A Testimony of Life in Lieu of Loss
Eleven years ago last month, I was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer, Leiomyosarcoma. What began with a routine annual Ob/GYN exam, quickly turned into multiple scans, a referral to a Gynecological oncologist, more scans, a referral to a Reproductive Endrocrinologist, yet further scans, a changed diagnosis, and one last scan. Needless to say, October 2005 was very busy and full of uncertainty. But it was also a time of revelation, growth in the Lord, and growth in our marriage.
Upon the first visit to my OB/GYN, she was concerned. She did an ultrasound and then sent me for a CT scan. She told me she suspected it was a rare form of cancer that usually presents in women in their 50s. I was 24. We’d been married 15 months. All these years later, I understand that often times the Lord will allow moments of crisis to enable us to see what we were blind to before. Through this trial, the Lordmercifully exposed the seriousness of my sin regarding almost obsessively watching my food intake and weight, and the Lord revealed presumption in both of our hearts regarding children. Let me explain.
When we were engaged, we talked and dreamed about having a large family one day. We believed children were a gift from the Lord and wanted to welcome them. We didn’t have a set number in mind. As we prepared for marriage, we discussed finances and decided that since I had school debt to pay off, I should work full time. Blane was in med school full time, with a small Army stipend. We could have lived off of that and been happy. Blane wanted to make it work, so I could stay at home and be a wife, like I desired. But, I have always had a huge vision for hospitality, and I couldn’t conceive, even temporarily, living in a place that we couldn’t regularly host people. So instead of seeing and understanding the wisdom in temporarily setting aside my desires with a mindset toward the future, I pushed. And, Blane ultimately allowed me what I wanted. But it meant I had to work full-time so that we could afford to lead the lifestyle I so desired. I began working full-time at a job I didn’t enjoy because the purpose and role I was fulfilling at my job wasn’t what I believed the Lord had primarily called me to, that of being a wife. I began to see the folly of my ways. My husband had wanted me to enjoy what I ultimately desired: the role of a wife at home.
This also meant postponing children until Blane was out of school. When he graduated, I’d be done working, and we’d start a family. What we failed to see was the presumption in our hearts towards the Lord. Yes, we believed children were a gift, but we didn’t “trust in the Lord with all [our] hearts, lean not on [our] own understanding. In all [our] ways acknowledge Him…” (Pr 3:5-6). We failed to ask the Lord what He wanted for our family. We knew we wanted to get out of debt; He never speaks well of it in Scripture. But we chose to go about it in our own way, following “conventional” wisdom, rather than Biblical wisdom, which always begins with seeking the Lord through prayer, alongside the Word.
Just prior to the diagnosis I received, the Lord convicted my heart through several conversations I’d had with a friend about the topic of children. As soon as we were married, I wanted to have kids. I felt how unnatural it was to purposefully prevent children, and to push the desire out of my mind for the time being. It bothered me from the get-go. But it wasn’t until my friend and I began talking through what Scripture says, not just about children, but about yielding this area of life to Him, that I realized I hadn’t. When I took this new conviction the Lord developed in my heart to Blane, he wasn’t quite ready to change his perspective. So, I remained quiet and sought the Lord about it.
Then the diagnosis came. During the month of October, the Lord tenderly cared for us. It was not an overly emotional time. We both were committed to the Lord, believed He was sovereign and faithful, and we knew that we would be carried by Him, no matter the outcome. We were prepared to walk whatever path He was leading us down, because we believed He was our Good Shepherd. It was a sweet time of continuing to grow in intimacy together, as well as with the Lord.
This season was also a time of repentance for us. The jolting news and tumultuous days were used by God to bring gracious conviction and a turning from sin as Blane gained understanding of his presumption and I saw more clearly the pride and fear of man that fueled my obsessive eating habits. We sought the Lord, went to our elders for prayer (James 5:14), and invited many near and far into prayer with us. After an exhausting month with some back and forth because of a changed diagnosis, I received a phone call on Thursday, November 3. It was the oncologist that I’d not seen in a few weeks. He called because the last scan caused the radiologist to change the diagnosis back to the original: cancer. He’d referred me to the endocrinologist, who gave me a different diagnosis (I don’t remember what it was without digging for my charts). The endocrinologist’s plan was to put me into menopause for a few months and cut out part of my uterus. He told me I wouldn’t be able to have children. He ordered one last scan (I had all of the different types you can list!). When the radiologist looked at it, he called both the endocrinologist and the oncologist to come look at it. He believed it was the cancer that my OB originally suspected. So, on the phone was the oncologist telling me it was cancer after all, and that he’d scheduled me OR time for the following Tuesday. He wanted us to come in the next day to discuss the surgery.
Blane and I met with the oncologist the next day, Friday. He told us that he and the endocrinologist would work together during surgery. If the tumor was clearly cancerous, they’d remove both it and my uterus. If they were unsure, they’d remove the tumor and do a frozen section biopsy. If that revealed a benign tumor, they’d leave my uterus. They’d send the tumor for a regular biopsy, and if it found the tumor was indeed malignant, they’d go back in and remove my uterus. I wouldn’t know the outcome until after surgery.
We had a wonderful weekend traveling to a conference where a time of prayer was held for me. We both encountered the Lord separately, and He continued to give us a deep-seated peace that allowed us to go into surgery steadfast and hopeful.
Fast forward to Tuesday, November 8. After doing a complete pre-op bowel cleanse (that was fun!), I went in for surgery early Tuesday morning. I remember crying when the oncologist came to talk with me while we were waiting for the anesthesiologist. Surprisingly, I was more scared of the anesthesia! To this day, we remain so grateful for the very personal care we given, particularly by the oncologist. When going through such a momentous experience, you bond with those caring for you, even if in some small way. He was very gentle and comforting.
I remember telling Blane that I wanted him as my husband to be the one to tell me the outcome of the surgery, not anyone else. I drifted into la-la land while Blane waited.
I remember waking up, which is the absolute worst part of anesthesia in my opinion. As an aside, I would totally be a top tier candidate for the You Tube videos that we so enjoy – videos of other people suffering hilariously after waking from anesthesia. I remember some of the things I said and did, and I would be very embarrassed if it weren’t for the fact that it’s just funny. Anyway, in the recovery area, they called Blane on the phone somewhere else in the hospital, and I asked him if I could still have kids. I’m crying as I type this, because to my relief, he said yes. They did not remove my uterus. I was so excited! And while I thought I was quite exclamatory, Blane assures me that I was heavily drugged and therefore extremely mellow about it. I do remember speaking to one of my brother-in-laws, in my extremely morphine-happy, loopy, post-surgical state, crying that I could have children.
As soon as I was able to see the doctors, I asked them again about having children. To my delight and surprise, they said I should be able to have children as if nothing ever happened. They wanted me to allow three months for my body to recover. I forgot to mention that the tumor proved to be a benign fibroid, weighed 8-10 pounds, and was the size of a small watermelon.
We were overjoyed, and knew that we would accept children whenever the Lord would desire to open my womb. We began living out what we claimed we believed before the surgery—that the Lord is the One who opens and closes the womb, when He pleases.
This leads me to address questions we began receiving from those closest to us who knew of our changed hearts. “Are you going to try to have as many kids as you can? What if you have 15 children?” Inherently in these questions is the assumption that we could . Just as the Lord has ordained and numbered our days, He has ordained the number of children we’ll have. We believed that if the Lord desired, He could give us 15 children. But we also believed that He could give us any number—1, 2, 3—however many He desired. We decided that we wanted to end our presumptuous actions and stop trying to control something that ultimately was out of our hands.
We’ve now been married for over 12 years. It’s nearly 11 years ago that I had my surgery. 13 months after my surgery, we found out I was pregnant with our first child. It was a very emotional time for me. I went through many months of deeply struggling to believe that my body would ever be normal againafter the fibroid was removed. It was taking a very long time, longer than I expected, to regulate itself. I had a difficult pregnancy, but in the end, the Lord gave us a beautiful baby girl.
Two years later, we had our second child, a boy. Then, we experienced two miscarriages. We were given the privilege to steward these beautiful lives for only a short time. Then we conceived again and had another girl three years after our son was born. two and a half years ago,
a late miscarriage. It was much harder than the first two for various reasons. We did end up conceiving again, and our fourth child was born.
I’m so thankful to share with you that we are now expecting our fifth child in April 2017. We do not take this precious little life for granted. We were once told that we’d never have children and have lost three babies. I have been pregnant eight times—each a miracle in and of itself. I have friends who could not conceive for years, and I know others who still have yet to conceive, even in their late 30s. We know people who have lost babies at 39 weeks, at 20 weeks, and after birth. Life is fragile, precious, and given by God.
Our story so far is not that we have 15 children. I will be 36 when this baby is born. If the Lord desires, we may have more children. But we don’t know. The Lord may not allow us to conceive anymore. I also won’t lie and tell you that I love being pregnant. I don’t. These pregnancies have been some of the most challenging seasons in life. I am sick into the second trimester and live in near-constant pain starting towards the end of second trimester until delivery. There is always a part of me that doesn’t want to be pregnant again, not because I don’t love children, but because of the very challenging trial that comes with it. But ultimately, we want to rest in the safe leadership of our Lord – it’s the best place to be. We are open to His leadership wherever it leads us.
I have also had to fight fear and anxiety more with each pregnancy because of the previous losses and all the possibilities of things that could go wrong with the health of the baby at any point. But what I learn more deeply each time is that the Lord keeps me from giving into the temptation of fear and anxiety as I seek Him. He has been faithful to keep His Word that when I commit my way to Him, He will do it (Psalm 37:5). Regardless of the outcome of the pregnancy or the baby’s health, He is good, and He will faithfully enable us to live each day to His glory. I want to have a heart that fights to remain faithful and steady before Him, trusting Him, and resting in His sovereign care.
Can I share one more sweet detail that demonstrates the Fatherly love of God? 14 months ago, August of 2016, we learned that my dad had stage IV brain cancer. On November 2 last year (today), he went to be with Jesus. His birthday is in April. This year, we learned of this little life in August, will (Lord willing) learn the gender later this month, and (Lord willing) the baby will be born very near to my dad’s birthday. Only the Lord can plan and carry out something so detailed. Each moment, laden with grief to process, will be mingled with a sweet gift of consolation – life to celebrate as a loss is grieved. He is good.
The Lord is a tender, loving Father who desires the best for us. When we lean into His heart, desiring to know Him and see Him glorified more than anything else, we will joyfully walk down whatever path He asks us to go down. It may take some wrestling, but if we let Him win our heart, the life we experience far surpasses what we think we know to be best and life-giving. I hope that in some way, others can glean from our story. The Lord is in the business of redeeming life from the ashes, and I’m so thankful for the story He’s been writing with our lives.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.