Well I know first hand now what a woman has to face
Yesterday was a day that I had been waiting for not out of joy but out of necessity. It is not often that a man faces the possibility of breast cancer. In Canada it is less than 1% of breast cancers affect men. The process of diagnosis follows a similar type of set of tests and examinations. Last week I was scheduled for a mammogram which did not take place. I went to the Radiology Department of St. Mary’s Hospital, and the lead radiologist deemed that it would do more harm than good to attempt one due to the mass of tissue growing outside of my right pec. I was relieved. The radiologist felt it would hinder a proper ultrasound guided biopsy if the tissues were damaged. Besides it would have been excruciatingly painful and bloody if they had tried. So all around I am very thankful for the wisdom of the radiologist. I cannot imagine how painful mammograms are for women to undergo.
Fully engaged and fully alive
So here I was yesterday, at Freeport Hospital (part of Grand River Hospital) at the Breast Clinic. My wife Lori came with me. She had attended here recently herself for a mammogram. So she knew the process. I went to patient registration and got registered and went to waiting room number two. I was the only man in the waiting area. I felt the stares of the women who were waiting there for their appointments. I did not really feel as awkward as I thought I would be. It just was the reality of the moment. I was very aware of the moment, and the importance of living in that particular moment, fully engaged and alive in that moment. I was not dulled down or in denial of the moment. It was real and I was very present in that moment. It felt good and it felt safe and it felt like a moment of progress was taking place. I seized that moment. It was mine. I wanted it. It is remarkable how fully alive you can feel, even as you may have anxiety, fear and even dread about what you may be facing.
Feeling a kindred spirit with the women in that room
The women in the room were reading magazines, books, or looking at their smart phones. Lori and I sat there waiting. The technician came to get me, and led me to a change area where I could put on a gown and go back to the waiting area to await my turn. I noticed the looks of the women. A perplexed look implying “Oh, it’s him and not her.” I felt a kindred bond to the women. I felt a twinge of real empathy for them. Lori and I were holding hands and quietly waiting my turn. Just having Lori with me meant the world to me. She has been extremely supportive of me during this situation, right from last spring until now. She knows the scare of a threat of cancer, both skin cancer and uterine cancer. She has had surgeries over the last year for both. She also had a previous encounter with skin cancer over a decade ago. She understands better than most. Having lost a daughter to A.L.L. Leukemia has impacted both of us as parents, and when you face the threat yourself of that “c” word, it can create a hopelessness and fear that can paralyze your life. I refuse to give that kind of power over me.
Oh the wonder and grace of the Jesus Prayer
So, I patiently waited, and I recited quietly the ancient Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” The more I recited the more I sensed God’s presence in me, upon me and in the room. I felt the peace of God in that whole area. It was a good place for me to be. I seized upon that moment of tranquility and peace. I felt my heart rate slow down, and my breaths relax and just a sweet calm coming over me. It was so very good.
Within minutes the technician came to get me and took me to the examination room. There was a set up of a hospital bed with the latest ultrasound machine and the diagnostic set up to take tissue samples. The technician assisted me to get in a comfortable position. She explained everything to me and assisted me with my dressing and made the determination of what would be done by the physician who would take the samples. She put that freezing gel on the ultrasound sensor and went over my right breast area taking images of the area and she explained that she would consult with the physician and be back in a few moments. I lay alone in that room waiting.
Waiting is always the greatest challenge for me
I reflected on just how long I have been waiting concerning this issue. All along this journey from the third week of April when Lori was caressing me in a moment of affection and she felt a tiny lump on my right pec, I have been waiting. I did not wait to engage in getting this looked at, but all along the way, the common factor has been “waiting”. I waited to see my GP several times and had to go to the after hours clinic to start this whole process. I went to that clinic on several occasions, three in total, simply because my GP was so busy and I could not get an appointment. When I finally saw him in mid May, he noticed that the growth was the size of a quarter, and said it appeared to be an abscess. So we waited until I could see a surgeon. It ended up I had to wait until the first week of August to see the surgeon. More waiting. When I saw that surgeon, he did not have an ultrasound and did not know what he was dealing with, so we waited that day for an ultrasound. We were in the hospital for over five hours that day before he cut my right pec open to try to drain it. There was not much there. There was a hematoma there and several abscess clustered together. So he decided to leave an open wound to see if it would drain on its own. So we waited some more. Each day, we waited for drainage. Each day I went to the CCAC clinic in Kitchener to have daily dressing changes, and to see if the area was draining. In five days a growth began to appear coming out of the open wound. Each day it was packed and we waited. I went to Emerge twice and waited. The nurses at the clinic said I needed to see a surgeon. The second time at the ER, I met both the original surgeon and the surgeon on call who happened to be the one that my GP wanted to handle my case. How convenient to meet at the ER. They met me and arranged for me to have an appointment at Freeport. More waiting. Two weeks of waiting and daily dressing changes, and each day the growth of my right pec just kept on growing and bleeding. The nurses at the clinic were waiting with me and were very supportive. The wait continued up to yesterday.
Praying and waiting – always a good thing
I was there continuing to wait and I was praying the Jesus prayer. In that moment of deep intimacy with the Lord, I got the image of the women back in the waiting room as I prayed. I embraced that moment where there was great empathy and sympathy for all those women, who were there waiting, all on their own, and meanwhile I have my wife there waiting for me. My eyes flooded with tears as I thought of all the emotions they must be going through as they get mammograms and ultrasound examinations, and the thoughts of what they may be facing. I ached for them as they awaited their turn. I prayed for each one of them. I did not know their names and that is not important. God knows them quite well and was with them just as He was with me. He has their situation covered just as He has my situation covered. So lying there, waiting, I just prayed God’s peace to be upon them and to lift off any cares or anxieties, and that these tests would prove to be negative for them, and that God’s grace would be poured out upon them, and their families and loved ones, as well as the radiology team. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I smiled. I felt good. I also felt a kindred connection with women like I have never felt before.
Staying at peace even within the illusion of being in control
So here I was in the room, waiting for the radiologist to come in and do the ultrasound guided biopsy. She was a pleasant person, and a real professional and a compassionate edge, which was nice. She explained what she would do and did it. Now one complaint that I have heard from many people, is that when it comes to giving a local anesthetic, both the ER and Radiology departments seem to not wait very long for the freezing to take place. My experience with the initial surgeon was great. I felt the numbness and he waited about ten minutes for it to take effect. This physician waited seconds. It was not even 20 seconds. It shocked me. I consciously chose to seize the moment, and embrace it for what it was and not let it bother me. I chose peace over anxiety. I prayed and my peace returned to me. I got the freezing in three areas. They froze an area where a lymph node was as they wanted tissue from there. They also found the abscess and took two samples from there. I don’t know if you have ever felt the impact, just the physical bang of an industrial stapler, but that is exactly what this thud felt like each time they took a sample. It was the weirdest experience. They talked to me to assist in keeping me calm, but I was already calm. Jesus was with me the whole time. We all live with the illusion that we somehow have control over our circumstances, our lives, the lives of others, but it is all an illusion, and you can really stay at peace by embracing the moment, and letting go of expectations and just taking it all in with a quiet and still heart. The anxieties and tensions will pass. Live in the moment. Let go of the illusion of control.
Looking to God and trusting the health care professionals
I chose to look away, but also to remain in the moment, as I really did not want to see what was going on. I am the same way when it comes to blood. Other people bleeding all over the place is OK. I am not queasy over that, but when it is mine, I get light headed and want to puke. So I had turned my head to the left and listened to the physician and technician as they spoke to me, and under my breath, the whole time I was praying the Jesus prayer. I had God’s peace the whole time. It was quite amazing.
The technician and radiologist advised me it would be five days and to contact the surgeon to book an appointment to see him about the results. They were kind and very professional and I felt I was in good competent hands. I did not go looking for this experience but I found God to be very present with me in this experience. I also believe that God was very present with all the women who were there and who go there every day facing what I faced that day. My heart and my prayers go out to the women who have to face this kind of thing.
In all I was in that room for just under an hour. The nurse patched up my dressing and Lori and I left and Lori drove me to the CCAC clinic to get a new dressing change for the day. I was feeling pain from the procedure so Lori went and picked up more Advil for the pain. I got the dressing change and Lori and went for a bite to eat at Tim Hortons. We had not eaten at Tim’s in a long time. But it was good just to go and sit and chill and relax, look into Lori’s eyes and hold her hand. To seize the moment, and to love and be loved, there is nothing like it.
Embracing all of life, each moment
Lori and I then went to Conestoga Mall to activate our new smart phones. This is our first experience with smart phones, and it is not an iPhone, must to the shock of my friends who know me as a Mac and Apple addict and junkie. No it is an Android and I love the phone. It does the job I need quite well. So we got a plan with Koodo and we are happy with it. We left the mall and went over to see our daughter Erinn and her husband Alex. They got a new dog, Harley, a mix Lab and Golden Retriever. He is a lovely dog. He and I struck a good relationship right way. Mind you Harley struck a good relationship with everyone. So I guess it does not make me that special. But it was nice to see my loved ones come together and connect. I seized that moment too. How precious it is to seize these moments and make them count and see God in them.
Increasing our awareness of God and of others in the moments of life
I came away from yesterday with a greater awareness of what women face as a regular part of living their lives in this age, and that ongoing examinations, from mammograms to ultrasounds, are just what is understood as being a “normal” part of life. It certainly was not very normal for me to go through all this. My male ego got a good solid dose of humility and a reality adjustment and an attitude re-alignment when it comes to the daily challenges that women undergo when there is a perceived health issue and risk of breast cancer. My emotions have gone all over the map since early summer, and continue to be in flux. I can have the most positive outlook possible, but it does not rule out being tossed and turned by my emotions, and through conversations with people. It is all so raw and intense at times. I just want to run to a quiet place and lay low.
I want to embrace these moments for what I know and experience in them, my humanity and my spirituality, and my vibrant connection with God and my fellow man. God is in the pain and suffering that we all share in common. I am so thankful for these moments. I am thankful that I have a newer and deeper awareness for what women go through, and not just women, but the less than 1% of men who get their world and ego rocked with this type of trauma in dealing with the possibility of a breast cancer diagnosis. I know all the gamut of emotions that guys go through, and understand a whole lot more how women must feel.
I know the other thing this has done, is to make me acutely aware of how important support and encouragement are for those who are going through these types of adversities and challenges. I knew this before. I knew it when Lori and I were dealing with Carragh and her Leukemia. But as Lori said yesterday, we were so young and naïve. We were both in our early and mid twenties. Lori was 22 and I was 26 when Carragh was born, and we were 24 and 28 respectively when she was diagnosed. That is pretty young to deal with cancer of a child. Yet we found God’s grace and mercy and supernatural presence and power throughout those seven years. Even in Carragh’s death, we experienced intimacy and connection with God.
God is with us in the midst of suffering and the Kingdom comes
God does not always answer our prayers the way we want Him to, but He does not abandon us and leave us alone. We may suffer, but He is present with us in that suffering. He is with us in every mood swing and emotional roller coaster ride we go through. There is no separation. We are one with Him and He is in the midst of who we are and what we are going through. We are never alone. Our own awareness of God may be dulled or shut down, but that is not His problem. It is our problem. What I have learned again, repeated many times in my life, is that the inward journey of self-awareness is the Kingdom journey. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is found within us, in our hearts, and that He is in the midst of that journey. You want the Kingdom of God? You want to see the power of God? You want to see the “signs and wonders”? You want all that? You may find it when you go about praying and laying hands on people and you minister in the name of Jesus. You may see the flash and bang on occasions, but the real evidence of the Kingdom is found in the mercy and compassion of Christ among the suffering.
Suffering saints continue to inspire and God continues to heal and do miracles
I have all the evidence I ever need of what this reality is. Going as far back as the Early Church, many of the saints throughout the ages, many of the mystics, and the great movers and shakers, were all people who literally suffered much in their bodies, and shared in the afflictions of Christ, some even bore the stigmata, the signs of the sufferings of Christ on their brows, hands and feet and side. They literally suffered much, and yet God was present in their suffering and allowed and released great healing and miracles through them. I cannot explain it. It just is. Perhaps the closest and most personal evidence of it for me is in the life of my spiritual father and father in law, Robert Rolston, who suffered due to liver disease and had a liver transplant. Right up to his death, people were being healed of cancer, and yet he died from his body shutting down. He ministered right up to the day before he died. He was a true model of a Christian who suffered and yet served the Lord in his own suffering. He is my role model and inspiration.
I have decided to be content in God and to live according to the hope I have in Him
I have decided that no matter what, I am serving the Lord. I would like my days to be lengthened and to be healed and restored to better serve Him. But whether in death or in life, I will praise the Lord Jesus Christ. I will continue to pray for healing and miracles for anyone who has a desire and need for such. I will not loathe in self-pity and feel sorry for myself. I will seek to glory in Jesus Christ alone and the power of His cross and the defeat of death and hell through His resurrection. No matter what, death is NOT the final answer. So, receive hope, no matter what situation you are facing. Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome death. He has overcome disease. Just call on His name and He will answer you. Don’t be religious about it. Talk to Him like you would talk to a friend. He already knows you by name. Share your heart, your burden, your pain and sorrow. Open your heart to receive His compassion and love and grace, and see with expectation in your heart, what Jesus will do for you. All you need do is become “aware of His presence” in the midst of your situation.