Five months ago it was as if strangers put me in a small boat and shoved me off from a familiar shore into unchartered waters. There have certainly been harbors, friendly vessels, and even a “message in a bottle,” but ultimately, I found the boat built with room only for me and, once I asked, the Holy Trinity.
For many this makes little sense. Before this forced trip, I too only had an intellectual understanding of the notion that God is three-in-one: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But, all three have shown up for me in such unique ways based on my needs moment-by-moment, and there have been many.
None of us would ever volunteer to be peeled down layer by layer to near nothing, yet some powerful things can happen in those scary, helpless, solitary places. And most miraculous of all, we can survive and come back, hopefully better.
This week I felt God himself answered a pleading, desperate prayer lovingly and definitively.
When I had a lumpectomy on August 9, my body, mind and spirit were all very strong, much more so than I realized. Between September 27 and November 1, I received four doses of chemotherapy (two included the drug Taxotere; all contained Adriamycin and Cytoxin). In addition, I have received many support drugs designed to enable the patient to endure those other drugs strong enough to kill cancer cells. For me, every drug contains both a promise and a cost. Nothing I’ve taken has come without some order of harsh side effect. I’m in the 80th percentile for experienced side effects to drugs.
After that last treatment, something shifted within me. It was more than the five intense days of being unable to function for all practical purposes. From the moment they plugged me in that day, my body was saying, “I need to heal, now!”
This created conflict in my mind, which simultaneously wanted so badly for the pain and general sickness to stop and to complete treatment as prescribed by my oncologist. In the mix too was my spirit – I no longer had peace about my treatment.
So, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve prayed without ceasing - “Please God don’t let me make a mistake; show me clearly what is right.”
The bread crumbs, as I call them, began to show up. Each crumb seemed to confirm that my body might be right. Yet, peace evaded me. I couldn’t get comfortable one way or the other. A nagging thought lingered, “what will you tell Maggie if it comes back and you didn’t do everything possible?”
A week ago I went into the hospital to have my blood tested (they do this weekly) and meet with an assistant to the oncologist. My blood was okay. Not great, but good enough to do chemo in seven days. Yet, I felt so washed out; an indescribable bad that I had no reference point for in my past. I asked her my burning question – “Would I be foolish to stop chemo at this point?”
She was very affirming and even indicated that she understood about the mind, body and spirit, but asked that I not make a decision before my next scheduled treatment on November 15. I agreed.
Yesterday, my neutrophils had tanked; the hemoglobin revealed anemia. My body had been talking and my mind knew that I simply had no fight left in me. The wise oncologist began writing carefully as he reviewed my individual cancer case using arrows, lines and brackets to clarify the words and numbers. The most important information was the line that showed treatments received and those yet proposed along with the numbers.
Post surgery with no further treatment I had a predicted 70 percent chance of remaining breast cancer free. The chemo plan was designed to give me a “lucky” 13 additional percentage points – 83 percent chance of no future breast cancer. Based on the treatments I’ve received, my current number is 80.5 percent, best guess.
To continue with the new drug (Taxol) might give me between 2 and 3 points, based on the averages. It might not give me any additional assurances yet expose me to permanent neuropathy.
I asked him tentatively, “Would I be foolish to stop now?”
He began to talk and I began to cry. Words like proud, very remarkable, unique, understanding were not what I expected. Knowing this borders on the dramatic – it felt like I got out of prison yesterday.
Radiation is yet to come. I’ll be reintegrating and detoxifying for an indeterminate time because as the mantra at the hospital goes, “everybody’s different.”
This has all been so much harder than I ever imagined; so much harder than anything I’ve ever faced. And while I’ve never considered myself a victim or anything less than blessed, if nothing else just for having the good fortune of being born in
- my life has not been charmed by any reasonable criteria. And, it’s not over. My future in terms of work, where we’ll live and how we’ll live is blank right now. Yet, I feel so thankful for all of this because it’s allowed me to experience a goodness and generosity in people not known prior, and, dare I say, closeness to the God of this universe impossible to put in words. America