I have been contemplating what experiences I want to share with you, showing how my ashes have been turned to beauty throughout my life. I wrote down a list of things that I will eventually write about and as I looked over the list I decided that I would like to start from when I first realized that I had had ashes turned into beauty. It was in 1996 and I had cancer.
I remember sitting at my desk at work feeling pain in my chest every time I took a breath. I also felt it when I would lie down in bed or on the couch. For whatever reason, I am the type of person that has to be extremely sick or hurt before I will even consider going to the doctors and this time was no different. I would talk about the discomfort to my co-workers and ask them if they knew of anyone who had experienced what I was going through. The consensus was that I more than likely had bronchitis. I was bummed but also a little relieved. I hated the thought of having to go to the doctors, but I was relieved that with some medication I should be feeling like my old self again in a week or so!
I was 18 years old at this point and because of my infrequent visits to the doctor’s office, I had never actually been there without my mom being with me before. I remember her asking me if I was okay going by myself, and I said that I was. I made sure that I knew right where I was going so that I didn’t get lost on the way. My mom assured me that I would be fine.
The day of the appointment came and I almost cancelled it because my chest pains seemed to be lessening. They weren’t completely gone but they definitely were not as bad as they had been. I thought I was getting better. I mentioned to my co-workers what was happening and that I was thinking about cancelling the appointment. They let me know that if I did have bronchitis I would need medication to cure it completely. So I kept the appointment and made the long drive by myself.
I remember walking into the doctor’s office and signing in at the receptionist’s desk, like I had seen my mom do. I sat down and waited for my name to be called. It didn’t take long for them to call my name and take me back to be weighed and have my temperature taken. I was brought to an examining room and asked by the nurse what was bothering me, as she was taking my blood pressure. I told her about my chest pains and I told her that I already figured out that I had bronchitis. She asked me a few more questions and wrote down everything that I said before she left, telling me that the Doctor would be in with me shortly. As I sat there waiting, I remember hoping that the pills I was going to be prescribed weren’t going to be too big…big pills made me gag. The nurse came back in and told me that they were going to be doing a chest x-ray. I was brought into a different room and asked to take my shirt off and I was positioned in front of the x-ray machine as the technician took the shots that were needed. I was told I could put my shirt back on and I was taken back to the examining room.
At this point I was thinking that it was pretty weird that I would have to go through all of this just to diagnose bronchitis, but I didn’t know, so I went along with it. After a while my Doctor came into the examining room and sat down on the stool in front of me. He began explaining to me what they saw on the x-ray films. He said that there was a “shadowing” around my heart that is not supposed to be there. He said that he wanted to send me to have a CT scan done so that he would have a better idea of what was going on inside my chest. As he was explaining this to me, I remember not having a clue what he was talking about but I was nervous about having to tell my parents that I was going to need a CT scan because I figured that it would be very expensive. So I went home and told my mom that I had to have a CT scan and she asked why, and I had difficulty remembering everything the Doctor had told me so she called his office to find out. The Doctor explained to her what he had seen on the x-ray and told her that he would like for me to have the CT scan to get a better look at what was going on in my chest. The appointment was scheduled for us.
After the CT scan was over and we were sitting in the physician’s office, I STILL didn’t realize what everyone was afraid of. He came into the office and sat down and explained his findings. There was a mass growing underneath my breast bone. My mom asked him if he was telling us that I had cancer…there it was…that word. I remember looking at her in shock and wondering why she had asked him that. I had just had a cousin pass away from bone marrow cancer; he was only four years old. There was no way that I could have cancer! Right after my cousin passed, my grandma, my mom’s mom, passed away suddenly from a massive stroke. The icing on the cake…my mom and dad had just recently announced that they were getting a divorce…there was NO WAY that I could have cancer!! COME ON!!! The doctor was very careful not to use the actual word “cancer”. He said that we would need to do a biopsy to find out for sure what was going on. This biopsy was to take place right away and it would require major surgery. I remember feeling like I was in a fog as I was listening to my mom and the doctor talk about me and discuss what the plan of action was. I had never felt so out of control before. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t want to have surgery. I didn’t want to have scars on my body. If this WAS cancer, I didn’t want to lose my hair. Of all my concerns at the time I was never once worried that I may die. Is that weird?
We met with the surgeon who would remove the “mass” from my chest and he explained how the surgery would go. His plan was to cut down the center of my chest, through my sternum and open my rib cage, removing the mass. I was horrified! I was 18 years old and all I could think about was that I was going to have a huge, ugly scar down the center of my chest!! I didn’t speak up, however, because I felt as though I didn’t have a say. He was the surgeon after all. I went home and went to bed, which was something I did a lot of. I was very tired all the time. I lay in bed and I prayed that I would not have to have a scar down the middle of my chest…that was my prayer. Not that I wouldn’t have cancer, but that I wouldn’t have to have a nasty scar down the middle of my chest! I don’t remember how soon after, but it was before the surgery, we got a call that the original surgeon was going to be out of the country on the date of the surgery. We were advised to allow another surgeon to perform the biopsy. We went in to meet this new surgeon. He explained things to us, answered my parents questions, and at the end he turned to me and asked if I had any questions. I decided to speak up about my concern. I asked if there were any other options to getting the mass out rather than cutting through the center of my chest. The surgeon looked at me with a shocked expression. He said he would NEVER do that procedure on a young 18 year old girl. He even mentioned that I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable in a bathing suit with a big scar on my chest. He explained that instead he would go through my left side, spread my ribs, collapse my lung and then remove the mass. He said that the scar would be right along my bra line and that I should hardly even see it. I was ecstatic!!! My prayer had been answered so quickly! The surgery was scheduled for early the next morning and I went into it with a much better attitude than I had had before.
My parents took me to the hospital early the next morning and instead of being nervous that I was about to have major surgery, I was more excited to be having a new adventure. Odd, I know. Every part of that day was a new experience. After the surgery I remember waking up from the anesthesia as I was being wheeled to my room. I was feeling hungry and somehow in the druggy haze I was in I was able to mumble how hungry I was to my dad. He let everyone know I was awake…and hungry. I remember hearing laughter after he said that. Once in my room my nurse settled me in and my mom asked her what I could eat. The nurse made me some chicken broth, and when I took a sip of it I literally moaned, like it was the most delicious, gourmet meal I had ever eaten! I was in the hospital for three days until they released me and I was in excruciating pain almost the entire time. I was experiencing pain in my chest that I was rating a 10 when the nurse asked me to rate it between 1 and 10. They were trying to manage the pain with more Morphine, which only made me vomit, which made the chest pains even worse. I was so weak between the chest pain and all the vomiting. My poor mother was stressed out because she didn’t know how to help me. Finally, during my second day there, the Doctor came to visit me to try and figure out why I was having the pain in my chest, my lung to be exact. He had an idea that maybe the chest tube that they had put in my lung to keep the fluid out of it, may be pushed in too far and may possibly be scratching the wall of my lung every time I took a breath, moved at all, or vomited. To test his theory, he pulled the chest tube out, just a little bit, and when he did I began feeling instant relief. At that point it was easier to walk around like they wanted me to do. I was also better company for the people who came to visit me. Once I was unhooked from all of the machines and the Doctor’s cleared me, I went home.
It was nice to be home but also extremely uncomfortable. The healing process started out very rocky. I couldn’t move a lot and the pain killers I was prescribed gave me nightmares, so I didn’t sleep well. I am like a big baby, when I don’t get a ton of sleep. I get very grumpy! Needless to say, my poor mom took a lot of abuse from me. She handled it in front of me like an angel, but I have a feeling that when she had rare moments alone, she felt some pretty deep emotions. One day, if she’ll let me, I would love to write a story about her and the way that she handled this particular time in her life. She was a model of grace and patience, even though the world that she knew was crumbling around her. She is one of my biggest role models and I love her with my entire soul!
After about 10 days, I think, we received the phone call saying that what they had suspected was true…I had cancer. Great! I heard my mom talking to the Doctor on the phone and then she came into the bedroom where I was resting. She relayed the message from the Doctor, I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. This was apparently great news because the Doctor had been afraid that it was a type of cancer called Thymoma which would have been more difficult to treat, I guess. They said that the mass that they removed from my chest was the size of a grapefruit and it had grown, what the Doctor called, “legs” that had started to wrap around my heart. As my mom was telling me all of this, all I really wanted to do is call my friends and tell them the news. I was going to have to have chemotherapy to attack the rest of the cancer that the Doctors couldn’t remove during the surgery. They removed most of it, but some of it that was near my heart they were unable to. Months later, I remember hearing my mom telling someone that she could not believe how well I took the news of having cancer. She said that she thought I would break down or at least cry, but all I did was call my friends and inform them of what was going on…even laughing with some of them! All I can say is that I was covered in God’s grace and felt a peace that could only have come from Him. I didn’t know at that point if I was going to live or die, but I really had a strong feeling that me having cancer was going to be part of my life story…not the ending of it.
During that year I had six rounds of chemotherapy, which did the job and killed all of the cancer cells that had been left in my body. I had lost all of my hair and had been periodically sick during that time, but somehow was still able to work full time and maintain a really fun social life, which was very important to me at that time. I don’t like to be held back or stifled by anything, even cancer, so I love the fact that I can look back at that time and remember things fondly rather than feeling like it was the worst time of my life. I know that my faith in God is what helped me through this trying time. I knew that when I was feeling bad or scared I could call upon Him and He would hear my prayers, and He DID!! I was 18 years old at that time, my parents were going through a divorce and I was more than a little rebellious. Hearing that I had cancer and knowing that there wasn’t anything that I could do about it alone was the wake-up call that I needed to bring my focus back to what was important to me, which is my relationship with God. I am nowhere near a perfect person, and I don’t even strive to be, but I know that God is always faithful and He’s got my back in EVERY situation. He’s proven it time and time again. All I have to do is call on Him and He hears me.
Is there a situation in your life where you need to feel God’s grace and peace? Don’t hesitate to call on Him and give Him the chance to answer you. Sometimes the answer comes in a way that you never even imagined, but He knows the whole story and see’s the full picture. Don’t limit Him to what our small minds can come up with…Give Him control and see how awesome things turn out!! I would love to hear from you and pray for you, if you have a need. Leave a comment below or you can send me an email at Turnashestobeauty@yahoo.com. Thank you so much for reading!