Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Breast Cancer Scare

One Sunday morning as I woke up, I stretched and laid there for a while longer. I must have slept wrong because my left side of my chest was achy. I went to massage the upper part of my chest, but realized there was this lump on the top part of my breast that exceeded into my upper chest. This alarmed me. I never felt this lump before. Could it be a gland of some sort? Could it possibly be a cyst? There wasn’t anything on the other side that matched what I found on my left side. Maybe I strained a muscle from working out I thought. I wouldn’t allow thoughts of the worse to enter my head, I just kept saying to myself, “I had a good workout yesterday,” and left it at that. I headed off to the shower so I could wake up a bit and head out for the day. As I was in the shower, I noticed this lump even more-so. Now thoughts started filling my mind with grim ideas of what it could be. It was during the Christmas holiday and I didn’t want to alarm anyone just yet. I called the doctor, made an appointment and headed off to see him the following day.

As I sat there in his office, the nurse practitioner walked in with a big smile and greeted me warmly. She asked what was going on, I told her about my lump and that it scared me so I wanted to get it checked out. She had me put on this paper-like gown so she can examine me without any restrictions of my blouse. I laid there on the table as her hand was feeling for any abnormalities. As she started going clockwise around my breast, she stopped at the spot I was concerned with. Her fingers stalling at that very spot made my heart sink, I knew she found it. It wasn’t just ‘in my head’ as everyone around me would say. “Oh you’re such a hypochondriac!” I detested that word because a lot of people would describe me as that. My psychiatrist would tell me, “Well you know, hypochondria isn’t such a bad thing, people tend to live longer because they go for more check ups.” That statement didn’t sit well with me either. So I’ll live the rest of my life fearing the worse and sitting on a sheet of paper on the doctor’s table waiting for the “Okay you can live again” response? No, this is not how I want to live life. I refuse to believe that I’m a hypochondriac… Maybe I’ll just be one of those closeted ones. Is it so bad to check out something that doesn’t feel normal on your body? One of the main reasons I have this problem is due to my parents hating doctors. They feel as if you’re looking for problems when you go and check something out. They think it’s ‘all a business’.

To me, early detection of something fatal can be your only chance of surviving. I used to say to my mother, “Ah, I’m having chest pains ma!” Her response would always be the same no matter how bad the pain was, It’s just gas.” She would then hand me a seltzer or something bubbly to ease my gas pains. I could have been in cardiac arrest for all she knew, so she solves it with soda. Usually the case was I did have chest pains due to gas- stomach upset due to acid; still—never take chances when there is a pain in your chest. I guess she knew I had anxiety disorder and chucked it up to stress. I know that she loves me a lot but just doesn’t want to even grasp the thought of something horrible happening to me, so she chucks everything up to ‘gas’. Now that I had this lump, and the nurse noticed it too, she brought the doctor in. The doctor came in, held my hand because he knew how important of an issue this is with women. I felt his empathy as he held my hand and started talking to me about how Lucy Ball from “I Love Lucy” had an episode where she got into a modeling shoot due to wearing a paper-like gown from the doctor’s office. He was trying to comfort me by making me laugh and getting my mind off what was going on. I can see the nurse looking at him as if he has done this one too many times. I was trying to pay attention to his story, but all I can see were his lips moving, but bits and pieces of his story were heard. I was too concerned about his findings. He then started going clockwise on my left breast to double check what the nurse found and what I claimed was there. I has he moved his hand, I felt it stop to where the nurse’s hand stopped. It’s true. There’s something there. He stopped. Now he was trying to move it around. He started going to the other side and stopped there as well.

He said he found a ‘mass’ and a lump. This meant I had two lumps! He explained to me that he was referring me to a radiology clinic so they can perform a mammogram and ultrasound test on me. The words came out of his mouth and I disconnected from the whole entire conversation after that. My body shut down mentally and I didn’t hear a word what they were saying anymore. I got up, got dressed, and headed off to the front counter to get my referral slip for the clinic. The nurse at the counter kept saying, “Make sure that you tell the clinic that we found a mass and a lump and we need both a mammogram and ultrasound. They look down on women who go in there under the age of thirty-five years old.” I was numb. I didn’t hear anything as she was explaining what I should do. I walked out of there feeling alone and almost dead. I thought this was the beginning of the end of my life. As I was in my car, I headed off to the local bar/restaurant where I was going to have dinner with my friend. I ordered a beer and got some soup. We were talking about what happened at the doctor’s office. I didn’t feel any anxiety really, I was numb. My body was going through a self-defense mode. As I was eating my soup, I was noticing that I was unable to swallow. I was choking over soup. How does anyone choke over soup? Each spoonful was the same! I kept choking because my throat was closing up due to anxiety. I then went into a full-fledge anxiety attack. I had to go. I left in a hurry, the owner who I am friends with asked, “Leaving so soon?” I paid my tab and told her that I had an appointment that I forgot about.

While driving home, tears streamed down my face, scared about leaving my family and friends behind. I was scared of going through chemotherapy, scared of losing my hair, scared of the pain and agony of cancer and scared of what my family would go through. It was way too soon for these thoughts to come rushing in my mind, but it was all too real as well. I came home, got into my pajamas and climbed into bed. I was so tired from the mental stress of the news that I received that I slept for twelve hours that evening. My body was telling me that it didn’t want to cope with this. It was an avoidance thing that my body needed to do at that time or I would have gone into another anxiety mode and been awake all night. When I get anxiety attacks, it usually wears me out due to the mental and physical repercussions it has on the body. It takes some toll. I went into a deep sleep that night.

The next day I woke up, I noticed that the lump was still there…just to remind me that ‘I may be sick.’ I called my best friend to tell her what the doctor had found and she was quite worried. Her mother had this scare once and it turned out to be cysts. She had to get them removed surgically. I didn’t even know if I was ready for a surgery type of procedure either. I was just scared about the whole situation. My friend went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and lit a candle for me, and said a prayer. I was very thankful. I went to turn on the television and I was watching a sermon on the Christian channel. The words that spoke out to me were ‘trust and dream’. I kept hearing these words all day. After the third time of hearing these words, I knew it was confirmation that God was speaking to me. I didn’t know how to mingle these words together, but I needed to remember them. I got on my computer and got an e-mail from a person I never met before! She had gone on my photography website that I have had up for some time now and told me how much she loved my photography and wanted the pricing of a photo that she was interested in. On the bottom of her e-mail she had a signature that read this:

Matthew 28:20 And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

This comforted me a great deal. I took this as a sign that God was trying to talk to me. I needed to notice this. He speaks to me through scripture mostly. Sometimes it’s something off the television or just something that someone says. The key is, being open to these signs or you can easily miss them. After reading that scripture, I knew what the word ‘trust’ meant. To me, He was telling me, whether or not I was sick, to trust Him anyway. He sees the ‘big picture’. To me the message meant that I needed to trust him whether sick or not and to rely on Him more-so if I was in fact sick; to not give up on my faith. I prayed, and asked God to heal me if I am sick, to take away my anxiety and comfort me. I told him that if I am sick, to please not leave me. I trust that He knows what he’s doing. I know that everything happens for a reason and I needed to be patient and go through whatever it is He calls me to. I drew closer to Him and noticed that I needed to appreciate the people in my life more, appreciate what I have more, and to live life more as if it were my last day. To me, that statement is hard. What would I do on my last day on earth? I don’t want to go bungee jumping, I have no desire to go skydiving, and I certainly don’t want to go mountain climbing. I know people say they would do this if it were their last day here on earth, but to me, I would eat the most fattening foods, my favorite wines, spend time with my family and my closest friends and enjoy every moment. I would have a party and focus on the people I love the most.

I told a few of my friends about what the doctor found and they said some kind words, said prayers for me and wished me well. They were all so supportive. Even my friends that were across the country wished me well and gave me their support. My friend in Chicago sent me a scripture that meant a lot to me. It was confusing at first because I didn’t know how to apply this to my own situation, but it made a lot of sense when I reread it.

Proverbs 16:24 Kind words are like honey—sweet for the soul and healthy for the body.

To me, all the prayers from my friends and loved ones, all the warm wishes from people who were concerned and tried comforting me, healed my body. In the King James version of this proverb, it says, “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” The positive words that people say produce a positive outcome. Prayers are so powerful that people don’t understand the depth of how much prayer can help someone. It is the greatest gift you can offer when someone is going through something. I’d rather prayers then ‘get well’ balloons any day. By this time, my feeling towards this whole ordeal has changed from a negative to more of a positive experience although I was still quite scared. Four days before New Year’s Eve I went to get my mammogram and ultrasound tests done. I sat there and waited for a few minutes when the technician called me in to examine me. She was abrupt and very curt. “Come in this waiting room, strip from your waist up and put on a pink gown and I’ll be in to examine you in a few minutes.” She said in a very stern voice. She walked out and I went in the small dressing room to put this pretty pink gown on, it was a neat sort of lavender-pinkish color. I walked out of the dressing room into this beautifully decorated waiting room for women only. The mammogram machines were in other rooms, but this waiting room was designed for women getting their exams.

As I sat there waiting, I was cold and very nervous. I felt my chest getting very heavy and felt my heart beating a bit faster. The door opens, and another nurse walks in with this Spanish lady getting her exam done. She had to do the same drill as I did. When she went to sit down and fill out her papers, she looked up at me and said, “Don’t I know you?” in a thick Spanish accent. I wasn’t sure as I looked up at her and then recognized her accent and face. I realized she used to be my nail technician two years back. She was very nice, but we had a hard time communicating since she had broken English and I hardly knew the Spanish language. We immediately started talking and surprisingly I understood everything she said, as if God opened up the lines of communication, and accent wasn’t a problem anymore. She even said some Spanish words that I understood. We both sat there with these pink gowns. She said she wasn’t nervous at all because she does this every year-- it was her annual check up. She must be in her mid forties I thought. I told her that the doctor sent me here because of what he found. My technician came in and ordered me into the examination room. As she was preparing the table and setting it up for my breast to be flat as a pancake, she looked at me and said, “I’m not going to lie to you kiddo, this is gonna hurt.” That’s all I needed to hear as my heart beat sped up a bit faster. I wanted to lighten things up so I asked her, “You guys don’t serve martinis for this gig?”
She started laughing and said, “Let me tell you, I wish they did because my job is boring as hell!”

We both chuckled for a moment and then it was time for my torture. It wasn’t as bad as people say it is, but there was discomfort. I didn’t think that my breasts could conform into a pancake, but they did… After it was done, I had to do the ultrasound. I went into another room with another technician, who set me up and started examining me with this big rod that looked like a microphone. I was trying to stare at her face as she was checking her monitor to see if there were any abnormalities. Her face was expressionless. No surprised look, no relieved look- just a cold-stoned face. I guess she could see how fast my heart is beating due to the ultrasound being on my chest. She knew I was having anxiety, yet I don’t show it on the outside. When she was done, she looked at me with this ‘secretive sort of way’ and whispered, “It looks fine.” She said this as if it was top secret information. Well, in fact it was. She could have gotten in trouble for revealing that to me, but I think she sensed my fear of the whole examination. Although she said that, she also stated that the mammogram can say something different. This left me at stage one really. I left the office feeling very icky from all the lubrication stuff that they used on me to do the ultrasound. I had cleaned up most of it, but it still was really uncomfortable. I went home, showered up and just rested for the remainder of the day. The technician said I would get the results in two days. On that last day of waiting, I was expecting a phone call from my doctor’s office with whatever sort of news he was going to give me. I called the office at 10am and got the receptionist.

“Hi I’m just calling for my results to see if they’re in from the radiology clinic.” I asked in a nervous tone.
“We have them here, but the doctor needs to get done with his clients and he will call you as soon as possible, I can’t reveal those test results to you at this time.”
The receptionist said as she sounded as if she needed to get off the phone and handle other patients. I watched the clock practically all day. Twelve noon came, and went…2pm came and went…I was finally getting upset. It must be bad! It must be news that they are hesitant to give me! I started to panic. I called them four times to see if the doctor was ready to tell me. I kept getting the same receptionist and she said, “We are overwhelmed with people due to the holidays and the flu shots, so when he gets a minute he will call you, I can’t disclose this information with you because it’s against the law.” I sat there after I hung up the phone and felt sort of numb, but understood her position as well. I went under the covers of my bed and thought to myself that I am not getting out of this bed until I hear good news. I was being very stubborn and decided that I was going to remain in this bed because I couldn’t handle the stress of waiting. I somehow couldn’t sleep though, I got very fidgety. I got up to walk in the living room. I started praying to God. I prayed for a long time. I asked Him for another chance, to please have the news be good. So I opened up the bible. The first scripture that came out to me was:

Nahum 1:15 Look! A messenger is coming over the mountains with good news! He is bringing a message of peace.

My heart felt as if weight had been lifted off it. I knew God was telling me the results of my tests. I trusted that it was God speaking to me, and I dreamed that it was God talking to me. Trust and dream; the two words that God has been throwing my way. Instead of throwing myself into my bed, I got up and headed for the shower, to get ready and celebrate the good news. I knew that it was going to be good, because I trusted in God. It was almost as if the doctor called me with the results.

At 5pm I got a phone call, after I was all dolled up and ready to go out with my friend. The nurse called to tell me that my test results were normal. Normal? Negative. Nothing was wrong with me. I was fine! I thanked God for the good news…I was so happy! I felt as if I had my life back again. I can now ‘dream’. I was relieved of all the anxiety that came upon me during that waiting period. I opened the bible up again as I was praying and this scripture jumped out at me:

Luke 10:19 And I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them, Nothing will injure you.

Thank you God!

Job 11:18 You will have courage because you will have hope. You will be protected and will rest in safety.

In the time I was worrying about my health and fearing the worse, I failed to realize that God was with me the whole time. I focused mostly on my surroundings and my family. My fear overwhelmed me; thoughts of what death would be like or even worse—what being terminally ill would be like. To me, getting sick was my worse fear.

Romans 8:10-11 Since Christ lives within you, even though your body will die because of sin, your spirit is alive because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus form the dead, lives in you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, he will give life to your mortal body by this same Spirit living within you.

You can interpret this scripture in a few ways. In ‘my’ interpretation, it means that death is not the end. Death is just our outer shell retiring. The only factor that was unsettling in my mind was leaving the people I loved. I do believe that time in heaven is shortened; where as one year to us, would be equivalent to ten minutes in heaven... So then, why would I worry so much about leaving my loved ones? I guess a lot has to due with having 100% faith; not 50%, not 97%, but without a doubt 100%. Even some of our pastors, priests and nuns may have only 90% faith. I guess it goes with the conflict of science and religion, earthly things vs. spirituality and words that may influence your thinking. Again, if you are distant with God, your faith can dwindle a bit because you don’t ‘see’ Him, or hear His words so clearly (in whatever form He talks to you)…

When the relationship becomes closer to God, that’s when faith and belief becomes much stronger. It’s also the same with having faith that God will help you. I somewhat believed that God would pull me out of this, but I also knew that sometimes God does things in mysterious ways, so whatever the result was, I had to trust Him that He knows best. I prayed and prayed for His help to get positive results…but my faith that it would happen wasn’t certain.

John 5:14 And we can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in like with his will. And if we know he is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that he will give us what we ask for.

John 14:12-14 The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I an going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, because the work of the Son brings glory to the Father. Yes, ask anything in my name, and I will do it!


So now, Jesus says this to us, and yet we only have less than 100% faith? This is almost an insult to God as though you doubt His words. I had to go in with 100% faith.

It’s almost like baseball. Baseball you ask? Yes, in fact the analogy came to me while praying about this. Jesus is the King of analogies in the book of John—sometimes I really have to sit and think about it for moment before I can truly grasp it. Think about it, if the batter is up waiting for the pitcher to throw is best curve ball and the batter hits it with all his might—the ball goes flying out of the stadium then it’s a homerun, right? This means he has automatically won a point. The winning is there, already given, done, completed and defeated; however the batter must walk the bases still. He can take his sweet time walking those bases because no one can take him ‘out’ again. His homerun is already promised. Same holds true for us when we ask God for something. We need to know that it has already been given to us; we just need to go through the ‘bases’ so to speak and come back to the ‘home’ plate. If God brings you to it, He will get you through it, you just have to be willing to walk and trust in Him. He has already given us the gift of being saved. Now the devil can try to discourage you from walking the bases and let you remain in doubt—and walk back into the dugout. So with that automatic win- with no one to take you ‘out’ of the game, you have given up! The devil can put some horrible thoughts in your head that can make you absolutely physically sick. Remember, you defeated the devil already by believing in God. The work has already been done through Christ’s sacrifice and your belief in Him. You have officially made a homerun! Congratulations!