The years before being pregnant with my third child were dark and confusing. I was ready to give up on life. I was overwhelmed, stressed and simply put, DONE! When I was pregnant with my third child, Grace, I became very ill with pneumonia. The Doctors refused to test me for it because I was pregnant. After my persistent nagging they finally had an x-ray scheduled that discovered pneumonia. During the x-ray my arms were down holding the x-ray blanket over my belly to protect Grace. Normally during a pneumonia x-ray your arms would be up and out of the view of your lungs. The x-ray confirmed a bad case of pneumonia and the radiologist just happen to catch a mark on my arm that needed further investigation.
I didn’t understand what that meant at the time. I assumed it was a calcification or something similar and figured I would deal with it once I felt better and the baby was a little older. Each week I returned to my OBGYN he would ask me if I had my arm looked at. I would tell him no. One week my husband came to my appointment with me and the Doctor asked again if I have had my arm looked at. He proceeded to tell both my husband and I that we needed to get it looked at because it looks like cancer.
This slightly fazed me but mostly affected my husband. He eagerly began calling around for appointments but nobody would see me while I was pregnant so we would just have to wait.
Grace was delivered 4 weeks early healthy and happy. Three days later I was sitting in a waiting room at a bone specialist with my mom and Chris. It was a long bright hallway with tall beautiful windows. The patient room was not so inviting. I passed my new baby off to my husband and headed off for the first of many more x-rays. I returned to a laughter filled room and a beautiful baby. Shortly after the Doctor came in and dramatically changed the atmosphere of the room with a few questions:
- Has your arm been bothering you?
No, it goes numb sometimes or aches a little but that’s just because I carry my kids around all day so it’s just tennis arm.
Yes, I just recovered from pneumonia and I just delivered a baby 3 days ago.
- How many kids do you have?
He finishes with okay well I’d like to take a few tests and then schedule surgery to see what that is in your arm. I respond with sure no problem. When were you thinking? I just had a baby can we schedule something in a few months after I have healed and the baby is older and I have finished nursing?
And this is the moment when my world came crashing down…The Doctor says, sweetheart, it looks like cancer. It appears to be a stage 3 and most likely has spread to your lungs due to the proximity of your arm. I cannot believe your arm hasn’t broken. The cancer has weakened your bone and it should have broken just by holding onto a railing to climb stairs. But it is a blessing that it didn’t because if it had broken the cancer would have been released into your blood and been carried throughout your entire body. He continues, I would like to run a few tests tomorrow and over the weekend and schedule surgery for Monday. The test results will not be back for 2 weeks but let’s move ahead with the surgery.
The walk to the car that beautiful Spring day was a solace moment I will never forget. The weekend was spent being poked and scanned. Monday came and all I was worried about was my baby and everyone else.
Monday arrived before I knew it and I was checked in to the hospital and eventually wheeled to a beautiful, yet lonely corridor in the hospital and left to gaze out the tall windows at the gorgeous Wasatch mountains. This moment right here is when I lost it. There is just something about being all alone, nobody else to worry about, nothing else to preoccupy the mind that allows every emotions to come pouring out. Every weakness to come shining through. All I could do was beg for my life. Beg to be able to raise my children. To be able to see them off to college. To be with them at their weddings and be there to hold my grandbabies. Most importantly not leave my husband all alone with 3 tiny children.
Just then the Doctor came over and spoke with me. He told me that if the cancer is bad enough they will need to take my arm. Again, I was left alone and all I could do was promise I would change. Promise I wouldn’t give up. Promise I would fight. Promise that I would climb any mountain in front of me. I wanted to live! And please forget I EVER said anything differently.
I remember waking up from surgery in the recovery room. I patiently waited for a nurse to come over and check on me. It felt like I waited a lifetime. I was left in a room with several other patients. We were all waiting to be wheeled to our appropriate floor for recovery, but apparently all the floors were full of patients, so we were stuck in a huge room, ALONE, waiting to see our loved ones. I couldn’t wait anymore! The next time a nurse came to check on me I asked her if I still had my arm. She didn’t know… she was just the nurse in charge of watching my stats until I was wheeled to the next room, but she kindly lifted up my blanket and felt her way across my numb body to see if I still had my arm. She lovingly looked at me and reassured me I had all of my arm. With a sigh of relief I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest.
After my cancer surgery I was in a cast from my shoulder to my hand. For about a month I would carry my arm around like a baby. I don’t know about everyone else but I think when you are in the middle of a trial it can be easier then the after math. I had 3 little kids at home ages 4, 2 and a brand new baby. The reason I didn’t want to die and fight was for my family and nobody was going to take that away from me. I was on this earth to be a wife and a mother to my babies. Through the pain of a new humerus bone from medical advances of bone cement and iron rods I would need to fight through the pain and learn how to use it again.
My negative opinion of the mother carrying her big child around was forever changed. I was blessed to still have two arms and I was going to use them to LOVE. I was to going to hug longer and carry my babies for as long as they would let me. I was going to use my two arms to work. Work as a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. One of my favorite quotes states:
“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully, tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails. I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp. I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children. I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden. I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder. I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”
Marjorie P. Hinckley
This wasn’t going to be easy. I remember the next few months filled with lots of tears and lots of pain. I remember preparing lunch for my kids one day and reaching to open the microwave door and screaming in pain while my kids cried because they wanted their lunch. I remember driving one handed to get my kids to school or soccer practice or wherever they needed to be. I remember re-learning how to cut things like a watermelon or my chicken for dinner. I remember folding laundry and how awkward my arm felt, like it didn’t belong on my body. Most of all I remember learning how to rely on other people for help in my daily tasks including showering, getting dressed and using the restroom.
For three years after surgery I would return to my Doctor every 3 months and he would look at my arm and my lungs. The cancer didn’t spread to my lungs, but he was so sure it should have, so he continued to look for 3 years. Every 3 months death would stare me straight in the eyes and I would have a tiny mental breakdown. My biggest fear, death, was becoming my greatest strength. I didn’t want to die and I was going to do everything in my power to stay on this earth with my family.
Over the course of six years of visits with my Doctor. We became very close. He told me countless time how surprised he was at the mobility and strength of my arm. I know that it healed so well because I pushed myself. I stepped outside of my comfort zone and grew stronger no matter what I was facing. Stretch yourself and you will grow and never look back.
The day he retired I was his last patient. It would be my last cancer check up. I write this post to share my story and help someone else through their own challenge with life or with cancer. I don’t write this for people to tell me how brave or strong I am. I learned a valuable lesson that year that I promised I would never forget. Life is beautiful. I want to be the good in the world. I want to choose to live differently for my body and my soul.