I've been challenged by Shirley over at Sketches of a Common Life (www.sketchesofacommonlife.com) to blog about a time when I thought the world had ended for me, but I ended up having a "butterfly" experience. There are several of these times in my life, but one I haven't blogged about before is the time I thought I was dying of cancer. I tread into this area knowing full well that my experience is "nothing" compared to what some folks have endured, and that for so many, their stories didn't turn out the way mine did. However I hope and pray that by telling it, that God will be glorified and that someone may be blessed and challenged in some way. It is what it is.
I never had an easy time in the monthly "female" department, each month bringing a lot of physical pain and emotional turmoil. I do have a pretty high pain tolerance and I just accepted this as "normal", thinking all along that every woman had this to deal with each month. So back in May of 1997 when I was experiencing the monthly "curse" I didn't think too much of it, except that this time, it was pain beyond anything I'd ever had before, and I could barely stand, and it didn't let up. I had some other symptoms that didn't go away. I called the doctor and that started a series of check ups, tests, and scans...
I am not a medical person and I really don't remember all the different procedures that were done on me over a period of weeks. At one point it was determined I had an ovarian cyst the size of a baseball. I had several CA-125 blood tests, which can point to ovarian cancer with elevated numbers. A normal number is 35 or below. My numbers were running over 1200.
I was 48 at the time, and I had been looking forward to going through menopause "naturally"...I had even read a couple books on the subject because I didn't want to be taking hormone therapy, and I certainly did not want a hysterectomy. But after a period of time, I was told I had no choice, and that I needed to undergo surgery. The plan was for tissue to be frozen and tested while I was still under anesthesia, and a cancer team would be standing by to do some special procedures if the biopsy came back positive for ovarian cancer.
This all sounds so dry and clinical now. But at the time our two sons were 13 and 17 years old. There was a three week wait before my surgery date. I read everything I could about ovarian cancer, and discovered that by the time there are any real symptoms, a woman could be in a late stage.
The earth stood still for me. I was facing a very real possibility that I could die before my kids graduated from high school. One day as I was dropping clothes into the washing machine, I burst into tears, wondering if someone else would be doing this for my family in the near future. I felt tremendous guilt thinking what I might be putting my husband through financially and emotionally. We agreed not to tell our kids what we were dealing with until we really knew for sure.
I needed spiritual strength like I never needed it before. I shared the situation with Christians who I knew would pray for me. I spent warm summer days sitting on the deck, reading the Scriptures and praying. Praying a lot. I went through a process of thinking of anyone I might be at odds with, and I called them or wrote them notes. I searched my heart and found forgiveness for anyone I could think of who had ever offended me. I found peace. The most unbelievable peace I've ever known. I discovered an intimacy with God like none I had ever experienced before, or since. I was not afraid to die. My husband and I talked a lot and prayed a lot, and we both felt we were ready to face whatever the future held, because our trust was totally in the Lord.
One day shortly before the surgery, a Christian woman called me on the phone. She told me that God had woken her up in the middle of the night and layed it on her heart to pray for me. She got on her knees beside her bed and prayed. She shared with me some Scriptures that had been impressed on her. I can't explain it, but I felt like I was totally "covered". I asked the Lord to heal me and promised that when I was on the other side of all of this, I would stand up in my church and tell everyone what He had done for me.
Finally the day of surgery arrived. I had a slight dip in my emotions as they were wheeling me away, and I told my husband "I'm sorry to put you through this." When I woke up in my hospital room, about a dozen family members were standing all around my bed. My husband said to me, "you are fine." All I could say was, "you wouldn't lie to me, would you?" He just laughed. I was still groggy. But I later found out that even before they were finished with me, the doctor came out to tell my waiting husband that the biopsy showed no sign of cancer. The medical people were all amazed. So much so, that the head of the oncology department came to see me the next day, saying she just HAD to meet the lady who didn't have cancer. She said they were all ready for me because they were positive that I did. I told her I had a lot of people praying for me. She said, "I've seen that before!"
I still needed a followup CA-125 test to see what was going on with the numbers. I prayed and asked the Lord to convince everyone with certainty that there was no question of my status. So a couple weeks later the test was repeated. The number was 10. God again answered prayer. I recovered very quickly from the surgery, and within about two weeks I felt better than I had in a long time.
I did become a fool for the Lord one Sunday morning not long afterwards when a contemporary worship group within our mainline denomination church had the opportunity to format the entire service. I told my entire story to the congregation. I had also invited family members and friends to come and hear the testimony.
I've been a believer in Jesus Christ for over 50 years, since I was a child, and yet I know that something definitely happened to me through this experience that has changed me forever. I have absolutely no fear of death. I have total trust in the goodness of the Lord. I know my faith has been tried by fire and it stands. There is no turning back, no doubting. I know I am loved by God in a very personal way. Scriptures are more alive to me than ever. I am more sensitive to struggles that others are going through. I am more willing and happy to pray for them. I know without a single doubt that I am eternally secure and have a blessed future that awaits me when my earthly life is over. Even though I sin and fall short over and over, I know with certainty that God has already forgiven me, and loves me with an everlasting love. I know that nothing can separate me from Him. I know that He has a purpose for my life even if I can't see it clearly myself; I can trust Him to work it out. I live my life in gratitude and I can face the future with confidence because I know Who holds my future. I know that none of this is because of anything good I have ever done, but only because of the grace of God that has been shed abroad in my heart.
I guess I never really thought of it as a "butterfly experience" but I was definitely changed!
"But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone. Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come." Psalm 71:14-18 NIV