The one where I thought I had cancer

It’s the end of September, I’m determined to get back into the swing of blogging after a truly wonderful summer. I’m driving home from work with thoughts swirling around in my head. What will I write about? I’ve had several ideas on the back burner and they are almost done cooking. I’m still thinking when I get home and change for bed, and that’s when I feel it. The lump. The lump where you don’t want to feel a lump. I freeze. Maybe it was a fluke. It probably won’t be there when I feel again. It is. It’s 10:00 at night. My mother is already in bed. I wake her up. Do you feel it? Yes she feels it. Let’s not panic. Let’s go to sleep and tomorrow call your doctor. It’s probably nothing. Most definitely nothing. But let’s be safe. Let’s not leave anything to chance given the family history.

I call and the appointment is made. I’m not worried. I’m not calm either. I’m not anything. This isn’t concerning yet. The doctor visit is quick and to the point. It’s here that the word is first said. It’s said in an attempt to be reassuring, but the sound of it out loud for the first time jolts me. “In women your age it’s almost never cancer. But with the family history let’s be as proactive as we can in making sure.”

I don’t know why it’s so surprising to hear that word. After all, I’ve been thinking it in my head since that night. Why is a word so much more powerful after it’s spoken than when it’s just thought?

Being proactive means getting mammograms and sonograms. It means a long day at a doctor’s office where I wait, get poked and prodded,  then wait some more. The doctors and nurses are kind and helpful, and yet part of me hates them. I can feel them trying so hard to be positive while also treating me with kid gloves. “We’re sure this is nothing to worry about.” Then the chart is opened and the questions about the family history begin. “Your mother had it when? 1998? Lumpectomy followed by radiation? Given a clean bill of health? When did it re-occur? 2008? Ten years later?” Nobody says these next words out loud but I see them on their faces. “Cancer in a 27 year old is extremely rare, but then again so it getting cancer again after being clear for 10 years.”

I’m laying on my back in an exam room waiting for a radiologist to tell me what to do next. Music is playing softly over the speakers. It’s supposed to be soothing. It’s not. I think to myself “Every Breath You Take” by The Police is the song that’s playing when they tell me I have cancer I’m going to either die of laughter or start crying hysterically.”

The doctor is here. She wants me to come back for an MRI. I’m so young that mammograms don’t give a clear enough picture of what’s going on. There is definitely dark shading where I first felt the lump. But she’s also wondering about some darker areas on the other side. Let’s get them all checked out on the MRI machine first and then decide what to biopsy.

Maybe now I’ll feel something right? Anger? Fear? Peace? No. I feel nothing. Let’s just go let’s just move on. Make the appointment and live my life until then. Maybe it’s good I feel nothing. Nothing is better than fear right?

Oh by the way, the potential new job wants to interview me. Good news, they love me! Can I give two weeks notice at my old job and start right away? Of course! No more hour commute. Ten minutes is all I’ll be driving now. Thank you so much for the opportunity. This is good. Something good to take the focus off the bad and the scary. I hope I don’t need to take time off for treatment soon. Let’s not worry about that now. It’s a new job!

I’m laying face down on a stretcher outside an MRI machine with my arms outstretched in front of me like I’m superwoman about to take off. The CD I brought to listen to won’t play in their machine and the radio is too soft to hear. My bangs are growing out and aren’t quite long enough to stay pushed behind my ear. One piece hangs in front of my right eye. Everything is blurry not just because of the hair but because I’m not wearing my glasses. I’m being moved in. It’s silent. So silent. Now it’s loud. Clanging and banging so loud. I can feel the top of the machine pressing down on me. It’s going to crush me I know it. I wish I felt nothing. Instead I’m afraid. Tears are welling up in my eyes which shakes the fear off me for a split second. I can’t cry! I’m not allowed to move my arms for the next 40 minutes. I won’t be able to wipe my face! Stop crying Janelle. Stop. Think about something else.

“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence. If I go up to the heavens you are there. If I make my bed in the depths you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn; if I settle on the farthest side of the sea. Even there your hand will guide me and your strength will support me.”

I’m remembering when I had to memorize the Psalm these verses are in. I’m in 6th grade and it’s my yearly passage. My mom and I walk around and around the block in our neighborhood reciting the Psalm over and over again until I have it memorized. Now I lay here and repeat those words over and over again for 40 minutes. Slowly my heart beat relaxes and the tears in my eyes dry up. My arms are numb and my nose itches like crazy but the fear is gone. I’m grateful. But before that feeling takes too deep of a hold it’s time to talk to the doctor again.

There are areas they want to biopsy. The area I felt can be done as a needle biopsy. The areas on the other side are too small for a needle biopsy so we have to do an MRI biopsy. I have no idea what that means or what it’s going to feel like. I’m just nodding my head. Good. Two biopsies. Let’s do it. How much longer is this going to take? It’s November now. I’m about to start a new job. Oh by the way the new job called can you come in and train for two days before going to your second shift job? Sure! No problem. I’ll get an MRI biopsy and work two jobs the next day. No biggie!

Is time for me to feel anything yet? No not yet. Let’s just power through. Is there something wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be angry? Or afraid? Shouldn’t I be asking God why this is happening to me? If I’m not feeling any of those things shouldn’t I feel an overwhelming sense of peace? A sense that God is moving and about to do something amazing in my life? Instead I feel nothing. I’m an empty vessel who moves through her daily tasks methodically; acting like all is normal in front of the those who have no idea what’s going on (a large group) and talking through scenarios and asking for prayers with those who do. (A very small group)

I’m back on my stomach about to enter the MRI machine again. But this time I’m ready. My CD works, my verses are in my head, and my hair is pulled back with a headband. I’ve got this. Except wait, no I don’t. This is incredibly painful. I’m being squeezed so hard I know I’ll bruise. There are needles and scary sounds. A doctor I’ve never met is talking me through the procedures and I can’t even see her face. When will this stop? I’ve been here for hours it seems. It’s time to sit up and my arms will not support my weight. The nurses are helping me and I look down noticing all the blood. Is that mine? How can so much of me leave my body and I not even be aware of it?

We aren’t done. Second biopsy is less painful which would make me happy if I wasn’t in so much pain on the other side of my body. I move down the hallway shuffling like I’m an old woman. My mother keeps trying to feed me. I know I look pale. I know I’m scaring her. And still I feel nothing. Nothing except pain. The doctor is talking now. There’s not much to tell. Now we wait. Go home and rest and wait.

I’m on the couch thinking about how tomorrow I have to get up and go to training at my new job before going to work my last shift at my old one. I’m done feeling nothing. Now I’m feeling. Not anger, not fear, and certainly not peace. I feel resigned. Of course this happening. Of course this is how God works. He gives my mother cancer, lets her think it’s all gone and then hits her again ten years later. Of course he’s going to put me through this. It’s all part of his sick game right? I’m not even angry about it. I never expected anything less. I realize now that’s what I’ve been feeling all along. Not an absence of feeling, but a sense that I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen since the day my mother first got diagnosed. In a sick way I’m relieved it’s finally happened. I don’t have to wait anymore.

Now that I’ve named the feeling I’ve been feeling for so long it’s like I can’t stop the rest of them from flooding over me. Here comes the anger. Why is God doing this to me? Here comes the fear. How am I going to handle things if the worst happens? Here comes the shame. How can I feel this way about God? Didn’t he comfort me when I was afraid. How can I be so cynical?

The next few days are hard. My body doesn’t feel like my own. I lay in bed at night and cry. Not because I’m in physical pain, but because I’m worried about how cynical I feel towards God. I don’t want to be a person who thinks the worst of the person who loves me more than anyone in the universe. When the tears stop I lay in the silence and wait.

I wait

And wait

And wait

And then deep in my spirit, he speaks.

“Let me feel what you feel. I’m here.”

But I’m so cynical

“It’s okay. I’m full of hope. Let’s trade.”

I’m so angry

“It’s okay. I’m full of happiness. Let’s trade.”

I’m so afraid

“It’s okay. I’m full of courage. Let’s trade.”


The answer isn’t totally clear so I do the best I can. Every day I take each thought captive and trade them for one of His. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works a lot of the time. I have to speak out loud “that’s not true.” Repeat things that are true. I am loved. I am made whole in Him who made me regardless of what happens in my body.

The new job has begun. I’m waiting for the call. It comes on my lunch break. I wait for the doctor to come on the phone and I finally feel it. That peace that truly passes all understanding washes over me like warm water drenching me from head to toe. I’ve traded enough of my thoughts for his that now I think like him. And I know he cares for those he loves. Like a mother hen tending to her chicks he tends to me. No matter what the answer is he’ll tend to me.

It’s not cancer. I’m fine. Totally and completely healthy. I need to come in to talk about removing some things just to be safe, but I have no cancer in my body. I cry of course. I cry out of sheer relief and gratitude. Now things can go back to normal.

I’ve struggled with how to end this story. This incredibly long story that seemed never ending when I lived it but was really only a little over a month. I think I’ve struggled because this is my life. There is no neat and simple ending to the story. There will probably always be a part of me that wonders if someday I’ll hear different words than the ones I did a few weeks ago.But going through all of this jump started my Spirit in a radical way. It made me be real in front of Jesus. Really myself. Messy, scared and afraid. Not having the right answers, not knowing the right thing to say or do. And guess what? He took care of me anyway. He didn’t need me to go through this in any particular way. He just needed me to invite him to go along with me while I walked through it. That’s all he wants; to be invited on the journey.

This part of my journey is over. But the rest of my life stretches before me winding and weaving in ways I can’t even being to understand. I can’t wait to walk it with Him. It’s going to be an adventure.