God Is In Control

You. Have…One… New. Message….”Hi, Ang.  This is Tim.  Karen just told me you guys are coming to Indy for your surgery.  Um… I was thinking…  The cancer…  You know if you’d had a mammogram last year and thought everything was fine, and then maybe didn’t have one this year because you thought you didn’t need to it would be another whole year before you’d have things checked out.  And then… because you didn’t think anything was wrong the last time, you might have just gone in for a screening…and if nothing showed up again, it could be years before you ever found out you had cancer…and then it could be…well…really late.” I heard my oldest brother’s voice trembling as he left his love for me on my voicemail. “Let us know if there’s anything you need.  I love you.” I listened through tears to his words.  I hit “1” on the phone to relisten to his message when it ended.  Then I hit “2” to save it.

I was lucky! 

Early detection is key to fighting cancer.  In the weeks that have passed since I’ve been diagnosed I’ve decided breast cancer doesn’t kill women.  Fear and ignorance does.  The indifference of some doctors and nurses and techs to a woman’s intuition and inner voice does. Our putting everyone else’s needs and schedules before our own does.  Our giving up our power and self-knowledge in deference to someone with a bigger degree or loftier title does.

God designed each of us from scratch.  Unique.  None better than the other.  Priceless pearls bought with His blood.  We have untold value.

God doesn’t cause cancer.  But God does, I believe, want to alert us to when something isn’t right in our body, when disease begins to brew, when trouble is on the horizon. He is the great physician working always on our behalf.

He doesn’t cause cancer.  But he is instrumental in helping us find and cure it!  I believe He uses his angels to watch over us and guide our steps – if we only ask for guidance and protection and then listen for our directions.  I’m living proof.

The diagnostic mammogram isn’t what uncovered my cancer on August 20th, 2010.  It showed the same pictures as the other mammograms – all diagnostic.  EIGHT years worth.  I believe God used the training, patience, skill, and expertise of a sensitive ultrasound technologist and a tenderhearted radiologist to uncover my tumor through the modern marvels of science.  But don’t take my word for it.  Decide for yourself…

I stepped away from the mammography machine shaking and tearful.  Peggy Leffers, the ultrasound tech who was working with me that afternoon, tried to calm me down.  “What are you afraid of?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  I don’t know what I feel in my breast.  The nurse seems to think she felt a lump, but I’m pretty sure what she was pressing on has always been there.”  I wrapped my arms tightly around my chest and hugged myself.  I felt a cold trickle of sweat drip under my arm and down my side.  The chill made my nipples hard under the gown.  I tried to rub my hands against my arms to calm myself and steady my nerves.  “Something’s just not right,” I said.  “I’m not crazy.  I’m not depressed.  I told my husband a few months ago that something just isn’t right,” I continued, choking back the tears, afraid maybe I was crazy and the anti-depressants my gynecologist had wanted to prescribe would make me feel better.  Maybe it was “peri-menopause”, I thought.

I shared with Peggy my experience a few days earlier with the surly nurse practitioner at Women’s Health Advantage.   Peggy listened to my words, her eyes focused on mine.  She reached her arm out and rubbed my left arm gently with her hand. “First. They don’t know anything. Okay?  They don’t know anything.  That’s why you’re here.  We’re going to take films so we can see if there’s anything there.  I don’t want you to be afraid.  They don’t know anything over there.  Okay?”  Her words were gently commanding.  She stood near me.  Her smile was kind, her voice upbeat, almost teasing, her eyes locked onto mine.

“Someone needs to teach that little girl how to talk to people,” I said breathlessly.  “I mean. Breast cancer does have to start with someone in a family to begin a family history.  But you don’t say it the way she did.  Oh, my God!  I can’t stop shaking.” I fought off more tears and feelings of anger.

“We’ll get films and see what we see.  Okay?”  she asked.  I could see in her face a reflection of the pain I felt in my chest and stomach.

I complied with her coaxing and stepped up to the machine.  My wedding ring kept slipping around my finger as I reached up with my left arm to hold onto the machine.  Peggy worked with my breast to place it firmly and fully onto the cold, hard, plate. “Come in.  Lean in for me a little more,” she said.  I apologized for being heavier than I should be, I put myself down for having large breasts, I berated myself for not being able to take a solid, calm breath.

“You’re fine,” she reassured me. ” Everyone has the same thoughts.  We’re hardest on ourselves.  I just want to get the best, clearest picture I can.  So we need to make sure the placement is right.”  Her hands were warm and her voice was soothing.  I found myself trying to breathe to the sound of her voice.  “Deep breath.  Hold it.” she coached from behind her console.  I obeyed, calming more with each film she took.

“Now we’re going to do an ultrasound of the left breast, okay?” she asked, looking at me with a smile.  “That’s just something we do as standard procedure anytime a woman thinks she’s felt a lump or a mass. Okay?  I don’t want you to worry, okay?  It’s just what we do.” She repeated her words as though she was trying to carefully hypnotize me into trusting her.

“I know, ” I said.  “I know that the order was written to do an ultrasound if indicated,” I used the same words off of the medical order.  I needed to feel logical and businesslike to keep the composure she’d helped me gain.  “I’m fine with that.  In fact I’d really prefer that, actually.”

She walked me down the hall to the ultrasound room and offered to get my husband, Don, to be with me during the procedure.  When she left I put my back against the wall and tried to hide myself on the side of a cabinet. I looked with dread at the table across from me.  I started to sob silently.  I felt five years old.  I recalled a time I was caught outside in a thunderstorm and had to ride my bike home in the rain and lightning. The trees bending in the wind.  I remember the terror I felt each time I saw a bolt of lightning strike from the black skies.  I remember seeing my house through a yard and thinking I could get home by riding my bike along side the neighbor’s shrubs to our backyard.  But we weren’t allowed to ride through people’s yards.  So I rode down the street, up the gravel hill, down that street to the next corner and then down another street.  I felt that I’d never make it home alive.  I screamed with each thunder clap, each lightning bolt.  I was soaked when I got home that day.  Now, as I stood waiting on Don and Peggy to get back I rubbed my gown under my armpits, trying to soak up the sweat that ran like rain down my sides.  I cried harder at the lack of control I had over my own body.  It seemed to have taken on a life of its own. Please be with me, God, I prayed.  Hold my hand.  Please don’t leave me.  Walk with me now.  I need you right now.  Please, God.  Protect me.

Peggy and Don walked in and found me, shaking, standing against the wall.  Peggy smiled first and chirped, “You.  You gotta be up there,” she pointed with a hitchhikers thumb comically toward the exam table.

“I know,” I said.  I looked to Don as if he could somehow make the craziness I felt stop.  You’re my shortcut through the neighbor’s yard, I thought.  You’re home.  Protect me from the storm, I silently pleaded.

“Come on, Angela,” said Don, his soft voice coaxing me.  “I’ll help you up, Miss Scofield,” his pet name for me when he wanted to treat me like a young innocent girl.  He held out his hand as though he was going to escort me onto a dance floor, a tender suitor trying to pull his wallflower out from her anxiety and into the limelight.  He helped me onto the exam table.  He stood against the left side and placed his left hand on my leg.

Peggy scanned and pressed the wand against my left breast and chest for what must have been 40 minutes.  “What did you feel?” she asked confounded, slowly rubbing the wand over my skin, pressing deep into my chest with her moves.

“I’m not sure.  I feel so much in there.  I don’t know what…,” my voice broke and frustrated tears burned my eyes.

“It’s okay,” she said.  “Can you press on your breast and find what you think you felt?  Can you try to find it?” she asked.

I took my right hand and glided it over my slippery skin.  My breast ached and all I could feel was the hard ridge on the left side of my left breast. Something I’d grown used to feeling for years.  I started to cry again part out of pain, part out of frustration.  I wanted to give up.  Sit up.  Go home.  I am crazy, I thought.  My brain raced.  Just cut them off, I wanted to scream.

Peggy patted my hand with hers.  “Well, doctor said your mammogram looks normal.  At least it looks like all the others you’ve had.  But we’ll keep looking.  I just don’t know what you’re feeling,” she continued as she scanned the area with her sensor.  She and Don were joking together to try and pull me out of the foxhole I’d mentally climbed in, when her hand slid to a spot almost by accident.  I laid on the table with my eyes closed.  But I felt the movement differently.  She scanned the spot again.  She stopped talking, stopped joking.  I stopped breathing.  Then I heard the clicks as she tapped keys on her keyboard.  She pressed harder now with the sensor.  More clicks.  No jokes.  I kept my eyes closed as she pressed harder still and clicked more keys.  I was breathing shallow breathes when I opened my eyes and looked at Don’s face.  He smiled down at me.  “We’re probably almost done,” he said, his eyes holding my gaze with loving gentleness.  His fine pink lips smiling at me.

“I just want my boobies back,” I tried to joke.  Peggy didn’t say anything.  She was busy hitting keys.

“Well, we’re all done with this,” she said as she took paper towel and wiped the gel from my chest.  “I’m going to have the doctor look at the ultrasound and then we’ll be done.”  Her words were perky, no hint of concern.  “Once he looks them over you’ll be able to go.”

“See, Miss Scofield?” Don teased.  “All done.”  He cocked his head sharply and threw me his fake, forced, robot-like smile.  The one he flashes when he teases me and the kids.  Then he leaned down and kissed my forehead.  I crossed my hands over my chest as much to try and warm up my hands as to discreetly comfort my aching breast.

Not five minutes passed when the door opened and Peggy walked back in.  I was sitting up now.  I breathed a deep, relieved breath thinking we were done.  But just as she cleared the doorway in walked a taller man, dark-haired, with the lightest, brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. “This is Dr. Raymond Facco,” Peggy said.  He looked like an angel, the light from the hallway hitting him from behind as he entered the darkened room.

Tears sprang into my eyes.  I felt a pain spring into my forehead between my eyes.  I couldn’t comprehend any words either of them was saying.  Everything seemed to move in slow motion.  I became an observer of my life for several moments.

Dr. Facco explained what Peggy found with a matter-of-fact compassion.  He showed me on the screen what he saw and what it possibly meant.  “Eighty percent of the time this is nothing, ” he said encouragingly.  “But what does that tell us? It means that 20 to 25% of the time it could be something.  Right?” He explained that we could let it go for 6 months and then reevaluate it.  “We are here to help you.  I don’t want you to leave and then be afraid to come back here.  Okay?  We’re here to help,” he reiterated.  “I’d like to do a biopsy…”

“Can we do that now?” I asked, cutting him off.  “I mean. I’m here.  I don’t know that you’d get me to come back if I have to leave and reschedule for another day,” I nervously, tearfully chided.  The surprise in his eyes caught me by surprise.  He stammered a minute and then asked Peggy if she was available. That’s all it took.  The two of them sprang into action.  Insurance paperwork, informational consents, reassuring instructions, and a tenderness that comes from one person’s true compassion for another person.

“I know exactly what you’re feeling right now.  Both of you.  I’ve been exactly where you are.  Both my wife and my mother-in-law have dealt with this.” Dr. Facco said.  “Do you know any women with breast cancer?” he asked.

My head was splitting.  I was crying harder now, “Yes,” I cried.

“What do you know about them?” he asked another question, louder and deliberate, trying to get through my anguish.

“That they’re survivors?” I hoped out loud.

“You know that they are LIVING with it.  They are LIVING with it,” he said again in a strong, yet lighthearted voice.

I took his words into my heart.  Suddenly I felt a heat course through my body that exceeded the room’s.  The two worked together to prepare me for the biopsy.  Oh, God.  What have I done, I wondered?  This is going to hurt, I thought.  Oh, shit!  God help me, I pleaded silently.

I watched as Don was escorted out of the room.  Still in shock, I held onto the ultrasound screen and began to breathe deeply and rhythmically, gaining control over my emotions and body.  I felt the needle carrying the anesthetic go into my breast and breathed as it inched ever deeper to my chest.  The numbing burned.  I began to cry tears of pain.  I worked harder to breathe the pain away and to transport myself to a calmer state.  Soon the biopsy specimens were being extracted.  Loud spring-loaded clicks snatching away potential disease, hidden deep within my breast.  There were four pieces taken in all, the last the most painful.  It made me cry out, and tearfully plead for it to be finished.  It was.

The incision was secured by two small pieces of tape: steri-strips.  Stitchless stitches.  My white badges of courage.  Don came back into the room, walked over to me, pulled me toward him with his arm as I still sat on the exam table, body trembling, teeth chattering.  My hands were ice cold and my wedding ring kept spinning ’round my finger.  My head throbbed.  My eyes, swollen and achy too, itched.  The side of my chest hurt.  I was afraid to put my arm down against my side.  I looked at Peggy.

“You know,” she said.  “I don’t know how you believe.  But what we found today was not what we were looking for.  I didn’t find anything I was looking for.  What we found is so small…I didn’t find that…”she said.  “Someone’s looking out for you,” her voice was quiet and solemn.

“I know.  I’ve been praying for a long time that God would help me figure out what was wrong.  I’ve prayed all day today that God would make me whole and healthy.  If finding something bad early enough to make me completely healthy is how He’s going to do that, then I’m thankful.  He’s answering my prayer.  I believe I was lead here today, to you and Dr. Facco, so you could find whatever you needed to find to make me well.”

Peggy, Don and I stood together quietly for just a few moments.  “Can I give you a hug?” I asked Peggy.  She’d been such a devouted surveyor for the past 3 hours, I couldn’t just walk away without somehow expressing my deepest thanks.

“Absolutely!” she replied.

What might have been a slip of the wrist, a temporary loss of control over the ultrasound wand by Peggy lead to the necessary discovery of a tumor so small it has never been felt by hand.  My brother was right.  It might have been years before a mammogram would have picked up the tumor.  My timing of mammographies might have been off, but God’s timing was perfect.