By Duncan Long
Our household has had a wild and wonderful experience which I thought I should spread the news about. Please read the copyright notice at the bottom of this article and then fFeel free to copy or hotlink to this page and share this story with anyone who might be helped by our true tale.
July, 1996: Cancer
My wife, Maggie, was diagnosed and re-diagnosed (i.e., by an Internist and then by a surgeon) as having cancer of the large intestine (that's not the scientific name -- but that's what it was) and had to go through horrid procedures to check her out, determine if there were other tumors besides the first found, etc... She discovered the joys of Fleet, barium (from both ends), CAT scans, and X-rays -- and those were the more comfortable procedures..
At first we held out hope that maybe it might not be cancer. We asked the doctors about this possibility.
The internist diplomatically said, "There's a strong likelihood it's cancer." The surgeon was more blunt, "Don't even think about it not being cancer. I've seen it and there's no doubt in my mind."
Now we were getting scared.
"What's the chance that I'll be around in five years?" Maggie asked. This is a consideration since we have two children, one ten and the other 14.
The surgeon didn't speak for a minute. We could see he was choosing words carefully; I felt the proverbial chill down my spine. "There's a good chance you'll still be around in five years." When we left, the surgeon hugged Maggie and we could see he was trying not to cry -- that was a shock since he's one tough cookie that looks like he has a bowl of nails for breakfast every day.
Now we were worried and finally coming to grips with the seriousness of the situation. (Later Maggie told me that she was glad this happened now rather than 4 years earlier. Four years ago she had basically lost her faith; she'd bought into the "we all evolved from slime" theory of life. But that came to and end and she had come to realize that there was more to life than that and had become a believer in Christ. Before that she told me she would have fallen apart. Now she was able to face the possibility of death since she know that "to die is gain" for a Christian.)
July 11, 1996: We went into the hospital and the operation went well. However the surgeon discovered a second tumor and ended up removing half her large intestine to get both of them out. During his inspection of organs around the large intestine, he also discovered growths on her liver which he couldn't remove due to the large number of capillaries in them (which would cause excessive bleeding).
The Good News
That was the bad news. The good news was that the rectum area was free of problems so Maggie would soon regain full functioning of her digestive system in a short time. Hurdle one was now jumped and she'd come out much better than we'd feared she might be after the operation.
We were hopeful that the biopsy of the tissue removed would come in Friday. It would let us know if the cancer had spread to her lymphatic system and what type of cancer it was. Said results would also give us a good idea of how much radiation/chemo therapy she had ahead of her. The surgeon was pretty much convinced she'd end up with both chemo and radiation therapy given the size of the tumors, but it wasn't a "done deal." We were hopeful the biopsy would bring some good news.
But the biopsy didn't come back that day because it was late and the lab taxed for time. (We later learned that the pathologist took one look at the tissue sample our surgeon had sent, recognized it as cancer, and set it aside for the formality of the actual tests until letter in order to get to work for other patients that was less easily identified.)
Friday came and went. The biopsy didn't come in and the lab was closed over the weekend. Our surgeon was hot under the collar that there were no results, but couldn't do anything other than wait we us. He apologized for the delay but there was nothing that could be done.
By Monday we were on pins and needles. One of Maggie's lungs had partially collapsed Friday and then again Saturday so in addition to the other tubes already in her body, she now had a quarter inch tube inserted through chest muscle, between her ribs, and into her upper chest (not a fun procedure to say the least -- I was there as the official hand holder, feeling truly helpless during the whole thing).
When the procedure was finished, she had the suction tube in her chest cavity, an IV in her chest (the veins in her arms kept "ballooning" so they could no longer use those for IV), a catheter in her bladder, an epidermal pain killer tube in her back (placing medication into her lower spine), and (during the first few days after the operation) she also had two pressurized tubes leading to cuffs around her legs which tightened every four minutes to keep clots from forming in her legs (and which made sleep about impossible).
She was actually short a few tubes since her wound had stayed free of infection (no need for the drainage tube there that the surgeon had warned us might be needed), she didn't have a tube down her nose for oxygen (since her lungs hadn't become infected), and she hadn't needed a tube to drain stomach acid off (down the nose or through the abdomen, depending which there was room for in the patient's now riddled body). So tube wise, Maggie was actually getting off lightly!
Monday, July 15...
No biopsy results. By now our surgeon was getting as hyper as we were and was threatening to go in and do the work himself if the lab didn't get with the program.
Now (with a true writer's sense for drama) I will step back and do a little flashback work. From the time we'd learned about Maggie's cancer, we'd been enlisting Christian friends in our community to pray for her (and the rest of us since the whole family was feeling like we were on the ropes). This chain of prayer soon extended from my parents church group to our sister/sisters-in-law's groups (one in central Kansas and the other in Georgia) to all points around the world thanks to contacts I have on the Internet. It was truly amazing the number of people praying for us and it was also very moving to see how many people wanted the best for us and really cared about us. I got (and still get) e-mail and phone calls from all over with people setting into motion "prayer chains" and the like to enlist more and more prayers for Maggie and our family.
We'd seen everyone from our neighbors to nurses to -- yes -- even our burly, gruff (but very tender, too, at times) surgeon stop and say a prayer with Maggie. And all the time she reached out to tell others about the importance of a relationship with Christ, etc., etc. (to say this was a time of "spiritual awakening" for us and those we were in contact with would be an understatement, given the pressures we were all under).
Another setback: Monday Maggie's dad (who's nearly 80) started to have pains in his side and headed for the doctor who sent him to the hospital. Soon he was in the operating room getting his appendix out. Fortunately that went smoothly and (despite some complications the next day) he was doing fine in a short time.
Tuesday morning came.
Tuesday, the surgeon appeared in Maggie's room and stood at the foot of the bed for a moment. Finally he spoke, saying simply: "God is good."
Maggie was not sure what her response should be or what he was telling her. "I know He is," she finally said. "I believe that He is."
"God is good," he said again. "You're all clear."
"What do you mean?"
"The biopsy came back. No cancer. It was regular tissue."
"Are you sure? Could someone have made a mistake?"
He assured her that the results had been double-checked and there was no cancer. While it was obvious that the tissue didn't belong where it had been and its removal had been a necessity even had we known it wasn't cancer, it had been normal tissue. At that point he gave her a big hug (carefully placing his arms around the various tubes still feeding into her body) and tears were shed on both sides.
During the day nurses came in and also did this hug/crying routine. It seemed that so many patients had come in like Maggie and then died or gone home in very bad, terminal condition, that the surprise and joy of having a patient come up cancer-free was simply staggering to those who'd been involved in caring for Maggie.
Eventually even the vice-president of the hospital (who'd helped us fill out forms giving me the right to make final medical decisions should Maggie become unable to and also to avoid heroic medical treatment should she be terminal -- which we all suspected could be the case sometime soon) came in. And, yes, she and Maggie also had a cry-athon as well. (And I didn't have dry eyes, either, after the news came in -- I just wasn't there during this time of tear-letting at the hospital.)
Later we learned that our surgeon, upon receiving the results, had raced down two flights of stairs to share the good news with a doctor who knew Maggie. And later he also spread the good news to our internest as well.
Maggie (and others who have been involved, I suspect) has chalked up the lack of cancer to all the prayer and the grace of God. I'm not going to dispute her at this point and have to admit, given the possibilities, this out come is nothing short of miraculous in my mind. It might just have easily been cancer with the news of only years or even months left to live. Only through God's mercy and grace did we get this good news.
July 18, 1996
We are more or less out of the woods. Maggie's collapsing lung may be a problem over the next few weeks, but it now appears we've seen the last of that problem (we continued to keep that one in our prayer requests, however). The liver "things", though most likely benign, are still a concern (we enlisted everyone's prayers on this -- along with prayers of thanksgiving); but the doctors seemed pretty certain this wasn't a concern given the lack of cancer elsewhere in her body.
We feel like we've both been given a new lease on life and are doing some serious soul searching.
I also learned some important lessons (that I suspect God just could not beat into my thick skull any other way). One is that there are a whole lot of people out there that really, REALLY care about what happens to their fellow human beings. They put out time, money, and prayers to help you, even if you're practically (or are completely) a stranger to them. The outpouring of care and prayer was and has been truly amazing and, for a person like me who wants to be totally self-sufficient, humbling.
I've also come to realize the intense mental and physical suffering many people go through due to physical problems. We had gone though horrors and we had only skimmed the surface compared to many people that start out in the same shape Maggie had been in. Obviously God permits Christans to go through the horrors of cancer or other serious disease. Our sinful bodies are designed to eventually die and decay.
Many good people go through much worse, suffer horribly, and then die a lingering death. That He would spare anyone is amazing and that he spared us this pain for the time being is sobering and humbling.
I'm not sure exactly how God wants us to apply this knowledge, but I know there's a "message" here for all involved. Most of us don't go to visit those who are sick or make much of an attempt to comfort them -- and that isn't right. I'm hoping those who are reading this will take this to heart.
Maggie's dad has been doing nicely, too. There were a few complications but after several weeks he was back to his "old self", traveling and his active self.
Off the Pulpit
OK. I'll get off the pulpit and quit preaching. Thanks again to all those who've been offering support and prayers for us. It's much appreciated and I only wish I could shake the hands of all involved and sit down and talk at length with them (and, yes, probably shed some tears -- this has been a very emotional happening). I guess perhaps such a get-together will be put off until the first few days we spend together when we all cross through heaven's gates.
Until then, our thoughts are simple: Praise the Lord who is so very merciful even to sinners like us.
NOTE: Over a year has passed. Both Maggie and her dad are doing fine. I continue to feel as if each day we've had has been a very special gift from God -- just as it is. God is our loving Father, and He is good to his children.
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