Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
By the end of March 2012, I was feeling far less fatigued than just four weeks earlier, when I finished my course of treatment for parotid gland cancer. This sense of increasing vitality was reflected in the test results from the blood that was drawn at my weekly follow-up appointment with my medical oncologist: my white blood count had risen to within the normal range in just four weeks’ time. This positive development meant I would no longer need to see Dr. Hayes on a weekly basis. With more time between appointments, life could begin to regain a sense of normalcy.
March also marked a much-anticipated visit from my mother and sister from Ohio. I had asked them to hold off coming to North Carolina until my treatments were over so that they could help me as I regained my strength and attempted to resume the everyday aspects of family life, like shopping for groceries, cooking meals for Gil and Caleb, and laundering our clothes. Although I was feeling much stronger, I still had a ways to go before I could resume fully these domestic responsibilities.
While they were visiting I learned, to my great delight, that I would be the beneficiary of four complimentary house cleanings, through a program called, Cleaning for a Reason, which my friend, Beth, had told me about. Cleaning for a Reason is a national non-profit program which matches house cleaning businesses, which are willing to offer pro bono services, with women going through treatment for cancer. The first of those free cleanings took place in mid-March.
In May, our water heater broke, which was not surprising since it was more than fifteen years old. The damage was minimal and by the end of the day it had been replaced with a new one. However, after the plumber left, and as I was sitting at our kitchen table, my eye was drawn upwards to the place in the ceiling where there had been a leak six months before – one that had manifested itself on the day after I had been diagnosed with cancer. Only now, there was a huge water spot on the ceiling. I realized it must have occurred shortly after the plumber turned the water supply to the house back on.
But what had caused the water spot? Gil and I had assumed the previous November, when we noticed water dripping from the kitchen ceiling, that it was the result of a faulty shower pan under the shower in our master bathroom, which is directly above that area of the kitchen. However, we had not used that shower since then; neither had any water leaked from the ceiling since that time. If the water spot was not related to the shower in any way, then what had caused it?
That riddle was solved by Keith, a man skilled in determining the source of water leaks, who is employed by the water, fire and wind damage restoration company our insurance adjuster recommend we contact. It turns out that the leak and the water spot were from the master toilet, not the shower. And although we had not seen any water dripping from that spot for six months, it had still continued to leak – and only became apparent again when the water main to our house was turned back on after the water heater was installed.
As Keith cut a hole in our kitchen ceiling, we saw firsthand the amount of damage the leaking toilet had caused for the past six months – mold was everywhere. And in order to clear out the mold and repair the damage, half the ceiling in the kitchen would need to be removed and replaced, as well as most of a corresponding wall. Furthermore, in the master bath, all the floor tile would need to be removed in and replaced. All this damage was caused by a broken wax seal on the toilet – something I had never heard of before. Yet, although the damage from the leak turned out to be far more catastrophic than we could have imagined, the Lord worked for good in this situation: our insurance company agreed to cover the repairs and the restoration company employees, who would spent many weeks in our home, were respectful and efficient.
However, the master toilet was not the only one that had been leaking for some time. As Keith was assessing the damage from the problem in our master bathroom, I asked him to take a look in our downstairs bathroom. A wall near the toilet had bubbled slightly, near the floor. Keith investigated under our house and determined that this toilet was leaking, also, and had been for far longer than the one in the master bath. Judging from the damage this leak had caused in the crawl space below our home, our insurance agent determined that it had been leaking for more than nine months, just beyond the period of time for which our insurance company could be held liable for the cost of the repair.
The cost was estimated at $10,000 – a sum far beyond our reach, due to my medical bills. Yet, nothing is impossible for God, and so Gil and I turned to the Lord in prayer, as we had done so many times over the previous six months. The miracle God had done during my surgery was still fresh in our minds and we knew it would be faithless to think that He couldn’t also address our current need – and He did. Within a month, friends from church, with help from family, had raised nearly the entire amount needed to cover the repairs to the downstairs vanity. We had been the beneficiaries of incredible kindness and generosity during my surgery and treatments – and we were grateful and humbled by the fact that our Christian friends and family were ready to help again.
So as the restoration company began the work of mold mitigation, which was the first order of business before any repairs could take place, I set about the task of moving the contents from a number of kitchen and bathroom cabinets to other storage areas and closets throughout our house. I regarded this project as an opportunity to clear out years of accumulated items for which we no longer had use. I was eager to get underway before the beginning of June, when I was scheduled to attend a church conference for several days in Asheville.
But before I could leave for that conference, I had an additional assignment to undertake: a follow-up scan of my lungs. An initial scan had been done in November, before the surgery to remove the tumor from my parotid gland. My surgeon had wanted to be sure the tumor had not metastasized and he assumed the lungs would be the likely location if it had. That scan did not show any sign of a tumor, but it did indicate the presence of what was thought to be harmless “nodes” or scar tissue in my right lung. Many people have one or two of these nodes in their lungs. The radiologist determined they were not cancerous, yet, a follow-up scan, six to nine months later, was prescribed, just to be sure that they hadn’t developed into something serious. So on Tuesday morning, June 5, I went over to Chapel Hill for the scan – but it was just one more thing to cross off my list and I didn’t give it much thought.
At about twelve noon on Wednesday, June 6, the telephone rang downstairs and Gil answered it. I was upstairs packing. My friends with whom I would be riding to the conference were coming by to pick me up at 1 pm and I was busy making sure I had everything I wanted to take with me. Gil called up to me from the kitchen and said that Dr. Weissler was on the phone. I thought it very odd that he should call, since test results are usually communicated to patients by a nurse navigator. But once I heard Dr. Weissler’s voice I knew that whatever he had to say would not be welcome news.
The scans showed that the nodes had not changed. They still appeared harmless. However, there were three new small, but ominous, spots on my lungs and it could not be determined without further exploration what they were. Dr. Weissler told me he would be referring me to a thoracic oncology surgeon for a follow-up appointment, but until that appointment could be scheduled I should just continue with my plans for the next several weeks. His last words to me before the conversation ended were: “Hang in there.”
I was stunned and so was Gil. We prayed together and quickly decided I should go ahead and attend the conference. We both knew that at the conference I would be surrounded by faithful Christians who would not hesitate to pray for healing for me. As I went upstairs to gather my luggage, I sensed the Lord speaking to me. His words were, “Press-in for your healing.”
In TWO weeks’ time: God’s battle plan for what lay ahead.