“We noticed an abnormality on your mammogram,” the female voice from the Center for Breast Health said. “You’ll need to get an ultrasound.”
No problem, I thought. This happens all the time. Years before I had been told the same thing and all was okay.
A day or two after the phone call, my husband mentioned the ultrasound as a prayer request during his men’s Bible study. Several of the guys assured him by saying their wives had received similar news in the past without any problems. One of them—an oncologist—said, “That’s a common thing. Usually there’s nothing to worry about.”
The following week, I returned to the Center for Breast Health for my appointment. I lay on the examining table with my right arm raised over my head and peeked at the screen as the technician moved the probe over the gel on my breast. I saw an abundance of squiggly lines, indistinguishable blobs and occasional bursts of color. Periodically she’d click a few buttons on her machine, and it appeared as if she were placing markers.
After she completed her process, she said, “The radiologist will review what I’ve done, and she’ll probably want to recheck you.” The technician left the room and within a few minutes returned with Dr. Walsh, who picked up the probe and did her own set of tests. Once finished, she leaned against the counter facing me.
“You have a mass that’s indicative of cancer. Cancer or not, you’ll want to see a surgeon as soon as possible.” Her voice was compassionate, and she expressed sorrow as she gave me more details. “We’ll need to do a biopsy. Do you have any questions?”
“I can’t pay for it.” Not a question, but it was the foremost thought on my mind. “My husband is disabled, my 19-year-old son has health issues, I’m self-employed, and I’m the primary provider for the family.”
“We’ll see if we can find a program to cover the cost. Give us a few minutes.”
I was left sitting on the examination table in a skimpy, wide-open medical cape with my unsteady emotions and an abundance of questions. At the moment, I didn’t think as much about words like cancer and biopsy as I did money and inconvenience.
How would I tell my kids? How would I tell my friends? Who’d take care of my family? Who’d take care of me? How would we pay the outrageous expenses of cancer, and how would our everyday provision come?
Before the radiologist started with the biopsy, a nurse handed me a pink card with these words at the top: “1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Early detection is key.” It gave information about the state-sponsored Care for Yourself Program.
“You need to call the number at the bottom of this card,” the nurse said. “As soon as you get home.”
“But what about the—”
“They have a program that will cover the cost of your biopsy.”
I let out my breath and whispered, “Thank you, Lord.”
Two days after my procedure, Dr. Walsh called. Even before she gave the report, I knew in my heart what she’d say.
“You have infiltrating ductal carcinoma. It appears to be fast-growing,” she said. “We should have your hormone receptor results within a week.”
Soon after we spoke, two more calls came in—one from the surgical group to schedule an appointment, and another from a nurse at my primary care provider’s clinic who wanted to discuss my news.
Again, I explained that I couldn’t pay for the tremendous costs associated with cancer, and a time was set up for me to talk in person with Dona Bark, RN, the Community Health/Care for Yourself Coordinator.
Dona greeted me with a hug when I arrived at her office. She offered me a chair and said, “We have a special program—a different program—that can help with your medical expenses. It’s available until you no longer have breast cancer.” She enrolled me as we talked, and my tears of relief flowed freely.
A few days later, I learned the outcome of my hormone receptor tests. Triple negative. It’s an aggressive and more recurrent form of breast cancer that’s treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
When I think about my reluctance to have a mammogram, I’m grateful that my primary care provider was persistent. In December of 2015, she told me I needed to schedule one, and I conveniently forgot. Only because her nurse followed up with me did I make an appointment for February 26, 2016. I now wonder how much my cancer would have grown and how much more difficult my situation would have become if I hadn’t complied with my doctor’s advice.
I’m amazed at how much my life has changed this year. I entered a season of unknowns. Any control I thought I had, I’ve had to give up to begin a new normal that includes a flurry of appointments, tests, procedures and serious side effects.
Though I may not know what’s ahead, God has provided for me and embraced me in grace. He’s also reminded me of an important truth I learned years ago: My circumstances don’t change who God is; they show me who God is.
I’ve had bumps along the road, and it hasn’t always been easy, but God has given me daily reminders of His power, presence and purpose. I can trust Him because I know Him.
In this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the importance of annual screening exams is emphasized. My new friend Dona Bark wants women to know if money is a concern, it’s easy to get into the Care for Yourself Program—or similar state-funded programs—for low- or no-cost exams. They’ll also help women find one of the many participating local clinics, which will provide the care. (For more information, visit the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program )
Twila Belk is a writer and speaker who loves braggin’ on God. She’s written/co-written six books and contributed to several others. Her newest title is Raindrops from Heaven: Gentle Reminders of God’s Power, Presence, and Purpose. She’s currently at work on her next book, The Power to BE, which will release next year. (www.gottatellsomebody.com)
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.