Milestones matter. As the designated Keeper of the Firsts and the Lasts in my family, I love reflecting on our journey, remembering what God has brought us through.
Five years ago, I found a lump in my neck. I found it and promptly forgot about it because I wasn’t paying attention to my neck (who does?), and then found it again. I showed it to a friend, who told me to go to the doctor. The doctor sent me for a precautionary ultrasound and eventually a biopsy. Results? Inconclusive. Then came a major car accident and physical therapy, so I put off the redo of the biopsy until my neck healed. Three months later, I returned to the doctor, knowing that the growth was 95% likely to be benign. I waited in relative peace, or at least distraction, while I homeschooled our four active kids. A week later, my doctor’s secretary called to ask me to come in the next day for my test results.
When Ken and I arrived, feeling a bit uneasy, the doctor was brief but encouraging—the first of several to use the oxymoron “a good cancer.” Unfortunately, I remembered almost nothing of what she said. My mind blared “CANCER CANCER CANCER,” while my husband took notes and made sense of the conversation.
The week of Thanksgiving, I underwent a complete thyroidectomy. In January, after I had recovered from surgery, navigated a low-iodine diet, and received a shot that cost more than our entire homeschool year, I swallowed a highly radioactive pill that put me at risk for other cancers (oh, the irony) and then sequestered myself in the basement for a week while friends and family cared for my kids.
Five years is noteworthy in the world of oncology. For me, it means no more scans and no more low-iodine diets as long as my bloodwork looks good. “NED” (no evidence of disease) is close enough to cured for me.
In honor of 5 years, here are 5 reflections from that time:
- With God, I can face my worst fears. We all have them, and cancer was it for me. God gently forced me to face it, putting me on an exercise plan of choosing to trust him minute by minute. With his help, I found I could take even the darkest thoughts captive…those “what ifs” that want to wreak havoc. During those months, I thought of the many times I had prayed for people with cancer and marveled that the same was now being done for me. There is an invisible network of prayer warriors filling up those golden bowls in heaven (Rev. 5:8).
- Show compassion, even in the produce aisle. The week I began the low-iodine diet that precedes all thyroid scans, I cried in the grocery store because I couldn’t figure out what was safe to eat. Every label contained something forbidden. If I ever see someone crying in the store, I’ll stop to check on them. Knowing that others might be going through hard and hidden struggles helps me extend grace more freely.
- Let people share their news in their own way and in their own time. I chose not to post on social media about my cancer, not because I didn’t want people to know (though I am private), but because I wanted them to hear it directly from me as much as possible. I can’t hug a friend who’s reading my Facebook post, but I can hug her when I tell her my diagnosis face to face. Having the gift of mercy meant that telling people was the hardest part, much harder than being the patient. As a friend, I appreciate being trusted with the news in whatever way (and whenever) someone chooses to share.
- Love comes in all shapes and sizes. While I was living in the basement, my 6-year-old daughter tossed paper airplanes down the steps to me several times a day. Each one had a love note written on it. I still have them. Other friends showered us with cards, fuzzy socks, flowers, visits, childcare, and more delicious dinners than we could count. God used His body of believers to love each member of my family.
- “In sickness and in health” has its own kind of beauty. Ken took notes at all my doctor appointments, asked questions I didn’t know to ask, and held my hand every day. He talked to friends when I couldn’t, gave me space to grieve while working through his own emotions, and made me laugh. In 24 years of marriage, it was one of those “for better or for worse” times when I felt the most loved, more than by any fancy dinner or romantic getaway. (But I still like those too.)
Today I’m so grateful for God’s faithfulness and the certainty of his presence. “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (Ps. 18:19 NIV).