This picture was taken about 5 days or so after I had surgery to remove the melanoma from my hand. It's kind of a weird picture that I took using the webcam. In fact, when John saw it, he said what is that, your knee? So in case anyone else is having a hard time making sense of this picture, it's actually my hand - just held up super close to the camera. I don't even understand how he got a leg and a knee out of this?...plus he of all people should know that I am so not capable of pulling off such impressive acrobatic feats.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
So anyway, when I first found out that I had malignant melanoma, I was scared, sure - but I also remember kneeling down immediately and thanking my Heavenly Father for prompting me to get in to the doctor when I did. He blessed me in that moment with an overwhelming sense of peace...along with the assurance that everything would turn out ok. Nothing beats the satisfaction of knowing that your life is in bigger hands...even in the Lord's perfect, loving, healing hands.
My dermatologist's office gave me the name and number of a Mohs surgeon to call for an appointment. I have to admit that it was a bit disheartening to hear that I would have to wait 6 weeks for surgery. Even though I had received that strong assurance that everything would be alright, I sometimes couldn't stop the fear from setting in. I'm ashamed to admit that there were days in which I couldn't even see the point in living anymore. All kinds of scenarios entertained my thoughts....bad, ugly scenarios. Of course most of them centered around me not being able to beat the disease and leaving my children motherless, and my dear husband a young widower. Some days those thoughts (which I now totally recognize as coming from the adversary) got the better of me, and for a day or two at a time, I stopped being a mom and a wife altogether. I remember one day, just lying on the couch in the kids' playroom- staring blankly at a wall - while they entertained themselves...for hours and hours. I had to come to the realization that no matter what I was going through, or what the future held, I was still their mother...that I was still living and breathing; and that as long as that air was still filling my lungs, and as long as my heart was still pumping blood - I had a right, even a responsibility to be those kids' mom. So fortunately, I snapped out of the whole woe is me mindset, and returned to living, and loving, and enjoying life to it's fullest. Sure, in that 6 weeks leading up to my surgery, there were still days of uncertainty, maybe a little bit of fear...anxiety for sure. But most of all I was just anxious to be rid of such an intrusive disease. I hated the thought and feeling that something so horrific - even the very culprit of my own mother's death - was invading my body...albeit just a part of my body. It made me mad more than anything.
I was at home one Sunday afternoon with sick kids...it was a couple of weeks before my scheduled surgery, and I was starting to get anxious for John to walk in the door (seeing how it was already a good 45 minutes after the completion of our block of Sunday meetings). Finally, after about an hour, he greeted me in the family room - puffy eyed and splotchy faced. Through his tears he opened up to me about a lot of his feelings, along with some of his fears - feelings and fears which evidently had been plaguing him for weeks. I have to admit, I was pretty shocked. Not shocked that he was actually worried about me, or that he, too, was concerned and unsure about our future, as well as the outcome of my diagnosis; but maybe just a little shocked that he was just now opening up about it and sharing such raw emotion with me. John's not a big crier...at least not in front of me. It wasn't until a couple of years after we lost our baby boy, Isaac, that he shared with me how during that time he would wait til I had fallen asleep in my hospital bed -when it was dark and everyone had gone home for the night - to cry. And because he had to be strong and hold the tears back all day long, he almost couldn't stop the flood gates at night...and some nights, he told me, he would cry until the sun came up. I married such a tender man...he just doesn't very often wear his heart of his sleeve like I do. So anyway, he came home from church that afternoon, and was really, really upset. He told me that he was afraid, and that he didn't want to lose me, and that he didn't know what he would do it I was taken away from him. He explained to me that the reason he was so late getting home from church was because he was sharing some of these same feelings with our relief society president, and that afterwards our Bishop pulled him into his office and asked John what his thoughts were about holding a ward fast in my behalf. John was very touched...completely on board in fact, but warned the Bishop that he didn't think I would be too keen on the idea.
Sure enough, when John shared all of this with me, I was pretty reluctant to the suggestion. Not because I don't have faith in the power of fasting and prayer, because I do...especially when whole bodies of people come together and join their faith in one common purpose. I have literally seen miracles happen that way. So it wasn't because of any doubt on my part, or a lack of faith...it was quite simply, because of my own pride and embarrassment, because of the undue attention, and mostly because - even though I had been worried, and my family had been worried - I just didn't feel like this was a serious enough matter to bother the church members with. Living in Arizona, I'm sure that many of them had experienced exactly what I was going through, even worse, and we had never done a ward fast for them. After putting much thought into it, I finally concluded that I needed to let go of my pride. The Lord taught me through his Holy Spirit, that not only would this fast benefit me and my family, but that it would strengthen the faith of the ward members. That it would be good for them to come together, to unite their faith, and to witness the miracles of the Lord.
Not having my family close by, I - now more than ever - feel like I have a huge support group in my ward family - a giant family of members who have embraced me, loved me, and treated me like their own daughter or sister. That ward fast was the best thing that could have ever happened.
I went in for my surgery two weeks later. It was early morning, December 16, 2009. I wasn't scared. I didn't feel nervous. Actually the word excited probably best describes the way that I felt as John drove me to the surgical center. Excited may be a weird word to use in reference to surgery...but I think I felt that way mostly because I knew that at the end of the day, this whole nightmare would be over.
The surgery was performed under a local anesthetic, which means I was awake and alert for the whole thing, which means - because it was on my hand (and not my face or some other inconspicuous body part) - I was privileged (or ill-fated...depending on how you look at it) to watch the whole thing.
Mohs surgery is performed in 4 steps, and sometimes several stages are necessary (repeating each step) in removing all the cancer. First, they remove all the visible cancerous tissue, along with a small section of surrounding tissue. Then, they map the tissue by freezing and cutting it into microscopic pieces and shooting a dye through it. By staining the tissue, the pathologist is then able to study the sections on slides under a microscope, and determine where the cancer is traveling...if it is. This process if repeated until no further cancer is found.
For me, the actual surgery lasted only about 15 minutes, but we had to wait over 3 hours in the waiting room while they processed the slides. Fortunately for us, only one stage was required and I was pronounced "cancer free". After all those weeks of anticipating...of worrying and wondering, of praying and fasting, of crying, and almost even throwing in the towel...those two words were like sweet music to my ears. I felt relieved, and liberated, like I had just subdued the enemy...because I had. Cancer is my enemy...it's my big huge fat archenemy. It took the life of my very best friend - my mom. We all know and love someone who has fallen prey to this merciless disease. It seems to have no boundaries. So hearing the words "you're cancer free!", made me feel like I had overcome a lot...like I had accomplished something great. Of course I would feel very ungrateful if I didn't recognize my Heavenly Father's hand in all of this. Like I said earlier, it is so comforting to know that someone who really knows us, someone who is so much bigger and greater than we are, has us tucked safely in the palm of His hand.
And I'm especially grateful He's allowed me to stick around for awhile.