Life Interrupted: Surviving Lumpectomy Day & All the Surprises That Came With It.
I wrangled seven tinny bangles from my wrist, kicked off my Toms, replaced my earrings and turned toward an evening of mama duties. As I looked up to leave, I noticed the calendar in our closet still spoke of March.
I stood long before it, kicked by its lapse. Life’s sucker punches dissolve time into a liquid that no longer fits into tidy matching squares. Days of the week have their identity stolen by new, urgent, scary things.
I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ on March 30.
I had a lumpectomy on April 25.
Sunday, April 23:
I sat in the purplish plastic chair with all of their hands on me. Hands that have known a lot of life. Hands that have been shackled by defeat and hurt and destruction; hands now free to bless and comfort. In the confines of confinement.
At the conclusion of “church” in Pod H, my team member led the ladies in prayer for me. She stood behind me and poured sweet, thick, blessed intercession on my head; it ran the course of my downturned face and dripped slowly into my soul. A curtain of orange tucked me in as the ladies spoke their own prayers for me in an undertone of agreement.
A desert flower.
I join my family for our church service after I leave jail each week. We stood to leave for lunch as a sea of people passed before us, responding to the message. A staff member looked over and gestured for me to walk with the lady he was escorting. I had not seen her before though that is not unusual at our church.
I smiled as I melted into the the tide of responders. “Chris and Campbell are so bummed right now,” I chuckled, recalling our urgent exclamations for food only moments before.
Monday, April 24:
Surgeon: There were no surprises on the MRI; have you made a decision between going the mastectomy route or for the lumpectomy?
Me: I have. I say we just go in and take out what needs to be removed.
Surgeon: When do you want to do this?
Me: I can do tomorrow.
Surgeon: Okay. Let me check. I think I can tomorrow.
Me: [blank terror.]
Tuesday, April 25:
I’m no bulletproof Christian. I feel all the human things.
Shockingly, I slept well Monday night. But I woke up knowing I could not do what the day would require.
I cannot do this with a caffeine/hunger killer headache.
I cannot have a wire guide line inserted while I am unmedicated and awake.
I cannot do all of these needle sticks.
I cannot be nice to my family and all the people.
I cannot handle the nausea and pain of waking in recovery.
I cannot wait and wait and wait and wait all day, heavy with dread, shaky with fear.
I cannot keep my eyes on things above.
I cannot stay the jaws of this fear.
A knot of panic, I crawled inside myself, releasing words to the surface only when necessary.
5:50 (the early one)
Chris dropped the girls and I at the hospital entrance. They piled from the back seat and spontaneously encircled me before we entered; Carson began to pray. We bowed our heads as we took her cue, a tight ring of teary petitions. When we loosened our grip, there were six or seven people waiting respectfully for us to finish before they passed through the doors.
A sweet nurse looked back into my eyes and shared a meaningful smile as she walked in.
We sprawled across a section of seats, as I waited to be called to a registration station. A few minutes later, a young lady stepped around the partition and called a name. Not my name. But both my hands flew to cover my face.
It was her.
It was undeniably her.
The sweet girl I had prayed with at church on Sunday. The very girl I had never seen before. The very girl I was paired with while drumming up a foretaste of lunch and an exit strategy. The very girl I had no clue where she worked. The very girl I had accidentally met just two days before.
We exchanged recognition, and I asked for a return favor in the prayer department.
And with that there was rain in a deep, dry place in me.
I was called to a registration cubicle and begin reading what my lady had posted on her walls. This was the first that caught my eye:
The storm that was sent to break you is going to be
the storm God uses to make you.
There was a workplace prayer hanging next to it which invited the Holy Spirit to use her gifts to serve those before her.
Water to parched ground.
I was assigned a room and left there to rest completely undisturbed for two hours. Lights off, blankets on, Bible near. A cessation of all stimulation for two hours. No phone. No words. No nurses. Nothing. A recalibration.
I needed nothing more than I needed those two hours.
A spring within the valley.
Because DCIS is undetectable by touch or sight, a wire had to be inserted into my breast, using mammography and a threaded needle, to direct the surgeon to the tissue to remove. A short piece of the wire was left hanging out until surgery. Because my participation was required for the procedure, I was unmedicated and awake.
The anticipation of this wheelchair ride comprised 85% of my fears of the day, but the wiring was quick, virtually painless, and my people were so thoughtful and funny. They are accredited with the first smile of the day.
As I stepped out – knowing this imaging department better than I should – I looked to the waiting room on my right and caught an unfamiliar face. I looked to my left, and there was Shawna.
There was Shawna.
Shawna knew I was having surgery that day. She knelt down in front of the wheelchair and spoke love and strength over me as my fear materialized into jumbo tears.
Shawna who had delayed her own mammogram follow-up until she learned of my diagnosis.
Shawna in the right place at the right time. Shawna with the voice and the hands that were Jesus to me in that moment.
Juniper in the wilderness.
I was wheeled to the holding area outside of the operating room; Chris cut the lights as I tried to talk down my inner captor.
A nurse walked in and introduced herself, “Hi, my name’s Maria, and I’ll be taking care of you.” And then she leaned in close and said this, “But before I get started, I want you to know I prayed for you this morning. I knew that you were having surgery today, and I prayed that the Lord would let me take care of you. My husband is a pastor here in town, and I heard you speak at A Taste of Christmas…”
Maria. Maria who prayed for me. Maria who spoke love and strength over me as my faith materialized into jumbo tears.
Maria in the right place at the right time. Maria with the voice and the hands that were Jesus to me in that moment.
A cedar in the desert.
I awakened in recovery, feeling much like a character on Grey’s. Inquisitive. Not nauseous. Little pain.
“You look a lot younger than you are,” the uber young nurse said. “I’m not saying you’re old or anything, but I thought you were younger.”
“I’ll take it,” I replied dryly.
After the customary wait, a young guy wheeled me out. We turned a corner and passed a whiteboard with red writing. Two verses from Isaiah. That’s all that was on the board. And they filled the board.
As this gentleman transported me, he told me he and his wife had been praying for a second child and that she had surprised him with the news of their pregnancy in his Easter basket only a week before. He shared that if “The Man Upstairs” takes requests, they would like two boys and a girl.
Feeling so light and full and blessed, I thought, “Oh, He definitely takes requests…“
A river flowing on barren heights.
Some might discount the events of this day as nice and favorable coincidences. I do not.
I asked the Lord for a river through a desert. A river through my desert. I asked Him to show me what that looks like.
Father, when I read Isaiah 41, I believe it in my DNA. I believe You can do it, and I think I am within the bounds of Your will and pleasure to ask for it personally. Run a river through my desert. Plant a forest in my wasteland. I believe You for it.
And that’s what He did. He positioned Himself at my every turn. I was physically quaking with fear, and I took those emotions captive a million times that day, but I didn’t feel alone for a millisecond. Not once did He let me take my eyes off Him. He was around every corner.
The God of the Universe stood where I could see Him all day.
He ran a river through my desert – and it was called Love.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
that the Holy One of Israel has created it.