will cause me to glow at night for a decade or so, I am sure. A plan was laid out to proceed, beginning with a portal vein embolization. I was clearly instructed about the dangers of this surgical procedure by both the surgeon and the interventionist who would do the work. I went in not knowing if I would come out of it alive.
The embolization was long and I endured it, despite being told I could not have any more pain meds. I stayed overnight as my doctor had wanted, despite the nurse wanting to discharge me. It is a good thing as I started throwing up at some point and was scared that I might injure myself with the convulsions in my abdomen. The poor health care aide sure had a mess to clean up.
The talk of liver failure after the procedure was scary. The surgeon had mentioned it without telling me how that might be manifested. He followed me pretty closely though. At last I was scheduled for the liver resection. The surgeon was blunt that the odds were not in my favour and were much higher than the surgeries he was used to. I could feel his anxiety. He was not able to make any guarantees and I could have felt like the battle had ended before it started.
The afternoon I woke up from surgery, the bright light in the recovery room and voices told me I was not in heaven. I had survived and the task at hand was now getting better. The odds were still not in my favour and were compromised when I reacted to the pain meds. I stopped eating and was hallucinating. I was released earlier than expected anyway, and recovered over the next few months.
Just when I thought I was good to get on with life, another blow came. Chemo had not been recommended–in fact, I was told by both the surgeon and the oncologist that chemo would not change the outcome. The oncologist said I should just go and live a boring medical life. I took a few days to think about it and after a few days of struggling, I chose to do the treatment.
I could continue on with the story but instead I want to tell it with a different perspective and language to show the power of these gifts.
My year ended with a start. On December 31, my doctor called me into her office and told me the news–the ultrasound had revealed a mass on my liver, seemingly benign, and she wanted to do a complete physical as well as book an MRI and CT scan. I sensed her concern and care. When I pressed her about the size, she simply said it was large but even then I knew she was protecting me from what was yet to come. Weeks later, the news was challenging. The tests seemed to suggest that the tumor was not benign and a certain urgency filled the air. My family doctor extended great care in couching what was going on and I was filled with a sense of gratitude for her kindness.
I was sent to a liver surgeon who was exceedingly clear. He strongly felt the tumor was cancerous and that because liver cancer was rarely a primary source we needed to run further tests to rule out that is was not. I was shaken, especially by the fact that the cancer may have already metastasized, but a part of me reached down into my body to trust it and the other part reached up to grasp on to God who I knew had this. I made the decision that day that I would live this a day at a time and not leap into the future where fear and anxiety waited gleefully.
A myriad of tests revealed that the liver was the primary source. We could proceed with the healing steps needed, beginning with a portal vein embolization. I felt the anxiety about this procedure but I also believed the interventionist who promised me he would do complete the embolization no matter what or how long it took. I placed all my trust in those confident words and in the prayers that were being lifted on my behalf. An amazing team worked on me for hours, comforting me through painful moments and silently holding my hand when no words were necessary. I stayed overnight and had a reaction to the pain medications. The kind, gentle health care aide cleaned me several times without a single complaint and I felt only compassion at what unfolded. The next morning a friend picked me up and let me sleep on her couch and then fed me well until I felt I was strong enough to return home.
I knew I still had hard work ahead but was grateful that things were going so well. As long as I stayed in the moment, I knew I could do this. I also knew that I had to trust in the One-Who-Never-Gives-Up-On-Me and lean into a community of believers and friends who would care for me. Surgery was scheduled at the right time and I knew that the surgeon was not making any promises. I told him that I believed the odds were in my favour and to proceed.
I awoke from surgery, with great joy. The bright light and voices in the recovery room told me I was not in heaven. I was alive and had been given a great gift. Recovery posed a few major issues but I was released earlier than expected, doing remarkably well over the next few months, all things considered. By all accounts, I looked amazing and made great strides towards health and sanity. I had an awesome support network that provided me with everything I needed. God.had.this.
About the time I started to contemplate going back to work and moving forward, the doctors at grand rounds recommended I do a mild version of chemo. I was surprised by this so decided to take the weekend to discern. After consulting God and one oncologist I personally knew, I chose to give the chemo a chance to do its magic and heal my body in a different way than I had hoped for. I decided to give my body the best opportunity I can with this experience.
Some of the language is subtle; the differences are major in my mind though. How we talk and think about things makes a huge impact on us. I am trying to be more conscious about how I think as I continue this adventure. Life does not always turn out the way we expect but we have choices and I do not want to take to my bed and become sick with disappointment. I want to see that life offers me beauty right now in this moment. I wish to keep my eyes open for angel bears and kind friends.
What differences do you spot in the two stories above?
How have your thoughts and words affected situations that have not turned out as expected?
What can I do when life does not turn out
as I hoped and dreamed?
How can I pull myself from the temptation of
hiding in bed and becoming sick with disappointment?
Infuse me with your Holy Spirit
that I may shine with your glory and be a light
onto the paths of others who need to see
that you hold them in the palm of your hand.
Remind me that you long for us
to live full of life and joy.
Help me to arise from bed,
shake off the disappointments,
and be an angel bear to someone today.