Drowning Is Not
An Option With
Jesus in the Boat
Please wake up Jesus. Don't you care that I'm sinking?
Sometimes reality can strike with tidal wave force. This was the year it slammed into me, wave by wave by terrifying wave.
I was already grieving for my dad, in the latter stages of prostate cancer, when my best friend suffered fatal injury in an auto crash. Margie lived eighty painful days in ICU. The night she died, my younger daughter was in surgery at the same hospital for injuries she received in a separate traffic accident.
Before I could steady my swamped emotions, another wave came rushing at me.
“We spotted something on your mammogram that looks suspicious,” said my doctor on the phone. “It’s probably nothing but we’ll do a lumpectomy to be sure. Now have a nice day,” she offered pleasantly.
“A nice day? You’ve just told me that a cobra could be loose in the room with me and I’m supposed to have a nice day?”
I hung up and pondered her terminology. Mammogram. The very word sounds like it should be done entirely by mail. However, I couldn’t mail my “suspicious” breast in an envelope for the lumpectomy—a lump that was probably nothing.
Later that week, I sat stripped to the waist, my breast squeezed flat by a clamp. The X-ray technician, a young man, entered the room. “How are you today?”
“Fine,” I answered, fine as any woman can be, half naked and clamped by a device with a needle inserted into her breast while a grinning male looks on. If ever I needed a delusion of grandeur as a survival tool, this was the time, but there’s little room for pretense when you’re disrobed.
“It’s probably nothing,” he said while positioning the machine.
Nothing? The what-ifs kept whispering in my ear. What if it’s not benign? What if it’s spread?
What was I thinking? I chided myself on being morbid and switched the what- ifs to another topic. What if green hair grows on my chin? What if Bigfoot shows up on Dancing With The Stars? Since worry won’t change anything, why bother with it?
That afternoon, the lumpectomy completed, my husband held my hand while the surgeon gave us the news. “I removed the tissue, and . . ." she began and paused.
Her next words washed over me. "I don’t expect this to be benign. We’ll wait for the report, but I should prepare you that we will probably be removing the entire breast.”
She spoke calmly, precisely, her clinical voice devoid of emotion.
We stared at her, stunned into silence by what was “probably nothing,” now something that must be dealt with further. Something that could disfigure me. Leave me less than whole. Affect my marriage. Fear of disfiguring scars and a mutilated body almost shoved me underneath the shock wave.
I did not know what our insurance would cover. In this country, Hollywood queens regularly augment their breasts. That reveals a lot about our culture. What exactly it reveals, besides mounds of bare flesh, I don’t know. I only knew that I wanted to keep my body intact.
What would life be like with a flat chest or a lopsided one? Visions of my upper body marred by scabbed-over, gaping wounds tormented my sleep. To make myself even more desperately depressed, I tried on a few bathing suits. “Do you have any three-pieces?” I asked the puzzled clerk. “Two for my body and a matching blindfold for my eyes?”
My doctor forwarded the tissue slides to Mayo Clinic for an expert opinion, extending the time that I had to wait and wonder if my life would be irrevocably altered.
Mayo Clinic diagnosed an insitu carcinoma. Before I had time to consider my ugly options—whether to have a lumpectomy and radiation, a single or even a double mastectomy, and what method of breast reconstruction—the tsunami of tidal waves struck.
I got the news during my conference with a team of health professionals, all urging me to choose radiation. My parents had been in a serious auto accident in Oklahoma which left them both in the hospital. Dad was not expected to live, and Mom might not recover sufficiently to walk again. This was the third serious car crash to strike my loved ones in less than a year.
Where was the God I had prayed to and followed as closely as I knew how? Had He abandoned me?
I felt helpless, overwhelmed by a powerful force carrying me where I did not want to go. I left the conference and boarded a plane for Tulsa, Oklahoma, all thoughts for my own health shoved aside. After five days, Dad was moved out of ICU. Mom underwent surgery for a broken hip, leg and wrist. She would recover.
My doctor insisted I leave my injured parents, fly back to Illinois and go ahead with the surgery. She wasn’t certain she “got it all.” The disease could be “spreading through my body, multiplying at 50,000 cells per day.”
I had to think about getting the operation behind me and be sufficiently recovered to be there for my parents when they were released. After hugging them one more time, I boarded the plane for Illinois. Leaving them behind was perhaps the most difficult thing I ever did.
Time was of the essence. I said no to a prolonged course of radiation and scheduled the mastectomy. Medical staff wheeled me into the OR and left me alone. I looked up at a ghastly array of torturous devices suspended overhead. For the first time since my doctor’s unwelcome call, I allowed the tears to flow.
“Dear God, I'm going to wake up in a body that will never be the same. I don’t know how long my Dad is going to live and my Mom is very broken. Where are you?”
I had never felt so abandoned.
Surely this was how the disciples felt when their boat was tossed and swamped by a violent storm and Jesus was asleep, seemingly unconcerned.
Please wake up, Lord! Don’t you care that I’m drowning?
At that moment, a nurse walked into the room. "Oh honey, you're crying!” She said tenderly. “You have every right to cry. We both know they’re cutting into more than just your body. It's your sense of femininity and your emotions too.”
Having undergone a complete hysterectomy only two years earlier, I sniffed, “What’s left of me will hardly be a woman.”
“Now that’s not true. You’re a beautiful woman. Is someone here with you? Where’s your mother?”
“She's in a hospital in Oklahoma,” I sobbed, unleashing a fresh stream of tears.
“Oh dear! Well then just pretend I’m your mother,” she wrapped her arms around me.
“You have a very good surgeon and your plastic surgeon does a good job," her words were reassuring. "He’s the same doctor who did my surgery.” She rocked me gently and then drew back with a half smile.
“You had this surgery too?” I asked, glancing at her chest.
“No, honey. I’ve had a weight problem all my life. I finally chose to have my stomach stapled. Then, after I lost the weight, I had an apron of excess skin, and Dr. Weiskopf removed it.”
She asked me about my family, explaining why she had never married. “No man ever wanted me, because I was always so fat.”
I felt a stab of compassion for this kindly woman, slender and certainly not unattractive. She’d missed out on the thrill of romance, the love of a dedicated man and the comforts of a happy marriage. She had never experienced the sweet delight of cuddling her newborn baby in loving arms.
My tears stopped. Why was I feeling sorry for myself? God had given me a wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters. I’d had several years of happy family life already such as this gentle woman may never know.
I went to sleep and woke up again with reconstructed breasts, thinking of my new shape as probably nothing to be concerned about. I even laughed at my “Dolly Partons.” Then the expanders were removed and I had popped “balloons” for awhile, but eventually I returned to a feeling of normalcy.
A year followed, filled with complications, a stubborn staph infection and further follow-up surgery, but the real healing had already taken place. God had whispered to the storm in my heart, “Peace! Be still.” I lost my dad in that year, but the peace remained.
I never knew my OR nurse's name, but I call her Lilly. From her, I learned that when you're going through wind-whipped stormy seas, God sends the Lilly of the Valley to wrap you in His loving arms. He works through people, and Lilly was surely His representative.
Because of Lilly, I learned the One who walks on water will not let you drown, no matter how strong the waves.
Afterword: That surgery was in 1994.
Today I am a healthy, grandmother of four, and a published award winning member of Faith Writers. My Dad went home to be with the Lord in the spring of the following year. My mother recovered and is running her own cattle ranch in Oklahoma. My Lord is worthy to be praised, whether He is asleep in the floundering boat I'm on, or lifting me up to walk on the water. I know I can trust Him. Drowning is not an option.