It is ten years today that the thoracic surgeon removed the top lobe of my right lung and said, “I took your cancer out, now you get better.” For those who have not read my book, My Precious Life, here is the chapter on that chapter of my life. It is my way of acknowledging a milestone.
I’m Still Here
A Lesson in Surrendering
“I have the results of your chest x-ray,” my doctor said, when I answered the phone that 24th of May, 2005. “There’s something growing in your lungs.”
My heart plummeted like a skydiver without a parachute. It was 5:10 pm and I had just had the x-ray at two o’clock that same afternoon.
“Your doctor will have the results in a week,” the technician had said as I left the lab.
“I’ve set up an appointment with a specialist for Friday, May 27th,” the doctor continued now. “You need a CT scan, and he can order it quicker than I can.”
My body tingled as I replaced the receiver. Things like specialist appointments and CT scans take longer than that in the real world.
In a daze, I walked back to the kitchen, where the supper I was enjoying sat half eaten on the table. With shaking hands, I cleaned my plate into the garbage. The only hunger I felt now was for peace of mind, which could only come from God.
“Oh, God, please relieve me of this dread, and let your peace flood my soul,” I prayed.
As calmness settled over me I wondered how to tell my grown children this bit of news. Don’t jump the gun, I told myself. At least wait for a diagnosis.
“Is there a history of cancer in your family?” the specialist asked.
“Two of my uncles died of lung cancer,” I said, hating the words, as if they would seal my fate. He added this information to his notes, and told me about a CT scan booked for the first of June, to be followed by a bronchoscopy two days later.
“You will be sedated for the procedure so have someone pick you up. And don’t worry; we’ll get you through this.”
It was unnerving that everything was happening so fast, but I latched onto his last words like a drowning person grasping for a life preserver.
I told my family that this test was to find the cause of a persistent cough I had had for six months. My eldest daughter, Debbie, picked me up after the procedure, and took me home to sleep off the sedation.
On Wednesday, June 9th, there was a message from the specialist to call him back between 1:30 and 4:30. It was only 11:15 a.m. Foreboding gripped me. The hands of time moved at a snail’s pace. My head felt like it would burst, and my heart thumped like a flat tire at high speed.
The doctor answered my call on the first ring. A few words of preamble, then, “There is cancer in your top right lung.”
Numbness gripped me.
“You’ll see a surgeon in the next two weeks, and he’ll set a date to remove it.”
“I see,” I said. But I didn’t.
His next words were somewhat encouraging.
“I wouldn’t have given you this news on the phone if I didn’t think we could help you.”
I thanked him and hung up.
I had cancer¾me¾cancer. The word swirled around in my head like water in a flushing toilet. My biggest dread was telling my children. Their father had died of colon cancer a few years earlier.
There was a wedding coming up in July, and I needed a new dress. Debbie and I went shopping, and when the perfect outfit was found she said, “Gee, Mom, you’ll be able to wear it to Sarah’s wedding, too.”
Sarah is my firstborn granddaughter, and her wedding was planned for July of the following year. My first thought was, I won’t be here for Sarah’s wedding, but I didn’t express it aloud. It wasn’t the time for revealing my news.
Several days later, my daily scripture reading was John 11:4,“This sickness will not end in death.” It was Jesus speaking of Lazarus, but I clutched the words to my heart.
The next day, I visited each of my five children at their homes to tell my news.
“Thank God you caught it early, Mom,” Cathy said, comfortingly, wrapping her arms around me.
“You’ll beat this, Ma!” said Dann, drawing me into a warm embrace.
It was lunch time when I got to Debbie’s. The homey aroma of freshly brewed coffee greeted me even before she opened the door.
“You look too good to have anything wrong with you, Mom,” she said with a grin, handing me a sandwich plate when we entered the kitchen.
“Well, as a matter of fact, Debbie…” the words were hardly out of my mouth when she said, “What?”
The one word question shot out like a bullet.
“They found a bit of cancer in my right lung.”
“Mommmmmm!” she wailed, taking my plate out of my hand to hug me. I tried to sound lighthearted.
“It’s only a small tumor, Debbie, and the good news is it’s operable. Now give me back my sandwich, I’m hungry.”
“Oh, you,” she said, wiping away her tears, “always thinking about food! Now, tell me everything.”
We ate lunch on the deck, where pots of cheerful red geraniums and the smell of newly mown grass gently reawakened my dulled senses. I repeated the events of the past few days, told Debbie I’d keep her up to date, and made my way to Kelly’s house in the Beach.
I could see that my youngest son was deeply troubled by my news, and I felt guilty for all those years of smoking when he had begged me to quit. My daughter-in-law, Sonya, told me that after I left, Kelly went for a long walk with their beloved dog, Tyra, and was very quiet when he returned home.
A biopsy on July 5th showed moderated squamous cell carcinoma, between stage one and two. It was contained; no spread to lymph nodes. A slight sense of relief replaced the dread that had been hanging over me since the diagnosis of the previous month.
Lynn promptly booked a flight from her home in the Channel Islands, and was here with a huge hug to cheer me up after the biopsy. She’s good at that.
Debbie insisted that I live with her and her family through the ordeal, and my granddaughter, Sarah, drove me to Port Perry after the surgery and subsequent hospital stay in Scarborough.
It was August 22, 2005, when the obnoxious tumor was removed, along with the upper lobe of my right lung. In November of that year I began three months of chemotherapy. My church family put me on the prayer chain, and asked if I had a specific request, to which I replied, “Pray that I don’t lose my hair.” Realizing how vain that was, I asked for courage to face the treatments. The prayer went through that I would have minimal side effects from the chemotherapy, and do you know what? I didn’t lose my hair!
Cathy and Debbie took turns accompanying me to the sessions, and we called the chemo chair the magic chair, where the drugs pumping into my veins would hopefully eradicate any stray cancer cells.
Although weak and tired much of the time, the whole experience left me in awe of how well it actually went. Three CT scans later indicated no signs of cancer, and yearly x-rays have shown only positive results.
When first diagnosed, I talked to God, saying that if he wanted to fix me up and leave me here a while longer to fulfill any further plans he had for my life, that would be great, but if he wanted to take me home to heaven, that was okay, too.
“Thy will be done, Lord,” I prayed, and I’m still here.
….may you live to see your children’s children. (Psalm 128:6)
I’d like to add here that I have lived to see my children’s children’s children. TYG