I’ve had three gut wrenching journeys in Cancerland and, each time, I’ve bounced back stronger with my faith in God and in my body’s ability to heal itself fortified by Mysterious Powers I will never understand.
My adventures in Cancerland started thirty-one years ago at the tender age of twenty-seven when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease. In the 1970’s, finding a “cure” for Hodgkin’s was one of the first major victories in President Nixon’s War on Cancer.
Back then, ten times more radiation was used than it is now; and, I, like many of my fellow soldiers from those early victories in the war on cancer, ended up with additional treatment-related cancers. Twenty-three years after my initial treatment, mine showed up in the form of matching tumors in both breasts, right outside the fields of the original radiation. This was devastating news to a former teenage South Texas beauty queen who paid her way through college twirling fire batons and machetes!
Double mastectomies and reconstruction followed, only to have my life disrupted seven years later by an even more deadly form of cancer that erupted in the tissue that was spared from which my gorgeous new breasts were reconstructed.
It took M.D. Anderson three biopsies to figure out what was going on. When I learned I had angiosarcoma of the breast, a breast cancer so rare it constitutes less than .02 percent of all breast cancers, I Googled it. The prognosis was grim. The average survival rate for my Stage III diagnosis was less than 24% for living for 17 months or more from the time of diagnosis.
I decided to do everything in my power to assist God in putting me in that twenty-four percent. I radically changed my diet, stepped up my exercise plan and did a great deal of spiritual searching about what I wanted to do for my remaining time on the planet.
In contemplating my unfinished business, I finally acknowledged that the altar call tug I felt as a teenager when attending my local fundamentalist Baptist church was now propelling me to make a professional avocation of all the volunteer work I had been doing to help newly diagnosed people navigate their journeys. For the past four years, I have as a volunteer, coordinated Austin’s Anderson Network community outreach support group coordinator. This along with my volunteer work with other cancer advocacy causes has put me in touch with many newly diagnosed people with all types of cancers at every varying stage.
My spiritual journey has led me from a black-and-white view of God to a place of embracing the Mysteries of a Higher Power. After getting extremely mad at God over my original diagnosis and after years of asking, “why me,” I came to a place of Grace. I now fully realize that humans can be healed and made whole even when the external circumstances appear otherwise. Amazingly, this has given me a Peace that Passes Understanding, even in the middle of all of my medical uncertainties. As I have watched countless others move through cancer treatment and other seriously grave health conditions, I have come to realize that the spiritual walk through these challenges is just as important, if not more so, than any medical treatment.
Earlier this year, I began to seriously think I wanted to help others who were also trying to transform their Dark Nights of the Soul, a/k/a “cancer experiences and health challenges,” into spiritual wisdom, and started looking for a chaplaincy training program that would accept someone at my age with my medical history.
My plan appeared brutally interrupted in August, when at my first four-month checkup after completing fourteen grueling months of chemo, the scans and X-rays revealed what looked for sure like a metastasis of angiosarcoma in a deadly location, right between my lungs and my spine.
My oncologist encouraged me have surgery immediately to see if the “something” could be removed because more chemo and radiation were no longer options for me. I’ve met my lifetime limits. Meanwhile, my husband and I prepared ourselves for my impending journey of transition into whatever follows our time on this planet.
The surgeon recommended he do a biopsy before heading straight to surgery, and rescheduled the surgery for five days after the biopsy.
I woke up from the fog of the biopsy to an interventional radiation technician smiling at me telling me, “Ma’am, you are a lucky gal. When the biopsy needle went in, a lot of green goo drained out. Cancer doesn’t drain. It’s solid. We will send the sample off to the lab to see if there were any cancer cells in what came out; but, I’ve worked here 15 years and I doubt there will be any.”
He had to repeat this story three times before I could comprehend what he was saying. My life changed in a flash. The attending nurse had tears in her eyes as she wheeled me into the recovery area. “This is a wonderful and amazing outcome,” she said. “We don’t get days like this as often as we’d like. Your scans sure looked like another angiosarcoma.”
Though I will never get the medical authorities to call it one, I’m claiming this as my miracle. I truly believe this was a divine intervention. I believe I’ve been spared to complete my unfinished business and after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness of other careers, to at long last answer that altar call.
Providence being what it is, on September 8, 2010 at the Seminary of the Southwest’s matriculation service, I had a smile on my face from ear to ear and tears in my eyes as I was welcomed as a new student. I started full time classes this week in their program leading to a Master of Arts in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling.
I’ll be almost at retirement age when I graduate and can’t help but laugh when people look at me incredulously for starting this journey at a time when most folks with my medical history wouldn’t even buy green bananas. I tell them, thirty-one years ago I was a young adult cancer survivor, and thanks to God and M. D. Anderson, I’m now I’m an almost senior citizen cancer survivor with a brand new future in front of me.
Category: Faces of Cancer