With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m reminded of my own cancer awareness moment twenty-seven years ago. For me, it wasn’t through an annual breast screening. Rather, my experience started as a small pain, definitely not noteworthy.
Over the next several weeks, however, the pain recurred, each time growing increasingly stronger. Days later, a pain so strong that I gasped and grabbed my side compelled me to call my gynecologist. The next week Dr. Barham, asked the standard question: “How have you been feeling?”
“Good,” I replied, “except I’ve been experiencing a sharp pain on occasion.” After a brief exam, Dr. Barham exclaimed, “No wonder you’ve been having pain! You have a huge cyst on your ovary. You need to have surgery on Monday to remove it.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I responded with a smile on my face. I have no idea why I thought a doctor would kid about such a thing, but I did. I’d never had any medical problems, and I couldn’t relate to the fact that something was wrong with me that would require surgery.
Dr. Barham did not return my smile. “I’m scheduling you for Monday morning.”
Stunned, I walked slowly to my car and began driving home. Soon tears were streaming down my face and I was crying, confessing to God every wrong thing I’d done in my life that might have contributed to my health problem. That night Keith was as disbelieving as I was. On the outside, I appeared physically fine. This certainly wasn’t anything we had expected. However, Dr. Barham had assured me that most cysts were benign, so we tried not to worry. We quickly began making plans. I called my parents to come help with our two-year-old son, Taylor; cleaned the house; made chocolate chip cookies for the nurses; and packed my suitcase. I had no idea what lay ahead.
On Monday morning Keith drove me to the hospital. The surgery went well, and Dr. Barham said he’d have the pathology report in three days. On the third day I anxiously awaited his visit to my room. Any moment now, he’ll come and tell me everything’s okay—I’ll get to go home, I reassured myself. However, as the clock ticked and the hour hand dragged past eight and nine o’clock, I became apprehensive. A foreboding feeling crept over me that all was not well. Moments later, a different doctor sat in a chair beside my bed and described the cyst as “the blackest, ugliest thing” he’d ever seen. After that doctor left my room, I lay in bed visualizing the ugly black mass. It wasn’t a shock when Dr. Barham came in, sat down, and explained that the pathologists were divided in their opinions. Half thought the cyst was benign. Half thought it was malignant. “We’re sending it to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center,” he said. “You can go home. We’ll call you when we get the results.”
Suddenly, there were no more smiles. What was to have been a routine surgery now had the word cancer connected to it. Keith and I prayed that the pathologist would have wisdom. We prayed the cyst would be benign. Family and friends joined us in prayer.
A few days later, I received a call from Dr. Barham. “M. D. Anderson says it’s stage 1A ovarian carcinoma and recommends you return to the hospital for a hysterectomy immediately.” It seemed that worse words could never be spoken—until someone dropped by our home to visit and told us that the prognosis for ovarian cancer was not good.
Keith and I lay in our bed that night and cried. Never had we expected that one of us might die at age twenty-nine. That was not part of our Plan A world, the one in which Keith and I would have two or three children and grow old together. The next day was filled with prayer and discussion. “Should we get a second opinion?” “Yes,” everyone agreed. We visited two oncologists and chose Dr. Fred Massey, who agreed with M. D. Anderson that the safest course of action would be a hysterectomy.
Later that day, while resting in bed, I cried out to my heavenly Father. First I thought of the best-case scenario in my emerging Plan B world: I live but can’t have any more children. “Lord, You know I always wanted to have a baby girl and put her in pink ruffled panties,” I softly cried. Then my thoughts moved to the worst-case scenario. “Lord, I don’t want to die.
Taylor will be left without a mommy, and you know how he clings to me. How would Keith explain my death to him?” “I’ll be with Taylor,” God interjected into my Plan B world. “I’ll watch over him and take care of him. I love him more than you do, Debbie.”
“But Lord,” I continued . . . fighting the Plan B fast track on which my life seemed to be, “Keith will be left alone, without a wife.” “I’ll take care of Keith. He’ll be all right,” Immanuel, spoke to my heart.
As tears streamed down my face, I admitted, “But, Lord, I don’t want to die.” “But Debbie, if you die, you’ll be with me in heaven. Everything will be all right.” With God’s comforting words that he would be with my family, a calm like none I’d ever known flooded my soul. The Lord lavished me with the peace he promised in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Surgery isn’t fun. Being told you have cancer is devastating. Waiting for reports is heartrending. But having Immanuel’s peace is an indescribable blessing. Days later, we received another opinion, this time from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: I did not have a malignancy. As overjoyed as we were, we were still faced with M. D. Anderson’s diagnosis that I did. Therefore, we continued to seek God’s wisdom. Dr. Massey advised us that if we wanted to try to have another child and I was able to become pregnant quickly, I could wait to have the hysterectomy until after our second child was born. He would monitor me closely throughout the pregnancy.
I received M. D. Anderson’s diagnosis more than twenty-six years ago. Lauren, who was conceived soon after, is now twenty-seven. She’s a beautiful Christian woman, is married to Chris Spalding, a godly man with whom she has a son, and works part time for my ministry. Taylor is thirty and married to Ali, a precious Christian woman. Since my hysterectomy, I’ve had no more health issues. We give God all praise and glory.
But what if things hadn’t turned out the way we wanted? What if a malignancy recurs? What if you receive a dreaded phone call in the middle of the night? What if your husband leaves? What if you never marry? What if you lose your job? What if your money runs out?
What if all the good we expected in life doesn’t happen—what do we have left? Hope. Our faith. Encouragement in the Lord. His presence, here on earth and awaiting us in heaven.
As National Breast Cancer Awareness celebrates twenty five years this October, I pray you’ll celebrate all those whose lives have been spared through early detection. If you are suffering cancer now, I pray you’ll look up and find your heavenly hope in the Lord.
Adapted excerpt from “The Plan A Woman in a Plan B World: What to Do When Life Doesn’t Go According to Plan,” by Debbie Taylor Williams, pages 41-44.
Debbie’s passion for Christ is evident in her energetic style and insightful personality. Having been diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 29, Debbie brings spiritual maturity and biblical depth to her audiences. Her spiritual beauty and willingness to be led by God bring a relevant message to women of all ages, backgrounds and denominations. Debbie is an authentic servant of Christ with a focus to encourage, challenge and inspire her audiences to become women of passion, purpose and prayer. [Read More]To find out how to have Debbie speak for your group, please CLICK HERE.