Almost four weeks ago, my family began a journey we never saw coming. A journey we never planned. A journey we never dreamed about. That journey started with a diagnosis of cancer.
My mom, Nana to those who know her, quit smoking near the beginning of January, Since that time, she has struggled with her breathing. At times, it was so bad she was having panic attacks. We finally decided we needed help and made a trip to the emergency room.
When we arrived, they immediately started her on oxygen, ran all the ‘normal’ tests, EKG, X-rays, breathing treatments, etc. Her breathing was not improving, but getting worse. They finally decided they were going to admit her to the ICU and the ICU managing doc called for a blood gas draw. They did so and discovered she was not exchanging oxygen and CO2 very effectively.
A normal CO2 level is determined on a case by case basis and hers was much higher than it should’ve been. They placed her on a BiPAP ventilator. Nana has claustrophobia so you can imagine how she felt about that mask being over her face. Eventually, they gave her something to relax her and she slept.
The next day, the doc ordered a CT scan of her throat and lungs. The scan showed a nodule on her vocal cords. They performed a scope. The doc said he thought it was cancer and he was concerned.
That same evening, an ENT was called in to do a second scope and it was decided she needed to be transferred to a bigger hospital who would have the ability to do a better scope and a biopsy of the nodule.
After 3 days in the new hospital, the surgery was scheduled. The ENT said depending on what he found when he started the scope, she may need a tracheal tube to help her breathe. He performed the surgical scope. Thirty minutes into the surgery, the ENT came out to speak with us and said it was cancer and it was worse than originally thought. He, at this point, said he thought it would mean a laryngoscopy. Nana was going to lose her voicebox and vocal cords. I have never felt such deep grief in my entire life. I’ve lost loved ones and while I grieved, it felt nothing like what I experienced when I heard this news.
He told us she would definitely need a tracheal tube to ensure her airway was safe and stable. He went back in to perform the trachea and another thirty minutes passed. He comes out and tells us the trachea went well. Her airway is secured and that the results of the type and stage of cancer probably wouldn’t be back until sometime the first of next week. He said he wanted to call in the team of oncologists to decide what the next course of action would be. It could be radiation and chemo, he just wasn’t sure at this point. Wait!!! Isn’t this the same doc that just told us he thought it meant a laryngoscopy? I’m so confused. I’m hurting. I’m scared.
They took Nana to recovery and then to SICU (surgical intensive care) because with a new trachea she needs more intense care than just a regular floor. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally went in to see her.
Although she was still sedated, she was having an anxiety attack and fighting the foreign object she now had to deal with. Nana is an incredibly tough and strong woman and to see her struggling as she was doing did more than break my heart, it crushed me.
The amazing nurse we had asked if we would give her 20 minutes to get nana cleaned up, gown changed, etc and then we could come back in. As my sister and I walked out of that room, I couldn’t hold the tears in any longer. I prayed like I’ve never prayed before, both before the surgery and after.
Before this, I prayed for my mom’s healing every.single.day. I prayed it wasn’t cancer. I prayed God would perform a miracle and that the breathing problems would clear up and she would be her normal healthy, strong independent self again. I prayed that he would strengthen her body. I’m sure I prayed more than these but you get the idea.
Do I feel let down by God? No, I don’t. Sometimes, God’s answer isn’t the one we’re looking for. His thoughts are greater than our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways. Sometimes, the answer isn’t what we want but what is going to work according to His plan.
I am angry. I am sad. I am scared. I am hopeful. I am so many emotions I don’t know which one I feel first or the most. Thankfully, I have a God who can take all that I am experiencing and I don’t have to hide any of it from him. He knows. None of this is a surprise to him even though it is a surprise to us. Is this a journey I imagined we, as a family, would be taking? Is this a journey I thought my mom would have to endure? No. I never imagined it.
I suppose I have a deeper understanding of what Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane when he asked his Father to take the cup from him. The thought of it was terrifying. The thought of what he had to do because he was in human form and felt and experienced everything a human does, it was something he didn’t want to go through. He wanted God to make it go away. God’s answer, His will, was no. Jesus had to go through it so that God’s plan would stay intact.
Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus, who knew exactly why He was on this earth, asked to not have to go through it, death on a cross. He asked for it to be taken away. The fear and anxiety, as a human, was too great. He wanted it to be removed from him and he knew his entire life what was coming.
If Jesus felt that way, then he absolutely knows we are not going to want to go through the really hard stuff. He knows we are going to ask for it to be removed. Just as Jesus’ Father’s answer was no, sometimes we hear the same when we ask for our difficulties to be removed from us. Sometimes, his answer is no, you need to go through this.
Don’t make us go through this, we cry, beg and plead and still bad things happen, and people get cancer. We don’t understand it. We don’t want to face it. We struggle to have the strength to know what to do.
Knowing that we have a God who doesn’t always move those mountains we don’t want to climb can be confusing, to say the least. We ask why and we grieve the hardship. We get angry and still, we grieve the mountain that has been put before us.
As I begin this journey with my mom, I’ve realized that God is always working, even when I can’t see it or him. I’ve come to understand, in a very short time, that sometimes the answer to our prayers is no. In that, I’ve also discovered the mountains we face are not ones we walk alone. They are not there to harm us but to strengthen us and to fulfill God’s ultimate plan.
This journey is not one I would have ever imagined we, as a family would be going through, but I’m at peace about it. I know my God is walking right along beside us. I know that in this mess our mission will be revealed. God is going to use this journey to do GOOD THINGS!! I don’t know what those are or even what it looks like, but I trust Him and his plan.
I guess the bottom line, for me, is no matter what we face we are never alone. We always have hope. We always have faith. It is those two things that make us firm in the foundation of Christ.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5: 1-5)