"Death must be active within us if life also is to be active within us."
I have been wanting to start a sharing about my cancer journey but first I needed rest after the mastectomy on Aug 14th, the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Then I was busy with meetings and preparations for the programs at St. Helen starting this Fall! The purpose of Caring Bridge is that you can follow me on the journey and get updates and most important-Pray!
When I saw the above quote on Grace Lines- a daily email from Women of Grace- Johnette Benkovic, I knew today was the day to start.
So when did the journey begin? In May of 2002, I had been called to get a second mammogram. It was done at 4PM on a Friday in the Hillcrest medical building. The radiologist actually called me into his viewing room to look at the screen to see what he saw-the very tiniest mark. He said it is probably nothing but you should see a surgeon for a biopsy. First miracle: Friday late afternoon and he found a tiny speck! Second miracle: I don’t have a clue how I got to Doctor James Malgieri except for God’s providence. He has been my surgeon since 2002 and what a great doctor and human being! He also thought it would be nothing but just in case we should do a biopsy. We did. I got a call at my home during a prayer meeting and he said he was sorry it was cancer and I would need a lumpectomy. I was stunned and went back to the women and announced “I have cancer” let’s continue with the meeting! Some time after a few ladies said they were really shocked at how I handled it but honestly I was in shock at that time. The beautiful thing was that I was giving a teaching on Our Lady of Guadalupe and the next thing I read to the group was what our Lady said to St. Juan Diego about his concern that his Uncle might die:
Fourth apparition; December 12
Hear me and understand well, my little son, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything. Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle, who will not die now of it. Be assured that he is now cured.
Imagine how I felt when I heard those words that night. They were like a lifeboat. I have held them in my heart since that June night. And I asked our Blessed Mother to be with me on the journey and she has!
I had a lumpectomy in August. I saw my oncologist after the surgery, Dr. Jason Stern, another gift from God. I was actually referred to another doctor who was on vacation. The secretary told me I could see another doctor sooner-which I did- and to this day I thank God for Doctor Stern. He is the best and combines knowledge, empathy, and much laughter. I completely trust him and am so grateful to God for giving me these great doctors. He recommended 6 weeks of radiation which ended on Nov. 1st, the Feast of All Saints. I was able to go to 12:15 daily Mass at St. Paschal’s as my radiation appointment was at 1:15 Monday-Friday.
I finished and went on with my life…. until October of 2011… another yearly mammogram and there was something…a second mammogram. Dr. Malgieri saying it may be scar tissue form the lumpectomy. Needle biopsy and yes cancer is back. I was in shock but hopeful as it was again small and I needed a mastectomy. That was performed in late October and I was able to go to my friend Carrie’s home to recuperate. Her family, including dog’s Allie and Mollie were wonderful to me. My favorite memory was Halloween. The family was going west to trick or treat with cousins in a neighborhood. Before leaving the kids asked me what are your favorite candies? When they came home, they came to my room and dumped their candy on the floor and picked out my favorites for me!
I got better from the surgery and my oncologist recommended chemo. The first treatment was in early January and Carrie was with me and we were able to pray and share Jesus with anyone who would listen! If you have gone through chemo you already know the yukky details. So just a rundown to make you feel better about your day! Nausea, flu symptoms, aching, tired, hair coming out, headache, and then between treatments-weak but fine. You end up with no hair and no appetite ( can’t taste anyway). My sister Carol and Joyce Madej went with me to get my head shaved and a wig! They were a great comfort and a source of laughter! Thanks God it was winter. You don’t feel so bad emotionally about being cooped up.I was to get 13 treatments of Taxol but since the effects are cumulative, by the tenth, I had to stop. It was early May, I was happy. Still weak but happy. Gradually I felt better. It took about 6 months for hair to grow back and it was pure gray! Life returned. Was I different? Physically, the upper part of my feet had neuropathy but it was manageable. Back to work with all the wonderul family at St. Helen’s. I was still working throughout the chemo for Lifetouch Church Directories. In 2012 they changed my area to Erie, Pa which I enjoyed. In 2014, I went part time and retired at the end of 2015. Time to enjoy life and give more time to St. Helen’s.
Not exactly. God had other plans!
Saw Dr. Stern in May 2017-all was good. Routine mammogram on June 29th. Expecting the same good news-but-I received the test result in My Chart online on July 5th. “A suspicious mass” They wanted another mammogram. I panicked and called Dr. Stern’s office and left a message. He is with University so he cannot see the test results online at the Clinic. By afternoon, I realized that I really should be calling Dr. Malgieri as he is the surgeon and the first step after a potential growth. I did and found they have a wonderful “Breast Center” at Hillcrest. He has two nurses who always call back the same day. Maureen called me back and set an appointment with him the next day! Relieved-no waiting. At that appointment, they had already scheduled the second mammogram and an ultrasound right after my appointment, if I had time. Time is all I had! The ultrasound doctor said yes it is likely cancer but I don’t see anything in the lymph nodes. That was a great blessing. On Monday, July 17th, I had a Core biopsy. The pathology report came back-Cancer! I already knew but it was heartbreaking. Lord, can I ask a question? Three times in 15 years. I am not asking why- I would like to. You are supposed to ask HOW. HOW can I get through this? So pray with me that I can continue to ask HOW to gain the strength to go on this journey. Clare O’Brien recently gave me info to sign-up for a “Grief Share daily email” The one this morning was a good answer to HOW? Here it is:
“I was mad. I felt like the Lord was not there. I had prayed to hear from Him, and I didn’t. “Emotionally and spiritually I expected something different. I knew that He was there, but I wasn’t feeling emotionally like I wanted to feel.”
You are not alone, and you are not wrong to have doubts.
David said in the Psalms, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (22:1).
God is faithful to do what He says He will do regardless of how you feel or what you believe.
Lord, I’m going to walk this journey by faith because what I feel and see sure isn’t helping. Amen.