It’s been a rough couple of weeks at our house. Cathy already hit the highlights of when things started to go south. There’s more to the story, though, and I think it’s worth sharing.
The trip to the ER followed a week of belly pain and the onset of a fever. In short order they recorded my vitals, poked and prodded my abdomen, gave me an IV and ran me through a CT scanner. Everyone was caring and efficient and shortly after the scan one of my nurses said, “It’s appendicitis. If there’s a surgeon available we’ll operate tonight. If not, we’ll admit you and operate in the morning.”
Mystery solved, I guessed. The health team was clearly feeling some urgency, but nobody seemed to be panicking. I took that as a good sign.
Sometime around midnight a doctor came into the room, introduced himself, and started talking about the procedure.
“I take it you’re the surgeon?” I asked.
“Yes,” he laughed. “I forgot to mention that.”
He ran through what was going to happen and said he’d see me in the OR. On the way out, he said, “They found a tumor in your bladder. You’ll need to see a urologist about that in the next week or two.”
Oh? Not okay.
My father died in 2011 of a type of bladder cancer. Hearing that I had a tumor was somewhat alarming. (Although I have to admit that my feeling of alarm may have been attenuated a bit by the morphine they’d pushed through my IV.)
When they let me go mid-morning on Monday, the discharge instructions included a reminder to contact a urologist as quickly as possible. The night before the surgeon had provided some referrals on the back of his business card. Both of us were exhausted having only gotten a couple of hours’ sleep the night before, so we didn’t even think about the card again until Tuesday.
We researched the providers, selected one, and made an on-line request for an appointment. By Wednesday we’d had no reply, so I called the Urology Clinic and they said they could get me in late on Thursday — the day before the holiday weekend.
The urologist we chose is an enthusiastic young doctor who had already reviewed the CT images by the time we got to the clinic. He outlined the various scenarios from worst (metastasized cancer that would require extensive, aggressive treatment) to the best (low-grade non-invasive cancer). Then he had us go to his procedure room so he could check the tumor visually.
“That’s a classic smoking-gun cancer,” he said when it showed up on the screen. He snapped a couple of reference images and told me he had an opening on his surgical schedule for Monday morning.
Another Monday, another surgery. (Cathy has asked me to try to break myself of the habit of having surgery on Monday mornings.)
I was in the OR less than an hour and when I emerged from the anesthetic, the urologist told me that it was a low-grade cancer with a very small footprint and that it hadn’t invaded the bladder wall. Under the circumstances, it was the best of all possible outcomes.
The pathology report (my healthcare provider has a web portal through which I can access my own medical records) officially declares the tumor as “low-grade non-invasive” and notes that it is “negative for involvement of muscularis propria”. Confirmation that it was the best of all possible outcomes.
In less than two weeks I went from thinking I was healthy to having had two surgeries and an official cancer diagnosis.
Increasingly, I find myself drawn to Ignatian Spirituality with its finely balanced integration of the practical and the spiritual. In particular, I appreciate how the Ignatian approach encourages us to find God in all things.
I find myself looking back over the past two weeks to see threads of Grace woven through the experience. Certainly the brightest of the threads is the tumor diagnosis itself. Had it not been for the appendicitis (unusual in a man my age) there would have been no reason for me to have an abdominal CT. I was completely asymptomatic for the cancer, so it might have been years before we found it.
Another moment of Grace was receiving the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick between the Masses last Sunday. Our pastor is on vacation and the recently-ordained Fr. Christopher Gray is filling in. Fr. Gray performed the long form of the sacrament and it was a beautiful and moving interlude in the midst of all of everything else that was going on. The reading for the rite was Matthew 11:25 – 30, the same as the Gospel for the Masses last weekend.
Fr. Gray noted that we should take that a sign of providence and I smiled. I think, perhaps, he thought I wasn’t taking him seriously, but it was quite the opposite. I did see that as a sign; yet another in the long line of signs of Grace. (Fr. Gray also noted that I had now received six of the seven sacraments and only lacked Holy Orders to make it a full house.)
The Grace came me through the event itself and its marvelous timing; through my wife’s care and resiliency in getting me to and from the hospital and appointments and standing beside me the whole time; through our friend Amy who urged us to go to the ER; through the care provided by the many different professionals I’ve interacted with in the last couple of weeks; and through the support and prayers of my friends, family and community.
God truly is in all things and these past two weeks I’ve had the privilege of getting a glimpse of some of the unexpected places that reveal God’s presence.