But, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize the important intimacy of community. While I still like New York (and don't get to visit nearly often enough), the prospect of spending my life lost in a sea of anonymity is not so appealing. God made us for community and relationship. In fact, when it boils down to it, being in meaningful, caring, supportive relationship with others was really Jesus' greatest admonishment to us.
I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Lisa and I have been going through a tough time which I would share details about in the future. This tough time has really once again highlighted for me the importance of community, and just how much it does mean to me. For those friends and family members who have known what we have been going through have reached out to us in huge ways ... and have meant so much by being vessels of God's love.
You see, back in early June during what we thought was a rather routine appointment with her doctor to discuss allergies, the doctor discovered a lump on Lisa's thyroid. We will forever be grateful to Dr. Wang (whose contract shortly thereafter was non-renewed by our local medical practice for some unknown reason, upsetting us greatly) for discovering this small lump, basically less than a half inch in diameter, which I never could really feel. He reassured her that thyroid "nodules" as they are called are usually benign and nothing to worry about and also that, even if it was cancer, it would probably be quite treatable and curable.
We were, needless to say, nervous as Lisa set out on a series of tests and follow up appointments. We were told repeatedly that only about 5% of such nodules are ever cancerous. We brought in a small community of friends and family who were praying for Lisa.
I won't go through all of the details but, despite our desire to have faith that the nodule was benign, there were enough little signs along the way that, when we met with the surgeon late this past week, we were pretty steeled for the news we received. She does have cancer. Even now, those words seem surreal to me. Impossible to believe. But true.
Well, let me back up a bit, the doctor did say there is a 20% chance that the biopsy is wrong but we know from things that we have read and even from our first conversation with him that "false positives" on such tests for cancer pretty much never happen. We're still praying for a miracle -- that maybe this won't turn out to have been cancer after all once the surgery and final pathology are complete -- but we know that it would take a miracle for that to be the case. But we pray to a loving Father who is in the miracle business. So, you never know.
The biopsy pathology showed cells consistent with papillary cancer. Of all the bad news we could have heard this week, that was the best bad news. Papillary is the most common type of thyroid cancer, is typically the most treatable, and has the highest survival rate of any cancer. I have read survival rates of as high as 98% after 10 years and 95% after 20 years. Those numbers are unheard of with other types of cancer. And, in virtually all cases with papillary cancer, where mortality is involved, it is because the cancer has spread outside the thyroid.
And there is one bit of good news on that as well. During the needle biopsy procedure, the doctor commented on how hard-shelled the tumor is. That was, to a large degree, a big sign indicating that we were indeed dealing with cancer. However, I have also since read that the tumors which are encased in a hard fibrousy shell are very unlikely to have the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. So that is very good news.
But make no mistake about it, we are dealing with cancer. Regardless of the high survival rate, the relatively easy treatment, or the lack of real physical symptoms, this is cancer and it must not be trivialized and understated. It must be dealt with, there is a huge psychological adjustment to this new reality, life will never be quite the same and, once her thyroid is removed, she will need lifelong medication for that. Additionally, particularly in the first ten years after someone is cured of thyroid cancer, they have a 30% higher chance than the general population of being diagnosed with another primary cancer such as breast or colon cancer. We will need to stay ever-vigilant.
It is difficult, scary stuff. The stuff you wouldn't wish on anyone.
I look at Lisa and I cannot help but wish it were me going through this, not her. But yet, you know what, deep down, I know she is the stronger, braver person. She will handle this far better than I would. She already is handling it with courage, humor, faith and confidence. But, again, not to trivialize it, this is serious stuff and we both know that. She will emerge as a cancer survivor but that puts a different twist on the rest of one's life.
One reality that has sunk in for me is how stupid I have been much of my married life looking forward to eventual retirement with the one I love so very much. This is a huge lesson and reminder for me to live in the present, to make the most of every second I have with my incredible and absolutely wonderful girlfriend. How very blessed I am!
During all this, we have been and will continue to be bolstered and emboldened by community of great family and friends. Wonderful people who have reached out to us with words of encouragement and love, stories of cancer survival, and prayers ... loads and load of prayers. Thank you to all of you, from the bottoms of our hearts and thyroids. We love you. Please keep the prayers coming -- you have no idea how much that support means during dark times.
I am glad that we live in community -- not faceless, nameless society.
Where do we go from here? Lisa is scheduled for surgery on August 29. They will start by removing the tumor and half of her butterfly-shaped thyroid. They will then look at the tissue and, if they can confirm right then that it is cancer, they will remove the entire thyroid. If they cannot confirm cancer cells "on the fly," they will close her up, spend extra time analyzing the tissue and, if they confirm cancer later, they will go back in about a week later to remove the entire thyroid. In other words, if it is cancer, they remove the entire gland but they do not like to remove it all unless they are certain it is cancer.
Afterward, if cancer is confirmed, there will be follow up appointments with an endocrinologist to regulate hormones and do some checks to make sure the cancer has not spread.
We will keep you posted. Prayers are greatly appreciated.