I saw my oncologist today for my 3-month check-up. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, when you’ve had cancer like mine, your oncologist becomes your life-long (and hopefully life is very long) best friend. I’m really blessed that I am pretty crazy about my oncologist. Dr. Jessica Rhee is incredibly capable. Her medical expertise in the area of oncology, particularly women’s cancers is amazing. And she instills a confidence in her patients — confidence in her and confidence in their survival.
My exam went well, but today she said something that made me pause. We were talking about my portacath which was surgically placed in my upper chest after my double mastectomy and before I began chemo last year. It was to make my many chemo infusions easier and it proved its worth. Although it looks a little like a misplaced elbow bone sticking out of my chest, it did its job well I’m grateful. But now that chemo is a thing of the past for me, I don’t really need it any longer.
I mentioned to Dr. Rhee that both my breast surgeon and my plastic surgeon suggested that the portacath come out when I have my next major surgery in August. But they needed Dr. Rhee’s approval for its removal. After a moment of thought she said that yes, it could come out in August. Then she said what gave me pause when she commented, “If you have a recurrence, we wouldn’t go straight to chemo anyway. Since your cancer was hormone-driven, we’d start with increased hormone treatment.”
It was the “If you have a recurrence …” part that caught me.
You see, for all cancer sufferers, we do everything we can to get rid of the cancer — in my case surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and anti-hormone drug therapy. And we hold our breath every three months and only exhale after our exam and blood test shows good cancer markers — meaning the cancer isn’t showing its face. We don’t want to consider that it may rear its ugly head again. So any mention of “recurrence”, well, it makes our heart skip a beat.
So I left the oncologist’s office and called Prince Philip for a short, teary conversation. He of course said all the right and encouraging things, but what I really needed was time with Jesus. I needed to be reminded that my kind Savior is the God of our scariest moments. I needed to be reminded that when I heard the word “recurrence” and my heart skipped a beat, He was there. He will always be there. And where He is, I am safe and I will be just fine.
The truth is that no one’s life is free of threats. The truth is that uncertainty accompanies any and all of us. The truth is that none of us can be sure what’s waiting for us around the corner. And yet our Kind Savior says, “Here I am; keep your eyes on Me and you’ll be safe. You’ll be just fine.”
I just read in the LA Times about a teacher named Nikki in the Oklahoma school destroyed by last week’s tornado. As she huddled in the bathroom with her students, when the tornado hit, she had her scariest moment. She prayed for a Scripture to get her through and Psalm 91:4 came to mind: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” She recited the verse aloud. “I was praying really loud,” she said, “and at that moment the tornado was above us, and I felt the hand of God on my back like a soft pillow, and I knew I was going to be OK.”
I haven’t been through a tornado but I’ve been through a pretty scary cancer storm. In my scary moment, God’s hand was on my back also. Like Nikki, I made it through my storm, so now I practice what I learned back then. When the scary moments come, I remember that His presence is my safe place.
No matter what. Even when the oncologist mentions “recurrence”. Yep, even then.
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.