My Cancer Scare: How Words That Mean Nothing Can Mean Everything
For the past two months, I have been dealing with a cancer scare.
In February, I had a mammogram that revealed a suspicious growth. A mass that hadn’t been there before, in a place that often felt painful with no rhyme or reason. But I chalked up the random pains to hormone fluctuations and didn’t think much of it.
Until the mammogram.
“Imaging detected a mass in lower left breast. Further imaging is required. We have notified your doctor and they will contact you about scheduling a more in-depth examination.”
So, I waited. And. Waited.
With COVID-19 and the ever-changing rules on who could and couldn’t get into a hospital (and honestly, who would want to?) and the pesky timing of a trip outside the country, combined with wanting to move my “further in-depth examination” to a hospital more suited for what could potentially be a diagnosis of the C word, waiting a week turned into a two month waiting game.
The longer I waited, the more stories seemed to write themselves in my head. One minute, I was totally fine, confident that this was nothing. The classification of the mass told me I had a fifty-percent chance that it would in fact be nothing. But then there was that other annoying fifty percent.
That percent was ugly and tried to tell me ugly things. Even so, for the most part, I felt a strange sense of peace from God that no matter what, we would get through it together.
But then there were the days when I experienced pain. And on those days, the scary stories became very loud and very detailed, threatening my future and reminding me of all my un-saids and un-dones.
Initially, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I briefly told myself if I kept it a secret, it would turn out to be nothing and I could prevent others from writing the stories in their heads that at times I was writing in mine.
But reason won out (because we’re not meant to go through things like this alone), and I decided to tell a small group of dear friends who prayed for me and talked it out with me. Initially, I think it shook a couple of them as well. But they were there when I needed them.
Then there was my husband. Admittedly, he was “shook” too. But he handled it like a trooper. (Mostly.)
I didn’t tell my kids or the rest of my family. I had enough support and decided it was unnecessary to give them any reason to worry. I had that covered for all of us.
As the date for my biopsy approached, my anxiety spiked. So, not being one who sits well, I decided to “prepare for battle” and in addition to all those prayers, I leaned into my training and did something called a Future Template using a therapy called EMDR with a trained colleague and friend.
Essentially, in a Future Template, you process what you are feeling about a future event and move forward to set yourself up for success when that actual event takes place. As anxieties arise over certain parts of what you’re visualizing, you process them in advance. It was extremely helpful and a large part of what I visualized during EMDR matched up to the actual procedure.
I was grateful for the team that cared for me and the hysterical event of being the first to have a new tool used in my procedure which they jokingly said they would from then on refer to as the “Gina Needle”. That whole scenario broke the tension in the room and allowed for us all to have a laugh. (Humor is a powerful drug.)
But when it was over?
I was greeted with the deepest sense of just how little I can actually control in this life.
There was no “action” to take. No certainty. No clearly marked path. I was left to my thoughts and the what-ifs. There was nothing to do but change my ice packs, take some Tylenol and wait.
Much like Schrödinger's hypothetical cat who was simultaneously dead and alive, I both had cancer and I didn’t have cancer. Except this wasn’t hypothetical. Eventually, we would open the box and know the answer.
Before all of this, I had been chatting regularly with a friend in her journey, beginning from when she found a lump that was suspicious, through her process of biopsy and results, to the diagnosis of cancer, to surgery and now on through radiation. I love her dearly and I will be in her corner for the long haul.
When I was told of my own suspicious lump, I reached out to her. She was amazing and talked me through exactly what would happen. She was encouraging and practical. And hilarious! (Don’t forget what I said about humor.) She is a hero in my eyes and I would like to be more like her when I grow up.
She prayed for me and asked that I keep her informed. We talked the day before and the day of my biopsy as well as during my days of waiting.
Then, the call came.
How bizarre that a word which essentially means “it’s nothing” can mean everything to a waiting and anxious heart!
There was a plentiful supply of tears of joy in my house. I immediately set to spreading the good news to my sweet friends who were waiting and praying along side me. The celebration was heart-warming.
Of course, among the beautiful souls I got to share the news with was my friend whose diagnosis didn’t turn out the same as mine.
I wrote and erased my words numerous times. A part of me felt guilty for having the good news to share.
Finally, I just went for it.
“BENIGN!” (with celebratory emojis.) “Praise God from who all blessings flow, my friend!” Then, I shared my struggle. “Admittedly, I have mixed emotions sharing this with you as I know your journey is different.”
It was difficult to praise God for my good news while questioning why hers wasn’t the same.
“We must celebrate!” She said, with her own flood of celebratory emojis.
She went on to tell me about her own conflicted feelings about sharing with her friend whose cancer had spread to her bones. that surgery got all the cancer (WOOT! WOOT!) and she would only need a few radiation treatments Yet, when she did, that friend was able to celebrate with her as well.
And then, it hit me.
Whether it’s cancer, or depression or anxiety or the loss of a loved one, or a battle with addiction, or any other difficult and potentially life-altering situation, our sharing and praying and supporting and celebrating with one another is not only meant to be reciprocal, it’s also designed to be cyclical.
What I mean is this…
My friend had gone through what I was going through up to the point I experienced it. She was able to help me through with prayers and support and encouragement. Then, when my diagnosis came, the tables turned. She was able to celebrate with me, but then it was my turn for prayers and support and encouragement to continue for her.
Her friend was able to walk through the cancer diagnosis with her up through the point of her surgery with prayer, support and encouragement. Then, when my friend found out they got all the cancer, they were able to celebrate that together and now my friend will continue to pray, support and encourage her friend whose journey has taken another turn in the cancer spreading.
At any given time, we get to decide if we will let God use us to be a part of the circle of receiving and giving love, support, prayer and celebration. The journeys do not have to look the same. Because the truth of the matter is, even when they’re the same, as long as we are individuals, it will always be different.
There’s a Scripture from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 in the Message that says “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”
My friend must’ve had this in mind, when encouraging me to share my experience she said
“Now you know! And you might be able to help someone else who has to walk in your shoes.” I told you, she is wise.
While, I might not be able to go all the way with someone in terms of my own experience, I can go part of the way. And then I can “be there” with them for the rest; with love, and support; prayer and hopefully- some celebration.
By the way, this is not just a spiritual exercise. You can check out what the science says about healing through helping. It is an effective way to boost the healing and protective chemicals in our brain and body, improving our immune system and even helping to alleviate chronic pain (of course, be gentle with yourself and don’t try to give what you don’t have.)
If you are going through something difficult today, let me first say, I’m sorry. I see you. And my heart is with you. Second, I want to encourage you to share the journey with someone who can pray, love, support and encourage you.
I pray that on the other side of it, they can celebrate with you too.
And when the time is right (maybe that’s now?), I want to encourage you to find a way to use your experiences to help others. They probably won’t be exactly the same, but they don’t have to be.
The most profound experience of all is the human experience. If you’re willing to share that, its likely you’ll help someone feel seen, and heard and understood. And that’s the best gift any of us can give to each other.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy is an evidence-based therapy with proven efficacy for a variety of life situations including but not limited to trauma, addiction, depression and anxiety. Contact us here at My Out Loud Voice or check out EMDRIA for details and connections to licensed, certified providers.
As of 2020, 3D Mammograms no longer require a special prescription from your doctor. You can simply request one from your imaging provider and your insurance is required to cover it.
For support and connections to help you through whatever journey you might be facing, reach out to us here .