When I was a few months pregnant, my in-laws bought Mike and me a wonderfully comfy cream colored armchair. The idea was that, since it rocked, I would be able to use it once John Paul was born for breastfeeding and putting him to sleep. Yet, unexpectedly, because of my intense pain and exhaustion, the chair became my almost constant companion even before John Paul was born.
The first time I remember feeling pain in my chest was last July, before I even knew I was pregnant with John Paul. The slight, manageble pain continued for months, until January. Suddenly, I was six months pregnant and in excruciating pain. Throughout the day, no matter what I was doing, I had shooting pain on the left side of my upper chest. Sometimes the pain subsided in a few minutes and sometimes it lasted all day. Sometimes I could go about my day ignoring the pain and sometimes it was so intense I had to stop what I was doing and try to make it go away by using a heat pad, stretching, or taking a bath. Though I was exhausted, and often wanted nothing more than to sleep the days away, the pain was worse when I lied down. So, I often spent not only hours during the day resting in our new armchair, but the three or fours hours I was able to sleep at night there as well. Though Mike and I joked about pregnancy making me lazy and the armchair being my new home, deep down we were both frightened and distraught. Being first time parents with few friends with children, we had no idea if what I was going through was normal or not. Though multiple doctors told me not to worry and that body aches and pains were normal during pregnancy, Mike and I both struggled with fear during what was supposed to be a time of joyful anticipation. Though we were eager to meet our son, our happiness was clouded by my pain and subsequent depression.
I can still clearly remember the confusion and despair I felt the night before I went to the emergency room and the mass in my chest was discovered. Although I’d spent hours taking a warm bath and using a heating pad on my chest, I couldn’t get rid of the pain. And even worse, I was having trouble catching my breath despite having used my inhaler several times that day. After tossing and turning for hours, I got out of bed and moved to the armchair in the living room. Curling my hands around my swollen, pregnant belly I cried, and prayed for God to show His love in my life. I was struggling to hold onto faith, and I had never felt so alone or hopeless in my life.
Little did I know, my life was about to change drastically the very next day. After seeing how difficult breathing was getting for me, around 10 p.m. on February 13th Mike convinced me that we should go to the emergency room. As we drove out to Virginia to the hospital where I was planning on delivering John Paul, Mike and I barely spoke to one another. Though I had no idea what to expect once we arrived at the hospital, I began to have a strong feeling that I wouldn’t be returning home again until John Paul arrived. The nebulizer breathing treatment the ER doctor gave me didn’t improve my breathing, but the doctor was ready to send me home afterwards, without an explanation for my pain. Mike and I pressed him, explaining over and over how much pain I had been in for so long, and eventually he decided to do a chest x-ray. While the x-ray technician was reviewing the image of my chest, he forgot to close the door to the room and I heard him say, “Oh my God.” I knew then that something was seriously wrong. When the ER doctor came back and explained that they’d found a large mass in my chest, and that he thought it was cancer, Mike and I began a whirlwind journey of days and nights filled with surgeries, consultations, medicine, and chemotherapy.
Despite the fear and anxiety that filled our hearts that night and that threatened to overtake our hope in the days and nights that followed, beautiful things began to emerge out of the brokenness of our lives over the next five months. Prayers and well wishes poured in from friends and family near and far. Our immediate families both dropped their lives to be at our sides. Amazingly, we were led to not only incredible nurses, but some of the most competant and compassionate doctors, who poured over my medical files, had roundtable discussions with colleuges, and multiple conversations with us before devising the best plan of action that balanced my health and that of little John Paul. Over time, we heard of many strangers who had heard our story and that were praying for us. Not only were individuals praying, but whole congregations were praying as well.
And although the past five months were filled with difficult, scary days, they allowed Mike and I to grow closer in our love for one another. My love and affection grew for my family, Mike’s family, and my friends, and our relationships were strengthened. My love for life-every last bit of it, even the messy, inconvenient parts-grew as well. And most importantly, my love for God grew. I’ve learned to turn to Him with my joys and my sorrows, and I’ve grown closer to His son in my suffering and pain.
Yesterday, I received wonderful news at my doctor’s appointment. Although I still have a small mass in my chest, it has continued to diminish in size. More importantly, it has continued to diminish in cancerous activity. Although the number is not yet down to zero, my doctor feels that because I have responded so well to six cycles of chemotherapy, after the inflamation caused by the chemo drugs dies down over the next few months, we should see a clean, cancer-free scan. And at this time, there are no plans for any more chemotherapy or radiation. If, in three months, any growth is seen on my scan, we will talk about further treatment. But for now, I am free to just live life! I am grateful for the healing that has occurred in my body, and hopeful that I will soon be cancer-free. And no matter what happens in the future, I will never forget the incredible love and beauty I’ve witnessed in the past few months.
Once again, I sit in our armchair, remembering the night I cried to God, asking for His presence in my life. Through the love of God and His people here on earth I have been healed of my pain, lifted out of my sadness, and freed from my fear, even in the midst of something that threatens to steal all hope: cancer. And even though cancer has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever endured, through it, God has answered my prayer, and I have seen His presence everywhere. Though I know there may still be hard times ahead, I now know, without a shadow of doubt, that God will continue to be with me through everything and anything. And in my arms, I hold the most beautiful blessing of all, a concrete manifestation of God’s presence in my life and in all our lives, and a miracle: my son, John Paul.
Thank you so very much for your continued prayers and support. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. You have all been concrete manifestations of God’s love to me during these past few months. Please enjoy this beautiful song that was written for me by my wonderful and talented brother-in-law and John Paul’s Godfather, Joe McGinley. And thank you, Joe, I absolutely love it!
Life’s Twists (For Ali)
Well life’s got some crazy twists, and turns.
And you know what they say,
well everything is happening for a reason these days.
And you’ll look back, twenty years from now, knowing you got through it all.
Sometimes the cards your dealt is the worst hand in the world,
But you deal with it well, ’cause you know your strong, girl.
Yeah the bad, it could be worse, so thank God for what ya got.
So just live life how you want to, with your family and your friends.
Live it to the fullest ’cause you never know when it ends.
Yes and laughter, and love, are the best meds in the end.
Well life’s got some crazy twists, and turns.