July 13, 2015 4:45pm The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

For survivors who live each day in full, not looking back and trying not to look forward. To us!


“Thou he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” Psalm 37:24

It took a week to find out. It’s taken a bit longer to get over the finding. I thought hard about telling you. It’s not my nature to withhold things and this blog has been honest. Transparent. So I’m writing and we will see if I post. If not then the blog is finished.

It happened one morning, three weeks ago. I had a lyphedema massage the day before and over all things seemed good. Stable. Boring, which as you grow older you learn to appreciate. Upon awakening, without thinking. my fingers strayed to the side of my arm, ouch, finding one raised, hot, tender, inflamed nodule. And then I found another. Two of them, two of them were there. Where yesterday there had been nothing. Similar to the inflamed node under my arm I found last March. The one that hurt for six months before surgery. That one.

And all at once the positive thinking, the sure way towards healing closed in on me and I started to slide. Choking off the possibilities of mother of the bride and babysitting for my grandchildren. Bringing with it “how fast will this go, how much longer do I have, I only got four months out of all that treatment, I’m not ready.” This mantra replacing my chant of gratitude.

My husband was leaving on a trip. Partial payment from my sons for taking care of me for a year. I couldn’t tell him. Wouldn’t let him know that we might be starting over before his celebration. The Grateful Dead in San Francisco, a trip to remember, not to forget, especially if your wife was suffering back home. Riding to her biopsy alone and waiting for the path report, alone for that too.

I eased out of bed and sat on the deck, sipping tea, watching as the sprinkler circled in my direction creating a rainbow. “What God?” I asked, “What message is in these colors? That you will not destroy your children, that I am the one you are not destroying?”

At the last minute I asked my first cousin once removed to drive me. The punch biopsy hurts and I wanted to take a pain pill. Plus truthfully I needed the company. Needed someone when they took me back and then sent me out again because they had no rooms. Wanted someone in the waiting room as I lay in the exam room in a gown for an hour while they looked for the set up tray. “Guess they forgot I was coming,” I texted. Wanted someone to be there while we talked about my treatment options, more radiation or not, immunotherapy-”is anyone doing it here for IBC? “My friends don’t want me to die.” Tears slid down my cheeks as she tied off the stitches. This nurse practitioner had agreed to see me late so I didn’t have to cancel my patients, “I’m not ready for that, they will know,”

Only the waiting, wondering, remained. I tried to think of other things. Gratitude for each day, each minute, each second. My daughter came over with twelve fellow oceanography instructors. They are scientists.”Don’t tell them you had cancer. No one knows.” “Great, if they don’t notice my flat chest and compression sleeve we’re good,” I grumbled silently. TheyIMG_1298 were a distraction but truthfully, their youth, their lackadaisical manner and their grumbling over their jobs was crushing. It hurt me to gaze at their faces as they leaned into each other and laughed. Scared me to feel their energetic vibrations so intensely. Every thought of theirs moving forward, while mine were frozen. Desperately hoping that the future would pass by, leaving me in that moment forever. That I would never get a call telling more. I wanted to reach out and grab one and say “Hey you better pay attention because you never know. Look at me, I might be dying.” But of course I didn’t. They wouldn’t believe me. I never would have and now here I am. Two painful, burning nodules that won’t let me forget what I try to forget every day when I swing out of bed. Remembering haunts me like a shadow.

“They said you talked about God too much Mom, really! They knew you were religious but that was well, I don’t know, different…” And then I told her, a week after the biopsy report came in negative. “Fibrous tendrils.”

“I hoped someone would have let you know, “ they responded after I emailed them at 3pm, not able to bear the delay any longer. I hoped so too since I had been waiting all week to hear the results were normal. It felt strange, like being submerged, out of breath, numb, disbelieving. “What are they then?”I asked. “Scar!” came the answer after a couple of emails. Scar it is and scar I’ll take and live.

And so since she already knew without the telling, I told her. Don’t you think I had to? The very second I found them she sent me three texts, zing, zing one after another asking “How are you Mom? How are you feeling? What’s going on?” She wanted to know even as my fingers located those burning lumps. And so though I tried not to, I had to. It wasn’t fair to either of us to keep the secret. The secret that never really was.

“I thought I was dying,” I told her. “I found two very suspicious bumps on my chest and when I met your friends I had been waiting for six days. Six days of waiting while my nodes were inflamed. And so if I seemed different, off balance, it’s because I was. If I talk too much about God I’m sorry.”


“It makes me feel like what Dad and I did all year doesn’t matter. I just want things to be the way they were before.” Oh honey, I thought, you don’t’ know how much I want that too. I tried to explain the difference, that if I am preparing for another world, then it makes me even “less of this world.” And you know I’ve only had one foot in, reluctantly at that. “Jesus is the rock on which I lean but that doesn’t mean that you and your father aren’t important. Everything you did to care for me counts. You are the hands and face of Jesus. But this family will never be like it was.”

Truthfully, she’s more scared than she is hurt. But hurt and anger are easier. We muddle our way through. I place Christ between us and ask for his blessing on our love. Even when it comes in anger.



“Maybe I ran into a wasp and don’t know it,” I told my first cousin once removed as we drove to the hospital. ”Sometimes the universe has a way of playing big jokes on us. Maybe this will be one,” he pondered philosophically.

And it was, only this time, no one was laughing.   A5TFB4-common-wasp_2661051b-1


  1. Julia,

    Thank you for sharing you good, bad, and ugly experiences. I was able, through your words, to relive some of the horror of re-discovery, the numbness of waiting, and the pure relief with the outcome. Although I am only a survivor vicariously by living with my husband’s cancer, I remember the constant watch over my shoulder (and my hovering watch over his), for cancer’s return. I also remember once when his lump wasn’t cancer after all, and he hid that particular struggle from me. I was relieved, grateful and angry.

    Yet your comment about “preparing for another world, how it makes you even less of this world” was tough for me. That is only something that the cancer warrior, the survivor of multiple battles, can comprehend. I saw my precious Ralph teeter-totter between two worlds, and I saw him become closer to God through a deeper faith than I could muster. I feel a similar deep spirituality in your writing! I envy your faith and relationship with God (although no one would wish to gain that through struggles with cancer.)

    Thank you for enlightening me and inspiring me with your personal story! As my Southern religious roots taught me, you are a true “witness” to God.

    Peace and prayers,
    Ann Walthall


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