Friday, September 10, 2010

A Milestone Moment

As I write this I find myself experiencing a sense of complete awe.  A long journey that my wife Joan and I began over five years ago has come to an end.

You see, five years ago this past February, Joan was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Not only did she have cancer, her cancer was in stage three, no a good place to be.  The tumor measured 4.5 cm by 5.5 cm, roughly the size of a small egg.  Doctors delivered the news grimly and with great urgency because of the large size of the tumor.

Immediately, she began what was to be six rounds of chemotherapy in an attempt to combat the cancer prior to surgery which would be performed down the road.  The hopes were, in the beginning, that the tumor would, perhaps, shrink by half and hopefully not have metastasized.  Every three weeks, we traveled to Springfield, Illinois, where, under the watchful eye of the staff of the SIU School of Medicine, the toxic chemicals were administered.

The staff couldn't have been better.  They were kind and very understanding.  We had heard so much about the horrible complications of chemo, yet, we also knew it was the one way we had of combating this dreadful disease.

I watched as Joan braced herself with each visit for all the sticking of needles and the slow drip, drip, drip of the medication that was formulated to seek and destroy the cancerous lesion.  One of the chemicals, a bright red liquid resembling cherry kool-aid had to be administered by a nurse who was dressed head to toe in a specialized suit designed to protect them from the chemical that they slowly injected into Joan's frail veins.  The chemical was so strong that if but one drop happened to spill onto the skin, it would quickly burn through the layers.  Fortunately that never happened.

Round after round of chemo, I watched Joan and developed a deep admiration for my wife that I had not had before.  Her chemo treatments involved a number of different needle sticks.  This would not be a problem if she had veins that were easy to access.  However, her veins did not cooperate.  They rolled, shrank, and did everything but disappear the minute the cold steel of the needle came into contact with them.  Time and again, she withstood the stabbing without uttering a word.  I saw the pain in her eyes, but she was determined that this not get the best of her and it never did.

In addition, the violent illness we had heard so much about surrounding the administration of chemo never materialized.  This was due, in part, to some wonderful drugs that were administered a couple of days before and after the chemo itself.  And, if these things weren't enough, within 48 hours of the chemo, she had to return to the doctor to endure a shot of a drug designed to boost her immune system so that she would not be susceptible to such things as colds and flu which, without her immune system in full strength could prove to be fatal.

After six rounds of chemo administered over an 18 week period, doctors found upon examination of the tumor that it had shrunk to nearly nothing.  It was now time for surgery.

On the morning of August 9, 2005, the woman that I love so very much, accompanied a surgical nurse down the hallway of the operating suites of Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, to have the tumor excised and to ensure that there had been no spread of the cancer. 

The clock, at that moment, stopped for me.  Every second seemed an hour and every time someone came through the door from the operating rooms area, I jumped up expecting to talk to her surgeon.  I tried to read.  I paced.  I drank what seemed to be gallons of water from the nearby water fountain.  Still, no doctor.

Now during this time, your mind likes to conger up everything that could have gone wrong or imagine that a new and even more frightening discovery has been made.  Finally, after about 50 minutes, the doctor came through the surgical suite door and called out my name.  I sprang to my feet and was at his side in a second.  He then delivered the good news.  When he entered the area where the tumor was located, he could not find it!  It had shrunk to 2mm!  The surgical team could literally not even see it, finding only the little clip that was implanted into the center of the tumor before chemo began.

Once Joan healed, she then faced 36 radiation treatments.  Every day with the exception of Saturday and Sunday, we trekked over to Springfield for her five minute treatment.  With radiation, she was first given a general area dose of the invisible rays.  Her last 10 treatments, however, were concentrated on the exact spot where the tumor had resided.  This caused intense burning that was every bit as painful as a deep sunburn.  Still, Joan did not complain.

Once the treatments were complete, it was time to go back to the doctor and for the next five years, visits to the oncologist became a way of life. 

Today, on our final visit to Springfield, we were given the word.  There has been no recurrence of the cancer and it is, in fact, in complete remission!  In other words, the doctor said, Joan has been completely cured of breast cancer.

What an emotional moment.  I remember back to the dark days right after the diagnosis and my sleepless nights worrying and wondering how all of this would turn out.  I turned to God and my faith to sustain us.  I knew that the Heavenly Physician would take care of things and that if it meant a cure, fantastic.  But I also understood that it was quite possible that a cure would be impossible and that would have to be fantastic as well.  Whatever the outcome, we would deal with it in dignity, integrity and with complete faith in God.

Thankfully, the route granted by God was a cure. 

During these five years, much has happened.  Joan's mother died shortly after chemo had begun.  It was a sudden death.  We welcomed into the family a little girl named Keirah who brought a sense of joy into our lives that cannot be expressed.  Earlier this year, Joan's beloved father died, also quite suddenly.   And, then, of course, there were all those daily stresses and strains that make up life. 

I am humbled by so many things in this story.

First, I am humbled and eternally grateful to a God who stood by us through the whole ordeal, giving us the strength to press on.  He gave Joan the courage to endure the pain of chemo and surgery and the burns of radiation without losing her faith in Him.

Secondly, I am humbled by the courage and bravery exhibited by Joan.  No one can ever know what she went through inside, but I had the honor to accompany her on this journey and saw the inner strength of a woman that is beyond remarkable.

Thirdly, I am humbled by all those who offered their prayers and support through all of this.  In particular, I am so thankful for Joan's family who, like a rock, served as an anchor through it all without ever really knowing it.

And fourth, I am humbled that I could have been guided to marry such a courageous soul as Joan.  She has always sustained me and I was only too glad to lend what support I could to her as she endured the physical and emotional pain through this trying time.

Now that we have emerged on the other side of this journey, I can truly say that we are closer than ever before.  God has granted this miracle (one of the doctors actually called this a miracle!) so that we may now reach out to others in our own way so that as they begin facing the crisis of a cancer diagnosis, they do not have to give up or give in.  Through Joan's story and countless others similar to this, they can know that real miracles can and do happen in this day and age.

As the future unfolds before us, I ask a gracious God to guide our path to do His will, to give Him honor and praise in thanksgiving for this amazing outcome.  Take this story into your hearts and hold onto it for those days when all seems lost.  For, as I have learned, nothing is ever lost as long as we have faith!