Life, Interrupted: Navigating the Detour of an Unexpected Diagnosis. Or Any Other Difficult Life Derailment.
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.
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…
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Are you trusting that one day’s measure of grace is all that you need for what’s in front of you right now?
- Are you protecting eyes that see the wildflowers growing on the bank of the ditch?
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.