Life, Interrupted: Navigating the Detour of an Unexpected Diagnosis. Or Any Other Difficult Life Derailment.

Timeline

January 3: Annual GYN Appt (Breast Exam & Pap – All Clear)

February 15: Annual Mammogram – Callback Letter

March 23: Follow-up Mammogram & Ultrasound

March 27: Stereotactic Biopsy

March 30: Diagnosis – DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ)

March 31: Appointment with Surgeon

April 17: MRI

April 24: Appointment with Surgeon

I curiously watched as the radiologist guided the ultrasound probe and dialed in on the screen, squinting and turning his face to get a clearer look. It was all indecipherable white static to me.

He introduced me to DCIS. One week later, sitting in an exam room with my husband and my mom, I was told that the biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. I have DCIS.

DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer; it is when abnormal cells are contained in the milk ducts. I do not have a tumor or a lump; it is completely undetectable by a breast exam. It was discovered by my annual mammogram – as is the case with 80% of DCIS detection. It is the absolute best case scenario as far as this diagnosis is concerned, and – for that – I am grateful. It is a non-invasive breast cancer, meaning the malignant cells are confined and have not invaded other tissue; in some cases it is even referred to as a pre-cancerous or pre-invasive condition. It is protocol to treat DCIS aggressively to prevent it from developing into or recurring as invasive breast cancer.

We are still in the discovery process (I had an MRI three days ago), but based on what we know right now, I will have a mastectomy or lumpectomy. I will undergo radiation treatment and take Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, for 5-10 years.

I didn’t exactly have this penciled in on the calendar.

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Preparation

Retrospection has been a fascinating part of this short journey.

  • In August, I was compelled to get healthier and lose weight, so I started working with a trainer and lost 20 pounds, adding strength and fitness.
  • At the beginning of this year, I felt crushed by the vision of a growing ministry and sensed the wisdom of expanding the Tenacious Grace team….to share the weight.
  • As our office lease renewal weighed on my brain, I became more and more convinced we needed to cut that expense and move the office to my house.
  • The book proposal I intended to complete by summer was shelved after our event, Tandem, had to be rescheduled for 2017 as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
  • I bought a LuLaRoe ensemble from a vendor at Tandem, and it is proving ideal for awkward, uncomfortable facedown procedures. 🙂

Retrospection is how God is showing me that though this feels like a detour to me, it’s actually where we were headed all along. And He has been preparing me…

Potholes

I loud snot cried most of Tuesday evening. I imagined every worst case scenario and put myself in every single one of them. I convinced myself there is cancer all in my body that will be discovered during this process. I prepared myself for the worst possible news from Monday’s MRI, so I might not be caught off guard. Any twinge of discomfort summoned a spot of panic. I found myself taking my pulse to determine if my resting heart rate is too high and might indicate a weak or overworked heart. I googled the side effects of Tamoxifen and gave myself every one of them – even the ones I have no idea about: amenorrhea, fluid retention, hot flashes, nausea, vaginal discharge, vaginal hemorrhage, weight loss, skin changes, infection, sepsis, alopecia, constipation, cough, diarrhea, edema, increased serum aspartate aminotransferase, menstrual disease, oligomenorrhea, ostealgia, vomiting, weight gain, blood clots in the large veins (deep venous thrombosis), blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli), bone loss (premenopausal women only), cancer of the uterus (uterine or endometrial cancer), cataracts, and stroke. It also causes liver cancer in rats, they say.

I loud snot cried some more.

Though my diagnosis is featherweight and my prognosis is excellent, there is a mental element that bullies. That’s probably the case with all difficult life derailments.

  • I am afraid I will never be as healthy or strong as I thought I was a month ago.
  • I am afraid of what I will feel when I look in the mirror after surgery.
  • I am afraid that Chris will no longer think I am beautiful or desirable.
  • I am afraid of depression.
  • I am frustrated this has interrupted the work of Tenacious Grace.
  • And I feel guilty that my diagnosis isn’t worse.

Tuesday night I sat in a hot bath, mopping a cocktail of tears and sweat, and I grieved my very own vulnerability. To disease. To death. To fear. To rejection. To loss.

I finally sensed the din of fear settle and heard this deep and quiet in my soul, “Cookie, you are wanting all the grace the next ten years will require when grace is only given in one day measures. I will provide all the grace that TODAY requires. And then tomorrow. And the next day. And if there is a day where major side effects or relational strain or depression is a reality, there will be grace enough for that. But you don’t get that grace today. Now breathe and trust My provision for what is in front of you right now.”

The Scenic Route

Even a perceived detour can provide some dramatic views along the way. I’m a backroad driver, a photo snapper, a memory collector, so I’m trying to be protective of eyes that see. Eyes that see the beauty along this road I hadn’t intended to take.

Wildflowers growing on the bank of a ditch.

  • There is a community of women who have stood toe-to-toe with all the fury cancer has to offer. And yet they stood. And stand firm now. I am humbled and unworthy of their encouragement. There is a strength in them I have known nothing about.
  • For the first time in my life, I have invited people into my struggle WHILE it’s raging and volatile and sometimes irrational. In the past, I only showed my hurt once the winter was over and the grass was green again. It’s brand new to feel my own battery charged by the love and encouragement of others.
  • This roadside daisy has some growing to do, but I see its potential – reconciling my own death. If we live long enough, we all have to do it. To come to terms with the inevitability of our own deaths. Good times. The gift, however, is if we reconcile ourselves long before we die. Then we can live like we truly understand how precious each day is.
  • Finally but most importantly, I am enjoying a technicolor season with Jesus. If my relationship with Him pre-March 23 could have been described as watching/hearing my favorite artist in concert in HD, this is like being in the center of the front row in the arena, just three steps away from where he sits on stage. This too is brand new – and freakishly amazing.

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Are we kindred sojourners?

If you, too, are on a detour you didn’t sign up for, these questions may help you find purpose and Company and beauty during the trip:

  1. Can you look back and see how God was preparing you for this current derailment? Allow this to boost your confidence that He continues to go before you.
  2. Are you making a growing, vibrant relationship with Him your number one priority? The byproducts of a thriving relationship with Jesus are peace and strength and grace and joy. We don’t seek Him to receive these things, but we receive these things because we seek Him.
  3. Are you inviting people into your struggle WHILE it’s raging and volatile and sometimes irrational? Or are you making excuses and rationalizations about why that’s a bad idea?
  4. Are you trusting that one day’s measure of grace is all that you need for what’s in front of you right now?
  5. Are you protecting eyes that see the wildflowers growing on the bank of the ditch?

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I don’t know when or if this detour will ever dump me back onto the road I was traveling a month ago, but one thing’s for sure. I’ll be a different traveler if it does.

And I think that’s the point.

Life Interrupted: Surviving Lumpectomy Day & All the Surprises That Came With It.
This is Her Story: The Moment the Rug Was Pulled from Under My Feet.

10 Comments

  1. Brandie
    BrandieReply
    April 20, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    I am a survivor, a warrior if you will! I was diagnosed with melanoma at 35. Three surgeries and 18 months of chemo later and I am standing taller, a little heavier, but fuller of grace and God than ever before. On the days that tear your spirit let it take you to your knees. God, as you know, is faithful and he will fit you with what you need to move forward. Prayers are with you because he detour is tough, but through it the blessings will remain abundant!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      April 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Thank you, Brandie, for the words of encouragement and truth! You sum it up so well…..I am asking for fight and blessings abundant.

  2. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    April 20, 2017 at 9:41 pm

    Cookie, I don’t know what it’s like to have cancer. But I do know what it’s like to have the rug pulled from under me. I never expected to retire in my 50s for health reasons but God had another plan. During the years since 2007, God has given me so much grace! It was during those early years of illness that he spoke this verse to me, over and over. My Rhema verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9. You know it well!

    If you feel comfortable, please invite me into your journey. God has not healed me physically but He has healed me spiritually. I sometimes wonder “What’s my purpose? I can DO so little!” But God reminds me that I can encourage and pray for and with others. Many people have prayed FOR me but very few have prayed WITH me. There were so many times I longed to HEAR the petitions of others, even if it was during a phone call.

    I never hang up the phone to a hurting, grieving soul without asking if I can pray with them. I’ve never been turned down and most people sob uncontrollably as do I. How sweet to feel The Holy Spirit in the midst of a prayer transmitted over a telephone line or cell signal!

    I love you and am continually praying for you! If you want to hear the prayers of someone who is an example of God’s grace while waiting for physical healing, please tell me how to reach you. I always text first.

    God’s in control! Hugs and prayers!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      April 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Martha, you are ALWAYS the sweetest encourager and champion for me! I am certain you have no idea how much I appreciate how you have spoken life into me for years now. I am so grateful!

  3. Becky Daniel
    Becky DanielReply
    April 20, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    Cookie, thinking of you and praying for peace and encouragement. Your positive attitude is an inspiration to all. Looking forward to getting to know you in the future weeks/months. May blessings continue during the upcoming weeks and months. Such a blessing to know whatever decision us made He is in control !!

    • Cookie Cawthon
      April 22, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      Yes, Becky. I’m sorry our coffee date was also derailed, but I am resting in His sovereignty. His grace and peace are astounding and abundant, and I am more grateful with each passing day.

  4. Derinda Michael
    Derinda MichaelReply
    April 22, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Cookie,
    Wow! Just when I thought you couldn’t inspire me more, you go and do it. Your words speak volumes. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story. And know this detour is just that, a detour. If anyone is a God-fearing woman, it’s you. You are a fighter, filled with grace and love. Please know you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
    With love,
    Deronda Jenkins Michael

    • Cookie Cawthon
      April 22, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Deronda – JUST WOW! Your words are fresh wind to my soul. Thank you, beautiful lady!

  5. Doug Warren Summerford
    Doug Warren SummerfordReply
    April 24, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Cookie,

    As a guy who loves his wife, I can assure you that I would want Kay to get rid of both of them pronto. I would not want her to live and struggle quietly with “what ifs”. Like Barney Fife always said, “Nip it, Nip it in the bud…” We love you and your precious family and when you have a day when you say, ” I don’t want to cook” let me know and I will deliver one of my “have mercy” meals to your home!!!

  6. Martha Davis
    Martha DavisReply
    April 24, 2017 at 11:55 pm

    Cookie, I’m praying this minute, 11;52 pm and will pray until the Lord gives me rest. My prayers will start anew as soon as I rise tomorrow, the morning of your surgery’ Praying for your specific requests as you have asked. Know that you are bathed in prayer by me and so many others, especially over the next 24 hours. I’m thanking God for how he is going to work through you and this interruption.

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