Thursday, February 28, 2013

The bombshell, part 1

*I've written most of the rest of this story already, so I promise you won't have to wait long to read part 2...or part 3, or 21 or however many parts there will be. Just one post would have maxed out poor blogspot. And you have other things to do today. But stay tuned.

Yep. I'm doing it. I'm going to document some of my darkest moments here on blogspot for all the world to see. Do I want to do it? Well, it's the end of February 2013. And this happened at the end of May 2012. So...nope. I don't really want to do it. But I am really quite sure that I am supposed to do it.

God has brought many things to light in the darkest moments. I do not want to forget those dark moments. Because it was during those dark moments when I came the closest I've ever been to actually seeing the face of God.

Those of you who know me know that I don't write anything halfway. Which is probably why I had a hard time starting to write this story. This is going to be long. I'm going to give you a whole lot of details. Some of the details won't matter to you, but that's okay. They matter to me. And I don't want to forget them.

For a long time I wondered when the other shoe would drop. We had a good life. Really and truly, I did not have many things to complain about. We were healthy, we were happy. We laughed a lot. We spent our 10th anniversary in Maui, and got to take the kids to Disneyland for Christmas. I mean we spent spring break with Chuck Norris at his ranch in Texas, for Pete's sake.

But happiness like that couldn't last, right? I actually struggled for quite a while to give up my fear of all the potential trials we were going to face. I was missing so many of the blessings God had given me when I entertained those nagging thoughts of "nobody lives happily ever after."

But then God started changing my heart. My facebook status at the beginning of January was this: My greatest New Years resolution? It's not refusing to believe anything awful might happen in 2012. It's refusing to let those hard times steal my joy. I will fix my eyes "not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Yep. I knew something was coming. I just didn't know what or when. But it didn't scare me anymore. God was preparing my heart for something big.

And then I got a phone call. 

It started when I had some horrific pain in my left shoulder. It hurt so bad one night that I woke up Dan, sobbing and asked him if he could stay home the next day so I could take a few expired Vicodin I had from a long ago surgery. Me and Vicodin, expired or not, are not able to work around heavy machinery or 2 small children. The pain was so intense that I actually considered going in to the ER. But since I'm an ER nurse, I would pretty much have to have a limb missing before I'd be admitted to the ER as a patient. So I took the Vicodin and got some fitful sleep.

I saw my doctor that morning and she sent me to get xrays. My shoulder pain radiated down my arm and made my fingers numb, so I thought it might be related to that "scar tissue" I had on my neck. You see, I had seen my doctor before about some neck pain, and told her I thought the right side of my neck felt a little different than the left side. I had been in a car accident years back and after she felt my neck, she thought it might be scar tissue from that, but to let her know if it hurt me or seemed to get bigger. Well, I thought it might have gotten bigger and was pushing on my spine making my shoulder and arm hurt. So she ordered an MRI.

I got the MRI a few days later after finding out my shoulder pain was just calcific tendonitis (a big calcium deposit on the tendon). I dreaded the MRI because I still had not been able to lay down on my soft bed much less a cold table due to the pressure on my shoulder. The pain was still so bad that I laid on the table for 55 minutes, my jaw clenched and tears running down my face, trying not to move so they wouldn't have to redo any of the tests. The whole time I was thinking, worst case scenario is that I have to have a minor surgery to remove some of that built up scar tissue. It honestly never occurred to me to think of anything worse.

And then I got a phone call.

It was 2 days later, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. May 25, 2012. I had a friend and her kids over to play with my boys and catch up over some coffee. I had told her I was waiting for a call from my orthopedic doctor about my tendonitis and if he could see me sooner due to the continued pain. It never occurred to me I would get a call from another doctor. The phone rang and I saw it was from a doctor's office, so I told my friend I needed to take it. She needed to leave anyway, so she started packing her kids up to go. I answered it and walked into the playroom behind our living room as I heard these words:

"Angela, this is Dr. --- and I'm on call for your doctor. I'm really glad I got a hold of you before the weekend."


"So we got the results of your MRI back and they're very concerning. It looks like you have some cancer there in the back of your neck."

And my heart stopped beating for a second. And I got that feeling. The one that starts at the top of your head and washes to the tips of your toes. Numb. Hollow. Cold.

"Oookay..." I heard myself say that but it was like someone else was talking.

"So what I want you to do is go get a CT scan today, as soon as you possibly can, because we can't tell if there is any bone involvement."

"Okay." I heard my voice echoing in my head. Was this really happening?

"I'm getting you in to see a head and neck cancer specialist up at OHSU, and you're his first appointment on Tuesday morning after the holiday. Do you have a pen, I can give you his number."

I walked out of the playroom but felt like I was moving in slow motion. I waved goodbye to my friend as she walked out the door, and said, "sorry, this will probably take a few minutes." But what I could have said was, "sorry, I just found out I have cancer and my life is shattered, but I hope you have a great weekend."

While I was looking for a pen the doctor said, "Do you have any questions?"

Really? Only about 36 million questions. "Um, I'm sure my husband will have some questions." And then the lump in my throat dissolved into tears. The doctor realized I was crying and finally had some compassion. "I tell you what, I'll call the hospital and order the CT and tell them to squeeze you in today anytime you can get there. Then I'll call you back in a few minutes and you can ask me anything you want."

"Okay." I felt like I was 2 years old and the only things I knew how to say were, "um" and "okay."

The whole time I was waiting for his call back I felt like my insides were shaking. I thought about how I had to call Dan and how glad I was that it was me and not him or our kids. I looked at my body and thought about how weird it was that I didn't feel any different than I had 2 minutes ago, but that now I knew this body could be full of a deadly disease. I thought about the words "bone involvement." Being a nurse is not helpful during times like these. I thought about this cancerous tumor spreading to my bones and leaving me with only a few months to live. I thought of the people I've taken care of who have gone through chemo or radiation. It's painful. It's miserable. It's ugly. 

And then the phone rang again. I asked him if he knew what type of cancer. Nope. I asked him if he knew what the treatment would be. Nope. I asked him more questions. And then I asked him, "Is there a chance that this is NOT cancer?" And his response was this: "Wellllll...I guess until there's an official biopsy, you never really know for sure about anything. But all the indications at this point are that it is." Not a lot of hope there.



During this conversation the kids have run into the room several times and keep looking at me funny because they realize I've been crying. Now I have to go to the hospital and get a CT scan. And I have to find a babysitter for my kids. AND there's no way I'm telling anyone what's going on until I know more. Except Dan. I have to tell Dan.

It was around noon and I texted Dan at work. I have a direct number into his classroom, but I didn't really want him to stop teaching, hear from his wife that she has cancer, and then continue teaching. So I texted him something I've never texted before. "I need you to call me ASAP."

And I waited.

I called my mother-in-law to ask her to babysit. I told her "they weren't sure about something on the MRI so they want me to get a CT." Because they weren't SURE. They were just confident enough about it to take a baseball bat to my world and then ask me if I had any questions.  

I was getting ready to leave our house when Dan called. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember what he said. After a moment of silence he said, "God will get us through this, Ang. We know God is good, and he will get us through this." I knew I had just ripped a hole in my husband's heart, so his response was not trite. Those words didn't come with thoughtless pats on the back and a meaningless "there, there." Those were not words off a stupid Hallmark card, they were words from his heart.

 And they were true.

I blew my nose and tried to make my tear stained face presentable before taking the kids to my mother-in-law's. I didn't even go to the door, I just stood in the driveway and waved and told her either Dan or I would come pick them up around 3. I'm sure she knew something was wrong.

And then I drove to the hospital where I work. I went to the admitting department to get checked in for my CT. I had just been there 2 days before when I got my MRI. The admission's clerk smiled and said, "You're back for more, looks like!" And I smiled and nodded. This is not real. Then she looked at the order and obviously saw something like "CT cervical spine, related to malignant tumor, rule out bone involvement." And she stopped smiling. And she stopped making small talk.

I think the silence was worse.

I walked down the hall to radiology to wait, just one hall away from the ER where I work. I sat in the waiting room, praying no one that I knew would see me. ER staff brings patients to radiology all the time, so I sat with my back to the desk and put my face in a magazine. I have no idea what that magazine was or if it was even right side up. I sat there for over an hour waiting for them to "squeeze me in." And then my name was called and I recognized the CT tech. And he recognized me. We were silent going back to the CT scanner. I recognized the other 2 techs in the room as well. They had to ask me my name and what I was here for. I told them my name and that I had cancer in my neck and they were supposed to find out if it had spread to my bones. They looked down and nodded.

After the scan was over they helped me off the table and I said, "I know you're not supposed to tell me..." and one of them said, "we're really not. I'm sorry." To me that was the worst. I've been back there with the CT techs as they scan lots of times, and they know what they're doing. They're not radiologists, but they've seen so many scans they're accurate most of the time. They didn't even tell me "I didn't see anything awful, but you'll have to wait for the radiologist to read it." That's what I would have done for another co-worker. So I assumed they'd seen the worst. And one of them walked me to the door with his hand on my shoulder and opened the door for me. He gave me a pat and a nod and big eyes.

Not helpful.

I fought tears the entire way down that long hallway and out to the car. Then I got in the car allowed myself to shed a few of those tears. But I couldn't just sit in the parking lot crying all day, so I sniffed, wiped the tears away and put the car into drive and headed towards home. My whole body started shaking and I realized it was 3pm and I'd forgotten to eat lunch. We'd been trying to eat healthy and not spend money eating out, so I thought about the half a sandwich on Dave's Killer Bread that awaited me at home. And then I let out a cry/laugh and thought, "I have cancer. I'm eating whatever the heck I want to!" So I drove through Burger King and got a Whopper and fries and I sat in the parking lot and started eating.

Man, it tasted good. 

And then a brutal wave of emotion hit me. I had talked to Dan on the phone, but I hadn't seen him face to face. I hadn't been able to have someone that I love let me grab onto them and ask them to help me carry this burden. And the heaviness of this burden was starting to crush me.

I'd seen movies or read in books about people wailing when they cry. I've always been a fairly quiet crier. I've done the "boo hoo" sound sometimes.

But this time, this cry, came from my soul.

I feared having to watch my husband grieve over me before I died. I feared that my kids would have to grow up without me, and all that I would miss. But honestly the thing that I feared most was letting God down. I knew he'd be faithful to me, but I was terrified that I wouldn't be faithful to him. I was horrified at the thought that I might one day curse God because of my pain or my misery. I didn't want everything I'd ever taught my kids or tried to show others to be in vain because I denied him at the end.

That cry was ugly and noisy and I couldn't take it anymore. I mean, my Whopper was getting soggy from all the tears...this had to stop. I turned the car on and looked at the Ipod Dan had put in there. I pushed "random" on the playlist he had been listening to and the first words I heard were these, from NeedToBreathe's song Garden:

"Won't you take this cup from me.
Cause fear has stolen all my sleep.
If tomorrow means my death,
I pray you'll save their souls with it."  

What? God speaks through an Ipod? In that moment I believe he did. Those were the exact words I needed to hear. It was Jesus' prayer the night before he was crucified. "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

I felt with everything in me that God was asking me to be willing to say, "not my will but yours be done." And I also needed to realize that just as God has a purpose for my life, he will have a purpose for my death. "If tomorrow means my death/I pray you'll save their souls with it." God wasn't asking me to die so that the world's sins would be forgiven like he asked Jesus to, but what if even one person would turn to God because of my death? Am I willing to die so one of my friends or family members might live in heaven for eternity? Could that be God's reason for all this?

God, tell me you have a reason. WHAT IS YOUR REASON?

And then I heard God ask me a question. 

Are you willing to trust me even if you never know why?

I wanted to be willing. I really really wanted to be willing. So again, I wiped the tears (and the snot) away, finished my cold fries, and headed home to reality.


Marla Taviano said...

Oh, friend. I am so so so glad I know the "ending" to this, because I wouldn't be able to handle it. And you LIVED it, ARE LIVING it. 2012 was the hardest year of my life too, for a different reason. But man, I can't even imagine this. I'm so, so, so thankful for God's plan for your life. I love you!!

Faith said...

Raw, beautiful writing as usual. Love you, friend

Marla Taviano said...

And also? You're a really good writer.

Randy Alcorn said...

Ang, thanks so much for this. I knew many of the details, of course, but not all. It's a powerful story, and powerfully told. I will never forget God's kindness and how much I appreciated you and Dan for submitting to His wisdom, come whatever may. Your dad

The Knott Family said...

Thank you for sharing Angie. I love reading about God's faithfulness. Thank you for your open heart.

Penny Dorsey said...

Your story is proof that joy and sorrow can co-exist. I said it before and I'll say it again, "the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree!" Well written.

Love you sweet girl. Penny

Christine Nelson said...

Ang, Your love for God clearly shines through even in the darkest hours. You have such a beautiful heart and I am blessed to have you as my friend. Christine

Erin Seymour said...

That deep darkness is one thing. Discovering that He is THERE in the darkness with you is ANOTHER!!! Thank you, Angie

Joyce said...

I'm visiting from Marla's blog. We had a hard year in 2012. My 17-year old niece passed away after a 9 month battle with leukemia. If I'm being completely honest we are still reeling a little, even 9 months later. I can say this though...never have I learned so much about who God really is. That He is who He says He is. That pain and suffering and joy can co-exist. I am glad you're sharing your story and look forward to reading the rest.

Matt said...

Angie, Thanks for much for sharing your story. Your writing is real and powerful and I believe it will be an encouragment to many. It certainly was to me. Thanks, Matt

Diane Meyer said...

Angie, I love reading what you write whatever it is, and I love this post the best. You are just so transparent and real. Thanks for writing this...and the ones to come. (waiting...)

Amber Carlson said...

I am a retired RN and I was walking with you through your description of going to X-ray . It is really tough when you know to much --

Teedub said...

Thank you. Sincerely and deeply I say thank you.

Gabe Taviano said...

Thank you for taking the time to share what life is like when God is walking with you through a deep valley. I thank God for your awesome husband, my awesome wife....and the awesome families God's given to us. Your faith is strong!

Sharon Wang said...

I was recently diagnosed with cancer and Marla sent me to this post. Thanks so much for sharing. I have young kids and can so relate to the horrifying thought of them doing life without me. I want them to know me. And I want to know them and raise them!

I love that you stopped for Burger King. Several family members of mine have been encouraging me to change my diet, but the Doctors I've spoken to say there is nothing that feeds or starves cancer cells. I'm with you. I'd rather eat what I want to. I already have restrictions placed on me due to cancer, why add to them?