I sat down to breakfast the other day with my two girls. My sweet and sleepy two-year-old daughter Jane had ditched her spoon, and I gently reminded her, “please use your spoon instead of your fingers to eat your cereal.”
Jane listened and attempted to hone her spoon skills, and I heard a sound of ringing in my right ear.
This was day three of this nuisance, and I had already self-diagnosed the issue as an ear infection that would disappear in a few days. But today I also felt a tingling numbness travel down the right side of my face, arm, and leg.
Jane had reverted back to her finger scooping methods, and ignoring my odd symptoms, I asked her again, “please, stop.” Instead of obedience, I was met with a playful smile, because she had heard, “key pots”.
Realizing my mouth wasn’t forming the words in my mind, I reached for pen and paper and wrote the word “s_t_o_p”, attempting to sound it out and force my mouth to cooperate. With each failed attempt, a swelling fear and genuine confusion grew.
I have a natural tendency to focus on the positive in any situation, and my honest mantra at the time was “it’s fine.” I stuck to repeating that calming sentiment to myself, trying to brush away my concerns, and as the tingling feeling dissipated, I had the ability to speak coherently again.
I Googled the nearest minute-clinic, wondering if I should text my husband about this strange event. The ringing came back again, followed by tingling and then confused speech, and then I recovered back to normal, and I started to doubt if I really was speaking as poorly as it sounded to me.
But when the ringing came back for a third time, I quickly called my husband at work. Internally I was calm, and tried to explain to him,“everything is fine, but I’m going to take the girls with me to a minute clinic.”
On his end of the line, though, he heard the true severity of the situation. My “sentence” had come out a jumbled mess of sounds and noises.
He immediately called 9-1-1 and raced home. An ambulance, a first responder stroke vehicle and a fire truck all arrived at our house shortly after.
The ambulance took me to the hospital where I had an MRI and they confirmed that I had a brain tumor. I had brain surgery AWAKE—and on purpose, and praise the Lord for medical advancements—followed by a few weeks of very limited communication (speaking and receiving) as I recovered.
During that recovery, we heard news that my tumor was, in fact, cancerous.
Even though I was still working on strengthening my communication abilities, I had recovered enough to understand the look of pure devastation and shock on my husband’s face when we were given the diagnosis.
And yes, from the beginning of this journey, I’ve experienced fear, sadness, and confusion. But I’ve also had an even more overwhelming sense that I’m not alone.
This feeling grew with the diagnosis, and I turned to my faith and prayer—asking for strength, grace and healing—as well as prayers from friends, family, and divine assistance. Reading books like “Nothing Short of a Miracle” by Patricia Treece (which I highly recommend reading), has also helped give me courage, and hope.
Soon after my surgery, I was led to learn more about a young Italian mother who had also experienced cancer (and also gave birth to two babies who had lived for less than one hour after birth). Her name was Chiara Corbella Petrillo. Despite these painful times in her life, she had remained so sure of her faith and her heavenly Father.
When I found that we happened to share the same birthday, I knew she’d be a powerful prayer warrior for me from above. Not only do we share the same birthday, but my brain surgery was on the anniversary of the same day that her son, Francesco, was born.
Her husband shares more of her story in this video, “Born to Never Die”, (which is well worth watching if you have time) and the more I learn about this beautiful new friend, the closer I’m drawn to Jesus through the example of her life—she knew her deepest identity as a beloved daughter of her heavenly Father.
I admired Chiara’s faith and courage, but more than anything, I admired her joy. She remained joyful throughout all of the difficulties in her life.
I wanted to experience joy like she had, in the midst of the inevitable suffering that lay ahead for me. And, the Lord has been faithfully fulfilling that desire—I’ve learned about His goodness and plans in the midst of this suffering.
I’m able to see joy in so many ways, but especially in my family, community, and in experiencing inner healing.
In our time of need, my parents and in-laws circled around us, cared for our girls, and helped organize the overwhelming medication schedule post surgery.
My husband’s cousin also came to live with us this summer, as I was unable to care for both of our girls alone. She loved them so well and her help brought me so much peace. A wonderful support network of friends supplied our dinners for two months as I recovered, and with that brought the joy of community and visitors.
And I’m so grateful for my husband, who has been the greatest supporter, researcher, and advocator for me throughout this battle.
It’s been a few months now since radiation, and I’m able to care for both of my girls as a stay-at-home-mom again, even through my monthly chemo treatments. The gift of being able to be home with my daughters has been such a blessing, and they are the best motivator for beating this cancer.
Definitely, though, there are difficult days, side effects, and a never-ending battle with this fear of the unknown. It’s so easy to run to my hamster wheel of “what-ifs” and send myself flying into the future in pure panic.
What if my girls go through life without a mom? What if my family has to watch me suffer? What if I’m not healthy enough help our parents in their old age?
It’s so easy to take whatever situation we find ourselves in, and either to try to take control and carry everything ourselves, or to fall into hopelessness and become numb. At times I’ve found myself at both extremes, and I can tell you neither brings peace.
He has been teaching me, gently, that He desires to take these legitimate fears—these thoughts are distractions, unnecessary burdens. He wants me to surrender these things over to Him.
True peace only comes from resting in the Father, trusting in the promise of his Son, and remembering that we are never alone.
When my chemotherapy ends this summer, we will transition to a “watch-and-see” plan. There is no cure for this cancer, and recurrence rates are unfavorable, so we will continue on, very aware that we are heading into the unknown.
I’ve taken to heart the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 3:16:
He’s teaching me though, through cancer, to let go. To let go of worrying, fear, hopelessness, despair, and shame, and to put on His armor, and rest in His love.