Less than three weeks ago, everything was fine; everything was normal. My recently adopted dog, Coakley, and I had developed a rhythm that kept both of us happy and always included hiking multiple miles a day and dedicated time with a special rope toy. I had just bought the perfect fall sweater and a found the green khaki jacket for which I had been looking for three years now. The mums for the the front door had been purchased and were beginning to open up at frequent watering. I was ready to spend a quiet week at the church office catching up on things and working ahead toward Advent as most everyone else was in Bowling Green was on Fall Break.
And then I got sick.
It began subtly on Sunday, with an uneasy, queasy feeling that cut my hike with Coakley short, and on Monday it progressed to stomach cramps and getting sick. By Wednesday I knew that it was something more severe than a stomach bug or food poisoning since it had yet to pass; so I went to an urgent care facility in town that morning, hoping to get something to help with nausea maybe some strong pepto. Literally that was 15 days ago, but it feels like years.
The urgent care doc sent me to a doctor at the hospital in Bowling Green, and she checked me into the ER for fluids, IV anti-nausea meds, and for a CT scan to check to see if the problem might be the gallbladder or the appendix or something else. Four hours and two bottles of contrast fluid later, I was getting my first CT scan and began to key a few people into the troublesome progression of my day. I left the house that morning, thinking I’d be back in a couple of hours and I was rounding the corner on the work day and with the potential for an emergency surgery on the other side of that CT scan.
The scan came back, and yes, it would require some further thought and investigation, but not because it was the appendix or gallbladder acting up, but because there was a large mass in my abdomen. Everyone in the ER was doing everything they could to avoid saying that it might be cancer, until they couldn’t avoid it any longer. With the limitations of the hospital in town, it was pretty clear that I’d need to go to a larger hospital for an oncological surgeon. Two hours later I was on a stretcher in an ambulance making small talk with Brent, the EMT, as I was transported to Vanderbilt. At this point, I had only admitted that I was sick and needed help for less than 12 hours ago.
Vacillating between intense pain and extreme nausea, I spent the next several hours in the over capacity ER at Vanderbilt until I was able to get a room on a surgical floor the next day. Medications and tubes and all the wonderful things that hospitals bring filled the next few days as my intestinal system calmed down and we waited for a biopsy to come back.
The days were filled with what felt like hundreds of doctors at various levels in their training, thousands of medications, and far too many IV ports (five in total). The days were filled with quiet waiting, watching TV waiting, with visiting with friends and family waiting. The days were filled with an ever-widening circle of those who knew that I was sick and that it was complex, at best.
The biopsy came back inconclusive and I took a breath and thought, perhaps, this would be easier. Maybe it would be easier to face a major surgery with hope for the best rather than knowing the potential worst. The surgery, they knew would be long and complicated, was necessary and there was never any question that it would have to happen.
At this point, “everything was fine” felt like a lifetime ago. Oddly, the surgeon didn’t ask if I had just bought mums that needed to be watered, or a dog that I had just recently adopted that would be missing me. And I forgot to bring it up, but she didn’t ask how my Fall sweater collection was coming. Everything was fine, except all of the sudden it wasn’t. All that mattered was that I was sick, and all signs were pointing to it being cancer.
Surgery lasted nearly 10 hours, but all the tumors were removed and now it was just time to heal and wait. I came home from the hospital still not knowing the results of the pathology report, but it finally came back showing no cancer markers and requiring no further treatment, only no-annual scans to assure that it stays not cancer. I know that this caught some of you off guard, and I understand this feeling (three weeks ago me is surprised, too!). It is odd that less than a month ago, I had no need to celebrate not having cancer, but now, it is cause for joy. There has been so much rejoicing and joy and celebration at this news, and I invite you to join in this celebration of Not Cancer.
In the days before surgery and the days after my hospital room was full of friends and family who live in the Nashville area; it was full of cards and flowers. My phone was full of messages of those praying for and with me, and my heart was full of those praying for me. Every new nurse that came in commented on how warm the room felt or how loved I must be, and I just continually asserted that how lucky I am to be so loved and that I could tell just how much people were praying for me.
Hundreds of folks were praying for me in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee and all over the U.S.; they were praying for me in South Africa, Canada, and Israel. There were multiple churches praying for me and at least one seminary and two dioceses that were holding me in prayer. There were people praying for me who I don’t even know and people who have known me my whole life. I’m so grateful for each of these prayers and for each of these people who have prayed for me.
I’m just on the cusp of being able to process the past three weeks. Thankfully, my brother and his family have taken in my dog while I heal and I’ve accepted that the mums may be lost. I’ve got my red sweater and green jacket as I begin the long road of healing from a complex surgery from the Not Cancer. My days are filled with resting, reading, taking short walks outside, and praying prayers of gratitude for all of you.
My prayers are saturated with joy and gratitude for the beginning recovery and for all the those who continue to hold me in prayer. They are filled with unspeakable thanksgiving for all those who have helped me so far in the hot mess that these past weeks have held. They are filled with hope for the future and for a full and healthy recovery.
But my prayers, in a much more concrete way than before, have held those who have to navigate a hospital room alone. They hold those don’t have insurance to cover the weeks that go from everything is fine to the potential of cancer; they hold those who don’t have a supportive and loving job that they long to return to. I pray for those for whom one hospital bill, much less the continual flow that a not cancer diagnosis brings, will wipe out their foundation.
I look ahead with a few crazy weeks behind me and Not Cancer sitting beside me; I look ahead with joy at returning to Christ Church, WKU, and the Diocese of Kentucky. I covet your prayers as I heal and recover from surgery and begin to let all that has happened the past few weeks sink in. Pray for those who have walked beside me and all those who will continue to do so in the coming weeks and months.