In spite of all our precautions and care, cancer unexpectedly intrudes. But we are always in God’s hands.
Cancer is a word no one wants to hear. I was faithful in doing self-exams and making my yearly appointments. Then I discovered a lump above my right breast just a few months after a mammogram. I made a doctor’s appointment to check out the lump. In my heart, I was hoping it would be just be another benign spot, not cancer. Yet the unknown feeling and question needed an answer.
Concerns and confessions
When I told my doctor about finding a lump, he was concerned. Looking at him during his initial examination and seeing his facial expression, I realized, “This doesn’t look good.”
His words confirmed my fears: “I am sorry, but you have breast cancer.” The news was heartbreaking. I heard the “C” word and did not want it to be me who was hearing it. It was like a black curtain going over my eyes. My life, as I knew it, was over.
While sitting on the examination table with thoughts of my life changing, I commented to my doctor, “But God has a plan.” He turned around and said, “Yes, he does.” I had never talked to my doctor about God before. But on this day, my faith simply burst into a confession. I had turned to my faith in Christ for strength.
I repeated that confession later with my team of cancer doctors. I wanted them to know it was because of my faith that I was not afraid of cancer. With God by my side, I was confident to face the future. I also found the Lord’s Prayer gave me comfort, especially the words, “Thy will be done.” I was in my heavenly Father’s loving arms.
My journey turned out to be a two-year path of treatments, surgeries, a mastectomy, and an implant. In just five weeks the medical procedures changed me and gave me a different body. I prayed all the time. It was the only way I found comfort. Often I wondered where I would be without my faith.
In one of the first meetings with my oncologist, I soon realized how effective the chemo would be in the next 52 weeks. I asked about a dental appointment I had scheduled. The oncologist advised me to get dental cleaning done before the start of chemo because he did not want any bacteria going into my stomach while on chemo. This dental appointment proved to be a preventive session. My dentist gave me a prescription for toothpaste and mouthwash to guard my teeth from having undue work and problems after my chemo treatments.
Before starting my cancer treatments, I contacted the American Cancer Society for helpful cosmetic suggestions. The American Cancer Society provided educational meetings to teach me how to care for skin during chemo treatment and going forward after cancer.
As a first step, they inserted a port to administer the drugs. When I went for my first treatment, I was amazed at how many people were getting chemo along with me. Every chair was filled. At times even extra chairs were brought in to meet the needs for those getting chemo that day. I soon got to meet the patients sitting around me. We had the same schedules. The conversation was always the same: type of cancer, kind of chemo, and the schedule of treatments. God used me to tell other cancer patients that there is a loving God who gives strength and comfort.
I learned that the drug I was using would cause me to lose my hair by the second treatment. I had my head shaved, because it was the only way I could control the first effects of cancer. Along with the loss of hair, I soon lost my eyebrows. I still can remember when I lost all my facial hairs and had one eye lash left. Then it was gone too.
A friend who had gone through breast cancer before me was my support person. She had 52 scarves that she used during her cancer. She loaned them to me. I had every color of scarf imaginable as a covering for my bald head, and I wore them in different styles. Now my hair does not grow as fast as it did before cancer. Fewer haircuts are a blessing!
The chemo drugs take control of one’s body. Every Monday was a three-and-a-half-hour injection followed by a week of pain relievers, tiredness, nausea, lack of appetite, and couch time. By the time Friday came around, I was feeling a bit better, but only to think that on Monday it would start over again.
While getting chemo, cancer patients notice the changes in their senses. Some vision loss means a person cannot see as well. Before cancer I wore reading glasses. Now I wear glasses all the time. My sense of smell became very sensitive and is that way today. Certain odors really affect me.
“Chemo brain” was also a concern. Chemo brain is a common term used by cancer survivors to describe thinking and memory problems that occur after cancer treatment. Someone once said to me, “With all the time you have now, I suppose you are reading more.” Far from the truth! I would try to read one sentence, and I could not remember what I had just read. What a shock that was. It did get better after many months of being cancer free.
Because I was in a weakened condition, my oncologist suggested I should be very careful during chemo to avoid any infections or diseases. I wore a mask and stayed at home from August to December, only leaving the house to get chemo.
I was fortunate that neuropathy did not happen in all extremities. I did have neuropathy in both hands (my thumb, index finger, and middle finger). It bothers me to read a paper or a paperback book. Just touching the paper is a sensation to my nerves. My lips and tongue were also affected. It feels as if the local anesthetic is wearing off after a visit to the dentist. It’s more evident when I am tired. Fortunately, I do not have neuropathy in my feet, like many other cancer survivors.
After the chemo was complete, I still had one more step on my journey. Based on lab results and tests, radiation followed chemo. The radiation treatment started three weeks after chemo ended and was five days a week for six weeks. One bit of advice my radiologist gave me was to put a leaf of cabbage on my breast after radiation. The leaf of cabbage pulls the heat from the breast, and when the leaf withers it should be replaced.
Cancer brought me to my knees in all the aspects of my treatments. I found comfort in knowing God was always right beside me. By God’s grace, I have been cancer free for over seven years. Every night before I close my eyes, I thank God for another day of grace.
Gerry Diersen is a member at St. Peter, Appleton, Wisconsin.
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Author: Gerry Diersen
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018
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