Grace For The Cancer Journey
by Mary J. Nelson
When Mary Nelson was about to turn 47, she received the shock of her life. During her routine exam, her doctor found a lump in her breast. Mary’s family was healthy; her grandparents had all lived into their 90s. She refused to believe the lump could be anything serious–even when tests showed it was invasive breast cancer.
“I was one of these real high achieving, totally in control of my life people,” Nelson says. “I couldn’t believe the diagnosis could be right, and I was going to research my way out of it. But I couldn’t.”
The diagnosis was accurate, and after considering all her options, Nelson opted to go with a lumpectomy. The cancer was removed, along with some lymph nodes. Test showed the cancer was in the nodes, too.
“With lymph node involvement, that meant I got eight rounds of chemotherapy over the next six months, plus 33½ rounds of radiation,” Nelson recalls. “And even after all was said and done, they send you on your way out the door and you have to live your life not knowing if it is ever going to return.”
The prospect of cancer is frightening, devastating, for anyone; yet Nelson will tell you that breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to her. Not because she isn’t right in the head, but because cancer helped her become exactly right in the heart.
“I tell people it was really the best thing that ever happened to me because in my faith journey before cancer, I was a Sunday morning Christian who thought I had God all figured out,” Nelson admits. “When I went into this really dark, bald place for several months, I came face to face with my own brokenness and sin, and Jesus Christ won my heart.”
Nelson describes the spiritual change that cancer made on her life as an “18-inch journey.” “Everything I knew about God dropped from my head, 18 inches down into my heart, and my life changed because of it.”
The spiritual awakening led Nelson to become involved with other cancer patients, and she began a ministry called Pray for the Cure. Now, she has been cancer-free for seven years, and she spends time with her husband motorcycling across the country on their Redwings and enjoying time with friends. She also authored the book, Grace for Each Hour, a series of devotions for those battling breast cancer.
“Through my cancer, I discovered that the Lord was Lord of my cancer and of every aspect of my life; and I wanted to share that with others,” Nelson says. “I was so moved by how God met my needs. You know, sometimes we can miss God in the fires of life. We can be mad or ignore him, or we can invite him right into the middle of it.”
Nelson hopes that those facing cancer would allow it to be the spark that ignites their faith, the way it jump-started hers.
“That’s why I wrote the book, because there were not many resources out there for those with cancer that point them in the right direction,” Nelson says. “There are a lot of things women can get involved in when they go through this diagnosis, and it’s frightening. There’s a lot of New Age stuff out there. I wanted to be able to give the woman the option of meeting her spiritual needs with Jesus Christ.”
Nelson says women face Òevery emotionÓ after they are diagnosed with cancer, and only the Lord can be the ultimate comfort, because he is always there.
“Your emotions run the gamut–shock, fear, panic. You feel betrayed, like you can’t trust your own body,” she shares. “There’s a lot of grief because you feel like you’ve lost something. Even if you don’t go through a mastectomy, you lose the perception of yourself as healthy, you lose personal dignity. My first reaction wasn’t, ‘Oh, my breast!’ or ‘Oh, my life!’ It was, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna lose my hair; and I have to go to work without any hair on my body, not even eyebrows.'”
Nelson says those who have been through cancer deal not only with fear of recurrence, but also of resentment that others get newer and better treatments and medicines.
“You may think, ‘I didn’t get the latest and greatest,’ but when you stand on the Lord, you don’t have to have that fear,” Nelson says. “He is a rock, and his word never changes. Medicines and treatments will change, but Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
That’s the message Nelson shares to bring hope to others walking the cancer journey.
Mary J. Nelson’s organization can be reached atwww.prayforthecure.net. Her book, Grace for Each Hour and its follow-up, Grace for Tough Times: Keys for Hope, Comfort, and Encouragement, can be found at a Christian bookstore near you (Bethany House). Nelson and her husband, Howie, have two grown children and live in Minnesota.
Scheduling Your First Mammogram
The American Cancer Society recommends that women have their first mammograms when they turn 40. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts that can often detect abnormalities and lumps that are too small to see or feel.
Mammograms are useful in early detection of breast cancer, which is the biggest factor in survival rates. When breast cancer is detected at a localized stage and has not spread to the lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the rate drops to 81 percent. If the cancer has spread (metastasized) to distant organs such as the lungs, bone marrow, liver, or brain, the five-year survival rate is 26 percent.
According to the American Cancer Society, here’s what you should expect during your mammogram:
Having a mammogram requires that you undress above the waist. A wrap will be provided by the facility for you to wear.A technologist will be present to position your breasts for the mammogram. Most technologists are women. You and the technologist are the only ones present during the mammogram.The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes. The actual breast compression only lasts a few seconds.You may feel some discomfort when your breasts are compressed, and for some women compression can be painful. Try not to schedule a mammogram when your breasts are likely to be tender, as they may be just before or during your period.All mammogram facilities are now required to send your results to you within 30 days. Generally, you will be contacted within five working days if there is a problem with the mammogram.Only two to four mammograms of every 1,000 lead to a diagnosis of cancer.