An insidious and relentless bone and blood cancer has ravaged my mom’s body for over five years. I’ve been writing the story as it unfolds. It’s the kind of story no one wants to write, but one that brims with hope, encouragement, and even humor.
Thankfully, the story is not complete.
I share this excerpt with her blessing, both of us hoping you'll be somehow encouraged by what you read.
“What’s with your neck?” I was shocked to see Mom hunched over her desk so stiffly.
“Yeah well -” she flinched. She had tried to turn her head to look at me, but terrible pain stopped her. She stilled herself and moved her eyes instead. “It’s been hurting for a while.”
I felt like I’d missed something. I’d known her neck had been sore in the last weeks, and there was an earache issue too, but nothing like this. How could I be out of the loop all the time? Was I so forgetful, or did she so understate problems that I’d not understood how bad it was? Maybe the progress had been so slow it hadn’t seemed to her to be so bad.
I stood and listened as she updated me on how her neck mobility had decreased. She slept in a chair if she slept at all. Pain was excruciating, but only when she moved. If she forgot herself and tried to turn her head, a searing pain would surge up the side of her neck and pulse on the top of her skull. She looked exhausted.
Before I left her office, I asked if I could pray for her. With her permission I gently laid a hand on her shoulder and prayed that God would strengthen her and give her and the doctors wisdom about what to do.
“Mom, if there’s anything I can do, anything you need, please let me know.”
As I drove away, that familiar wave of confusion and grief swept over me.
It had been less than a year since her hip surgery. Finally she had had some relief. Healing seemed not to be in God’s plan, but He had given her a miraculous, new experimental surgery that was done successfully. He had given her these months of reprieve from pain, pain, and more pain. Pain wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t a ten out of ten either, like it had been for so long.
And here we were again. Back to ten. Back to something mysterious and painful making life difficult and exhausting.
Tears trickled down my cheeks in a mixture of anger, sadness, and that loathsome feeling of helplessness.
Once again, I steeled myself against discouragement (it always seems eager to devour me) and determined to trust the One who was in control. I reminded myself of His goodness and faithfulness, even when things look hopeless and endless and riddled with more agony than I want to admit exists.
I recounted the ways God had provided so far. Mom’s incredible strength. The experimental hip surgery that hadn’t even been an option just months earlier. The knowledgeable, attentive oncologist who happened to specialize in myeloma.
The gifts seemed so far back I could hardly remember. But hope was sparking. I recounted God’s intervention in my own life. Hope was growing. Verses came to mind. “Be strong and courageous, for I am with you wherever you go” “The Lord delights in every detail of their lives” “I will never leave you nor forsake you”
Strength was rising. Soon I had strength enough to pray, and praise, and even thank Him for what was done and what will be done.
After a day or two of ineffective cortisone shots and too-slow-in-coming tests, doctors discovered what was causing all that pain. Mom had a fractured neck.
It was a shocking assessment. More shocking though, was their decision to transport her to Winnipeg by ambulance, the roughest ride known to man. Mom and Dad explained how bad her pain was, and how much smoother the car rode. They begged to deliver her themselves, but the rules would not allow it.
What could the doctors possibly be thinking, to send a broken-necked woman gyrating down the highway and on city potholes for an hour? Were they trying to kill her? Blasted protocol. It was another example to me of the insanity of blindly following rules simply because they exist.
They rattled her all the way to Winnipeg in that infernal van without shocks. She survived, but said it was immensely painful. They ran tests and then needed to transport her back to the Steinbach hospital.
The medical staff, after seeing how severe it really was, permitted Dad to drive her home in their smooth riding boat of a car. Mom was delivered back to the hospital, she would stay for observation until they could figure out what to do about her neck.
All day I had been terrified. We all had. One wrong move with a fractured neck – especially with brittle bones – could be the end. I think we all prayed hard that day.
At one point Liz called to give me the update on Mom, since she had just been to see her.
“As soon as I saw her, I noticed she had such amazing peace.” Liz paused, then continued with a slight warble in her voice. “You know… this morning in my devotion time the Lord encouraged me with Psalm 91. It talks about how angels will hold us up with their hands -”
She paused again. “-and that’s what I see in your mom. He is giving her supernatural strength and peace.”
Tears streamed down my face as I listened and smiled. Liz has been a blessing to me since before I was even born. She was the one who had preached my mom into submission to the point that she gave her life to Christ. Neither of them realized at the time how that would impact my eternity, and the eternity of my children.
I planned to visit Mom that evening when Mark was home and could stay with the children.
Once arrived, I expected to find Mom in her own room. She was still in the emergency wing though. I passed through the locked door that only staff can open, and entered the secure fortress that is our local emergency ward. I rounded the corner to find Mom sitting in a chair in a darkened room in the corner, patiently waiting. She smiled as I approached.
Instead of greeting each other with a hug as we normally would, we clasped each other’s hands and ever so gently touched cheeks. A person with a fractured neck can’t really hug.
I moved the vacant chair from beside her and parked it right in front of her so she could see me without needing to turn her head.
Mom recited the details of her day. They had discovered a tumor on her neck, and immediately prescribed radiation to shrink it. Dad had brought her in to Winnipeg for radiation treatments in the morning, and would continue to do so for the next four days. Then radiation would be done, and she expected chemotherapy would begin.
It was official. She was not in remission anymore.
The nurses, she said, were going to get her a room in the hospital so she wouldn’t have to sleep in a chair in the busy, noisy emergency room. She had been waiting for that room for about five hours now, and was sure they’d arrive shortly. I was not so convinced, but admired her optimism.
Mom and I had a wonderful chat.
We talked about how wishing for what isn’t makes it impossible to press on through what is.
“Doctor Addy said right from the beginning that if I was going to fight this cancer, I’d have to get rid of negativity in my life, and be very positive. He’d seen many times the difference it can make. I’ve seen it too.”
Her blue eyes stayed fixed on me as we sat facing each other in that dimly lit cove.
Speaking of her initial diagnosis, she said, “All I ever want is to be a good servant.” Her eyes moistened. “When I couldn’t walk and was in all that pain I wondered how I could ever serve God like that. I have learned that I can. I can be positive, I can be an example, and I can pray, and that is serving.”
With each trial we face it is an opportunity to trust God more or trust Him less. There isn’t a third option. Mom had chosen to trust more. We both hoped that the rest of the family would too.
Our conversation turned to the power of prayer and we excitedly shared the times God had moved powerfully in our lives. Mere words couldn’t express our excitement, our joy, and our gratitude for all the answered prayers we’d each experienced.
Each glimmer in the eye, each moment of pause between words was pregnant with memories of all the times God came through.
He’d healed my finger. He’d saved my sister at birth. He’d spared me from death and injury many times. He’d given Mom the strength to walk on a collapsed hip for nearly a year. These were all miraculous interventions that happened as a result of prayer.
A nurse had come by during our conversation to say a room was available, but that she would wait to call for it. It was their busiest time of the day up in that ward, and she didn’t want to add to the other nurses’ loads. Besides, mom looked comfortable.
“Oh dear,” I smiled, “I should go so they let you have your room!”
We kept chatting, but soon Mom’s eye lids started to droop. It had been a long, exhausting week. Sitting in a chair with a fractured neck was taking its toll. I had to go.
We stood, held each other’s arms, and pressed sideways against each other in a weird cheek-to-cheek hug.
“See? I can hug now. It’s already getting better!”
The radiation was making a difference. Her pain was down to a five, from a constant, never ending, ceaseless ten. Radiation had worked quickly the first time too.
When I left that evening, I felt encouraged. It had been a refreshing and satisfying to my soul. I left feeling like I had spent time with Jesus himself.