September 6th, 2018
I can’t remember what she looked like—the woman who told us our daughter has cancer. I know her name was Katie, and I remember thinking she was cute when she walked in the room. Beyond that—nothing.
I laid in bed last night, trying to put the pieces of a facial puzzle together to get a clear picture of who she is, but I kept coming up empty, as if my brain couldn’t find the right parts. Or maybe it didn’t want to. Maybe subconsciously I wanted to forget her as much as I wanted to forget the words she spoke.
In spite of her kindness. In spite of her encouragement. In spite of her cute smile. I wanted to forget our conversation. Can we go back to the days before we knew? Is ignorance really bliss?
No parent is ever really prepared to hear those words, even if they did end a week-long torture sentence of waiting for answers. Even if they did squash my imagination once and for all. Nobody is prepared. I certainly wasn’t.
I’d imagined getting on Facebook and typing the word BENIGN in giant, all capped letters so everyone would know how good and faithful God had been to bring us the result we’d been so earnestly praying for.
But that’s not how our story goes.
And yet, God is still good and faithful.
That’s the funny thing, I still believe that. Even though the news we received was not what we wanted. Even though I didn’t get to tell you our daughter definitely does not have cancer. Even though what lies is front of us is the land of I don’t know, full of question marks and hard conversations.
Just typing those words feels surreal and out of place. Lately, I’ve been hearing of a lot of people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve never felt flip about that, but I never carried the weight of it either. Prayers and text messages and gift cards and homemade dinners were all for other people. And now I’m that person. We are those people. How did we get here?
There is shock and worry and doubt and fear TRYING to latch itself onto me like a burr in a field on a long autumn walk. Those things don’t get to stay. Those are plucked off before they can burrow themselves in because this is not a time to be fearful or worried. This is a time to do battle and speak life and pray without ceasing (truly—my spirit is always in prayer.)
There are moments when I feel strong, as if everything is okay, as if this never happened. And there are moments when I’m on my knees, full of…something…not anger, but maybe anger’s distant relative. In those moments, I remember the promises God gave us. I remember He is good, even when circumstances are not. I remember that even though I feel confused, frustrated, numb…that none of this is a surprise to God.
And also, I’m thankful for vaccinations. Which is saying something considering that I’m a full-out natural medicine junkie. My own thyroid and adrenal issues have been dealt with almost exclusively by a functional medicine doctor, but the school required a meningitis vaccination senior year, so I made the appointment and off we went.
If we hadn’t had that appointment, in which my doctor did a physical I almost told her Sophia didn’t need, in which she found that her thyroid was very enlarged, in which she discovered nodules on both sides of they thyroid, in which she ordered a blood test and ultrasound to find out more…we would still be in the dark about all of this.
And like she (my doctor) said, “I don’t believe in coincidences.”
So we did the ultrasound and we did the blood test, and having been through both of those tests myself I didn’t think much of either. They’d take a look and maybe tell us she had something along the same lines as what I have. Hashimoto’s, maybe.
Fast forward to the morning of Ethan’s fifteenth birthday. We let him go to school late and took him for breakfast, a tradition we started in kindergarten. That’s when my doctor called and told us one of the nodules (read: not actually a nodule) was 3.6 cm in diameter. They biopsy anything over 1 cm.
My mind clicked over to my Grey’s Anatomy medical training. A biopsy?
“What’s that for?” I asked, even though McDreamy taught me well enough to know.
“They need to rule out thyroid cancer.”
The waitress set my eggs down in front of me, and I hung up the phone. Suddenly eating seemed absolutely impossible. We wasted $45 on three breakfasts we never ate.
Last Friday, we took Sophia out of school early to do the biopsy. I suppose I should be thankful this has all moved rather quickly. I mean, sometimes it can take months to get appointments with doctors. We picked Sophia up from school right after she led worship in chapel. I listened to her singing “What a powerful name it is, the name of Jesus” and a lump formed in my throat.
Did I know then that this was what was coming?
We waited for a long time for the doctor to come in and explain the procedure. We busied ourselves with copies of Better Homes and Gardens circa 2016, social media, video games.
Finally, a nurse named Josh who really should be on stage at Disney World came in to take her to the other side of the hospital where the procedure would be done.
Adam and I found watered-down coffee and a vending machine Kind Bar (me) and a package of donuts and a bag of cookies (him). We sat. We were calm. We had no reason to fear.
She texted us about an hour later: On my way back. That was it. She was done.
She came back to us with an iodine-covered neck and a large taped down piece of gauze—proof that she’d done battle that morning. Proof that there were still questions without answers. It was Labor Day weekend, which meant we shouldn’t expect results until Tuesday at the earliest. They didn’t come in on Tuesday.
Wednesday morning, I got up. I made lunches. I got the kids off to school. I did day 42 of my 80 Day Obsession workout. I made a vegan chocolate protein shake. I sat down to drink it. And my phone rang. I answered. They had results. They wouldn’t tell me on the phone. “Can you bring Sophia in today or tomorrow?”
This is when my heart started pounding. This is when it felt like my insides were doused with something metallic, like everything inside me was hollowed out and filled with ice, like everything stopped.
I hung up the phone, and I knew. But I pretended I didn’t know. I entertained thoughts like “maybe it’s a nodule they have to remove.” “Maybe it’s a goiter. Or Grave’s Disease.” “Maybe it’s nothing at all.”
But I knew.
So when we picked up Sophia from school, my insides were buzzing, like there was an electrical current pulsing in my body. We drove to the doctor’s office. We waited (not very long). A sweet nurse who’d been there the day of Sophia’s physical brought us back, took her vitals, talked to us about Marvel movies.
I can still see her face.
But then the door opened and Katie came in and the rest of the world turned a different color.
My daughter has cancer.
Just looking at those words on my computer screen feels like an out of body experience. Someone else wrote them, right?
I tried to listen to Katie as she explained things. I tried to think of questions—the things I’d want to know as soon as we got in the car and drove away. My mind was blank. She said, “very treatable.” She said, “surgery”. She said, “Unlikely you’ll have to have chemo.” I clung to those. I am still clinging.
Tomorrow we go to Madison for an appointment with a surgeon who specializes in endocrinology. They tell us he comes very highly recommended. We have a list of questions we want to ask him, but I’m sure there should be more. It’s hard to ask about what you don’t know.
Here’s what I do know:
- I’m astounded by my daughter’s strength. She is so positive and pragmatic. We got home from the doctor’s office and she started researching on the Mayo Clinic website. She is now an expert on all things thyroid cancer.
- It’s asymptomatic. If we hadn’t gone in for that shot, we would not know Sophia had cancer. (Thank you, Dr. Ferry, for checking her out.)
- It’s the fastest growing cancer in women under the age of 25. (I’m writing that from memory. I hope I’m remembering correctly.)
- Sophia started making jokes about it almost immediately. Yes, she cried. Yes, she’s scared. But she’s also a fighter and it’s not getting her down. I’m learning from my own daughter.
- God has a plan and a purpose for Sophia’s life. She is called, chosen and anointed. This is part of her story. This is one chapter. Maybe half a chapter. This is so easy for Jesus. We rest in that.
- I am surrounded by the most amazing people. My heart is swollen 98% of the time, and every time someone goes out of their way to let us know they’re thinking about us, it grows another percent. I am astounded by the love and kindness we’ve been shown in only a two days.
- God can turn this in to something beautiful. He can take this challenge and use it to shape us, to draw us closer to him, closer to each other.
I routinely tell God now that I would happily battle my own autoimmune issues for the rest of my life without any hope of recovery if it meant she didn’t have to go through this. I ask him why it was her and not me. I wish it was me.
I think of all the dreams I have for my daughter, and this was never one of them. This was never part of the story I was writing for her. But I’m not the author of her life. He is. And so I trust him implicitly with it.
I’m praying (and would covet your prayers too) that everything is routine. Nothing is a surprise. Everything is ordinary from here on out. UNLESS God wants to take that cancer straight out of her without a single scalpel ever touching her skin—that is the only kind of out of the ordinary I will believe for. Everything else, I’m praying will be routine. Simple.
And I will pray without ceasing.
And I will praise without ceasing.
For what he has done and what he will do in my little girl’s life.
She must be a real threat to the enemy… which makes this front row seat I have to her life even more precious to me.
Sophia, if you’re reading this, please know that you are so very loved. Even when you’re sassy. Even when you leave dishes in your bedroom and half-eaten snacks on the bathroom counter. You are loved when you worship, even when no one else sings with you. You are loved when you face another challenge or tackle another fear. You are loved when you put off your college applications because thinking about it is overwhelming. You are loved when you don’t say “I love you” back. You are loved when you tell us you’re ready to leave home, even though we really hate hearing it because we know it’s true. You are loved when you’re on the stage in costume and off the stage in those ugly, high-waisted, 90’s mom-jean shorts. You are so loved.
And we are praying you through this every step of the way.
I love you. <3