When you hear the word cancer.
Sometimes life takes us through moments and experiences that in the long run seem inconsequential. They get filed away in the memory bank as not important....but sometimes they help to shape us, grow our faith and make us who we are. There was a purpose in it.
One of those places is the period of time when we thought Roman had cancer.
On the surface it now seems like something not worth writing about but for some reason it is on my heart to venture there with my thoughts and rediscover once again what God was doing at that time.
In 2005/2006 we were in Mexico for the first time as a family. My scrawny, adventurous two year old boy was having a fantastic time in his new home, but he was getting sick a lot. He suffered from fever after fever with no other apparent symptoms....and his lymph nodes were notoriously enormous. I wasn't really concerned, but at one point I took him to the mission clinic to see a visiting pediatrition. I wanted him to have his tonsils looked at and have a little check up since he had been sick again. The dr. seemed to focus all his attention on his various lymph nodes and asked to see him when he visited the mission again in a month. I didn't think anything of it.
A month later I was speaking in our staff devotional/ chapel (all the staff took a turn) and for the first time I told the story of our first son Samuels death. I remember saying that life's storms usually catch us off guard but how firmly we're anchored to our Rock before hand will determine how we weather the storm. I remember saying how, through our sons death, I learned to release and trust my children to God. They are mine to cherish but not to cling to.
Little did I know that those very words would be tested that same morning.
After I was finished speaking I walked my little boy down to the clinic to wait our turn to see the visiting doctor. Roman was weighed and his stats were taken. Throughout the examination my mommy senses were flashing all kinds of red alerts. I had the same feeling I did during ultrasounds gone terribly wrong. It was a strange appointment with the dr. not really saying much of anything , yet in his silence he spoke volumes. He just kept feeling the big rubbery round lymph nodes that stuck out of his neck and formed a chain all the way down to his ankles. He asked a few odd questions about his other symptoms and felt his stomach. He asked when we were returning to Canada and I told him we were leaving in a few weeks. He seemed satisfied with that and recommended we see a dr. in Canada when we return.
I left the clinic with a strange feeling.
I told my husband about our odd appointment and how I knew there was something that the Dr. wasn't telling me.
My husband walked across the dusty mission grounds over to the crowded little clinic and found the Dr. who was visiting from California (where he is a pediatric oncologist.)
My husband returned to tell me that the Dr. thought Roman had leukemia. He had lost weight. He had many of the symptoms. His spleen was very enlarged and his lymph nodes felt like cancer. The doctor told him "If Roman was my child I would get him home immediately".
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Only an hour earlier I had talked to a group of people about trusting God with the things that we treasure most.
I have experienced enough to know that sometimes the worst possible outcome is possible...and yet I felt unexplained peace.
We decided to head home a little early to have further biopsies and testing done. We only told a few people about our change of plans and why we were heading home a couple weeks early. I didnt' want to raise the alarm or scare people without knowing for sure what was wrong. My family was already going through so much that winter with the fatal diagnosis of my brother in law.
We had planned on driving back through Washington state to visit my husbands family and spend Easter with them. It was excruciating for me to have to take an extra week to get home. He seemed to become sicker as we traveled. Other strange symptoms began to arise, like complaining his body and legs hurt. He had very little appetite and about once a day he threw up. It wasn't like a stomach flu though and of course my imagination started to attribute it all to something sinister.
While we were in WA. an old family friend (who had become a pediatric oncologist) heard about our visit and stopped by to check on Roman. We hoped and almost assumed he would tell us that the other Dr. was over reacting and we had nothing to worry about.
He did a physical examination of my pale, skinny (he could no longer hold up his tiny size 2 underwear) boy and told us something to the effect of "I don't want to alarm you but... I spend my time with children who have cancer and by all appearances it is very likely that he has Luekemia." He validated all that the last Dr. had said , described what he was looking for and explained how Roman met the symptoms. He told us his spleen was 2-3 times it's normal size.
The room was silent.
I resigned, in my heart ,at that moment that my son had cancer. I felt we were standing at the edge of a cliff readying ourselves to be pushed off.
My first reaction was to go shower. It was a place to escape for a few minutes.
I had conversations with God in that shower that went something like...
"Father, I have no idea what road you're taking us down or why. If this is the path you have chosen for us I know you have a purpose in it but I don't like it and I know I'm not strong enough to do this alone. I can't lose another son. This was the boy I waited for. He is my gift from you. I have loved him enough for two sons.
"Lord you know if there is one thing in my life that can be taken from me that will cut me deeper than anything else it is this boy....but Lord I trust you through whatever lies ahead. He is yours. I know that you can restore him to health and heal him but I also know that your will is beyond my understanding. You know the days of this boys life just as you know every hair on his head"
I was totally surprised that I felt such a sense of peace and confidence.
Before I come across all super-spiritual this response caught even me off guard. I could feel the Holy Spirit responding in me and for me...it wasn't my nature. A few months earlier when we got the news that my sisters young husband had inoperable brain and spinal tumors I really struggled, I freaked out....I couldn't bring myself to even utter a prayer for a week. I was angry. Spitting mad. That is my nature.
I'm sure I would have run through a whole different range of emotions with our sons illness had this story turned out differently. Fearing the worst and actually living through it are two very different things.
For two weeks we assumed the worst. I pictured our life at home spent travelling back and forth to the hospital for treatments. I prepared myself to fight for my sons life. I pictured our summer spent at a sick kids hospital.
I thought about losing him.
We had contacted our Dr. back home (who was also a friend of ours) and she told us to bring him in as soon as we got home. We were told to pack an overnight bag in case we were sent into the big city hospital.
We arrived home late at night so we planned on going in for more testing the next morning.
That would be the day when we would know for sure. Suddenly the thought of knowing for sure terrified me.
After a rough morning of poking and prodding my little boy, I waited for the Dr. to call with the results of the initial blood test which would determine what other tests would be next.
I was utterly shocked when she phoned and said that the blood results looked completely normal. I found it hard to believe her. We then went over to the clinic for the physical exam. His spleen was a normal size.
Even after being confirmed with an ultrasound.
She scheduled us in with a Pediatrition a couple weeks later just to be sure and to have a good check over....and to put our fears at ease.
So there it was. It was over and the bullet was dodged.
I was so thankful but also slightly confused.
The random fevers stopped and over the next few months he gained back some weight.
What had just happened?
Within the next few days we started getting messages that people were praying for Roman. We had only told a couple members of our immediate family, and a few friends in Mexico but word got out and God's people had been praying. A lot of them. In three different countries, among several different churches there was intercession and prayer being spoken (by people we didn't even know) on our sons behalf.
I was shocked and so. very. humbled.
As the realization of how many people had been praying sunk in I felt God speak directly to my heart...
"Why would you be surprised that your son is well?"
Prayer is powerful. God is powerful..
When brothers and sisters unite in prayer, in three different countries, why would I be surprised that it was God's plan to show us his faithfulness?
To this day I do not know if Roman could be considered "healed" in the miraculous sense, but God heals in a lot of different ways. I have always rationalized it as being some other explainable illness or combination of problems that resolved over time. He was sick...and he got better. That's all that matters to me and I thank God for it.
It didn't matter to me how God did it, why, or what Roman was spared from....
we had our son back and cancer treatments were no longer part of our summer agenda.
On the surface it seems "much ado about nothing"..but as I prayed and reflected on the roller coaster we had just plunged down I realized how much I had learned and was still learning about faith.
It may sound strange but I later felt like it was a time of testing...not like a pass you get your son back , fail and you don't....but training. A practical application lesson in something I was giving lip service too.
In the Bible Jesus was constantly putting his disciples to the test. He would teach them something and then in order for it to become more than head knowledge he would set them adrift in a little boat on stormy water for a while.
In the weeks to follow God kept taking my mind and reading back to the story of Abraham and Isaac.
I wept as I read and as the Spirit ministered to my heart. I felt completely broken, humbled and filled with joy at the same time.
My Isaac had been asked of me and figuratively I had laid him on the altar. My idolatry, my fears, my desire for control, and my faith that God could provide, was laid out bare and exposed...vulnerable. I rejoiced when God provided the ram, and gave my son back to me. Once again, during those conversations I had with God during those two weeks, nothing of my own security or strength was left to cling to...it was just me and my Savior.
My son turned 8 years old this week and I give God the glory. It's easy to take our children for granted, even for me.
I may not have "nearly lost him" but in my mind I did contend with that possibility.
That process has a way of making a person see life a little differently.
I am firmly , maybe almost too firmly, grounded in reality and possibility of life's heartaches and suffering but I think "going there" also creates a perspective of life in high definition. Each moment, day and year is a gift.
I realize that this could be the last day before my life is pulled out from under me...but I don't fear it.
Every time I tuck my child into bed or send them out the door could be the last time I kiss my child goodbye....but I am not crippled with worry.
It is a process for me,
but it produces peace that only comes from God. Trust is confidence, knowing that God has all authority and He has the final say. I have tasted and I have seen that the Lord is Good. I can fully rest in that.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who takes refuge in him" Psalms 34:8