Being on this side of a potentially life-threatening illness and seeing how God, through the prayers of others, holds us closely, I cannot help but praise and thank Him for His faithfulness and unfailing love. Many times I have expressed my gratitude for the front row seat God has blessed me with in watching His handiwork; tickets I could never afford. This time, I was in the middle of His Providence, watching it front and center. Both my husband and I, through the prayers of beautiful friends have felt held above the fear and peace in the uncertainty.
Shortly after Christmas 2014, I had noticed some tiny, red spots on my feet and shins and in the evenings my ankles were, as in my pregnancy days, looking more like tree trunks. I assumed this was a result of my new Christmas shoes which were a tad taller than the shoes I had been accustomed to wearing. For the next two weeks, I refrained from wearing the incriminating shoes, to no avail. I then began noticing a bit more bruising on my body. Yes, being a mother of seven, ages thirteen on down, spotting them in gymnastics and engaging in a family wrestling match can provide its bumps and bruises, but I had no memory of so many bumps and bruises in the past. One night while spotting our daughter on a back handspring, her hand inadvertently knocked my lip and the area she hit immediately turned purple and began to bleed.
I finally asked my husband Nate to look at my legs and he suggested I schedule a visit to our family practitioner the next day. On Friday, January 30th 2015, after a full evaluation, my doctor concluded I was suffering from Schamberg’s Disease. He assured me that this is something that will clear up in time. Just to be certain, he asked for blood tests to be run and I was therefore sent to the lab.
While sitting in the lab for my blood draw, the pediatric nurse (and friend) stopped by. She asked how I was doing and the reason for my visit. When I explained my symptoms, a look of fear came across her face and she asked me about the bruise on my forehead. Quite honestly, I had completely forgotten that I had hit my head a week ago – moving too fast and it met the corner of one of our cabinets. She motioned toward my face and asked the lab nurse what color she would call me, gray she suggested. She said she would pray for me and that I should keep her posted. Upon leaving, sitting in the car, I looked in the rearview mirror at the place where I had previously hit my head, and indeed, there was a grayish spot sort of creeping down my forehead; not a bruise, per se, but a gray discoloration.
By the time I arrived home, I had missed at least two calls from my doctor. When he did reach me, he spoke in a bit of a hurried manner, explaining that all of my blood cell counts were low - dangerously low. My Platelets in particular were troubling, as the normal range is 150,000 – 450,000; I was at 2,000. He asked me to head straight to Fairview Southdale Hospital, where a hematologist would be meeting me, as with such low counts, there was a worry of internal bleeding.
I explained to the children the words of the doctor, and that I was asked to go the hospital. I also asked that they pray for my health. Next I called Nate, asking him to meet me at the hospital. After talking with Nate, I called my dear friend Teri, who lives in the next town to see if her daughter could stay with the children until we formulated a plan, depending on how things played out at the hospital. She wasn’t available, but I left her a message. Next, I called my dear friend and neighbor, Tina. She was able to re-arrange her schedule and come over immediately, praise God. In the meantime, the hospital called explaining that my room was going to take a bit longer to get ready so I should hold off for twenty minutes before departing. This was great, as it gave me a little time to explain to Tina what was going on after she arrived.
On my way to the hospital, I called my Mom to explain what had transpired and asked for her prayers. She, in turn called the Poor Claires to enlist their prayers. My truck required gas and I therefore stopped at the nearest gas station on the way. After fueling, as I was pulling out, I saw an unattended, white Jeep rolling across the parking lot, toward another vehicle fueling. I quickly put my truck in park, hopped out and further engaged the Jeep’s emergency brake and the truck came to a halt. I quickly ran into the gas station to alert the Jeep’s owner that it was running, unattended, in the middle of the parking lot. As I was turning back toward my truck, I heard, “Kristen!” My friend, fellow Jesus lover, and neighbor of years ago, Dawn, was checking out and said I had been on her heart. She continued that she had recently planned to stop over and visit our family. She asked how I was doing and I said that I was not sure, and was heading to see a doctor now. I asked her to pray for me, and we parted ways with a warm hug.
Upon my departure, I glanced toward my phone to call my mom again; Dawn’s contact information was displayed, not my mom’s. Dawn, being a close friend of Christ, would pray for me, and I knew God had heard her prayers. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with God’s love and closeness. I felt Him reach down from heaven, with His gentle and loving hand. All that happens, is His Providence. He ensured that I require refueling and an unattended Jeep roll across a parking lot, so that I may see Dawn and be the fortunate recipient of His warm embrace through her prayers. God, You are so, SO good to me. As of late, God had been asking for my trust, and in this moment, He assured me that He was in control, I felt Him say, “I’ve got this, do not fear.”
Upon my arrival, after checking in, Nate and I were escorted to a beautiful corner room on the eighth floor of the hospital. The view was spectacular! We could see both Minneapolis and St. Paul, including the Cathedral!
At first, we were greeted by my nurse and nurse assistants, lab technicians, and others. Each kind face we encountered had a gentle nurturing way about them. The charge nurse asked me if I wanted a pneumonia vaccination, to which I questioned, “Why I would need one?” She explained that it is not uncommon for their patients to have this administered. I said it could not imagine this would be necessary and politely declined. When the doctor arrived, he reviewed the symptoms I had been experiencing with Nathan and me, then explained that these were symptomatic of leukemia – red spots on legs (Petechiae), low platelet count and bruising easily- (Thrombocytopenia) and headache.
Due to my low platelet count, in an effort to increase my counts and hopefully trigger further production, he scheduled a platelet transfusion for later that afternoon. He then explained that a specialist was coming in to perform a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration tomorrow (Saturday) morning and if the test results were positive for leukemia, they could start treatment as early as next week. He was very gentle and compassionate in his delivery and understood that this was likely, as he called it, “A hiccup in our plans.” Finally, he handed me his business card and said he would be working with us closely and was available for questions. When I looked at the card, it read Doctor of Oncology. What? Oncology? I still had not digested the word leukemia, much less that the hematologist I was planning to meet, was an Oncologist.
Both he and the nurse departed, and there was a silence.
At that moment, I understood how it feels to hear the words, “You likely have cancer.” In my personal family history, cancer had proven itself a death sentence; as all but two of the seven of my loved ones, lost the battle. I looked at Nate, and my heart hurt. In my mind, I saw our children running, and my heart hurt. I felt absolute trust, knowing God had this one, but His plan, though perfect, seemed to be quite different from mine. I recalled the conversation I had with my cousin in his last days, losing his battle with lung cancer, he said, “I have the easy part, it is going to be hard for my family.” I would have the easy part. Suffering is a gift and I foresaw myself embracing my cross as I was lead back to my Lord, eternally. That is the easy part.
At this point, we agreed not to alert our family until we knew for certain. It is nothing until it is something and we did not want to worry our loved ones prematurely. We ordered our fancy room service in our Ritz Carlton room. We joked with the staff that this is the sort of thing that is required for us to get out of the house for a date!
When the platelet transfusion arrived, they explained all the side effects and the transfusion commenced. The headache I had been enduring for the last few days worsened and I felt as though my brain was bouncing around in my skull, I needed to lie down, close my eyes and just pray. The medical staff was concerned that I could be bleeding internally and scheduled a CT or CAT Scan.
The nurse wheeled me down to radiology and we awaited an ER patient’s scan to finish. In the interim, he asked me about our children. I began to describe them to him, they are so lovely - each little soul is so lovely. I began to cry, as the reality of the moment closed in on me. I apologized for my tears and he rubbed my back. I told him how I was not sure what God was doing with all of this, but I trusted that His plan is perfect, though possibly different from mine. I praised God for how He had prepared Nathan for this through Mary, our youngest child’s, labor and delivery; how Nathan had feared losing both of us. The strength that God had given him and His faithfulness to Nathan in this particular time of need would be a source of strength for him in days to come. Every moment in our lives prepares us to serve God in the manner He wishes us to serve. I then explained how God had been relentlessly asking me to trust in Him; how every time I went to confession, my confessor had asked me to close my penance with the words of Divine Mercy, “Jesus I trust in You!” How another spiritual director and friend of mine, when praying with me, saw Jesus’ Divine Mercy image, and He was pointing to the words, “Jesus I trust in You!” How my spiritual reading and morning-prayer time had affirmed all of this. I praised God for sickness, for loss, for pain, as sometimes God needs to take things away from us, our health, our money, our loved ones, in order to take our eyes off of them and back onto Him, remembering that He is a God of love and desires for our eternal happiness, something money and health cannot provide.
I shared how blessed each person in the hospital is, that God loves them enough to try to draw them closer to Him through their trials, and suffering. He IS relentlessly pursuing us all of the time. I closed by posing the question as to what this sort of suffering would look like without Him. A friend recently explained to me that suffering with God, is sanctifying; suffering without God is hell. I then was wheeled into the CT room and they performed the scan and to everybody’s delight, there was no internal bleeding, and Tylenol was administered.
As we proceeded back to my room, I was more aware of my surroundings and when the elevator opened to our floor, I saw the words ‘Cancer Unit,’ inscribed upon the wall. As we progressed to our room, we approached a set of big, automatic doors, which communicated limited access and that no flowers were permitted beyond this point. Finally, we reached our room and there were more notices about the sanitary needs of the patient in my room. When the nurse left, I looked at Nate and said, “Did you know we were in the cancer unit? They really think I have cancer!” He softly voiced, “I sort of figured.”
True, the results of the CT scan were negative, praise God! Unfortunately, Nathan and I sat, confronted with the possible reality that I had cancer. We hugged, cried, and prayed. The nurse provided a lovely cot so Nathan could sleep near me. Neither of us slept much that night. I spent much of the night, absorbed in him, watching him when he slept, weeping for him, our children, our families, and me.
The moon set and the brightness of another day presented itself. The time had approached for my bone marrow biopsy/aspiration and the doctor was clear and thorough in his explanation of the procedure and lab result timing. The biopsy would either confirm the presence of leukemia, or relieve us of the heavy boot stepping on our chests, enabling us to take a full and fresh breath of air again. At this point I realized I would be awake for the procedure. YIKES! After they were finished, Nate whispered, “I understand why they give the option to leave the room, it was worse than I expected.” Indeed, this procedure was a great opportunity to suffer, and my Mother Mary, was very close throughout, as I asked her to pray for my strength and I gifted all the suffering to her to do with as she saw fit.
Next, room service again! We felt very spoiled. The staff explained that many complain about the hospital food. Nathan and I were just so happy to have somebody else cook the meal, deliver it, take it away, AND do the dishes! At this point, my sister Annie, who had lovingly offered to play point person on this for our friends and family, had enlisted many to pray. God has placed so very many holy souls on our path and I can honestly say, we felt held.
God continued to reveal His hand in the midst of this uncertainty, as my friend Teri, whom I had first called to help out at home, said she received my call when she was at her Holy Hour (praying in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord), and had felt called to pray for me, not knowing I had called. Now she knew why. I then recalled an email from earlier in the week, from my friend Mary, asking how I was, as she had been praying for me, as she felt called to do. These revelations caused my heart to stir with gratitude for such holy friends; friends who not only can hear the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but who are obedient enough to do what He asks. This is a perfect description of all my close friends. How God spoils us! :)
Dinner time, room service again! YIPEE! This was followed with the test results. The Oncologist entered the room and shared with us the much anticipated boot-remover. He said the first run of tests came back negative of leukemia. He said, “You look too healthy for somebody with cancer.” He then explained that ninety percent of all patients who test negative in the first round, are indeed free of cancer. We now only need concern ourselves with a paltry ten percent. Our spirits lifted and we were jubilant. I called my family and Annie apprised the prayer warriors with an update and it was then that I shared with her what we had been confronted with and our gratitude for the prayers.
Subsequently, we were visited by two hospital chaplains at Fairview and both prayed so beautifully for and with us. The Catholic Chaplin gifted both Nate and me with the Holy Eucharist and also blessed me with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. Shortly thereafter, the nurse suggested we go for a walk, and indeed we did. We escaped on a little date around the hospital. Nate bought fancy treats for me from the gift shop and we held hands as we walked, praising God all the while. He joked that in an effort to get out of the house next month, he could have a heart attack. I agreed, as long as there were no lasting effects. We both laughed out loud as we floated through the hallways hand in hand.
After we returned to our room and Nate prepared to leave for a night at home with our children, we were pleasantly surprised with a visit from our dear friend Kristi, who came bearing gifts, including chocolate! We hugged, cried, and praised God. It was lovely. My sister Annie arrived for our girl’s snack & chick-time campout at the hospital and Kristi left shortly thereafter.
The next morning Annie and I ordered our fancy room service and the doctor asked if I wanted to await the results at home. His only stipulation was that I refrained from playing football in the house. Annie and I were both elated! She headed home to her beautiful family and the staff began the process of unplugging me. I called Nate celebrating with him that I’d be home for Super Bowl Sunday and began to pack my gifts and goods.
Throughout all of this, our children had been at home in the care of family and friends, eating like royalty, and having more fun than reasonable. When we arrived home on Sunday, one child confessed she was disappointed I came home so soon, as our dear friend, Tami, was planning to spend Super Bowl Sunday with them and she was bringing her adorable, big-blue-eyed son to play with them. It was wonderful to learn that they were not burdened with the fear that this time carried and God provided safety, peace, and even fun throughout all of it for them. He is just like that!
I have had a couple of blood draws since leaving the hospital, and Nate is requiring that I lay low- he takes such good care of me, and thus so do our children. My platelet count as of Tuesday was 27,000 and the doctor ordered a slew of tests, trying to nail this quirky, and out-of-nowhere issue down. I will take anything with gratitude and joy now that the big C has been ruled out. We have been blessed with amazing meals and held by beautiful prayers as we await answers. Thank you Jesus.
Through these prayers, we had never felt God’s presence so near and His faithfulness so true. Throughout all of this, we had felt held above the fear and peace in the uncertainty.
Note- the image in this blog post was taken after we were confronted with the potential of cancer.