Staying Afloat in a Perfect Storm
A troubled soul finds anchor in the One who controls the troubled seas.
by Carolyn L. Wade
I pulled off the freeway when my buzzing phone showed the medical clinic’s ID. Probably last-minute information about Thursday’s surgery.
“Your recent mammogram shows suspicious areas, and we’d like you to come in as soon as possible for an advanced mammogram.”
The words stunned me. It was a few seconds before I could answer. “It will have to be tomorrow because I’m scheduled for major surgery the following day.”
While the woman put me on hold and checked her schedule, I waited in a daze, my thoughts spinning, cold waves of fear threatening to wash me over the edge of sanity. She finally came back on the line and gave me an appointment time the following day for the new test.
As I pulled back into traffic, thunderbolts of fear and doubt struck. How can I possibly deal with the potential of two types of cancer at the same time? Isn’t there some cosmic law against double jeopardy?
I felt as though I were entering a “perfect storm,” that critical situation resulting from a unique set of powerful circumstances. As I struggled to keep from slipping into the dark waters of despair, the song playing on my car stereo seeped into my consciousness. I reached over to turn up the volume for this lifeline.
The song spoke of God’s power to calm raging seas. I hit “Repeat” and let the message soak into my mind, clinging to its truth. Perfect timing, Lord!
As my heart rate slowed and my mind steadied, I considered this set of circumstances. Just a few weeks earlier I sat in a parking lot as the rain on the windshield mirrored the tears wetting my cheeks. My doctor had just told me the results of a routine medical test were “atypical.” In addition to scheduling further tests, she was referring me to an oncologist.
Oncologist means cancer. This can’t be happening. What are the chances?
Less than a year before, my oldest sister had moved into a care facility for the last months of her final battle with breast cancer. I agonized watching the life slowly leak out of her frail body. A few weeks after her death, my other sister learned that she also had breast cancer.
It had been less than two years since our oldest brother died of pancreatic cancer. Another brother was battling multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. The one remaining brother was learning to live with Parkinson’s disease.
What are the odds of so much critical illness in one family within such a short time?
Strength from Scripture
That day I drove home in a daze. Weak and shaky, I wanted to crawl into bed and hide from family, the phone, from life. Desperate for strength from outside myself, I opened the Bible on the kitchen table. It was February 16, and I turned to Psalm 16. Peace flowed into my soul when I read verses 8 and 9: “I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure”(NIV).
I went to my computer, typed out the passage, made multiple copies, and taped it on every mirror in the house. I knew that only by meditating on God’s Word would I make it through this storm.
Now a new element had been added to the tempest. When I told my husband about the mammogram, he wrapped his arms around me in silence.
“Our lives are in God’s hands, and we can trust Him,” he finally spoke against my hair. I was too numb to weep but drew strength from his embrace and his unshakeable faith. I mentally geared up for the test the next day.
“The radiologist will read the films right away.” The technician noisily slapped the x-ray canisters into the machine as she completed the “advanced” mammogram the next afternoon. “Please wait here for the results.”
I sat in the chilly, darkened exam room, trying to deflect the hailstorm of anxiety pelting my mind. I hugged my arms to my body, trying to stay warm. I had forgotten to bring something to read. The yellowing cartoons posted near the menacing machinery didn’t seem funny.
As my eyes wandered over the mandatory federal employment law posters on the opposite wall, I wondered why someone had pinned a short string of wooden beads on the bulletin board. As I stared blankly at them, I noticed that they were of varying sizes. Shivering, I realized they were meant to illustrate the size of possible breast lumps.
Eventually the door opened, and a middle-aged woman in a white lab coat entered. She spoke very directly. “What I see is non-malignant. There’s no cause for concern.”
My immense relief was tempered by the fact that I was still facing a total hysterectomy the following day, with a strong likelihood of a cancer diagnosis.
My surgery was successful, and I’ve had an uneventful recovery. The lab report showed endometrial cancer, Stage 1-Grade 1, the best possible diagnosis for malignancy.
My prognosis is good; the surgery is considered a “cure.” Now eighteen months later, there’s no sign of recurrence, and my life is back to “normal.”
Our family, however, is not. There are fewer passengers in our boat, with only half the siblings in our last family photo. My brother succumbed to multiple myeloma six months ago. For the rest of us, time together is more precious.
There are no easy answers for our family. We don’t have a significant family history of cancer; our parents lived to 93 and 101. After doing an extensive family health study, the geneticist I consulted scratched his head. The multiple illnesses do not match any discernable disease pattern.
As I ponder the realities of this storm, I’m convinced that having “peace that passes understanding” depends on my willingness to give up the right to understand. If I try to make sense of it all, storm clouds of uncertainty and anxiety fill my mental sky, and I feel the boat begin to rock.
Regardless of the “facts” about our family’s health, this truth remains: The presence of Jesus calms the raging seas. He is my anchor, and I can stay afloat even in the perfect storm.