In December 2002, my father died in North Dakota at the grand old age of 95. John and I and our two daughters flew “home” for his funeral, a poignant yet joyous celebration with the entire family. Back we came to California for Christmas, and then in January I knew I had to face the fact that a lump had been growing large and quickly in my breast. In I went for a mammogram, with the result that the radiologist told me he was certain I had cancer. And I did. In February I had a lumpectomy. The good news was that it appeared the cancer was not in my lymph nodes, and I awoke from surgery to the happy tears of my husband John, my daughter Amy, and my good friend Barbi Rouse. The bad news was that the lump was larger than expected…about an inch. This meant I would need to have chemotherapy (the dreaded word!) and then radiation.
I was frightened, of course. No one in my family had ever faced such a life-threatening disease at my age…and I’m talking about my entire extended family. My father having just died, I had to face the fact that I might not live as long as my long-lived relatives. And more importantly, what did this mean for my two precious daughters and my four fantastically wonderful granddaughters? You probably know the question that’s always asked at any doctor’s appointment: “Has anyone in your family ever had breast cancer?” Their answer from now on would have to be yes…that was clearly not one of the heritages I had planned on leaving them!
Beginning in April 2003, I had 6 sessions of chemotherapy over 3 months. Of course, my hair began to fall out on the 17th day after my first chemo, just as my oncology nurse said it would. I was prepared, and yet not prepared. You can imagine yourself bald, but to actually see it is another thing! Fortunately, I have a fantastic hair stylist named Nazy who previously had gone with me to get a couple wigs, so I was prepared. After chemo, I had 6 weeks of radiation, which compared to chemo, was a snap. By October 2003 I had gone through the entire regimen, and John and I celebrated with a trip back to see my family in North Dakota.
All through this I had the love, support, and prayers of so many people here at VU, other friends I had not seen in years who had heard about the cancer, and my fantastic family here in CA and back in the Midwest. Before my surgery, my VU “family” had gathered to pray for me. Throughout my treatment, my library “family” laughed, cried, and prayed with me. After every chemo treatment, I arrived home to a bouquet of flowers from my granddaughters and my daughter Amy. And of course, John, my best friend of 38 years and my life-long love, told me constantly, “You’ll be fine…you’ll live to be 88 and 3 days,” even while giving me the shots I needed during chemo to keep my blood count up!
And underpinning it all is God, who doesn’t cause cancer, but uses it to bring good. My first instinct after the initial fear was to recommit to centering myself in God, in his Word, and in prayer. It was the best instinct I could have had.
We can’t expect God to keep all the bad things in life from happening to us, but he’s there in the journey. And that makes all the difference.
Mary Wilson, October 2005