It’s not about the cancer

There is no way to skirt around bad news. You can only wait for it to go away. Then you struggle with the next bad news. (Not that we’re pessimistic or live with an “other shoe will drop” mentality. We are not, but we are biblicist residing in a fallen world: bad stuff happens to people.)

On November 1st the bad news came; Lucia has cancer. A week or so later we learned she had an 85% chance of full recovery. The cancer “bad news” slowly mitigated, and a new bad news supplanted it. The new bad news is the mastectomy. That has been the hardest bad news to process throughout this journey.

Granted, if her chances of a full recovery go down, the cancer will replace the mastectomy as the worst bad news. That has not happened yet, and we’re not projecting a change in the current bad news.

So we’re stuck with our current and most troubling bad news, which is the mastectomy. That has been a hard pill to swallow. I have personally hurt (from the sidelines) as we often chat about the upcoming surgery.

I can’t hurt the way she hurts, but I can hurt like a husband should. The closest approximation illustration, which is not entirely accurate, is phantom pain. It’s not that, but it reminds me of that as I hurt for her. My soul cringes when I think about the mastectomy, which helps me to enter into this challenging season with her.

She has tried to figure out ways to get out of this, but she knows there’s nearly no way for that to happen. The issue here is not about vanity. Lucia is not a body-image-vain-person. She has never been that person.

How to pray

Because what we’re going through is not primarily about cancer, hearing about breast cancer survivor stories don’t help. Maybe I can say it this way: It’s like a guy who loses his arm surgically, and someone says he’s doing great today; he’s recovered fully.

Well, not really.

Yes, the one-arm man survived the disease, but he lost his arm. It stopped being about the disease for him. It’s about losing a body part. I’m glad he survived the disease, and would never want to minimize that great outcome, but there is this other thing hanging out there. Or, in his case, not hanging out there at all.

If Lucia’s cancer has a second coming and there have to be more surgeries to get rid of it, the survivor stories will probably be a form of encouragement…at that time. But for this season, those “cancer success stories” do not discourage or encourage. We quietly dismiss them as we focus on the main thing. It’s that blooming mastectomy.

We’re okay with what we’re going through as much as one can be all right with losing a body part. We know how to run errant thoughts down and bring them under the obedience of Christ. Honestly, we’re not struggling in a way that incapacitates us spiritually or relationally. We’re doing quite well, but there are those thoughts we have to submit to Christ a few times during the day. Pretty much every day. It’s the thing we talk about more than cancer.

You can pray our good LORD will continue to provide the persevering grace that enables us to get after those thoughts when they seek to captivate our thought life. That is where focused praying helps the most.

And I suspect there will be a slightly altered iteration of those errant thoughts after the surgery. They may be worse. If so, I will let you know.

Thank you for actively and practically loving us. That is what helps most of all. Experiencing the care of the body of Christ in tangible ways cannot be overstated.

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Taking a Christmas cancer break

Since the surgery is tentatively set for January 16 and we don’t have to bring future worry into today, we are going to take a “cancer break” so we can enjoy Christmas. It feels right. Our wonderful counselor summed it up nicely when He said,

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34)

So, we’ll start worrying all over again around mid-January.

We did see a “naturopathic” fellow yesterday. We saw him a few years ago for other things, and it went well. Our preference is always something other than meds and the usual medical route, though we don’t throw either baby out with their bathwater. It’s not either-or for us, but both-and.

Our preference is non-processed, all natural, etc., so we did not want to discount the possibility of God working a miracle through natural means. And, as long as her cancer plays nicely by not wandering off into other parts of her body, we want to throw in another healing possibility.

We grabbed a few things (not marijuana) from this guy and will see what happens. You’re welcome to pray about this. That would be wonderful.

How is Lucia?

She is doing fine, and FINE does not mean Feelings Inside Never Expressed to her. That may describe your small group, but not her. 😉 She is actually doing okay. The LORD’s favor is working nicely on that “future worry” thing.

She does not mind talking about her cancer, though she does not want that conversation to dominate her time with you. She prefers her identity to stay situated in Christ rather than the girl with breast cancer.

If you’re unsure about what to say to her, then say, “I’m unsure what to say to you.” Seriously. We’re Christians; awkward is acceptable if that is what it takes to work through a fuzzy area. Just say what’s on your mind. Please don’t make it more awkward by not saying what you’re thinking. Just do it.

We’re Christians.

It’s okay.

Really.

Lucia’s preference is to talk about Jesus, and what He is doing in her life. That really gets the conversational ball rolling for her. It always has. We call it BF (biblical fellowship). It’s our love language. An excellent question could go like this: “How is God working in your life these days?”

She’ll take it from there. She’s a professional. And if you do that, you will serve her well.

What we need? What you can do?

Suffering is awkward. It’s uncomfortable for the sufferers and those watching the sufferers. The most common question people ask us is, “What can we do?” What an excellent question!

Let me answer it from the negative, which eliminates virtually everything that may inhibit you from doing something. There is only one bad thing any person can do; it is nothing. The reason is straightforward: doing nothing flies in the face of the Gospel because the Gospel is always about going, doing, engaging, confronting, helping, and comforting.

So, may I release you from the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing when you say or do something? You won’t say the “wrong thing” if you say something? You won’t do the “wrong thing” if you do something?

Really!

We are not grading your words.

Really.

Of course, you may say something that is not helpful. Okay. Do we care? No, not really. Not if you say something. The intent of your heart is more important to us than unhelpful words. If your intent is to care for us, you have done well. If the intent of your heart is to care for us, you are like Jesus.

Too often people talk about how what a person said is “so unhelpful.” It’s that kind of talk that is unhelpful. It inhibits the caring soul from caring. It paralyzes people. If you care enough to press into our lives to share your love, we will not judge, grade, dismiss, or show ingratitude.

We may not use your essential oil or follow that hyperlink to the latest cancer cure but rest assured we will appreciate your care. You can even tell us about how “all things work together for good” because it’s true: God is busy with us, and the outcome is going to be good.

Please be free to press into our lives. Say something. Do something. It will be good for us and for you.

  1. Charlie sent a text saying he prayed for us today.
  2. Judy gave me a hug (with no words), and she would not let go, for a full 30 seconds. Felt so good.
  3. Katerine sent flowers. From Minnesota.
  4. Stacie and Missy came and stayed for three hours.
  5. Sherrie called and prayed like she was prostrate before the Father. Lucia cried.
  6. Julie gave us a bag of food.
  7. Stacey (a different one from above) brought some amazing soup.
  8. Brandi sent a care package. From Colorado!! The kids so loved it.
  9. Tom invited us to his house for a party.
  10. Cara is sending some of Lucia’s favorite lotion. (Don’t tell Lucia. It’s a surprise.)
  11. Bruce took me to lunch.
  12. Roy won’t stop asking about our finances.

Be free. Be released to love us the way you believe God wants you to love us. We will be grateful. The LORD’s fame will spread. You will feel good about it too.

Sure, it’s weird for us too. I get it. Let’s let the Gospel bust up the awkwardness of not knowing what to do for sufferers. Go NIKE: just do it. There is one right answer to this tension you feel: enter into their suffering as though it was you because it is you.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. – Hebrews 13:3 (ESV)

The trifecta: three doctors in three days

Today we went to the Greenville Hospital System for a second opinion on Lucia’s cancer. This meeting was probably not necessary. Our primary aim was peace of mind. The LORD has been good to keep our hearts sufficiently guarded and we don’t expect any surprises at this point.

In the carpentry field there is a phrase “measure twice, cut once.” The meeting today was our “measure twice” moment before they cut once.

The doctor was Brian McKinley. He had gray in his hair too. Yay for that. He went through the battery of questions about how we got here, history of cancer in her family, and the things we’ve done thus far.

The McKinley highlights

Here’s a list of some of the things we talked about, in no particular order.

Two parts of the body need surgery: surgery for breast and surgery for lymph nodes.

There is no test short of surgical biopsy that will reveal what needs to be known, hence the lymph node surgery. The lymph nodes in play are around the upfront armpits. That is what they will go after. These are the sentinel lymph notes, in that they “stand guard” for all the others.

The breast surgery can be a mastectomy and lumpectomy. Dr. McKinley said it did not seem wise to have a lumpectomy. The surgical procedure does not determine the success rate. The main things are getting all cancer out and making sure the lymph nodes are clear.

The harder part for us is the psychological aspect about a mastectomy.

The risk of the tumors coming back with a mastectomy is lower than with a lumpectomy, which is why radiation is almost always necessary for a lumpectomy.

The Oncotype DX test is used to estimate a woman’s risk of recurrence of early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer, as well as how likely she is to benefit from chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery. This test assesses the tumor cells themselves.

The process, loosely outlined

  1. Remove the cancer
  2. Measure the largest one
  3. Remove lymph node
  4. Get the Oncotype test
  5. Determine radiation, chemo, and/or estrogen blocker
  6. Reconstruction

One of the things, maybe the main thing, we appreciate about all the doctors, navigators, and nurses that we’ve met is how releasing they are about the processes we choose. They are not pushy or impatient. We are in charge, as though the medical team is working for us. That is comforting.

This may be the last doctor visit until the week of the surgery. Lucia is tired each day. I ask her about this. She does not seem to know why she’s tired, other than the weight of it all and the constant conversation. (I’m talking about our private talks. We seem to be talking all the time. There’s no way around this, though it is taxing.) We do pace ourselves well. We say “no” often.

As they say, “It is what it is.” …and there is grace for that.

Met with medical oncologist today

Dr. Patti is the medical oncologist we met with today. He looked to be in his sixties. I liked that part. A little gray in the hair brings comfort to the soul when surgery is in play. He works out of the “round building” next door. That’s the cancer building.

“A medical oncologist is a doctor who has specialized training in diagnosing and treating cancer using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy, and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist often is the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists.” (Taken from this site)

Dr. Patti wants to see Lucia three weeks after the surgery. He will not be able to recommend a “chemo plan” until after the tests come back, post surgery. It may be two or three weeks after surgery. Having all the test results will enable him to accurately prescribe a treatment plan.

One of those reports will be the lymph node test. During the mastectomy, they will get what they need to test the lymph node. The doctor hopes there will be no chemo but, again, the test results will determine that.

He also restated and reaffirmed what everyone else said; it needs to be a mastectomy, not a lumpectomy. He said the maximum tumor is small, but there are several (7) of them. He did say they don’t give radiation after a mastectomy because they typically get it all. However, the lymph node test may say Lucia needs chemo.

The best case scenario is she will only need an estrogen blocker after the surgery. However, they have to send the cells taken from the surgery to CA for testing to see if any cancer is left. That is what will determine chemo.

Early to bed, late to rise

Lucia will be able to go to bed early tonight and sleep in tomorrow. That will help. The doctor appointments are not grueling or sad. Everybody is great. It’s the aftermath that wears you down. Parts of it are processing the information and taking thoughts captive. The other parts are us talking through what was said with the doctor, plus catching up on school and work things after we arrive home.

And, you guessed it…there is grace for those things, which is enhanced by a good night of rest.

Ansa went with us today. She was her usual amazing self.

Met the reconstruction surgeon today

We spent the morning with the reconstruction surgeon. He’s a nice guy. There is something to be said for good “bedside manner.” He had that.

Our appointment was our first hurried meeting through this process. I dropped Trit off at school, came home to get Lucia, went to the meeting with the doctor, and then rushed off to do staff training at Bridgeway Church. It’s not how we like to do these meetings.

We need quantity and quality time with the doctors and then more time to debrief after the meeting. Not today. I dropped Lucia off at our home and rushed out to the training. Today was also launch day for my monthly book giveaway, which always creates a lot of busy work after the eBlast goes out.

We did not get our debrief time until 4:30 PM.

Here’s where we are.

The official surgery date is 01.16.17. That’s a Monday. She will stay over one or two nights. It depends on how it goes. We hope the reconstruction doc can be there to do his markings and give input about what will effect him when his time comes.

(Lucia felt hurried with the December 9 surgery date. It was the only date Dr. Cochran had for this year at the hospital next door. We took it, though we anticipated canceling it. We did that today.)

Lucia is “okay” with the mastectomy. “Okay” does not come close to accurately describing how she got to this point or how she thinks about it. Her response to me was how God used the “prayers of the saints” to get her to “accept” this surgery outcome. Thank you!

There is another meeting tomorrow with another doctor. We continue to collect data and talk. Last night was a late “talk night” that we couldn’t avoid. We talked until after 1 AM. We do try to get our chatting done during the day (or evening) but some days don’t permit it. Lucia got a nap in today, which was nice.

Her soul is in a good place today.

The emails and texts are wonderful. They are a source of encouragement. We like the body of Christ. A lot.