The Story from post-op Day 5

My room is quiet. The halls outside seem quiet, but God’s people are all around. A knock on my door and a sweet, older lady walks in. She looks at me and says, “Are you the patient? Girl, you look beautiful.” I have the feeling that she says that to everyone.  I told her today I just felt like getting dressed and even put on some makeup. Again, “Girl, even without that, you are still beautiful.” She was simply a MDA volunteer but she radiated God’s love this morning. This is my first time to sit in this room by myself. It is Sunday, and my heart wants to be where I usually am on Sundays. My heart wants to be hugging my friends and praising my Lord. But instead, God brought this lady to me for encouragement to keeping fighting and never stop raising my hands toward Him like she said she did in the cotton fields many, many years ago.

I was checking into MDA Wednesday morning at 6 am. That morning, I pulled up the Verse of the Day:

“Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1

That verse washed a sense of peace over me. Reminding me of God’s greater plan, God’s greater love. While I did not choose this journey for myself, the way I embrace it serves as a sacrifice. And offering my body that day seemed very fitting. God is using my journey for a purpose. And he let my healing take place through the sacrifice of this body. Through a friend’s perspective, I began to see the surgery as a gift. It was the answer to eliminating the cancer. It was life-giving.

The surgeon told us that morning that if the chest wall could be closed easily, that there would be no extra tissue needed. But the extent of the cancer was greater than they thought. Because my cancer extended into the skin, it was very important that all diseased skin was removed. The surgeon took her first attempt at removing the disease. She then took samples of the surrounding area to be sent to pathology for traces of cancer cells. It came back showing several areas that were still positive. So to get clear margins, she had to remove more skin. The plastic surgeon then stepped in with the task of closing it. The plan was to take my latissimus muscle in the back and wrap it around under my arm to serve as new tissue and help close the gap, it’s called a L-flap. The surgeon then had to go a step further because he still needed more skin, and that came from a large skin graft on my outer thigh. So, I have three very invasive areas that are trying to heal. All the doctors have said that everything went very well. Healing is going well too. I will have quite the scars to tell my story, but I will have a story to tell. I will be held in the hospital for at least 5 days to make sure the skin graft bonds properly and stays healthy. I have heard rumors that I may get to go home on Monday.

Our next phase is to return on the 17th for a post-op visit that will reveal the full pathology of the removed tissue. The information from that will determine our next steps. It seems very possible that I will undergo 6 weeks of radiation, M-F here at MDA. Initially that seemed an impossible task. But the possibility of my full body being cancer-free is more important than the convenience of staying in Round Rock.

I am so overwhelmed and thankful for how far my story has traveled. But this is not just my story, it is God’s. His hand has been in this every step of the way. He knew the outcome before we ever stepped foot in MDA. He is good and his ways are holy. Thank you for walking beside us.

Our Story

We were teenage kids when we met. Two kids from the same neighborhood, with a shared history of places, schools and friends, and though it made it easier to relate and bond we were certainly different. I was brash and arrogant. She was quiet and thoughtful. I was floundering. She was grounded. She had joy in her heart. I had doubt. Pain filled my heart from loss, but she could see past it.

Her beauty and belief launched a thousand ships in my heart. She made me want to be a better man, more caring, more compassionate, more humble, more and more and more. Outside of my parents, no one’s influence on me has been more profound. Why? Because she insisted Jesus be the center of our relationship. Always, from the beginning. The problem was I stunk at it. Like a toddler I stumbled alot. I made so many mistakes, created unfortunate pain and hurt. I learned to say I’m sorry. And like any parent knows, when the toddler stumbles you pick them back up, nudge them forward with a smile, and tell them they can do this. And that’s what she did every time; smiled at me, nudged me closer to Jesus, and believed in me. And slowly the teenage boy more consumed with his own self-interests than others self-worth learned to love with purity and selflessness. I learned that when you put Jesus first you can figure out the other stuff. It’s still going to hurt and be difficult at times, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

During the past 20 years that’s exactly what our story looks like. The narrative has been filled with chapters of joy and love, pain and sickness, happiness and blessings, fear and angiush. The chapter today is certainly filled with angiush and dread, and maybe even the next couple of chapters. But what really got me thinking about this was when the pastor at church prayed over us the weekend during the service. I thought why single out Julie’s story? Surely there are others here who have similar stories; other people with pain, doubts, and difficulty. Aren’t their stories significant? Don’t they matter? Of course they do, but maybe God has choosen Julie to tell her to story publicly because she’s got a secret — Julie knows how her story ends. She knows that no matter how many chapters are left, at the end she falls into the loving arms of Jesus. She is surrounded by his grace and his mercy. It’s possible that what’s happened all along is each little smile she’s given you, each bit of witty sarcasm, each time you’ve found encouragement has been a gentle nudge back to Jesus. What I’ve come to realize is God knows each and every one of our stories, the beginning to the end, and that my hope and prayer is each of us marches boldy forward through all the chapters with the same confidence as Julie. Are you confident in how your story ends?

Father, today I come before you to plead for more nudges, more smiles, and more sarcasm. I need more story for me, my girls, and my wife. I pray that you wrap your loving arms around the girls. Give them comfort and wisdom beyond their needs. I pray that this cancer is removed from her body forever. I pray that you give the doctors the wisdom and understanding necessary to be successful. I pray that your glory shine through this story, that we do not lean on our own understanding but simply and boldy trust you in all things. I pray for healing in her body, that she recovers quickly, and she continues to be brave. I come before you with fear and doubt but I also know you hear my plea. Grow my faith today.

Approaching the day

Surgery is fast approaching. While I have been preparing for that, I have also been preparing for what my family will need while I am recovering. As a mom, I know that I do a lot. My husband is the sole provider for our family, but not the sole worker. Sometimes, we as moms don’t realize how much we do until you are required to tell another everything they will need to know to take care of your family. Here are a few of the things I did this week:

Made a daily schedule including what time to take the kids to school, the exact time to leave the house to pick them up — too early and you are waiting in the dreaded pickup line, but too late and your kids are left wondering if they have been forgotten, what kid has soccer on which day, what time the carpool picks them up, what days they have PE so they have the right shoes on and when to tuck them sweetly in bed. Cleaned the stacks of stuff that had been piling themselves higher and higher in the office, the kitchen, my bedroom, even in the laundry room — Ethan said I was nesting. Stocked up on items my family may run out of during the next few weeks like shampoo, soap and favorite snacks. Baked 6 loaves of banana bread, rolled 20 breakfast tacos, and cut up one pan of granola bars.

When the family was taken care of, I still had planning to do for myself. Items and clothing that I would need for the week of surgery, none of which anybody would actually choose to buy for themself. Dry shampoo since I won’t be able to wash my hair.  A pillow to keep my arm from touching any sensitive area, which will basically be from my chest all the way around to my back. Chapstick and throat lozenges after being sedated for a few hours. Music and a speaker for my 3 days in the hospital. A robe since I can’t imagine that I will be dressing for a week. A few button-down shirts when I do have to be dressed since I won’t be able to lift my arms above my head.  And my smile… I’ve been searching for my smile to bless those around me and hide the turmoil that is really going on inside Ethan and myself. My smile that is going to show my hope and my faith even when my confidence in the future has left.

Fast approaching is the day when I will be changed forever. When a part of me will be gone…forever. My family will be cared for and my to do list done, but there is not much I can do to prepare myself for that day. I long for the day when we all get glorified new bodies. When our pain and sickness, our anger, and our disease are led to rest. When our weary, broken souls finally meet their maker and that smile can be genuine again.