Monday, February 16, 2009

The Journey-Struggle to Strength

Mom asked me to post this...this is my talk I gave at the Tea Party.

In June, 08 I went to see my doctor for a prescription change. Although I had been there just a couple of months before, when I told her why I was there, I’ll never forget her panic. She immediately told me she would do nothing for me without me first seeing a Colon Surgeon. I thought to myself, “I’m not going to see that kind of doctor”. She told me that I would be lucky if I left his office without having cancer. After she gave me the appt. time, I looked at it and knew it was the middle of the day and it would interfere with all the other things that were going on. She saw me eyeing the appt. and let me know in no uncertain term that by my not going, “it could be life or death”.
I reluctantly kept my appt. and after seeing the Colon Surgeon for the 1st time felt relief because he stated that he didn’t want to factor anything in or out but thought everything would be fine, however since I was now over 35, he would request a colonscopy at my 1st doctor’s urging.
I was fine until the night before the colonscopy….somehow I just knew something was wrong….never thinking cancer….but I cried the whole night before the test.
July 16, 2008, I had my colonscopy. I’ll never forget how sick I was from the prep. The night before I would swallow the prep, go get sick and the process would start over. I’ll never forget talking to my kids and then I would say, “I don’t feel good” and go get sick, come back and continue the conversation because I did not want to alert them to the fact that something may not be fine. They were very quick that morning at Cobb Wellstar, getting me right in before my appt. because I felt sick. The last words I heard as I fell asleep were, “just go to sleep, this will be over in a couple of minutes” to wake up minutes later to the most pitiful and pathetic looking medical staff. I’ll never forget looking at the faces and knowing something was wrong, as the nurse working around me began saying, “you are just so young, we are trying to find your husband, the doctor wants to talk to him”. I knew something was wrong but I remember immediately feeling shame, as if I had done something wrong. Steve was sent to a room with the Surgeon and 2 assistants right across from my recovery room. I felt frustrated that he was going in there himself and they wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. Very quickly he came out of that room towards me with a face I'll never forget. "Leah, they found a tumor, it's bad, you have to have surgery, I'm serious". Those who know Steve knows he likes to joke but I never thought for one minute any of it was a joke. I immediately asked for my surgeon to come talk to me. I’ll never forget the shocked look on his face. I felt then that they were not telling me everything because I was in recovery. I asked Steve to help me get dressed so we could get out of there. As we walked by the nurses station, our hands locked together, they stopped us and insisted that I be in a wheelchair and Steve pull up our vehicle. The short time I was in the wheel chair the nurse again told me how sorry she was and that I was so young to have to experience what I was about to go through. Again, I thought if the medical staff shows this much emotion, how bad is it?
I was immediately set up with all the pre-operative testing for a week and during this time , began searching for most experienced doctor in the area in this field. I ended up at Emory with a Surgeon (Thanks to my cousin, Becky who while on dialysis, was researching the best doctors for me).
The colon surgeon who did my colonscopy called me at home. We sat and talked for about an hour. Another indicator to me that things were worse than the information that I was getting. He told me that my colon was so blocked, they couldn’t even get the scope through the colon. He said that if I had not been checked, he would have given me 3 months or maybe 6 months and I would have been dead. He went on to explain how he had seen people in my condition live for 2 years. My first thought was, “I’m 39 and you are talking like 2 years is such a long time”. I said, “well, 2 years is just not enough, I have too much to do”. He said they would do all they can, he just wanted me to have the realistic side of things and that they are coming up with new things all the time. He did mention that he was shocked that day they found my cancer, had not diagnosed anyone in 2 years but that I owed my life to my first doctor for pushing so hard for me to be checked. Based on my family history and what he saw, he did not think it was going to turn out to be anything.
After all the testing and the talks with Surgeons, etc. my mind had finally shut down. I immediately began feeling so much guilt and shame for having cancer. I felt guilty because I wondered if I had done something to bring this on myself, I felt guilty for what I was going to put my family through, I felt shame for just having cancer; period. It began weighing on my mind. So much so, I didn’t want to go to church because with all this guilt, I just knew everyone was going to be looking at me.
All my family came that Sunday morning as we arrived a little late so I could make it to my seat without ‘anyone looking” at me. We sat in the back row and I remember feeling very weak in my body and spirit. Anytime we stood, I had to lock my knees to keep from falling over. I remember telling Bro. Johns, my Pastor and my family before that I did not want anyone to take me down front for prayer. My spirit became very resistant to anyone’s desire to help or any type of public show of support. I just wanted this to all go away…..I felt like and still feel like some days that I’m living someone else’s life. It is still very surreal.
I remember seeing others go down for prayer and I bowed my head to pray for them. I realized that I couldn’t even get a word out of my mouth. I tried over and over just to say, “Jesus” but nothing came out. I remember hearing others pray around me. I remember saying in my spirit, “Lord just let the prayers around me be mine”. As I listened to the prayers around me, I began to feel strength. I felt strength not only in my spirit but in my legs. As the prayers went up, so did I. I began to feel this burden of having cancer start to leave me. As I stood there and just listened to the prayers, I heard someone speaking to me. I didn’t open my eyes, I just continued to listen. The voice reminded me of a service from several years ago where the Evangelist, Bro. Hernandez had the congregation pray for me. He prayed that the fear that I had would be removed and that’s God hedge of protection would be upon me all the days of my life. He also said after he prayed that I would go through life as if armored trucks were all around me. As I thought back to this service, the voice spoke to me again and said, “I knew then what you know now, I protected you then and I’m protecting you now”. I opened my eyes for a brief second to see who was talking to me and I didn’t see anyone. I knew then without a shadow of a doubt that God was letting me know that he was going to be my protection. I have never felt so much peace before. I’ve been able to weather this storm with the comfort of knowing that God was in control. My job is only to fight the battle but he has the war in control. I don’t know how to explain this but many many times I would be in agony going through chemo and Steve would do everything he knew to do and then he would ask me…..what do I do? My only response would be, “just pray”. I never felt the pain go away but I felt so comforted. I know it was through all the prayers that everyone was sending up for me. I realized that I was trading suffering for strength and pain for comfort. I still don’t understand it….because none of it makes sense. However, I can say that God allowed me to rest in HIS arms so many times.
I realized all the surgeries, tests, and the chemo was the process I would have to go through but God was working on bigger things. He was working through my circumstance to strengthen and bless others. He was allowing me to use my earthly ability to show his grace and mercy through the process and what victory looks like on the other side.
I subsequently had an anterior colon resection surgery on 7/23/08. They removed about a foot of my colon .
My tumor was the size of a large apple which had grown all through the colon walls into 1 lymph node of 11. They determined that I'm in Stage 3 Colon Cancer with only a 50% survival rate without chemo. With chemo, my survival jumps to 70-75%. My Surgeon called me and said I would have to have chemotherapy. Age wasn’t on my side, being female wasn’t on my side, being a non-drinker wasn’t on my side and being so sensitive to medicine wasn’t on my side.
I began to dread the process but soon didn’t think about the disease. My world became very quiet as I have sat in my recliner for days and now months.
I have not feared, asked God why me? I’ve thought, “why not me”? why should I want anyone else to go through this? I determined in my mind that I would go through chemotherapy with as much grace and mercy as I could. They told me to wear sweats so I could be comfortable during chemo. I decided that it wasn’t going to work for me. I’ll never forget the looks that I got when I would show up in heels. Mom and I would laugh at the faces but we were determined that God was going to get his glory through the process.
At first as most of you probably know, we asked for no assistance. I realize now that it was because we thought it was the only thing we could control. Everything else was blind faith and sometimes we just wanted to travel the road that everyone else was traveling.
It was at this time that Christ began working through the church, work family and friends. It was overwhelming because so much support and prayer was being lifted for us….that although we were so appreciative, we were still pushing back.
Joannie Camden and Rosa Boyd began preparing a list for others to join in and have dinner brought to our home. Even as we pushed and resisted, I think we were told to shut-up, leave them alone and just accept it. We soon realized that they had enlisted God’s army through so many families who have entered our home carrying unbelievable home cooked meals. It has continued through this year. I soon realized that the food that was nourishing my family was really nourishing our souls. Thank you so much to so many who have blessed us. No matter if I felt like eating, I would always at least eat a little of what everyone brought over. Mom and I were talking and we honestly believe that having the dinners helped me sustain through the chemo. My weight was the only thing on my side. Fluff isn’t so bad! ha.
The cards that came pouring in and have continued to pour in. People I’ve not seen or heard from in years began sending me cards. I still look forward to the mail everyday. Every card, every word has been strength to me. My mail person comes in the morning and I’m usually sitting in my recliner watching out the door and as soon as they come, I ask one of the kids to get my mail. You can’t imagine how many tears I’ve cried over the cards and have asked the Lord to bountiful bless those who have continually remembered me and our family.
The blog comments….the blog started off as a brain dump for me. It soon became a way for others to see a little glimpse into what we were going through. As I blogged and as others made comments, I realized this was my way of reaching out to others without being able to leave my house. My blog comments were added strength each and every day. It also became a way to connect to past friends and even to “new” friends who I’d never met. Vernie and Tammy are proof of that.
The flowers/plants/gifts that arrived at my door everyday. I’ve never seen UPS this much in my life. Every time I would receive something in the mail, or through UPS, I would think to myself, how in the world can I ever repay these people for their support? It wasn’t ever about the gifts but always about the thought, support and knowing someone was thinking about us.
My work family started supplying pallets of drinks, disposable plates, napkins, flatwear, lemon drops, peppermint tea and leaving American express cards for our parking, gas and other hospital related costs. Many at work who told me they never prayed, would call and tell me that they made an exception for me and they prayed every day. Just knowing they were praying was such a blessing for me.
My chemo blanket. Isn’t it beautiful? To me, it represents everyone who have assisted or helped in some way. This journey has never been about me but about the circumstance . However, this blanket reminds me everyday of all the prayer that has gone up for me and the bountiful blessings that are going to come down.
My customers from work who have sent me cards, e-mails and the hat that I’m wearing today. Wachovia headquarters is in North Carolina and they are always checking on me. It is pretty incredible to be in such a politically correct environment and have others keep up with you, let alone pray for you.
Most importantly all the prayer. My church family who has prayed for me every service. At first I was embarrassed to hear my name each service. Mom said, “well, you want prayer don’t you?’…..well, that was a no-brainer so I learned to appreciate the fact that others were going to be blessed because of their obedience to God through my circumstance so again, I would need to learn to be quiet.
All the prayer and support from other churches. Peachtree United Methodist Church mailed me a blanket and then began calling my name in prayer at their church (6,000 members) and sending cards. First Baptist Church of Douglasville began sending me cards and telling me they didn’t know me personally but had heard and they were praying for me. I received a 6 page book from a Catholic church in California that approved my name to be called in prayer every Friday in the U.S. Puerto Rico, and Columbia.
My family, which includes my and Steve’s family members. They have been my first response of help. They have sat with me, held me, prayed with me, watched me moan and groan, brought dinner and have supported my immediate family in whatever way possible. My mom who has given up her free Fridays to run me to Emory. To me, this journey has been about the circle. My circumstance in the middle, my family support, my church family, work family and friends surrounding my family and Jesus’ completing the circle with his arms around all of us.
My kids- who have had to watch their mom in agony, go to sleep crying and sit in a recliner all day. I pray that the impact has given them strength they didn’t know they had and they are able to pay it forward one day.
My husband-there are no words to express my gratitude to this man. His comfort to me and the kids has been overwhelming. He has gone to everyone of my chemotherapy sessions with me. He has laughed me through the mentally challenging times when I just couldn’t stand to look at so many dying people. He has held me through the night as I lay crying for hours in pain and then would get up and go to work with little sleep. Not one time has he ever complained. When I thank him, he always says, “for what?’ as if he hasn’t done anything.
We do not have family history of colon cancer. The Surgeon told me that I had an old person's disease but aren't sure why? It is a very aggressive form of cancer. I’ve been checked for breast cancer, spine cancer and esophagus cancer. I’ve been through so many tests, specialist visits, biopsies, surgeries…..that I’ve lost count. I know that I recently asked Emory for a list of my appts. in 2008 and heard the woman say, “Good Lord, you have 10 pages of appts, this is going to take some time”.
My great physician is the Lord but until he determines the time for me to be healed or to meet him, I'm still doing what the doctors tell me to do. This will be my test in my testimony or as another puts it, my mess in my message.
You all-My family, friends and Co-workers have been unbelievable with your support, prayers, cards, visits, gifts....I feel so blessed because I know the bountiful blessings God is going to bestow upon all of you. I asked what I could do to repay all of you and I was reminded that the blessings come from our obedience. I could never make a dent in repayment but God’s repayment is much greater. You have been Christ’s hands and feet to us through this journey. We could never thank you enough…words are very inadequate. I haven’t liked the process but I’m so thankful for the strength. This wasn't a journey I chose for myself, however some things are out of our control. The one thing in my control is to listen to where God wants me to be when my journey ends or maybe I’m just being prepared because the real journey has just started?

1 comment:

Jana Floyd said...

Leah, I have missed several services @ AWPC bcof morning sickness, so I had no idea the tea was in your honor. I wish I had been there! Keep on keepin' on!!