Monday, January 13, 2014

A Testimony of Cancer, and Death

            January 7, 2007 at 7:00a.m., my life turned upside down. Everything I thought I knew was questioned. My mother, who lived in Iowa, had been sick for some time. She and my dad always visited me and the children here in North Carolina every summer. The summer of 2006 however, is one I will never forget, because it changed my life, and my walk, forever.
            My mom and dad arrived at the airport on June 28th, 2006. I could see that my mother had changed physically. She was thin, pale and to be honest, very sickly. She was in constant pain, and nothing her doctors were doing was helping her, in fact, they were making it worse. She put up a good face, and tried to be as pleasing and energetic as possible with the grandkids, but I knew, deep down, something was terribly wrong. Then it happened. The evening of July 10th, she became seriously ill. She was screaming in pain, tears streaming down her face, and nothing seemed to help. I stood my ground and took her to the emergency room in Raleigh. That is when they found it. That is when my life changed, and I changed.
            The doctors in the emergency room took some x-rays; they stated the way she was acting made them think that she had a collapsed lung. My dad and I waited for the results, which seemed to take hours. Thankfully the medicine they had given her had finally calmed her down enough so that she was sleeping peacefully. When the doctor came in, the look he gave me was one that made my stomach flip flop. I knew it was bad, and the thought of how bad scared me. He pulled me aside, seeing my dad’s nervous state and agitation; he thought it best to speak to me first. He took me over to the desk that was in the center of the emergency room and showed me a picture of my mother’s lungs.
            There, on that black screen was a white ball. It was about the size of a grapefruit, and it was inside her right lung. He looked at me and said, “Your mom has lung cancer, and it’s been there for awhile.” All I remember at that point is my knees buckling, and I needed to sit down. So many emotions came rushing through me, so many emotions and memories came flooding back. I was lost, did not know what to do. The doctor then stated that they were admitting her and going to do some other tests to determine the magnitude of the cancer. He touched my shoulder and said, “It doesn’t look good.” I don’t really think I understood at that moment what he was trying to tell me. I knew that I had to tell my dad. How, I did not know. He and my mom were true loves, soul mates. She was his everything, and he was hers. In the thirty-eight years they had been married, they had only spent one night apart.
            The doctor asked me if I wanted him to tell my dad. I think I remember nodding my head, but not really answering. He went and brought my dad to the screen and showed him what he had just shown me. My dad just nodded, as I did. The shock of it all was too much for us to take in at that moment. I went outside to call my sister, my mom’s brother and other family members. But we knew a choice had to be made. Would she stay here in North Carolina with me, since I was a stay at home mom I could take care of her, take her to her treatments, and give her the attention she would need in the upcoming months of radiation and chemo or would she go back home to Iowa. Right now, we decided we would wait to see what the rest of the test results came back with and then go from there. My dad said, “It is your mom’s choice.”
            Another day went by, my mom’s pain increased; the doctors at the hospital did everything they could to keep her comfortable. The cancer was so large that it was beginning to protrude out into her back shoulder. The test results came in, she was in well into Stage 4 Non-Small Carcinoma of the lung. It didn't look good. We met with the cancer doctors, the radiation doctors and her hospital doctor. All three agreed that it was her choice where she wanted to have her chemo and radiation, but they did advise that she would need help and care through the process.
            My mother and I had not been the best of friends. In fact, when I gave my life to Christ she disowned me. She was a die-hard Catholic and was pretty sure that I had joined a cult. But, a few years after I became a Christian, she came down for a summer and she and I talked for the first time about Jesus, the Gospel and what salvation means. A few weeks later, after she had gotten back to her home in Iowa she called me and told me she had given her life to Jesus Christ, and that she was also baptized. I was elated! Not only was my mom saved, but she and I began a “sister-in-Christ” relationship.
            As she laid there in her hospital bed, she looked at me and said, “I want to stay here with you and get my treatments.” My dad at first was not sure, but we all agreed that would be the best thing for her. I could take her back and forth to her treatments, and she could spend some time with her grandchildren here in North Carolina, because she really has not spent the time she has always wanted to, since we lived 1000 miles apart.
            I began to pray, I began to hope that my God and her God would hear our cries and that He would give her the complete healing we desired. That our God would show forth His glory in her and through her and she would be freed from this disease that was slowly eating away at her. She and I began to go to bible studies together, church together, reading and studying together. We prayed together before her treatments, we prayed with the nursing staff, and the other Christian believers who were at the cancer center as well. I was pretty sure that my God would come through, that He would heal her and she and I would have a loving, long relationship together in Jesus Christ.
            Months went by, and there seemed to be progress. She was not in pain as much anymore, and she was happy, I think. Or, perhaps I just had my blinders on and didn't want to see what was happening. We were at the cancer center, meeting with her oncologist when he asked to speak to me alone. My mom was taken out with one of the nurses for blood work. He looked at me and said that he wanted to start my mom on morphine. I hesitated, not sure why. I thought the tumor was reducing, I thought the chemo was working. It was, to some extent. But based on the size of the tumor, and what my mom’s body could handle, he really didn't want me to hold out hope. The reality of it all was that when my mom was diagnosed in July, they were only hopeful to give her six months.
            It was then that I started to pray for complete healing in such a way that I had never prayed before. My eyes were being opened, and I finally saw the decline, not the healing. I saw the weight coming off, the hair coming out, the breath that she had trouble catching, and the inability to hold her bladder. My mother always told me that when she got to a point where she had to have someone change her diaper, she did not want to live anymore. She refused to put that on any of us children, and she refused to put that on my dad. I saw the decline finally, I began to open my eyes and see for the first time, that death was coming for my mom.
            I became angry- angry that God was not hearing my prayers; angry that He had not healed her, angry that He was not listening, and angry that He would allow this to happen to my mom.  My church family was so supportive, they prayed with me, and helped me deal with the anger that was in me. I came to realize that if it was His will to take my mom home, then I must not fight it, but I must embrace it with joy because she was going home to be with Him.
            Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went. The deep depression that my mother fell into was hard to watch. The morphine was slowly eating away at her internal organs so that she had to constantly wear a diaper, and she was now on oxygen to help her breathe. I knew it was coming, but somewhere deep inside I still held onto a hope, a hope that God would change His mind and heal her. Then it happened. The moment that changed my life forever, the moment that sent me into one of the darkest, scariest parts of my walk with Christ.
            January 7, 2007, 4:00a.m. My mom was struggling for breath, she had some serious issues with her internal functions and I had to bathe her, clean her bedding and the floor to the bathroom. I saw the look in her eye. The look of “just let me go, please”. The look of hopelessness and the look of wanting to die were in her dulled eyes. She had begun refusing chemo, fighting the nurses and my dad and I. She was giving up. I kept pushing her.
I cleaned her up and placed her into bed. I gave her morphine and settled her in. My dad was frantic, upset and not sure what to do. I calmed him down and he too crawled into bed with her. My dad would not sleep apart from her. She sighed, and they both drifted off to sleep. I went to my bed and I cried out to my God. I cried out for His will to be done. I cried out to release my mother from this pain, from this fight and just bring His will to pass.
            That morning, at 7:00a.m., my dad wakes up screaming, “Mom is dead!” I shot out of my bed and went to her side. She was not breathing. As soon as I touched her, I knew that she was gone. I knew that the Lord Jesus had come to take my momma home. I prayed for Him to resurrect her, to bring her back to me. My mind began swirling with thoughts of “what did I do? What did I do wrong? Did I give her too much morphine? Should I have given her this medicine, that medicine?” My mind was instantly assaulted with attacks from the enemy. I thought that I had killed her, that I had done something to make her die.
I had forgotten that I prayed and the Lord answered just a few hours before. Not only had I prayed, but I had been reading in 1 Thessalonians, looking for comfort. I had read 1 Thessalonians 5, and found comfort in the words of Paul and the word of my God. So much happened within in the next hour that I became numb. My dad was a wreck, my children were crying, I had family from Iowa coming in, and I had to become the strong one. I became the “joyful” Christian, praising God for taking my mom. When inside I was a wreck, inside my heart I was feeling guilt, shame, fear and loss.
            Over the next few weeks the battle raged. Over and over again the thoughts of what I had done, had I killed my own mother? Had I given her too much medicine? Even though the doctors, nurses, and even the EMT have assured me that it was inevitable, I still fought this battle within me. Days and weeks went by, and then months went by. I was struggling, and I was falling fast into a darkness that I could not have escaped without the love and mercy of my Lord Jesus Christ.
            I will never forget the day that He took the fear, the shame, the doubt, and the loss away. I was at church, doing what I knew to do- go to church, smile and be happy my mom is with Jesus. I had had enough though. I had had enough of the accusations in my mind, the fear and shame in my heart. I cried out to God in my heart during worship and told Him I was done. I could not do this with Him anymore. I was tired of this battle, and I was tired of fighting this fear and shame. I wanted out. I didn’t want to have this relationship with Him anymore if this is what it was going to be like. I picked up my bible, my purse and I turned to leave. The lady sitting next to me grabbed me, hugged me and said, “The Lord said to stay, He doesn’t want you leaving.” A flood of grief came out of me. I had been so strong for so long. I had fought for so long on my own, and the Lord reached down from heaven that morning and said, “No, I got this, I got you. Let Me.”
            Still, even 8 years later, the guilt sometimes tries to creep in. I have had many people tell me that it is called “Caregiver Guilt”. Since I was the main caretaker of my mom during those last months of her life, it is natural to feel such guilt. Whether that is the case or not, I do not know. But what I do know is that all of these experiences, all of these trials and struggles that took place those months after my mom went home to be with Jesus, had I not experienced them, I would not be the woman I am today. I learned so much through it all. I learned that it is okay to not be so strong all the time. I learned that it is okay to be weak and afraid, because the Lord is my Strength. I learned that no matter what may or may not have happened, the Lord God had it all worked out. He saw before the foundations of the world every moment that took place during that time, during those moments leading to her death. I also learned that no matter what I do, no matter who I am, no matter where I go, my God never lets go of me. He holds me, He embraces me, and yes, sometimes He has to tie me down to keep me from leaving.

And I can also say with Paul, “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man {woman}; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:13-15) No matter what may or may not have happened, I know that my God, my Jesus, never lets go of me. Amen and Amen.