My name is Lois and I’m 56 years old. We all know that we each have our own story to tell. Mine isn’t any better or worse than anyone else’s. Its just different. In 1996 my husband of 20 years past away. My kids were 4, 8 and 9 at the time. I prayed everyday of their childhood to God that He not take me while they were young so I could be here for them. God’s grace was shown through that answered prayer. I was diagnosed when my youngest son turned 21. I’ve told my kids many times that it isn’t about the problems we go through in life, it’s about how we deal with the problems we go through in life that matters. We’ve also discussed the importance of never wasting a hurt. In the spring of 2014 my words would be tested.
I was on my 30th year of nursing. I enjoyed every minute of being a caregiver and couldn’t imagine a profession more fulfilling and interesting.
My husband and I had been dating since 2002. We finally decided to get married August 2013. The symptoms started two months later. It started with a little cough in the fall of 2013. A tickle really. Feeling a little dramatic I went to see my primary care physician anyway. After a brief exam and what would turn out to be normal blood work I was told I was fine. A month later I returned to her office with the same complaint stating the cough was associated with some back pain. I was given the diagnosis of adult onset asthma with back pain from years of nursing. I returned a month later with the same complaint. I looked healthy and behaved healthy. I was working full time and worked out daily. I was given the same diagnosis. I wanted to believe my doctor but I knew deep down something more was wrong. I had a bad feeling… So I did the only thing I could think of doing. I changed doctors. I went to the new primary care physician three time in the next six weeks and was told each time it was nothing concerning. On the third visit as I was being walked out, I said to my doctor with tears of frustration in my eyes, “I’m not leaving without a referral to a Pulmonologist and for an MRI”. He said he would place the referrals but they would probably be denied. I was tired. I was frustrated and my back was hurting. I didn’t know that was the beginning of my journey that would strengthen my faith and the faith of so many people around me.
My fear was reinforced when I got the MRI result. A suspicious mass in my lung. My world seemed to shatter when I read the report. It lead to a cat scan which to this day I’ve chosen not to read. I knew enough. That lead to the first of three lung biopsies. Although I knew in my heart it was bad, I still hoped and prayed for a benign issue with an easy fix. God had other plans for me. Bigger plans. A benign little thing wouldn’t have gotten anyone’s attention. But my diagnosis in May 2014 of stage 4 metastatic lung cancer with a small area of metastasis to the brain did. I lived a very healthy lifestyle and had no risk factors. So needless to say this was shocking news.
I had just gotten married to a wonderful man who I love very much. My oldest was planning a wedding for the following summer. My daughter was preparing for her graduation from nursing school and my youngest was about to graduate from UCLA. Life was good. In fact life was great. I knew right away I had a choice to either become immobilized with fear or dive deep into faith. In the beginning while still absorbing the weight of the diagnosis I admit to going back and forth between the two. But my faith itself never wavered.
Within a month of the diagnosis I was on the surgery schedule to have my left lung removed when I received a call at home from my oncologist. My case had been discussed at the tumor board meeting at Mission Hospital. They decided that even though my PET scan was negative for anything other than the primary site in the left lung, the CT scan showed a little spot on my right lung and below my left ribcage. The surgery was cancelled and instead two new biopsies were to be done. They were just being cautious, right? The biopsies were uneventful. In fact they were easy. Two days later I sat in my doctors office to hear with renewed shock that these sites were positive too. I was no longer operable. This was a game changer. I went home that day awaiting the news of the treatment full of fear and dread. The following week I returned to his office expecting to hear I would start chemotherapy and radiation that week. This period of time seemed surreal. The fear was relentless and the only way to escape it was through the comfort of friends, family and scripture. After all of the dark days full of fear and anxiety but also full of endless prayers from myself and my loved ones, the doctor walked into the room with a smile on his face and said “we got good news”… I tested positive for the mutated gene that allowed me to take the oral chemotherapy pill instead of the traditional chemo and radiation. It was the first good news I had gotten since the journey started. It was an answered prayer.
The pill was ordered on Friday to be delivered on Monday. That Saturday a wonderful spiritual leader from Uganda came to my home and prayed with me. He prayed for God to let my test be my testimony. I’ll never forget Arthur or those words. The next day, Sunday, we went to the 11 am service at Saddleback Church. It was difficult to sit through the service due to the pain and increasing shortness of breath. The anticipation awaiting the arrival of the pill was torture-some. But Monday came and so did the pill. Tuesday morning I woke up for the first time in weeks without pain. With nothing short of a miracle and God’s grace, I felt a difference. As the weeks passed so did the pain. Within a month I was working out again. My physical body was healing. I was so grateful and yet so scared that it would stop working. I never questioned why this happened to me but instead I wondered why I was saved. I was so grateful for this second chance of life but the guilt and fear were holding me back from experiencing the joy and the reality that this was really happening to me. Until one night about a month into taking the pill I received a visit in my sleep. I realized very simply that without question it was the Holy Spirit. More than seeing anyone or anything it was a presence I could feel and hear. It was a clear communication saying the words “your spiritual journey isn’t over yet”. It was a comforting presence I can’t fully explain. But after that visit I was able to let go of most of my fear and let God lead me to the direction where I could best serve His purpose.
After 6 weeks of taking the medication I had my first follow up brain MRI. The lesion was completely gone. Two weeks later I had my first follow up CT. The cancer had shrunk considerably. It wasn’t gone but heading in the right direction. This gave me a tremendous sense of hope and gratitude. I felt like I’d been given a second chance of life and I wasn’t going to waste it. I discovered the joy of volunteering, joined a bible study and joined a joyful uplifting cancer support group. Yes, a cancer support group can be joyful and up-lifting. I met the most amazing people through this experience who I learned so much about Gods word from. I never felt like my faith was tested. Every trial made it stronger because I knew there was only one place I could lean. The importance of being in service was never more clear. The bible study teacher and author Beth Moore speaks of a remix. God throws a grenade into your life somewhere to mix things up, re direct you; cause you to make changes you otherwise wouldn’t. The idea is to learn from it, then to take what you’ve learned and share it with others. This was my remix.
When I was first diagnosed I was told chemo and radiation were my only options still leading to a poor prognosis. Then I was told of this pill specific to my type of cancer. A year after taking the pill with excellent results I became resistant to it. But in that one years time another pill had been developed, specific to the gene I have. I am currently in a clinical trial which, through Gods grace, has been successful. In the six months I’ve been in this trial yet another pill has been developed giving people like me another plan B that wasn’t available even in the recent past. To anyone who receives the dreaded news we are all so afraid of, don’t loose hope. Instead pray for the researchers and medical teams behind these advances. Cancer could never take away from me the blessings I’ve received over the past 1 1/2 years. Against the statistics, I attended my kids graduations and watched my son get married. I am also joyfully awaiting being a grandmother for the first time next month.
I’ve learned that God does do His finest work in our darkest hours. He also uses everything for good. Even the ugliest of things. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I didn’t have cancer, but because of this experience I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the most special people in my life. I couldn’t imagine life without having met these people. So I’ll continue on this journey for however long God wants me to before I get called home. No doubt I’ll worry along the way. But I’ll also live daily in a place of gratitude I never would have known without this remix.