Do you ever stand in a storm looking for a chariot?
The last weekend in the City for treatment in January found me quietly just trying to slip through, working to steal home base and call the treatment run complete. But I was caught somewhere between Second and Third streets with an internal bleeding problem on a cold, snowy Saturday night.
The voice on the phone trained to deal with cancer patients having problems from treatment like me said in a matter of fact tone, “We’re pretty sure it is nothing serious; but the doctor would definitely want you to come in based on what you are describing to me. Most likely it is a mild complication from being near the end of radiation treatment. Use the emergency entrance and get here as quickly as you can.”
My mother and sister were keeping me company. Crochet needles and crossword puzzles and Kindles were dropped as we bundled up and made our way into the frosty city night. I felt a weary sort of despair in my gut and dreaded the process of trying to find a taxi late at night and navigate our trio to the cancer patient emergency room. A place where nobody knows your name but everyone has your number and you’re wishing you could scalp your ticket on the corner outside the door. No takers.
I stood on the pavement outside the hotel scanning the street. Next to me was Mom. The woman who always says how much she loved carrying life and that I was her fifth gift from God and she had whispered to my infant ears and teenage heart that as much as she and my dad loved me God loved me more and she told me God had a plan for my life and always, always found ways to encourage my dreams. She now stepped gamely, although frailly, towards the street holding my hand. On my other side was the big sister who taught me how to make sense of piano notes and put up with my messy side of the room and read stories on other long ago wintry nights about Daniel and the lion’s den and had me babysit her boys and shared her heart on walks along country roads and listened when my heart was heavy about anything, searching the streets for a taxi. Both women had boarded their first bus ever for a trip to the City two days before because that’s what they do when Sis needs help. And now we had to get a few blocks that felt like miles. I was earnestly praying for … a dark mini van that was parked just up the street from our hotel.
Not a taxi in sight, but there on the street sat the blue hospital van that shuttled patients to and from the cancer treatment (ahem) spa every day. The driver looked surprised to see our trio approach on the empty street at nine thirty at night in a swirl of snowflakes. He smiled at us.
“Sure, get in out of the snow and stay warm while I make this delivery. I don’t usually come over this way but I had a package to bring here tonight.” Of course he did. God sends chariots, built like blue vans in a dark and cold City, when His kids need help. Off we went to learn that I was to be given a reprieve from the blood thinner for the weekend to solve my problem.
I kept thinking about the blue van on our trip four months later as we traveled back to the city for an MRI. The May 22nd MRI would be compared with the one from November when the mass was an angry throbbing growing bunch of maniacal cells. Had treatment pulled the rapid cell division plug, or made it more angry and determined to kill? Had juicing begun making things right in my body?
I did not know what kind of chariot would appear this time, but I was hoping there would be something to carry us past the surgeon’s point blank pronouncement that morning of, “Well you absolutely will need surgery, no question.” This had been stated multiple times to my husband, Tom. Through some communication mix-up, one hour into our three and a half hour trip, we received a phone call asking us to come and see the surgeon before the MRI. They could work me in very quickly then I could go on to the MRI, at another location, due to a change in the doctor’s schedule. The original, carefully planned schedule had been for us to do the MRI, and then journey to another location blocks away to get the MRI results from the surgeon that same day. Traveling a few blocks in New York City at the wrong time of day can wreck your schedule.
“But we were going to have the results read this afternoon… how will you do that if we come before?” My wheels were spinning out loud as I listened to the young man who called to change the appointment.
“Um, yes ma’am, we’re not sure who would have told you that; we won’t get results that quickly. But the surgeon still wants to see you to check the tumor site.” The scheduler was in a slightly panicked tone of voice. We were blowing his attempt to move my appointment by deciding not to go at all. I suspected someone would be getting a stern tongue lashing for losing a patient for the day.
“Wait,” I said. I’m really nice. So it takes awhile some days for me to choose to end the misery very quickly. “So, you’re asking us to completely change our schedule, when we have a seven hour travel day and are one hour into the trip, to move our visit earlier, potentially making us late for the MRI, which is the higher priority, and we are just finding out now that you won’t have results today for us after the MRI?” I asked this watching my almost 77-year old mother who had come along just for those results. On three different phone calls to and from the appointment guy, and then to the actual surgeon who called to straighten things out, I stated that it made no sense to try to see her, if there would be no results to… see. On one of the calls I simply handed the phone to Tom. He brought the conversation to an abrupt halt by saying, “Look, it ain’t gonna happen.” That call was followed by another directly from the surgeon, who convinced Tom to hand me back the phone. I was nice. I understood that in her concrete opinion I would need surgery. I was prolonging the inevitable by not keeping this appointment. Oh God. Can you override that confidence? Do you send chariots to help people run away from needing surgery?
I decided there was no reason to keep the appointment, without results to review. A mental image of the scheduler guy getting chewed out flashed before my eyes as I said, thank you, but no thank you, we’ll wait for results. If the MRI shows I need a surgeon, we’ll reschedule. I felt like I had been liberated from something that I could not define. Maybe it was just the small victory of feeling like we had been just another appointment to be maneuvered with no thought to our situation. Were we making a mistake?
Six days after the MRI I dutifully called the surgeon’s office, as requested, and was told, “Oh yes, the radiation oncologist and the surgeon spent quite some time reviewing and discussing your scans.” Somewhere in my mind an alarm bell started going off. “Not to make you nervous, of course!” I was certainly nervous. “The doctor would like you to talk to the radiation oncologist for your results instead.” Interesting. I left two messages with the radiation oncologist after deciding this must be really good, or really not good. The nurse was not giving me any indication. And there was no return call by the end of that day. The day before (and the day after the MRI), I had the privilege of opening for Dr. David Jeremiah, by playing piano for a very special celebration. Ok actually I opened for musician Marshall Hall, who provided worship music, for David Jeremiah. Wait. I did not open for Marshall Hall either. It was just fun to say. But I did have the honor of playing a piano prelude and an offertory just before Marshall Hall opened for David Jeremiah. Phew. Beautiful encouragement through music and the preaching of God’s Word. Dr. Jeremiah teaches that God delivers His people out of tribulation. I thought about Enoch, and Elijah; God had sent chariots and carried them away. Certainly He must have a spare I could borrow.
On the seventh day after the MRI took place, I sat outside in the early morning with my Bible. The pages flipped open (really) to Isaiah 38 and the passage of Hezekiah’s prayer. He had been given a death sentence, and cried out to God, and God restored his health. He rejoiced and talked about being able to praise God by playing on stringed instruments in the temple. I wondered if it was bargaining with God to ask Him to do the same for me? He is not a respecter of persons, you know. What God does for one, He can do for any. Soon after reading that passage I called the radiation oncologist for the second day in a row. She called back.
“I have to tell you, your scans were rather remarkable. The tumor shrunk so much, it looks like it was resected.” The Healer had made His mark. “The mass has pulled away from the blood vessels so they are no longer being threatened.” Maybe I wouldn’t need a heavenly chariot to deliver me after all. She went on.
“The surgeon feels she can go in now and remove the rest of the mass so there is no further threat. But it would be a major, major surgery, and would result in a permanent colostomy because there would be a loss of blood vessels that feed the colon.” I had no desire for any more surgery. I also had no desire to get another colostomy if I had anything to say about it.
“Doctor, I am grateful for the care I’ve received and for the treatment. And I realize the medical community does not give any credence to juicing and raw foods for health. But I believe this has helped, and I want to continue with that. I do not want surgery if we’ve seen such good results and my life is not being threatened.”
She listened patiently and said, “Let’s schedule a PET scan for August; we can see how you are progressing from there.” I agreed. I told her I may still need the surgeon’s skills at some point in the future, but not now. I forgot to ask how much the size of the mass had changed and called back. She said, “I can’t answer that easily because it has decreased so much. I would say by 80 to 90 percent. I’m very pleased with how well you responded to treatment. The person who read your scan and gave the results did not know you had gone through treatment; they thought you had surgery to get it that small.” I felt like I was in a blue van again, safe and warm, driving quickly away from the cancer patient ER.
We’re not completely out of the woods yet, but by God’s grace, it feels like we’re on the right path. Er, chariot.
Isaiah 38 – go read it. Here is my favorite section:
17 Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.
In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
18 For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living—they praise you,
as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
about your faithfulness.
20 The Lord will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the Lord.