Friday, November 27, 2009

Season of Miracles

Thanksgiving is a special time for me. It reminds me of the love my Father has for me and how His plan is to prosper me and not harm me…plans to give me a hope and future. I think on these words often. They ring true for me because statistically and according to every doctor I’ve ever talked to, I should not be here today.

My story begins over 8 years ago. I was in the process of changing jobs and was taking a 2 week vacation because I had time left and was given 2 weeks pay when I left. I was at home cleaning and blew out a big 3-wick candle. Wax hit my left eye, and the next day I woke up with an eye infection. I went to the doctor for what I thought would be a routine visit with a prescription for some antibiotics. Boy, was I wrong! The doctor that I was supposed to see was not there that day, so I saw a doctor I had not seen before. I believe that small detail was ordered by God. He noticed my vision was a little off and dilated my eye “just in case.” I remember him looking and looking for what seemed like an eternity. I remember the light burning my eye and how dry my eye felt because he was looking so long. He left the room without saying a word. He came back in and explained that there was a “mass” in my eye. “It’s probably nothing. People your age don’t get eye cancer, but you still need to see a specialist,” he said. I told him that if that was the case, I would wait until my new insurance kicked in from my new job. “Elizabeth, you don’t understand. I’ve already made you an appointment with a specialist. He is one of only 2 doctors in this area that deal with this. He’s at a tumor conference at LSUMC but is leaving right now to meet you at his office.” I was stunned. I was alone. I had no idea what to do. So many thoughts ran through my mind. Again, God ordered the steps of those around me. A nurse came up to me and explained that she was Jason’s (my husband now, fiancĂ© at the time) neighbor. She told me that I could come over anytime, and she would help in any way she could. Jason ended up going to her house that night, and she explained in laymen’s terms everything that was happening. That was such a blessing to Jason. I called my mom, who happened to be at a prayer meeting with some of the most powerful prayer warriors I know, and they began to pray.

My mom and dad closed their business that day and headed to the doctor’s office with me. They had called some friends who explained that this was a very serious situation, so they wanted to be there to support me and see what the doctor said. The doctor quickly diagnosed me with “choroidal melanoma with a secondary exudative retinal detachment.” The tumor was so large it had detached my retina from eye. It was such a slow process that I never even noticed my vision loss. The doctor said it probably started in high school. I left shortly after that to go to the University of Tennessee for radiation plaque therapy. The radiologist there told me that I was the youngest documented case of this type of cancer. The radiation plaque was inserted into my eye and ran 24 hours a day for 10 days straight. I was separated from Jacob during this time because he couldn’t come into the room because of the radiation. He stayed in Shreveport with my sister, Rachel, while my parents and Jason went with me. It was such a hard time…I was in pain…missing my family..and unsure of what was going to happen next. Jason and I were going to get married soon, so we asked the doctor if having another baby would be ok. His response was to look Jason square in the eye and say, “Well, that depends on whether you want to raise 1 child or 2 by yourself.” It was such a blow, but we put it in God’s hands.

Fast forward 5 years later….I went Thanksgiving week to my yearly eye exam. I had lost all vision in my left eye because of the radiation…but the treatment had worked, and I was cancer-free. The doctor knew we had been waiting for this appointment because the 5 year check-up is the BIG ONE!! I will never forget his words… “You look great! Go home and have some babies!!!” We were thrilled! I breathed a sigh of relief because it was over…I was in the clear.

Three days later (the night before Thanksgiving), I was sitting in the bathtub relaxing after a hard week. We had just buried my cousin who had died (on Jacob’s birthday) unexpectedly at a very young age. I was tired…emotionally and physically. I just happened to notice a lump on the outer side of my breast. I will never forget that moment. I took a deep breath and told myself not to worry. I was sure it was nothing, but I would go to the doctor just to make sure. The breast specialist got me in pretty quickly because of my history. He tried a sonogram but could see nothing. He scheduled a biopsy a few days later. As I was on the table getting the biopsy, I caught a glimpse of the sample. It looked like motor oil. The nurse and doctor looked at each other in a strange way, and I knew something was wrong. A few days later, I got the call. He said it was cancer. I asked the doctor how in the world breast cancer was related to the eye cancer. He said, “Elizabeth, it’s not in your’s in your lymph nodes. It’s not breast cancer…the melanoma has metastasized.” (Just a side note…I was teaching school when I got this call. My mom had stopped by the school to get me to sign some release papers so we could get my medical records just in case. My sister was also teaching at Calvary. This is just another example of God’s love. He made sure that in my darkest hour my momma would be there for me. I remember the bell ringing, and I just crumpled into a desk as I tried to process the information.)

Just a few days later, Jason and I were sitting in Dr. Rosen’s office at the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center. Jason is an electrician and was working there at the time (just another one of God’s ordered steps). When he told some people what was going on, they led him straight into Dr. Rosen’s office for a consultation. That sped up the process of trying to get an appointment. When we met, Dr. Rosen said, “Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat this. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I have done the research, and there isn’t even a protocol for treatment. This is probably going to be the end for you because there’s nothing we can do.” He then looked at Jason and said, “I lost my best friend in college to cancer, but I can’t imagine losing my wife. You are so young.” He then proceeded to tell us that we needed to quickly get Jason and Jacob into grief counseling. He said that death would come so quickly that they needed to start preparing for it now. By this point, my faith kicked in. I can’t explain it, but this undeniable peace came over me. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I don’t know if you believe in God or miracles, but you are about to see something miraculous happen.” He smiled a little and said, “I hope you are right.” On a personal note, I love Dr. Rosen. I appreciated his honesty, and according to medicine he was right. I asked him to shoot straight with us, and he did. I don’t want anyone to think that he was insensitive because he wasn’t. He was compassionate and helped us through this entire process.

By now, it was the middle of December. Dr. Rosen referred us to Dr. Feagin for treatment. She is, in my opinion, the FINEST oncologist in our area. I’m really surprised she has not moved on to bigger and better things…but that was probably just another one of God’s ordered steps! She explained to us that once melanoma is in the lymph nodes, it spreads very quickly. She ordered a PET scan, but told us she was going to wait until after Christmas to give us the results. Her reasoning was that it was probably going to be our last holiday together, and there was no sense in ruining it. Once again, my faith kicked in. I knew I was going to be ok. I was scared of the process because we never know how God is going to choose to heal us, but I knew I would survive. I continued to teach during this entire time, and my students and fellow teachers stood with me the whole time. I begged Dr. Feagin to give us the results before Christmas, and she agreed. We went in a few days before Christmas and got GREAT news. The cancer was somehow (divine intervention) contained to only ONE lymph node. We could do surgery in January to remove that node and a few around it just to make sure we got a negative margin. Praise God!!!

On January 5th, I went in for surgery. Everything went well. I know this post is getting REALLY long, but I must share one incredible detail about this day. The procedure involved radioactive dye being injected into my breast. This dye would “light up” the cancer cells, so the doctor would know where to look. They couldn’t put me under anesthesia or give me pain medicine for this because I was going into surgery soon. They put me on a table and strapped my arms and legs down because the radiologist said so many people kick and scream and punch him that this was now necessary. I knew this going into it and prayed….and prayed…and prayed some more that this wouldn’t be the case for me. I was explaining all of this to the nurse while she laughed at me. He began injecting the dye, and I began to giggle. It tickled…it didn’t hurt. The doctor looked shocked and said, “Well, I’ve seen a lot of reactions, but I’ve NEVER seen that!” God is so faithful.

After the successful surgery, I went home after just one night in the hospital. Dr. Feagin said I was looking good and just needed to come in every couple of weeks for blood work and CT scans. For several months, everything was fine….until April. After a CT scan, we found a mass in my lung. Dr. Feagin was very discouraged and said that it was like playing “Whack a Mole” at the fair. Melanoma is absolutely unpredictable and just starts popping up everywhere. She ordered a more detailed CT scan with small slices of samples just a few days later. By that time, the mass in my right lung had grown to twice its size, and there was another mass in my left lung. She came into the room and said, “I’ve thought about you WAY more than I should have over Easter. I’m not sure there’s anything we can do. Surgery is not an option because obviously you need your lungs. We need to start talking about quality of life.” Nothing we can do?? Quality of life?? I’m glad I know with God ALL things are possible…and that He died to give me a FUTURE!

She had me come back with my parents and my husband so that we could all hear the information and decide the next step. She said there was a clinical trial she could get me into at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. She was also honest with us and told us that it probably wouldn’t help me but would help with research in the future. At this point, I was given 3 weeks to 3 months to live. Let that sink in for a moment! I must say that even with all this bad news, we never lost our faith. I would get discouraged and not like the process, but I ALWAYS knew God would heal me. I didn’t care if it was through chemo, radiation, a clinical trial, or a MIRACLE…I just knew God would somehow do it.

We asked for a lung biopsy just to make sure it was melanoma. Dr. Feagin said that lung biopsies are painful, and it was unnecessary because she already knew. I insisted, and she agreed. I prayed and prayed and prayed that I would get in there, and they would say, “Oh wow! It’s gone!” That didn’t happen. I didn’t understand why God didn’t miraculously step in as He had done so many times before. It was painful..worse than childbirth, breast injections, or anything else I can think of! It was the only point in which I really wondered if it would be better to just die. That night at home, Jason called my mother because he was so concerned about me. When we went in to get the results, we found out that they didn’t get a very good sample. I smiled and knew God had intervened. Dr. Feagin said not to get our hopes up because the mass was still there, and she was absolutely sure it was melanoma. Other doctors who looked at the tests agreed. Even though I knew it would be painful, I asked for another biopsy. They put me into the CT scanner (this is another procedure that had to be done with me completely awake) to get some pictures before they started. I was in there longer than I had been with the first biopsy which I thought was strange. Then the machine started moving me out. I remember wondering why that was happening. When I looked up, I saw the radiologist. “Well, we can’t do the procedure today,” he said. My mind began racing. Why? Good lord, I can’t take another day off work! I’ve prepared myself mentally for the pain! The doctor stopped my thoughts by saying, “I rarely get to give people good news, but I get to today! We can’t do the procedure because there’s nothing to biopsy. Your lungs are clear!” I immediately began to cry. The nurse began to rub my shoulder and handed me a tissue. They knew my story. They knew what I was up against. They knew what was at stake here. The doctor told me that I was free to leave. I told them that they had just witnessed a miracle, and if that didn’t make them believe in God, I don’t know what would.

That, my friends, is the end of that chapter. I have been completely cancer-free since that day. Dr. Feagin called it “spontaneous regression” but I call it a “miracle.” God stepped in and did what He had to do. There was no time for medicine or doctors. He had to intervene, and He had to do it quickly. And He did…because I stood on the promises of God. I knew that 1,000 may fall on my right, and 10,000 on my left, but it would NOT come near me. I knew that NO weapon formed against me would prosper. I knew that He had a plan and a future for me. He didn’t want to leave Jacob without a mother and Jason without a wife. He wanted sweet little Caroline to be born….but that’s another day’s post!! If you or someone you know is fighting a cancer battle, don’t lose hope. Don’t lose faith. Jesus died on the cross so that by His stripes we could be healed. He did it for me, and He’ll do it for you!!!

*Note: This is the short version. I actually had to leave ALOT out. I’m really thinking about writing a book.