I’ve been debating how I should start and title this post. I thought about “Category Four Shit Storm”; I thought about “The month from hell”; I thought about “Unrelenting.” But as I have processed through this difficult time, I realized that despite all the pain, sadness, anger, and frustration…there were many precious glimpses of hope and joy.
In my previous post when I found out that the cancer was back again, I wrote about the waiting, and also of the beauty I found in the brokenness. As my family dealt with bad news after bad news, I really did become numb and I couldn’t even process. But now I have had time and things have calmed down a bit (please Lord let it be calm for a while longer)…I will chronicle these unrelenting experiences in a condensed chronology.
As I wrote in my last post, on November 6 I found out that the mass in my pelvic region is indeed a malignant cancer tumor, and then two days later we found out that our sweet dog Moses also has cancer throughout his body that is inoperable.
The next two weeks were filled with numerous appointments with surgeons to prepare my treatment plan, as well as having my boy home from college and sharing a beautiful Thanksgiving with friends and family. Amidst all this, I was trying to reach my step dad Ric who lives alone in the Bay Area where I grew up. He has been in poor health, but had told me he was going to try to drive here for Thanksgiving. After calling him numerous times, and having neighbors check with no success, we had our friend call police to do a welfare check. Ric was found in dire condition and taken to hospital with a fractured hip and many other issues. From this point on, each day was filled with numerous calls from the hospital--case workers, nurses, and doctors. I couldn’t get on a plane to see him because I had many cancer related appointments scheduled. It was difficult and emotionally draining to be far away and not by his side.
(Necessary side note for clarification—In 1995 my parents told us they were divorcing after 33 years of marriage. A few years later my mom remarried a man (Denny). A few years after that my dad also remarried… a man (Ric). My dad passed away in 2015. My sister and I have been calling Ric “dad” for awhile, though technically he is our step dad. My sister and I are Ric’s remaining family.)
My doctors had scheduled another detailed MRI and a colonoscopy so I had two back to back appointments the Monday after Thanksgiving. This began my “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” While driving to my morning MRI appointment, I was waiting at a red light, minding my own driving business, and a guy plows into me on my drivers side, smashing my door in and my front left tire well area. We exchanged information and took pictures quickly so I could make my appointment (my door didn’t open fully, but my car was drive-able.) As I drove I was in a haze—I couldn’t believe that yet another “event” had happened in this already stressful time. I was weak and tired because the previous day I had done my colonoscopy “Prep”-- for all of you who have been through that, you know what I mean. I couldn’t eat or drink anything until the colonoscopy-- which was scheduled for later that day. By the end of the day I was emotionally and physically drained and overwhelmed.
The next day (one day after my “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”) I received a phone call from Ric’s doctor that Ric was not going to make it. The doctor explained that Ric’s kidney functions and enzyme levels were not stabilizing so his body wasn’t strong enough to go through surgery and his body functions were shutting down. I looked at my calendar and saw that I had five days until my next cancer appointment, so I booked a flight up to Oakland. My sister and her husband Dave changed all their work plans and commitments as well and drove down from Oregon.
We met at the hospital and began sitting by Ric’s side, letting him know we were there even though there were no responses--not a nod or a hand squeeze or a word. (Thankfully he had been in and out of coherency the week before so we had been able to at least call him daily). But now, he was near the end. Nurses told us he was comfortable and that he was aware of our presence, so we kept talking to him about our memories with him and how much we loved him. We prayed over him, read scripture over him, and played music for him. For two days we sat with him while also taking turns dealing with all the legal matters and paper work that go along with the “business of death.” For all who have been through this, it is emotionally wrenching and horribly overwhelming. I was so thankful that my sister and I could work through this together.
On November 30 as we were preparing to go back to the hospital to be with Ric, the doctor called to say he had passed away peacefully. (This is also the day that President George H.W. Bush died). We knew this was coming, but the finality made me numb emotionally. (By this time I felt like a robot, just walking mechanically through each horrible thing that happened). There was still so much to do and process. We spent the day doing more paper work with the will and talking to lawyers, doctors, pastors, and friends. That night we went to one of our favorite places in my hometown (Moresi’s in Clayton) to celebrate Ric and my dad and their lives. It was the place my dad and Ric loved to take us, and it carries many fond memories of our time with them. I flew home the next morning, with my sister and I having many things on our “to do” lists, but at least I was home.
I arrived home and went straight to bed--I had barely slept in the past four days. The next morning, Noah called Greg from Colorado telling him that the ball joint on his truck broke and he was on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck. He was so upset that he didn’t want to tell me—because he knew that every day it seemed there was more bad news. But a mama has to talk to and comfort her son (no matter how old). He was not only upset about his car, but about the money needed to fix it and the unrelenting streak of bad news we had been experiencing. He described it in a perfect way…He said, “I feel like we have wave upon wave crashing upon us and we can’t get out of the water to get air.” True that. I wasn’t going to give him some Biblical passage or Christian cliché. Together we admitted that all of this absolutely sucked, that we were indeed in a “shit storm.” No other way to put it. But as I talked to my son who was far away in Colorado and I couldn’t hug him or be there with him, we shared our grief and our pain with God on the phone together. This whole shit storm was something we couldn’t comprehend. We didn’t know why God was allowing all this to happen in quick succession. We didn’t know why expenses were piling up and phone calls always brought bad news, and why more and more appointments and to do lists added to our already stressed lives.
After we calmed down a bit, I told Noah that over the next days and weeks we would look for the many glimpses that God gives us of hope, beauty and joy. We texted each other daily and told each other what glimpses God had given us that day. We made it through each day. I took my car in to get repaired. I talked with my sister daily regarding our to do lists on the “business of death.” Noah wrote his papers and took his finals. I met my radiation oncologist and found out my treatment plan. We moved forward with glimpses of God’s provision and love; glimpses of joy, beauty and hope.
My treatment plan begins next week. I will have radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks. Simultaneously, I will take a chemotherapy pill twice per day. Once the six weeks are over, I will have a rest and recovery time for about 4-6 weeks. Then I will have surgery to remove the mass and possible chemotherapy and radiation after the surgery recovery. This is a long process—longer than I expected—BUT it is a plan. A plan that has a positive outcome if all goes well. As the doctor was explaining all this to me, I said, “So here’s the deal—I have a graduating senior—he is class president and giving the speech at the ceremony….will this be finished by then?” I mean, I am a planner, and having cancer disrupts all my plans. He told me with a positive attitude that all should be finished by that time.
Now I know that doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly from this point on. Believe me, I have experienced trials and disruptions over and over. Many of you have as well, because people, that is life. It’s how we navigate the journey through the good and bad, the pain and the joy, the darkness and the light that carries us through this life. For me and my family, the only way to do that is through Jesus Christ. Emmanuel, God with Us. When the waves are crashing and we feel like we are drowning, and when the sea is calm and we feel at peace, Emmanuel is always with us. My friend Leah gave me a necklace that has a charm on it that says, “Mightier than the waves of the sea, is His love for me.” God is mighty, even when the waves crash. God is holy, even as the sea is calm. His waves are waves of grace. No matter where we are or what we are going through--mighty God, Emmanuel, reveals Himself through glimpses of joy, beauty and hope. I pray you will find your glimpses this season.