Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Road Never Traveled

“Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you (to difficulties); yes, I will help you . . . When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God . . .” ~ Isaiah 41:10; 43:2,3a

I’m not quite sure where to begin, except to say that this past month has been a difficult one, to say the least. For that reason, I’m going to have to take a break from writing my column for awhile.

As you know, I took a trip to Mississippi in February to visit our oldest son Jared, his wife, Erin, and our two grandsons, Asher and Gabe. The night before my arrival, Jared learned that he would be deployed overseas for an undetermined length of time. (He just left last week.) Then Erin started having some premature contractions and had to be admitted to the hospital. Thankfully, she is doing fine now, but I had hoped to go down to help her for several weeks if necessary. Then life threw me a curve ball.

In mid-March, I went in for my yearly mammogram, which I’m faithful to get because my mother died from breast cancer and my late sister Patricia was diagnosed with it at the age of 38. The test results showed some signs of microcalcifications, which are tiny flecks of calcium – like grains of salt – which can either be non-cancerous or an indication of an early breast cancer.

The next step was to have magnification views taken of that specific area. The radiologist who read my films said that the results were “indeterminate.” In other words, he couldn’t really tell if it was something, and he really couldn’t say that it wasn’t. So he recommended a biopsy.

Keen and I arrived at St. Francis Hospital for the biopsy on Thursday, March 23, which was the one year anniversary of my sister Patricia’s death. Not a good day.

The doctor removed eleven samples during the procedure, and the following Monday I received a call from my doctor’s office saying that two of the eleven samples revealed the presence of “ductal carcinoma in situ” (DCIS). Our son Josh (a third-year medical student at KU), immediately began researching this type of cancer and learned that DCIS is the most common form of non-invasive breast cancer in women. Ductal carcinoma refers to the development of cancer cells within the milk ducts of the breast, and in situ means “in place,” referring to the fact that the cancer has not moved out of the duct into any surrounding tissue. (Thank God.)

One of the internet links Josh sent me was, where they answered the question about whether DCIS is really cancer:

We generally think of cancer as a type of disease that grows out of control. DCIS, on the other hand, is not an invasive cancer. It stays inside the milk duct of the breast in which it started. . . .it does not spread outside the duct into the normal surrounding breast tissue, to the lymph nodes, or to other organs. In the staging system that doctors use to classify cancer, DCIS is known as Stage 0. And it is sometimes called "pre-cancer."

So that’s the good news within the bad news. I’m sure you can imagine how relieved I am to know that we caught it at this stage before it spread to any other part of my body.

Whenever one of my kids or friends have gone through trying times, I’ve always encouraged them to focus on the positive aspects of the situation rather than the negative, because focusing on the negative only brings you down and destroys your spirit. So now I guess it’s my turn to practice what I preach.

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on . . . the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned. . . .”
~ Philippians 4:8 (The Message Bible)

That’s not to say that fear has not reared its ugly head a time or two this past couple of weeks, or that I have not shed my share of tears. Someone commented about how it must be hard for me not to think about what happened to my mother. But my situation is very different from my mother’s. By the time they discovered her breast cancer it had already spread to the lymph nodes. Although she took all the treatments and fought it bravely for seven years, it eventually took her life at the age of 62. But in my case, it was discovered before it had spread to any other part of my body. Therefore, the doctors have said that my prognosis is very good – and for that, I am extremely grateful.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

~ Psalms 43: 5

Our next step was an appointment with Dr. Bernita Berntsen, a surgeon from Topeka. I was blessed to have plenty of family support from my husband Keen, our sons Josh & Keen II, and Josh’s wife, Lisa. We all agreed that Dr. Berntsen was just wonderful. She spent at least 45 minutes with us interpreting the pathologist’s report and explaining all of the options. Her first recommendation was for me to have my blood drawn and sent to a company in Utah which conducts a test for hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancer known as a BRAC Analysis ( With the history of cancer in my family (my father also had two bouts with cancer), combined with the fact that my sister was diagnosed before the age of 40 and I am under 50, Dr. Berntsen felt it would be worthwhile information for us to have, and it will help us determine the best course of treatment. If the test comes back positive, showing that I have a genetic abnormality or mutation, then my risk of developing breast cancer sometime in the future increases to 56% to 86%; and my risk for ovarian cancer increases to 27% - 44%. In that case, the doctor would recommend a double mastectomy and the removal of my ovaries. However, if the test comes back negative, then I can opt for a less drastic and less invasive form of treatment which would involve removing the breast tissue around the affected area (also known as a lumpectomy), followed by seven weeks of radiation treatment. Either way, I am looking at a challenging couple of months, which is why I need to take some time off from writing my weekly column. I also hope to spend some of this time researching the various options for getting my book published, now that the manuscript has been revised and is completed.

The other day I came across this verse from II Corinthians 12:9:

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

That’s what I’m clinging to and counting on – that God is faithful and His grace will be sufficient for me, regardless of what road I may have to travel in the future. In addition, it is my sincerest hope and prayer that something positive will come out of this negative situation, and that perhaps my experience will serve as a wake-up call to other women who have been procrastinating about getting a mammogram. Even though it can be frightening, (and no one relishes the thought of having their breast squished between two flat surfaces) – early detection is the key. It’s like my son Jared said, “It’s not the cancer that kills you; it’s the spread of cancer.” In fact, the microcalcifications found in my breast could not have been detected by a simple exam. So this is one situation where "what you don’t know can hurt you."

Of course Keen has been incredibly loving and supportive throughout this whole ordeal. He even brought me a dozen white roses the day I received the results of the biopsy. But something he shared with me has really helped me through some rough spots. He said that our situation reminded him of the story about when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus during a terrible storm. The winds were blowing and the waves were getting higher and higher. All the while, Jesus was sleeping peacefully. Finally the panicky disciples woke Him up and said, “Lord, save us, we are perishing!” And Jesus replied, “Oh ye men of little faith.” Then He rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was “a great calm.” The disciples remarked to each other: “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Keen compared that to what we are going through. The waves are beating against our boat and the winds are blowing fiercely, but Jesus is in our boat, and He has everything under control. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. So our level of peace during this difficult time is dependent upon our level of faith. Do we really trust God to take us safely to the other side?

“Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you yourself shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.” ~ Phillips Brooks

After I learned that Jared was going to be deployed, I was reading through Asher’s little Bible (which Rocky, their Labrador, chewed into a million pieces the very next day), and I came across the following verse:

“No one knows what lies ahead. So who can tell what’s going to happen? He can’t stop the wind from blowing. And he doesn’t have the power to decide when he will die. No one is let out of the army in times of war.” ~ Ecclesiastes 8:7-8a (NIRV)

As much as we would like to think that we can control the outcome of our lives, or that we can protect ourselves or our children from all harm, we really can’t. No one knows the future except God. Our part is simply to trust. Trust in His wisdom. Trust in His mercy. Trust in His love.

“One of the ways that our faith expresses itself is by our ability to be still, to be present, and not to panic or lose perspective. God still does his best work in the most difficult of circumstances.” ~ Tim Hansel

There is a very special poem called The Rosebud (author unknown), that talks about how we humans cannot unfold a rosebud, no matter how hard we try. It is something that happens in its own time, and in its own miraculous way.
Photograph by Patricia Van Kirk

The poem reads in part:

If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
This flower of God's design,
Then how can I have the wisdom
To unfold this life of mine
So I'll trust in God for leading
Each moment of my day.
I will look to Him for guidance
Each step along the way
The path that lies before me,
Only my Lord knows.
So I'll trust Him to unfold the moments,
Just as He unfolds the rose.

“Would you question Me of things to come concerning my children?”

~ Isaiah 45:11b (Amp)

Before I close, I would like to thank my family and friends for their love, support and prayers. I would also like to thank Joann Kahnt for graciously allowing me to share the journey of my life for the past three years. Thank you for your understanding, Joann, and for assuring me that you will welcome me back whenever I am ready to start writing again – even if it is only once a month. My heartfelt thanks also go out to you, my readers, because without you, I would be talking to myself – and Heaven knows, I already do enough of that!

Lastly, I would like to share the following poem I wrote several years ago during another difficult period in our life:

By Eileen Umbehr

I sit here, Lord, with my paper and pen
Wondering why, wondering when
My heart seems to beat out of my chest
Help me, Lord, to enter Your rest.

So many questions, so few answers
Fear runs rampant, like a dreaded cancer.
I feel so alone, in the still of the night,
How do I overcome this unbearable fright?

Night after night, I lose hours of sleep
Unable to trust in the Shepherd of the sheep
But I cannot run, neither can I hide
So I will face the future, with God by my side.

For life, though a struggle,
is a gift nonetheless
We must keep the faith
until we pass the test.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:28-31