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The Big C - what do you do?

Updated: Feb 3

Story by Laurie Grathen

I’ve heard that we all have cancer in our bodies. After all, the definition of cancer is simply abnormal cells dividing out of control. Whether or not that’s a “Problem” is how fast that’s happening, where it is in the body, and what those cells do as they’re multiplying. We don’t want to know, really. Unless, and until it becomes the Problem with the Capital C.

I heard in late January 2008 that the lump they biopsied in my breast the week before was malignant and “we have to get it out of there.” I heard this in a voicemail message from a surgeon with arguably the worst bedside manner on the planet. He added in the message, “I’m going on vacation, but I’ll have my staff call you to schedule surgery when I return in two weeks.”

After I cycled through all the natural emotions, I just prayed for the patience and grace to buck up and do what had to be done to get through this trial. God answered my prayers, and raised the ante by giving me a clean bill of health and showing me in several very clear ways that He was right there at my side during the journey.

One of the first things I did was call the doctor’s office to thank the woman who schedules mammograms. The October before, as I left my routine exam, I was told the office would schedule my annual mamm and give me a call. When I hadn’t heard from them by early November, I called to check. By that time, there were no appointments available until January. She was apologetic, but I didn’t much care.

The mamm was routine. Who cares if I didn’t have one until January?

As it turned out, God used that woman, who had somehow mislaid my mammogram request in October, in a powerful way. The cancer I was diagnosed with is a rare, very aggressive sarcoma (soft tissue cancer) and only classified breast cancer because that’s where it was growing out of control. Had I had my routine mamm on time in October chances are good it would not have shown up yet. By January it was still relatively small, but large enough to see as an abnormality on the films. She cried when I told her that her “mistake” was actually a part of God’s plan for my life.

A word of advice. Be careful of self-researched internet medical diagnosis. It’s true that none of us get out of here alive, but the internet seems to want us to think it’s gonna happen sooner rather than later. In my case, the type of tumor was so rare that not much was known about them at the time. The surgeon with the lousy bedside manner was much better with a scalpel and removed the tumor with excellent, clear “margins,” a medical term that means there’s no stray cancel cells left around where they removed the lump. I consulted with the surgeon, an oncologist, my primary care physician, and my husband and we all agreed that no further treatment was indicated at that time. We’d all considered an opportunity for me to be a part of a Dartmouth study about whether radiation was a good treatment for malignant phyllodes tumor (the rare cancer I had). If I took radiation at that time, and the cancer did recur, the only option for further treatment I had was a mastectomy. Together we decided instead to take a wait and see approach. If the cancer didn’t recur, I was good. If it did, I could still opt for radiation before any more radical treatment. And there was no proof yet that radiation was, indeed, effective.

Just when I thought I’d been given the all clear, I got a call from the No-Bedside-Manner surgeon. I’ll tell that God story in another post.

As it turned out, my cancer story was relatively short and the treatment so easy compared to most. I had surgery, I recovered, I had a bunch of meetings, made a bunch of decisions, had a lot of follow-up appointments and I was done. I didn’t come close to dying and no cancer has ever recurred.

During the time all this was occurring, I was working a part-time job doing accounting at an insurance agency. A year or two later the agency owner was diagnosed with colon cancer. He wasn’t a believer and was, in fact, quite a private person. Yet our shared cancer experience opened the door to his interest in listening to how I navigated the experience and how I rode the emotional roller coaster from diagnosis to remission. I often wondered if the sole purpose of my brief and easy encounter with the Big C was to be able to witness to this elderly man who thought he was in control of everything. I lost track of him after a few years. I remember hearing that he’d mellowed. I see on the internet that he appears to still be alive and has a home in Florida. Go figure!

Every difficulty in our lives has strengthened my faith. God is good. All the time.

If anyone has questions about Laurie's story, leave a message with your contact information. She is more than willing to talk with you. God bless.

Post Script: February 3rd, 2023. Now 15 years later Laurie has been told once again, she has breast cancer. Knowing what she now knows about how these rogue cells operate, she's preparing to wage an entirely different war on cancer. We will document the results in a future Our High Places.

For more stories from Our High Places, click here


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