Friday, August 24, 2012

The Source Of My Hope

While the obvious answer is "God," there's more to the story than that. God worked, through the years, to get me to the place so that when melanoma entered my life...or should I say, "steam-rolled in," He was the only logical place for me to put my hope. All alternatives scare me silly.

I was brought up in church. Conway (North Carolina) United Methodist to be exact. There every Sunday. Sunday school, too. Later active in the UMYF (youth group), sang in the Junior Choir and then the Chancel Choir. Even played the bells a few times. I was on the Administrative Board and held several positions over the years. Taught Bible School and Sunday school. I prayed, read my Bible, and had what I would call a reasonable trust and faith in God.

But those weren't the times that drilled into me that He was my source of help in times of trouble.

Real life taught me that. Seeing God prove Himself faithful taught me that.

Conway's a small town. One stop light. Literally. Though there aren't too many businesses now, when I was growing up we were a thriving little town with right many Mom-and-Pop stores and gas stations. Like all kids, I made the rounds and was known at every one of them. We walked or rode bicycles everywhere around town. The idea of getting our parents to drive us across town...well, that just didn't occur to us. We walked. Unless we were going to spend the night or had our Barbie collection going with us to play.

I can still see this. I was at the stoplight, crossing the road. I was maybe 9 or 10, and halfway across I look to my right and there's a car barreling straight at me showing no signs of slowing down and they have a red light. I froze. Right there in the middle of the road. I froze. I knew that car was going to hit me and I couldn't move. It was like something in a TV show except this was real life. The next thing I knew, the car whizzed by and I was standing on the side of the road in the grass. To this day I have no idea how I got there. I don't remember moving. But I got to the side of the road and to safety. To this day I credit God with providing me an angel to get my butt out of the way of that car.

When my daughter was roughly 6 weeks old (31 years ago), she was already on cereal to help her sleep through the night. I don't think doctors recommend that now, but her's did then. She started on cereal at 4 weeks. On this particular night I had added a little bit more because she stayed hungry. I had put her in her crib, on her stomach...I don't think they recommend that anymore either, but at the time that's how babies were laid down...and I went to wash dishes. I ALWAYS waited an hour or so before going to check on her. On this night I had barely turned on the water to fill the sink when I had this strong urge to go check on her. I ignored it. It was way too soon. So help me, the feeling got stronger and then I got the distinct feeling that I was being reeled into the bedroom. Seriously. It was like I was on the end of a fishing rod and some unseen force was pulling me to her side. Even in the dark I could see white where her face was. She had thrown up that cereal and was laying in it and couldn't get her face out of it. It had clogged her nose, some was still in her mouth, she couldn't and didn't cry UNTIL I started frantically wiping her face off and her eyes...it had her eyes closed and I guess the pressure of me wiping her eyes clean and getting it out of her mouth and nose...she was able to cry. And I knew she'd be all right. I shudder to think what would have happened had God not sent an angel to reel me to her crib that night. And I do credit an angel.

As a matter of fact, I named my angel "Herbert."

Eight years later Herbert was dispatched, again, to our rescue. I was pregnant with College Kid, not very far along, and one night the three of us, hubby, daughter, and myself, were a few miles from home, it was dark, and we were riding in deer country. Sure enough, as if on cue, a large deer decided to cross the road as we were riding by and ran right into my passenger-side door where I was sitting. The deer kept moving, but the hit was hard. We were in a really dark area so we went on into town and just knew my door was crushed. I was surprised the door wasn't pushed into my lap, but when we got to town and Mitch got out to survey the damage, I didn't even try to open my door to get out and look too because I just knew the door wouldn't open. The total damage? About a half an inch scratch where the deer hit. Not even a tiny dent. A small chip of paint missing. That was it. I will always believe an angel took the brunt of that hit.

Not quite a couple of years later I started noticing little blurbs in different magazines discussing the difference between grand mal and petite mal epilepsy. About the same time my daughter was having "episodes." She'd be doing something then stop, her eyes would look to the side, her skin would turn gray and her ordinarily pink lips would take on a grayish hue. This would last several seconds and when it was over she would pick up right where she left off with whatever she was doing and have no recollection of zoning out. She couldn't hear when this happened so I couldn't snap her out of it. I read a little two paragraph blurb in Reader's Digest and thought, "Jessica does this." A month or so later I read another similar blurb in Family Circle and the thought was stronger. October of that year I read yet another little article in a Woman's Day and made an appointment with her pediatrician who sent her to have an EEG which revealed she had childhood petite mal epilepsy. I've never read another article about this in a magazine. I did my own research on it, but no more well-placed articles with the nagging thought of my child showing symptoms. But when I needed them to nag me into action, they were there and in magazines I read. God truly works in mysterious ways but we have to pay attention. For the record, God opened doors as she needed them opened to help with school, diet, medicine, and keeping her dreams on track. While this caused her math ability to totally tank, she was epilepsy free well before her 20th birthday. Her dr warned us that the genetic marker could stay with her till then but it didn't, her math got back on track, and today she is a licensed pharmacist with her PharmD, married with a little girl of her own.

In October 1999, about 8 am, I had taken James to school and was almost to work. A car made a left-hand turn right in front of me and I do mean right in front of me. I saw the car, stopped, in the center turn lane. The driver of the car didn't see me though. His windshield was fogged over and the morning sun was coming through that fogged-over windshield and he couldn't see a thing. But he made a left hand turn anyway and there I was. I heard metal, felt the car moving. I honestly didn't know what was happening it happened so fast. When the car got still I noticed "smoke" and was scared the car was going to blow up so I got out fast. That's when I realized my airbag had gone off. My forehead had hit the windshield. I knew that by the big knot on it. I never felt it happen. I had a huge green bruise over my heart but I never felt that happen either. I never felt the impact of the airbag fracture my left thumb in two places either. My whole left hand was a brilliant pink. I couldn't feel it.

Long story short, this was on a Friday morning and the local hospital ER staff x-rayed my hand, read the x-rays wrong and said I had crushed my knuckles so they put what turned out to be the wrong kind of cast on my hand and that wrong cast was there through the weekend until I saw an orthopedic surgeon Monday morning who removed it and took his own x-rays. My knuckles were fine, 'twas my thumb that was fractured in two places...right above and right below the joint where knuckle meets hand. When I left I had a very different looking cast than the one he had removed. This cast was temporary though because...

I also had an appointment to see him again that Thursday to have the cast removed and two pins put through my hand. He said my thumb would heal better that way. Okay. I don't like medical procedures and was normally a big baby with a well-established history to back that claim up, but I could do that.

Except every time I thought about that procedure I literally got nauseous. On Tuesday morning I called, cancelled that appointment and I did see him Thursday so he could replace my temporary cast with a permanent one. He wasn't happy with me one little bit and I can still hear him say, "You're flying in the face of the best medical advice I can give!"

Well, I flew. When I went back later to have the cast removed it was the most awful thing I'd ever felt! I'd never had a cast before but I knew it wasn't supposed to hurt to have them removed. This was tortuous agony. It was so bad the nurse who was doing the sawing had to get me to lay down and still asked if I wanted her to stop. Well, yes I did but the cast had to come off and sawing was the only way. It shook every nerve in my being. Due to the nature of the cast, my thumb was sticking out and the cast had to be pulled off of it. Why didn't they just shoot me first? It was horrible!

When my ortho guy came in he took one look at my castless hand and pronounced, "RSD has set in." Huh? Never heard of it. I had what they lovingly call a "line of demarcation" where my fingers had stuck out of the cast and there was a brown line on each of them. I had to do my own research on Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and didn't like what I learned. It is what it is. But it sure explained my raw nerves. To this day I can still feel vibrations and they can be awful. But I digress.

I had to have physical therapy to get my thumb back to as much normal as possible. Casting really wasn't a good choice considering my fracture...but it was a great choice considering my RSD! I had to go back to my ortho to get set up for PT and for him to check my thumb. He looked at me and said VOLUNTARILY, "You must have had a little bird sitting on your shoulder when you refused those pins. They would have made your RSD much, much worse."

Wow!!!! My RSD was bad enough as it was and fiery! So much so that I had to have a nerve block in February 2000. It should have been a series of up to six nerve blocks. I had one. I went to the hospital and as the anesthesiologist is doing what he has to do to get me set up, I tell him not to tell me a thing unless there's something I have to do, Otherwise, don't tell me anything. I told him what a baby I am. So I'm laying there with this arm-length blue tourniquet on my left arm and IVs in both hands and a nurse I know at my right side. There's a clock on the wall I can stare at ahead of me and I stare. Man do I stare, And pray. Early into the procedure the doctor told me he was going to adjust the tourniquet so it wouldn't be so bad. He started making his "adjustment" and I couldn't handle it. It was much worse. He was stunned. This was supposed to make it better and he'd NEVER had anybody beg him to return the settings to what they had been! But he did. By returning the settings to what they were, I took all the medicine...he had never, in hundreds of nerve blocks he had done (he said hundreds) had anybody take ALL the medicine like I did. He had kept a close check on my hand's coloring and kept pronouncing it "good." I kept praying "God we're doing good. You're doing good. Keep it up." I guess he and my nurse thought I was nuts, but who cares? When I was done, he told me, "You talk like you're a baby, but you're not. You're tough as nails."

Back to my PT. To me, this is simply awesome. RSD changes all tissues in the area it's in and has to be treated very differently in a physical therapy setting. "No pain, no gain" isn't the mantra for a person with RSD. When I started my PT for my thumb my RSD had to be taken into deep consideration or it would be made worse. Three weeks before I even knew I'd need PT God brought Heidi to the place I'd be doing PT. Heidi was a recent college graduate, from Florida, with her degree in PT and a concentration in RSD! She was getting married in NC in April, couldn't find a job in her fiance's city and the ONLY PT job she could get at the time was where I would be going and she was MY physical therapist! She knew all about how to handle my thumb and my RSD at the same time! And when I finished my second six-weeks round of PT she left a few weeks later for a job closer to where she'd be living once married.

Even when I had no clue I'd be in need of a specialized physical therapist, God knew, made arrangements, and she was with me for the time I needed her and then she moved on as did I. That STILL gets to me!

God didn't bypass RSD simply because I'd never heard of it, but He made a way through it. Twice that I know of. And that's not counting my PT. So when melanoma became part of my life, I already had a fairly strong history of God showing up and helping me when I needed it. Even when I didn't know I needed His help.

All this to say that fear and other emotions become part of the melanoma package. How's that for a nice, clean segue? In the beginning, after my diagnosis, fear and panic were constant companions. Four years into this journey fear rears up a month or so before every appointment of any kind. I know what I live with and it is what it is. I'm also very active in the online melanoma community both in front of the scenes and behind them. I know what a lot of people deal with. I know layers of fears that outsiders don't understand. Very real fears. And I know honest emotions, too.

I've lost patience with religious facades that hide behind false piety. Yes, I believe in miracles. Yes, I believe in the power of prayer. Yes, I believe in the power of Jesus' name. Yes I believe. But I also live in the real world and God's God of the real world.

People with very real and very strong faith will get a cancer diagnosis today. People who pray and people who believe will watch loved ones die today. And people who pray and believe will do their own dying today. And they will be people of all ages and all colors and races. Death will not take a holiday or look the other way because of "faith." Neither will cancer in general or melanoma in particular.

Our fears are real and God can handle them. Our faith is real and God can grow it and when we don't have faith, God can help it take root and develop.

But if I've learned anything, I've learned to be blunt honest with God about where I am at any given time and often I'm not in a pretty place. I've learned God knows my heart and God can handle it and me even when I don't think I'm too "handle-able." The only way God can move me from where I am to where I need to be is for me to give my heart voice. And if the tears come along for the ride, fine. That usually happens. And anger hops on the train. Fine. And sometimes my language has a few too many "rats" and "garden peas" and even some "dangs" and yes, God listens and He'll take me to task and I apologize but that's part of the process. We cut through to the chase where God can get through to me and we move on. I'm the designated Hotel Melanoma Chaplain Boss Queen and I need my own chaplain and God's it. He understands because He's called me to this place and is using my melanoma journey. We're traveling companions and like any traveling companions that have traveled together for almost 53 years, we can get on each others' nerves. And I lash out at what's around me and He holds out the glue to put me back together. And we travel on. Where I am can get to me, but I wouldn't trade where I am with anybody for anything. And I can get on God's nerves I'm sure.

But God is Who God Is.

He Is the Source of my Hope and the foundation of my strength.

And when all else fails, He never fails.

And I am oh so

Grateful!