As of today I have completed 19 of the 35 radiation treatments I have to do. (The picture above is how I have to lay at each session. They placed six small tattoos that look like moles on my back as markers to make sure they are administering the radiation in the same exact spot every time.) My energy level has decreased significantly. My left breast is extremely sensitive and looks like I have been lying topless in the sun with my right breast covered. I see the radiation oncologist once a week on Wednesdays. All other days the technicians administer my treatment and I am generally in and out within 20 minutes, except Tuesdays when they also do X-rays. My chemo sessions lasted 2 1/2 hours. So, I do like I am not there as long and it is not painful. But, to me, radiation is much more draining and I’m still adjusting to going five days a week.
At my last doctor visit with my primary care physician he gave me an order to have my annual mammogram screening. When the front desk clerk went to print it out she said, “Oh, I have to change this. It isn’t a screening. It is diagnostic to rule out cancer.” Perplexed, I said, ‘No, it’s just my regular yearly exam.’ She went on to explain that going forward my mammograms will always be considered diagnostic to rule out cancer. My oncologist was also careful to tell me if my scans are clear they will consider me in remission.
It’s hard to explain how I felt when the clerk explained the new classification for my annual mammogram. All of this time I have been traveling through this journey one breath, one step, one moment, one day at a time, giving very little thought to follow up care or “remission” as they call it. At the beginning of all of this I decided and declared this would be my one and only journey through cancer. I have told my doctors and remind myself often I am healed. I’m just walking out the process of my total healing. I have also told them and anyone who will listen I will NEVER have cancer again.
In 2011 when I had a stroke, two months after my 40th birthday, I remember the hematologist, who is also my oncologist, shared a statistic with me that 80% of people who have a stroke as young as I did have another one. Without hesitation I boldly declared, ‘Well, that won’t be me, because I am NEVER having another stroke!’ On my first visit with him after the breast cancer diagnosis I was sure to remind him that what I said still held true. I wasn’t seeing him due to another stroke!
Journeying through breast cancer has been a much different experience than recovering from the stroke. The morning after the stroke my neurologist came in my hospital room and told me he didn’t think I could walk. I immediately refuted his assessment and declared with an attitude, ‘Yes, I can!’ I then proceeded to get out of bed to show him. My daughter was able to catch me before I fell on the floor, because my right leg was unable to sustain the weight of my body. Still, no one could convince me I could not walk. During the months that followed, I discovered I could read words, but couldn’t understand them. I struggled to find the right words for objects and during conversations. I couldn’t count change. I didn’t understand the value of money. I couldn’t follow written instructions. I couldn’t write my name. I couldn’t be in a room with a lot of people or loud noise.
The list of what I couldn’t do seemed endless. But, what I could do is sit in my walk-in closet for hours every day reading Psalm 27, which I was able to understand perfectly. When I read it, it was as if the words came alive and I knew Jesus was in my closet with me. And as long as He was with me I knew I was well. It didn’t matter what the doctors or therapists said. I was convinced Jesus would fix everything they said was broken. After a year of physical, speech and language, and occupational therapy I can walk unassisted. I can read and comprehend words. I can count change, but more often than not I choose to just throw it in a can or give it to my granddaughter. Money and numbers still mean nothing to me. $2, $20, $200, $2,000…it’s all the same to me. A 2 with some zeros. I can follow written instructions, but am much more of a visual learner now. I can write my name. Crowds and loud noise is still hard for me at times. I still find great peace reading Psalm 27.
Having traveled such a journey with Jesus it really surprised me that throughout this breast cancer journey I have had to question at my innermost gut wrenching level what I truly believe. I found myself wondering is my faith just words or actual truth upon which I stand? When doubt would fill my mind, pain would consume my body, Jesus would whisper, “Lisa, whose report will you believe?” I would then remind myself I choose to believe the report of the Lord. My breast cancer journey has taught me what faith the size of a mustard seed really looks like. Scriptures I’ve learned over the years have become like air to me. I recite them to myself and they give my mind, body, and spirit the energy it needs to continue on through each day.
My stroke journey taught me what I choose to believe is the most significant part of the healing process. Though I haven’t had the same level of zeal and strength I had during my stroke journey, what I believe remains the same. I still believe Jesus is a Healer. I still believe His word is absolute truth and He is faithful to fulfill every promise in His word.
For today, while I am thankful for the great team of physicians I have, they are “practicing” medicine. God doesn’t practice anything. He does everything to perfection. So, I will never say I am in remission. I will continue to declare I am totally and completely healed and will never have cancer again!