Cancer is a scary word. Metastasis is an even scarier word. It is Monday morning when I first hear those words related to my health. A recent MRI to see why my shoulder was hurting has identified a partially torn rotator cuff as the source of the pain. However, the MRI has raised a far more frightening issue and the doctor’s words chill me.
“The MRI shows a lesion in the bone marrow. This could represent a metastasis if you have had a primary cancer. Have you had cancer in the past?”
“No cancer in the past,” I reply, and although I don’t say it, my mind takes a rapid journey to “Do I have it someplace in my body that I’m not aware of?”
He continues, “The radiologist is recommending a bone scan to further define this lesion and to make certain it’s not spread to other parts of your body. I concur it’s something you need to do.”
I agree to the bone scan which he promises to have set up in the near future. I ask him to fax me a copy of the report and I read it for myself. “Bone Marrow: 1 cm lesion in the proximal humeral metaphysis with intermediate T1 and bright STIR signal. There is an indistinct border. If the patient has a history of primary malignancy, this could represent a metastasis. Alternatively, atypical bone cyst or angioma. Consider bone scintigraphy for further evaluation.” So many words that I don’t understand, but the ones I do permeate my very being with fear and dread.
That night I lie awake in bed, unable to block the words that I have heard and read. I wait for the call to set up the appointment and get this test scheduled. No call comes. By Friday, I call them to see what is causing the delay. I want to know what’s going on in my body, but I’m afraid of what they may find. They promise to get it set up as soon as possible. They are waiting for the insurance to approve the request. A week later, I still don’t have the appointment made. I call again and I will nag them until this is resolved. For the most part, I can block it out of my mind, but the scary thoughts and the what-ifs keep resurfacing.
Finally, twelve days after that initial call from the doctor, I have an appointment set up with nuclear medicine radiology. Surprisingly, it doesn’t make me feel better. When I discover it’s nuclear medicine, the fear returns with a vengeance.
On Day 16, I report to the nuclear medicine area for the test. One of the technicians greets me with a cheery, “It looks like we’re going to do a scan of your shoulder today.”
I reply, “I was told it would be a full body scan to rule out cancer.”
She hesitates and talks with her colleague. He confirms my understanding of the issue. “They found a tumor in her shoulder so we’re doing the full body scan to see if it has spread.” His words only escalate the fears that are already raging in me.
I am injected with a radioactive substance and told to report back in three hours for a sixty-minute exam.
When I return, I am placed on a skinny stretcher-type table while huge cameras slowly scan my body from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. Lying on that table with an enormous machine just inches from my face freaks me out. As I lay there in the quiet, my mind races to scary worst-case scenarios. I am afraid. I do not know what tomorrow holds. I try to reassure myself with the fact that God knows, but it does not stop the fear from bombarding my every thought.
“What do I have lurking or growing in my body?” As I lay on that table, my hip hurts. It’s been hurting a lot lately. Is that cancer-related? If cancer is in my bone marrow that means it’s in my blood. If it’s in the bone marrow in my arm, where else is it? Lord, I am so horribly frightened. I feel drained by the emotion and the tension. Will I live long enough to enjoy my new great granddaughter? Will my 96 year old mother face the grief of losing a daughter? So many thoughts and none of them cheerful! Oh, God, I need you and your peace to surround me.
As I leave, I feel a chill and an intense urge to cry, but tears do not come yet. I go home, unable to return to work with my mind in such turmoil. My daughter drops by the house and asks how it went and I dissolve into tears. “You’re really scared, aren’t you?” I can only nod, and she just hugs me and lets me cry. “I would be afraid too,” she acknowledges.
I’m scheduled to teach Bible study that night, but I don’t know if I can teach or if I will just be a soppy, teary mess. I ask God for His strength and amazingly, the tears dry up and I am able to teach that class. When we share prayer requests, I ask them to pray that God will give me His peace for whatever news I receive. It’s Wednesday night and I will know the results on Friday afternoon.
Thursday is another day of wrestling with fears and fighting off tears. I cannot understand the intensity of my feelings. I believe in God; I believe in heaven; I believe Jesus died to open the way for my sins to be forgiven and to give me eternal life. Why am I so afraid? Is my faith so incredibly weak when tested?
My husband indicates his plan to accompany me to the doctor. He doesn’t want me to face what could be life-altering news alone. My appointment is late afternoon. He will drive me to work and come pick me up before the visit to the doctor. I am grateful.
I awaken on Friday morning with an unusual sense of peace and God’s presence. I often stop at the hospital chapel on my way into the office, just to give my day to God. On this morning, not knowing what news the day will bring, I feel compelled to praise Him. The lyrics to the song, You are my all in all, are running through my head. You are my strength when I am weak; You are the treasure that I seek; You are my all in all. Jesus, Prince of Peace, worthy is Your Name… I feel such absolute peace that I totally surrender my future to God’s loving hands and simply praise our Prince of Peace.
I have a peaceful day at work and I am ready when Robert comes to take me to the doctor. As we prepare to go through the clinic door, he stops, takes my hand, and says, “I think we need to pray before we go in.” We stand outside the office door holding hands and he prays a precious prayer for strength for both of us. I am touched by his prayer and his words bring tears to my eyes, but they are not the tears accompanying frantic fear. They are tears of gratitude that he has chosen to vocalize this prayer for me.
We are ushered into an exam room and the doctor comes in with awesome news. There is no sign of cancer in my bones. They had taken extra pictures of the area that had shown the lesion and there was no glowing from the radioactive substance that had been injected. Whatever they saw in the MRI is not malignant and we are both tremendously relieved. We go out for steak dinners to celebrate, feeling very thankful we can put this scary few weeks behind us.
As I reflect back, I have gained tremendous understanding and compassion for those who receive frightening words and horrific diagnoses from a doctor. I was reminded of my own weakness, my glaring fear, my inability to trust. I am thankful for friends and family who have prayed for me. I am thankful that Jesus is my strength when I am weak. He does not condemn my weakness. He understands and walks beside me. I am blessed.