Over the Christmas holidays in 2003, I was experiencing excruciating pains in my stomach. For weeks I was convinced it was just the flu or something I had eaten. While playing the piano with a group of other musicians for our Christmas production, I had to run to the bathroom in between songs to get sick. While lying on the bathroom floor and hugging the toilet, my daughter was by my side encouraging me and rubbing my back. At one point she whispered, “Mom… you don’t think it’s….” She couldn’t bear to even say the word ‘tumor.’ I looked up at her and in my best Arnold Swartzenegger voice I said, “IT‘S NOT A TUMA!”
Because the pain wasn’t constant and would come and go, I decided there was no way I would even consider going to the doctor. Until… this tall, dark, handsome and single man (who just happened to be painting the offices where I work) said, “Brenda, if you make a doctor’s appointment, I’ll take you to your appointment.” Well every single girl around was eyeballing this man and my mama didn’t raise no fool! So I went directly into my office and set up an appointment; when actually all I really wanted to do was get to know this mystery man. He was true to his word and went to the first couple doctor’s appointments with me. He even stood at the bottom of the CT Scanner and rubbed my foot, while I battled claustrophobia in that little CT tube.
But when things started getting intense, he vanished and moved six states away. I’m still thankful he suggested I make an appointment because I don’t think I would have gone to the doctor otherwise. I guess his mission here was finished and he ran for warmer climates and less drama. How could I blame him? If I had a choice I would have run too.
Friday the 13th, February 2004
Two and a half years after the death of my father, I found myself in the same doctor’s office dad had gone to. This time it was me, my mom, my daughter and friend, Carol. The doctor took everyone into one private waiting room then whisked me away to an examining room.
Once she got me in the examining room, she proceeded to do an annual pap smear. In this room there was what appeared to be a leather recliner with stirrups. This was something I had never experienced before and wasn’t a big fan when she stepped on the floor pedal and the recliner turned me upside down on my head with one leg going toward the east and the other going west. I’m trying to be discreet here… but you’ve got to get the entire picture to understand what happened next.
While I’m in this precarious position and looking much like at Butterball turkey ready to be stuffed, the doctor begins talking. Standing by her side is her nurse (the mother of the man I had recently broken off my engagement with) Awkward!
The doctor very nonchalantly began to explain that the blood work came back and confirmed that I too had Carcinoid Cancer ~ just as my father had. She immediately began to use terms like “quality of life” and “keeping me comfortable.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and just stared at her in disbelief. Instantly I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t deal with the words she was saying. The longer she talked the more violated I felt. How can she say these things while she’s got me standing on my head? Don’t I deserve even just a little bit of respect? I couldn’t bear to hear her piercing words more than once so I asked sharply, “Can we please talk about this with everyone else in the other room?” She immediately stopped talking and allowed me to get dressed and go into the room across the hall where everyone was waiting.
When I entered the room I was white as a ghost and everyone immediately knew that what they were about to hear was not good news. The doctor explained once again about my diagnosis and gave a few suggestions of doctors she believed would be helpful. She reaffirmed the fact that there is NO CURE to Carcinoid Cancer, but there were ways of “keeping me comfortable” and “giving me the best quality of life possible.” I refused to allow my mind to go back to when my father died; the pain, the anguish, all the heart ache. I can’t allow my mind to go there! It will completely shut me down! “Don’t go there!” I kept silently repeating in my mind! “Don’t go there!” I did not realize at the time that I had just entered the most difficult part of a cancer diagnosis; the battle of your mind. Disciplining my thought life was something I would battle with for years to come.
She finally stopped speaking and walked out of the room and for just a second we all sat frozen in total silence and disbelief. My mom got up first and wrapped her arms around me. “I’m so sorry mom!” I whispered in her ear as we both began to cry. As hard as I tried, I could not stop the thoughts that were already racing through my mind. “Who’s going to take care of me? Who will be there when I die?” Chrissy just got engaged a few days ago, I can’t burden her with this. There was no way I was going to put my mom through this again! I wouldn’t do that to my mom! Not when she‘s just beginning to heal. At this time in my life, it was just me and my cat and quite frankly up until this very moment I kinda liked it that way. “When I get really sick,” I thought to myself, “I’ll leave and take care of myself at the end.”
My daughter jumped in and hugged the two of us then my friend, Carol wrapped her arms around all of us. We stayed in that little room until we could regain our composure. I paid for the doctor’s visit at the front desk and then we all painted on a fake smile and walked out of the doctor’s office as if nothing had happened. As soon as Carol reached her car, she began making calls to explain to the people at the church about my diagnosis so I wouldn’t have to. By the time Chrissy and I started down the road, people were getting the news and already began to pray.
As soon as we got into Chrissy’s car, I called my son. I didn’t want him to hear this news from anyone else. Then Chris and I just wandered around kind of shopping and waiting for 7pm when we could go to the Friday night service. Every Friday night I played the keyboard at our church and I just couldn’t imagine not being there tonight; even after the heavy load that was just dumped on our shoulders.
At 7pm I went to the keyboard on the church platform and began worshipping with the team. What else was I supposed to do? Where else am I supposed to turn? If I sit in the congregation, I’m just going to cry and fall apart. God is the only Person Who can help me now.
During previous trials, I learned one very important lesson: when we least feel like worshipping, that’s when we need to worship most. Through my divorce, through the loss of my son, through the death of my father, I began to realize that whenever I offered a sacrifice of praise God would (much like super glue) take all the fragmented pieces of my heart and mind and put them back together; giving me the strength to get through one more day.
After worship, our pastor brought Chrissy and I to the front and the entire church began to pray for my miraculous healing. It was awesome and comforting to know we have so many good friends on our side. I was reminded of the story in Mark when a man sick with palsy had friends who were willing to lift his mat and carry him to the rooftop.
Mark 2:1-12 (MSG) After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren't able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, "Son, I forgive your sins." Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, "He can't talk that way! That's blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins." Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, "Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, 'I forgive your sins,' or say, 'Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking'? Well, just so it's clear that I'm the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . ." (he looked now at the paraplegic), "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, incredulous—and then praised God, saying, "We've never seen anything like this!"
Almost immediately I would need to learn how to lean on the faith of my friends. It was the prayers, love and support of so many friends that kept me moving forward. It was the strength I felt through their words of encouragement that kept me from drowning in self pity.
Back before I had accepted Christ as my Savior, I remember thinking that if I ever became a Christian I wouldn’t have any friends. The funniest part about that is ~ at that time in my life I didn’t have any friends! Today, over twenty years later, my life is blessed with hundreds of friends. Sure, there is only a handful of close ‘intimate’ friends, but literally hundreds of other people truly care about me and what I’m going through! And that’s all I really needed to know at this moment in my journey.