Thursday, March 28, 2013

The bombshell, part 3

*You're going to want to read parts 1 and 2 before this final installment if you haven't already...otherwise you'll be quite confused! OH, and if you faint when you see blood from a paper cut, you're going to want to close your eyes when you get to the pictures.

I'm not going to pretend I always had a "glass-half-full" kind of attitude about this whole thing. It took me crying out to God like Job and David and so many others did and listening to God's words through the Bible and to wise people like my husband and my family and my friends. But when I wrote this paragraph on Facebook, nine excruciatingly long days and sleepless nights after that life-changing phone call, I meant it entirely, with my whole heart:

Surgery is scheduled for June 14, with a pre-op appointment on June 12 which also happens to be my birthday. You can continue to pray with me that the surgery will be effective and that the tumor will not even be malignant or that it has not spread throughout my body. But in all honesty, my biggest prayer is for whatever needs to happen for me to love Jesus more and bring more glory to His name. If I "beat" this but lose that focus, in the long run I will have lost.

People were so amazing to our family during the twenty days of waiting before my surgery. I got a gift certificate for a massage, had a pre-op pedicure, and had many letters, notes and immense amounts of prayer. I had a few girls nights, including one where my tumor got a name: Jezebel. Jezzy and I had some great laughs and a few tears with some wonderful friends and family. A group of girls who have done a Bible study with me for years and years threw me a little pre-birthday, pre-pre-op celebration with chocolate fondue and chocolate wine. God, thank you for my sweet friends.

June 12 was my birthday. Dan and I mapped out an entire day in downtown Portland all scheduled around my pre-op appointment. We went to Pine State Biscuits, Stumptown Coffee, spent some birthday money at Lloyd Center mall, rode the MAX to VooDoo Doughnuts and Powell's bookstore and took the street car to OHSU's tram where we got an aerial view of Portland on our way to the surgeon's office up on the hill. Instead of presents, I got a thorough check up, including that proud moment of stepping on a scale after a breakfast of carbohydrates with a side of sugar. I also got my blood pressure taken (not sure the doughnuts and coffee were the best way to keep that down either, but a happy-birthday-to-me-and-my-hypertension, thank you very much). Instead of blowing out birthday candles I got blood drawn. Then instead of listening to the Happy Birthday song, I listened to a very frank physician assistant tell me that I just needed to sign a consent form saying I knew the surgical risks (adverse reactions from anesthesia, risk of massive blood loss, temporary and/or permanent paralysis--either from the waist down or from the neck down, and the risk of stroke and finally death.)

Eating another bite of the bacon maple bar that I'd wrapped in a napkin and stuck in my purse made me feel a bit better. See? Bacon. I did have protein for breakfast. Take that, you clearly inaccurate scale.

After the appointment we went to a movie. I honestly can't remember which one, not just due to the fact that I was distracted thinking about stroking out on the OR table in 2 days, but because typically I don't ever remember any movie that I've ever seen. I'm actually mostly serious. Dan is constantly reminding me where and when and how many times I've seen a movie when I'm swearing on my life that I've never seen it before.

After the movie we headed to dinner at Mother's Bistro. It was good, but I was ready to go home, kiss my boys, and attempt to sleep. It was a good birthday. It could have really bombed. But it didn't. God thank you for my husband; the person who knew what I needed that day and made it happen for me.

June 13th was a bit of a blur. I remember trying to have the house clean because I didn't anticipate much ability and/or desire to be scrubbing toilets in the near future. Then I went to a Bible study in the evening for our women's ministry at church. Again, I don't remember a lot of it, but I do remember being encouraged and being prayed for. God thank you for my amazing church.

June 14th was not only the day my surgery was scheduled, but it was the last day of school for my boys and also Ty's kindergarten graduation. Honestly I felt pretty horrible knowing that I wouldn't be there. Both my parents and Dan's parents and sisters would be going to the ceremony but I still knew that Ty would miss our faces in the crowd. He is my sensitive one. The one who, a few days after my "diagnosis" he called me from his school classroom asking me to come pick him up because he didn't feel well. When I walked in the classroom his teacher mouthed to me "I think he's okay." He looked like he was going to cry and came up and hugged me. And then when we walked to the car he started skipping and saying, "can we go do something special?" If "special" means going to Fred Meyer to pick up a few groceries, than, YES!  Seeing that toothless grin with the dimple on his left cheek...oh sweet boy. We didn't go to Disneyland but I made sure that at least his lunch was extra special that day.

Now Jake, on the other hand...not as sensitive. When I told Ty they would probably have to shave part of my head for the surgery he looked a little upset. He told Jake in a sober voice, and Jake started laughing, "UGH, Mom, you're going to look SO ugly!" God knew I needed both a sensitive soul and one that makes me laugh. Both of them have bits of each quality but I love how different they are and how much they are constantly learning from each other.

Back to June 14. Before the boys left for school and before Dan and I headed to the hospital to check in for surgery, our parents, and the elders of our church and our pastor came over to pray with us. Holy cow. I was already feeling not my most attractive after scrubbing my whole body twice with hot pink Hibiclens (that made me smell more like a medicine cabinet than a fresh tropical breeze) and not being able to put on deodorant, lotion, makeup, hair products, or anything else that might possibly help a human being feel better about themselves. I've said before that I'm not a pretty crier, but on the morning of June 14th, I was pretty much hideous. But as much as I was a hot mess on the outside, those prayers pierced right into my heart. I felt a peace that I'd never experienced before. A peace that didn't make any sense.

Dan and I took off for the hospital where my parents would come after Ty's graduation. The boys were going to stay the day and night with Dan's parents. I never did ask what they did, but I'm sure their grandparents spoiled them rotten and made them feel as normal as possible. Have I mentioned before how much my in-laws rule?

We got to the hospital and were led to the pre-op area where I put on my "beautiful sea-foam gown," got my IV placed and waited. I watched some real life crime TV shows and tried not to look at the clock. The surgery was supposed to start at 10:30 and I didn't leave the pre-op area til more like 12:30. I kissed my husband, told the nurse anesthetist that sure, I'd be happy to take something in my IV that would help relax me. I don't remember even getting to the actual OR before I was sufficiently relaxed (or drooling like an idiot and saying who-knows-what. Thank you, Versed, for entertaining medical staff all around the nation each and every day.)

I woke up about 2 hours later as I expected, to a whole lot of nausea and just generally feeling disgusting and not really knowing what was going on. I ended up getting meds and acupuncture in my wrists to help relieve the nausea. It eventually worked and I started waking up more and was able to visit with my husband and my parents. I knew I could feel my toes and that my neck wasn't in a c-collar so I knew I wasn't paralyzed and that they probably didn't take any bone off my spine which was true. The surgeon said he took a "fist full of tumor and muscle" and that the tumor wasn't the size of a kiwi, it was more the size of a lemon. What is it with fruit and tumors? But he was confident that he got all the margins and now we'd have to wait a few days for the pathology report.

When I was finally feeling better and was awake for more than a few minutes at a time, I got really hungry. I did the typical chicken broth, crackers, and 7-up until I conned the nurse into believing I really could handle more. She ordered me a chicken Caesar salad and some peach iced tea off the patient menu, and a granola bar for later. I know you don't care about the details, but I remember it because the Caesar salad came with cherry tomatoes on the side and I tried to eat them even though I hate them and then realized how ridiculous it was that I felt like I had to eat at least a few. I just had part of my head shaved and a lemon cut out of the back of my neck and I'm worried about eating all my tomatoes so I don't appear rude or ungrateful. I remember the peach iced tea because I had a really hard time swallowing due to my dry throat and my missing neck muscles that aid in swallowing, so for each half a bite of food I had to wash it down with 10 gulps of tea. Again, you don't care, but I swear it was the best meal of my life. Besides those dumb tomatoes.
I remember my nurses being wonderful and my stay in the hospital being short. I really really wanted to go home to my family, and did so much earlier than the doctor anticipated.

These are really not that gross, but don't say I didn't warn you!

For all my fellow nurses, or anyone else who appreciates a good surgical incision and drain now and then:

You might not be able to see it, but there was a HUGE dent on the right side of the incision, right below the skull. That's where Jez was hanging out. I still have a dent there, but it's not as pronounced. Although now you can see and feel the right side of my 2nd cervical vertebrae quite nicely, just hanging out with no muscle above or below it. Especially when I bend my neck around. It's a bit gross.

My trend-setting drain. You KNOW you want one. It was important for me to color coordinate with my body fluids:

Recovery was painful but not horrible. Waiting for 6 days after the surgery to get the pathology report could have been really horrible. But I felt each and every prayer. I felt that peace again, knowing that whatever was going to happen, God was going to be right there with me.

God thank you for your truth.

When you surround yourself with the truth, it starts to seep in to your life. I've always hoped that I'd hang on to Jesus when the rubber meets the road, but you don't really know until you're there. Let me tell you, after 3 "inconclusive" biopsies, Jesus was the ONLY certain thing in our lives for 20 days until I had my surgery and then 6 more until we got the biopsy results. Here's what I wrote on Facebook on June 20 after I got the phone call from my surgeon:

Biopsy results are tumor is incredibly rare, but completely contained and most likely NOT cancer! Some research calls it "a neoplasm of uncertain malignancy" but since the surgeon got all the margins, no radiation or chemo is needed. It's called a "nodular tenosynovial giant cell tumor" and my doc says he has only seen one case like this but has NEVER even heard about it in the soft tissues of the neck. He's planning to write a paper about me and my tumor :) We do have to watch for re-occurrence in the future, but it looks like this chapter is closed for now. Praise Jesus! Our faith has been strengthened, our love for each other has grown. In ALL things I will give thanks to God who loves me and died for me, not promising that THIS life would be perfect, but that the next one would! Thank you dear friends for your prayers and love!

What did I learn through this? When trials come--and they will, that's a guarantee--we can either run from God or we can run to him. Running from him will only leave us confused and bitter. Running to him gives us clarity and peace.

He's not hiding. If we seek him, we will find him. He's not silent. He speaks to us through his people and through his Word:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

That peace that transcends all understanding? I know what that feels like.

Not because I thought everything was going to be okay, but because I KNEW that everything would happen according to his purpose. He brought me closer to Jesus so that I could follow his example and say with all my heart those words that song on our iPod reminded me of the day I thought my life was over, "Not my will but yours be done."

In the days and months that followed I struggled a lot with some pain in my scalp. To this day, it's better, but I still can't brush my hair like a normal person and if someone touches my head I pretty much want to punch them in the face. But when I get frustrated with it, I choose to believe the truth. My chronic pain, as stupid and irritating as it is, is a reminder of God's faithfulness to me. It's not just a reminder that things could have been a whole lot worse. It's a reminder that when things do get worse, he'll be there.

There it is. The summer of 2012. God used this experience to sharpen me, to refine me, to strengthen me. He allowed me to know him in a way I never had before. I pray I will always see him the way I saw him during those moments.

And I pray he will never let me forget how bright his light shone in my darkness.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story in detail. I rejoice with you and your family and enjoyed praying for you and watching God continually answer very specific prayers for you and your family. You and Dan and your parents are an encouragement to me and to my children. May God continue to bless you and use you and Dan for His glory.

Carol said...

Angie - I read all three entries - not only because you are a good writer and not only because I care - but also because I remember so clearly what it was like when my husband Jerry was told he had terminal cancer. I remember the grace of God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the support of family and friends, the answers to prayer, and most of all, I remember asking God that He would be glorified as we walked through the journey of Jerry's cancer and death. Reading about your faith, your trust and your surrender to our Lord is very touching and precious. God is glorified in your response to your life's events. What you went through was terrifying, uncertain and life-changing. God is good. God is so, very good. I thank Him for answered prayers on your behalf. What a gift and a blessing for you and Dan to continue to walk in His presence and grace. Just want to tell you that I love you and thank God for His mercy and healing in your life. Blessings to you and your family. Carol

Penny Dorsey said...

Angie, your testimony confirms to me the importance of sharing our burdens with one another.

I remember when you first posted on FB about the news of your tumor. It was truly a privilege to pray for you and bring your need before the throne of God. Your transparency allowed the body of Christ to come along side you and be part of what God was doing in your life. Whether God answered the way we preferred or not, it was a faith builder for all of us to observe. Why? Because you chose to give God the glory, no matter what the outcome. That, my friend, is easy to say but hard to do and you did it well.

May God continue to teach and refine us all. Now I'll pray that God will give you some relief from the after affects of the surgery on your scalp!


Marla Taviano said...

I love you. Thank you so much for sharing every bit you did. When we finally meet, I promise to hug you tight around your waist and leave your head and neck out of it. ;) xoxoxoxo

colliganclan said...

Such a beautiful testimony of God's faithfulness. Thank you for sharing your journey. It truly is an inspiration and your devotion to God is so awesome. I'm glad that 2012 ended well for you and your family!

Carol Noren Johnson said...

The LORD is so good all the time, not just in the middle of a trial. I have many trials as I walk the road of a caregiver, and testimonies such as yours are a real inspiration.

Love and prayers,

Ruben said...

First of all, thank you.
Thank you for investing in parents by blogging about your experiences on The Stump Family, and sharing your faith openly.

Please know how incredible this is. And be encouraged to keep going.

I hope and pray that even more Christian parents (as well as non-Christian parents looking for answers) will find your blog and will be inspired by your experiences, solutions and struggles.

We recognize that these are incredible times to live in, where technology allows parents around the world to encourage each other. As for ourselves, we use technology to reach out to children globally.

We’re developing the world’s first videogame that takes kids through the Bible from beginning to end. Our hope is to increase the love for God’s Word amongst kids.

We dream to see fathers and sons going through the Bible together, having fun as they become part of David’s army, spend time in the fish as Jonah, and play level after level, leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Our prayer is that after kids finish the game, they will have an awe of God, and a deep love of the Bible; eager to read it for themselves. We believe that kids can read the Bible, no matter their age (as long as the translation fits their reading level, of course :D ).

In order to steward this immense project well, we’re building relationships with parents like you. We like to ask your input by allowing you to look behind the scenes, have your kids play demo game levels before they go public, etc. You may also recommend a few people you think would be of interest.

Additionally, we can provide you with plenty of interesting “blog-food” (concept art, images, etc) if you feel that this could benefit your subscribers.

If you’d like more information, shoot me a quick reply to the email address below.

Reply to: connect (at) tornadotwins (dot) com