A few weeks ago I had my first mammogram. The pandemic delayed my appointment by several months, but at last it was time to face this middle aged rite of passage. The exam wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated and I didn’t dwell on the results at all. That is, until I received a notice later that week indicating that additional imaging was needed. As I talked to many wise women in my life, I mostly felt assured that this was standard practice to establish a baseline and calcifications are quite normal.
As my scary sounding “diagnostic mammogram” approached this week, I sometimes let my thoughts wander as I prayed. I’m not often a worst case scenario thinker and oddly I didn’t feel much fear. It was more like asking God, “Is this what you have planned for me? Will breast cancer be part of my life journey? I know you will work all things for good, God. Will this experience deepen my faith and trust in you?”
Last Tuesday during a morning run, I really went there and imagined the worst while listening to Christmas music. As I ran the last lap around the park, after the album I chose finished, the app automatically started playing similar music. In this case is was a song called “Be Still” by Shannon Wexelberg and the lyrics reached right into my soul and quieted it with peace:
To ride on Your shoulders
And not fear tomorrow
Embrace with abandon
The places we’ll go
To listen for whispers straight into my heart
certain I’m never alone
To simply be still and know
To know You are God and to bask in Your peace
to dance in Your grace like the rain
to know You are God and you’re fighting for me
nothing will stand in Your way
So I am laying down
Questions that haunt me now
Answers I’ll just never know
Just for the chance to meet You here again
And all for the joy just to know
The God of the heavens
You formed me and made me
You water the depths of my soul
Would You keep calling me back to the shore
Oh love that will not let me go
To simply be still
To simply be still and know
As the appointment day neared (on my mom’s birthday, unfortunately!), I prayed a lot. In hindsight, it feels like the Holy Spirit guided my thoughts and feelings during those days, as I started to reason through what was likely to happen. Instead of either getting an all clear or a cancer diagnosis, they could very well decide that more testing was needed. Dennis and I debated having him go with me, but thanks to Covid-19 he’d have to sit in the car, so I opted to go alone. This exam was more painful as they had specific areas they needed to image extensively.
The kind technician brought the pathologist in to talk to me just moments after concluding the mammogram. She explained that the clusters of calcifications are suspicious looking enough that they want to do biopsies on both breasts. Taking a deep breath and feeling a slight panic flood over me, I was able to ask a few questions about the biopsy process. It felt a lot like being the 5-year-old in the pediatricians office asking questions about the injection I was about to receive!
The women were all so nurturing and quickly brought me tissues as I started to cry. They ushered me to another kind woman who called over to schedule the biopsy and walk me through the next steps. I prayed and breathed deeply as we scheduled the procedure for exactly a week later and discussed logistics. When explaining that I shouldn’t lift anything heavy for a few days, the assistant asked me if I had kids. I said, “Yes, but they’re too big to pick up now.” Then, she asked me, “How old are your kids?” The emotion I was holding in overflowed as I burst into tears.
My ultimate fear of dying is not for myself. I know that I’ll be with Jesus and in perfect peace. But, my kids need me. In my heart the response to this question was “Too young to lose their mother.”
As I prayed and processed yesterday, I realized that I’ll likely get the biopsy results just a few days before Christmas. On one hand this seems like poor timing, but then I reflected on an idea I’d come across years ago in the beautiful writing of Tish Harrison Warren. She wrote: Mourning and thanksgiving are not only not opposed to each other but often grow together, so intricately entwined that we can’t stifle one without killing the other.
I’ve had a taste of this over the past week. The fear I’ve been feeling has intensified my ability to be present and thankful for life. Likely (percentage-wise), the results of the biopsy will be benign. But, should the results indicate further treatment is needed, I’ll be surrounded by my family and filled with love, hope, and peace as we celebrate Christ’s birth. The tender moments will be that much more tender.
This morning I started reading Henri J. M. Nouwen’s Here and Now and experienced another moment of consolation from the Holy Spirit as I came to a section on joy. Nouwen wrote: “Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” Then, he goes on to say: “We are inclined to think that when we are sad we cannot be glad, but in the life of a God-centered person, sorrow and joy can exist together,” (pg. 30).
The next couple weeks will be a mix of anticipation, fear, peace, and joy. I’ll be resting in prayer and then wrestling with my thoughts, over and over again. I’d love your prayers for a benign result and a holiday season filled with thankfulness and joy.