Beautifully Healed

The glass, automatic double doors slide open and close, time and time again during the course of the five-hour time frame where I stand front and center as a navigator and helper to those entering MD Anderson Hospital.  There are many who, like me, consider MDA a familiar place as they have undergone treatments and follow-up visits for several years or have stood by the side of a loved one undergoing treatment for a lengthy amount of time.  On rare occasions, I have visited with patients who have been under the care of doctors in the MDA system for twenty plus years.  However, every single day, hundreds enter the front doors for the first time with those closest to them in tow with a look of frantic desperation, tears, and sadness.  The appearance of being lost, confused, and the question of hope is more often than not embedded on their facial expressions.  This was true for one such woman this week as I stood in my usual place, watching patients and families pass through the doors of the greatest Cancer treatment center in the world.

“Good morning!”, I said to her as she hesitantly approached.  Her husband was only two steps behind with a folder full of lab results and scheduling paperwork under one arm along with his iPhone in hand, scrolling with his thumb, obviously hoping to find that he was in the correct building.  Each of them with their own set of concerns; he, trying to insure a timely appointment arrival and she, wanting someone… anyone, to assure her that she was going to survive her recent Cancer diagnosis.  After exchanging pleasantries, I asked to see her appointment schedule.  Her husband was more than willing to pass the responsibility over to me as it can all be very intimidating and overwhelming to a new-comer.  I flipped through three stapled pages until I found the correct date, time, and clinic address which read:  Thoracic, Elevator B, 9th floor, 9:15.  My heart sank as I quickly swallowed, took a deep breath and raised my head.  Under their seemingly dazed condition, I decided to personally escort them to their first appointment to guarantee they did not get lost in the maze of elevators and corridors, further adding to their anxiety.

On the elevator ride to the 9th floor, I learned that the couple was from Alabama and had just arrived in Houston the night before.  Obviously exhausted and frazzled to the last nerve, both were reserved in their conversation.  The elevator door opened and the three of us stepped off with me in the lead.  During the next twenty-five or so steps, I prayed for strength, peace, and a word of encouragement that I might offer to relieve the couple’s burden.  As we rounded the corner on the left, just above our heads was the official signage hanging from the ceiling, THORACIC.  Once again, I prayed, “Lord help me to be a comfort”.

The hospital has upgraded its check-in process to an iPad system.  It is pretty straight forward as one is asked to enter basic information.  However, for new patients, the sight of a computer screen in their already nervous, concerned condition can be very daunting.  The husband and wife looked at each other as if to question which one was going to attempt to sign in.  I chuckled with them and offered my assistance to enter her information to which they again gladly accepted.  After I pushed the “send” button, completing the process, I turned to them and said, “Okay, you’re good to go.  Just make yourselves comfortable until they call your name.  I want you to know that you’re in the best hands and you’re going to receive great care here.  I actually spent nineteen months in this very clinic with my mom.”  They both looked shocked and relieved to hear these words coming from me.  The woman asked, “What kind of cancer did your mom have?”  I replied, “Lung cancer.”  She responded, “Oh, that’s what I have!  How’s your mom doing now?”  With a smile on my face, I looked straight into her eyes and said, “My mom is beautifully healed”.   Her face lit up as she wrapped her arms around me.  Giving me a big squeeze, she said, “That’s wonderful!”  As I was locked in her arms, I glanced over her shoulder at her husband.  With tears in his eyes, he winked at me as if he understood. His wife was still smiling as she released her arms from around me and turned to take a seat in the waiting area.  Having completed God’s assignment, I headed back to the first floor to take my position at the front door.

Count It Pure JOY!

Three weeks ago, when my ladies Bible study group, LAMBS, (acronym for Ladies AM {morning} Bible study), began studying the book of James, I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me.  Part of the assignment over the course of twelve weeks, is to hand write the book of James from the Bible.  After the introductory lesson, I went home and found a spiral notebook, my favorite black, roller-ball pen, my Bible, and began to write.  I had forgotten how difficult it is to perform the task of handwriting anything that is more lengthy than my signature, as I have become so accustomed to the computer keyboard.  What I considered the easiest part of the lesson, quickly became very laborious.  After writing out the first five verses, I placed my pen and paper down.  Obviously, this task would take longer than the designed seven week study.  “Consider it pure JOY my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-5 NIV.

Several days later, after walking away from my pen and notebook,  I received a telephone call from my Oncologist at MD Anderson.  She told me that she had me on the schedule for a biopsy based on the previous results of my mammogram and ultra sound performed only days before.  I tried to explain to her that I was planning to leave for Colombia in two days and would really need to reschedule that appointment.  My doctor, speaking in her authoritative doctor tone said that the biopsy could not wait and I would not be making the trip.  I would need to keep my appointment scheduled for the following Wednesday.  She apparently didn’t understand that I had work to do in Colombia.  I hung up the phone not believing what I had just heard.   I walked over to the counter where my spanking new spiral lay and began to read James 1:1-5 in my handwriting.  “Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds”.  I had to make a split decision in my heart to choose happiness and count it pure joy or anger and bitterness.  I  chose the latter and began to justify my anger and disappointment.  After all, the orphans in Bogota were anticipating my arrival.  What is God thinking?  Surely, He must have me confused with someone else!  I don’t have time for breast cancer!  These tantrums continued in my thoughts and actions, and at times, from my mouth as I helped Bill pack and leave for Bogota, two days later.

Several sleepless nights passed.  My daughter Katherine along with my sister, Jill arrived to drive me to the biopsy appointment at MD Anderson.  I thought, how fortunate I am to have my family living so close by, but Lord, they should not have to drive me this early in the morning into Houston!  And, not only that, Lord, I should be with Bill in Bogota or he here with me.  I determined not to count any of this trial as joy.  The tantrum continued as the nurse called me back to the holding area to check my vitals.  My blood pressure registered  high probably due to the battle going on inside but, I was not at stroke level so, she placed the skimpy gown in my hand.  I knew the routine as I have done this twice a year now for ten years.  I told the nurse that I did not want to watch the instructional biopsy video offered as I am never interested in watching re-runs.  I changed into the thread-bare gown, opened to the front with no tie strings in which to fasten it closed.  The nurse gave me a warm blanket which I wrapped backward around myself to cover where the gown was lacking.   I placed my clothes in the provided locker and took a seat in a ten by ten room with five chairs.  Sitting there alone, as at home in the silence, I could feel myself begin to whine once again.  The loneliness in the small, cold room was unbearable!  This was not the story that I imagined for my life.

The whining of loneliness and despair had increased to a dull roar when another woman walked in.  As she gathered her things from her locker, I complimented her on her shoes.  There is nothing like a great pair of shoes to jump-start a conversation between women!  The conversation progressed from shoes to cancer and then to God’s faithfulness.  After a few minutes, she walked out but not without first placing her arm around my shoulder and speaking blessing into my life.   As this kind woman departed, another woman walked in.  She sat down in the chair and like me, was trying to cover her bare chest with the tiny gown.  To ease her embarrassment, I asked her if she would like to share my blanket and if she was diagnosed with cancer before or if this was her first time.  She declined the blanket but, she had quite a cancer story to share.  She testified with boldness how God allowed her to have cancer first in her family so that she could encourage her sister and her aunt who were later diagnosed.   As we visited, a woman from China came in.  She was smaller than we were so she was able to double wrap her gown for cover.  Without much prompting, she began to speak in broken English.  She has a seven-year old daughter at home, and her cancer is malignant.  She told how she is writing letters to her daughter about the life experiences her daughter will have as she grows from year to year.  She said, “I may not be here, but my words will be here for her.”  During this conversation, a vibrant, older lady took a seat next to me.  She had driven to Houston from New Braunfels that morning.  Having part of her arm removed because of Melanoma,  she reassured us that MD Anderson is the place offering the best care and that we are all in this fight together.  By the time she finished, I felt as though I had been to a football pep rally.  As a grandmother of eight, she spoke such confident, positive words of living life to the fullest and not allowing defeat to reign victor.  I found myself listening intently with amazement as each told her story of trial and perseverance.

I ended up waiting for two long hours in the holding area due to some surgical emergencies and the will of God.  He left me there in the small, cold, room, bare-chested, listening to these precious women speak of His goodness and mercy.  I realized that God has given me my own unique story of trials and perseverance.  He is working in my life to show me that in my weakness He is strong.   I could feel my anger begin to subside as I recalled the words of James 1:2-4.   My faith is tested in order that I may persevere in Jesus Christ; that I may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  The surgical nurse called my name.   With a new hop in my step, a smile on my face and in my heart, counting it pure joy, I walked the long, wide hallway to the biopsy table.