One thing that I struggled with as a young Christian was understanding how God speaks to us. I would read in the Old Testament how God would speak directly to people like Abraham, Moses, Samuel, etc in an audible voice. As a child, I would pray about a situation, asking for an answer from God. I would try and try to hear an audible voice. I never did. Then I thought maybe God still spoke through dreams. No luck there either. Now, I’m not saying that God can’t, hasn’t, or won’t speak to us today in these methods. However, I have found as I have matured in my faith in God how God speaks to me. God tends to always speak to me through devotions, fellow Christian’s, and/or preachers (in person or on the radio). Often, God will hit me with all 3, as if to make sure He gets my attention. Now, there is a prerequisite to hearing God speak in these ways… You must be listening. What makes me listen? It starts with me praying a request to God, and then culminates by me having the faith that God will answer, and actively listening for/looking for His answer. Let me give a real life example that happened today.
As blog readers know, I have been praying over the last few days about my blobby situation. I sent out the blog to many people. Last night, I got an email response from a fellow church member who gave me some advice that helped her during a time of need in her life. She said “just keep saying faith not fear, remember God is in control, and rest in His peace”. I thought this was great advice. Then, this morning when I woke up, I opened up the Wisdom Hunters devotional (www.wisdomhunters.com). I have read this devotional for a couple of years now, and I have found God speak to me through it more than any other method. Low and behold, the topic today was “Don’t Be Afraid. Fear cannot coexist in the presence of faith”. The scripture referenced was Matthew 17:7-8. So, now my “God’s speaking to me” ears are perked up. Two positive confirmations from two different sources in less than 12 hours… wow! Now fast forward to our guest speaker at Church this morning. He gave a great sermon on 2 versus…
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Bam! Confirmation number 3. God is clearly saying to me that there is no need to fear anything. Have faith, trust Him, acknowledge Him, and he will guide me through this valley. Then, just for icing on the cake, my brother showed me after church the scripture from his Bible app this morning. Psalms 139:13-14 “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This was a nice reminder that God made me, and for that, I will praise Him.
I am truly thankful how God spoke to me today. In addition, there was one more event for which I am also thankful. At the end of our service, the chairman of the deacons brought before the congregation my situation. The entire church gathered around me and my family, and prayed for us. I am so thankful to be a part of Christ’s family, and have so many brothers and sisters that care about me. The outpouring of love that I felt this morning from all of you will no doubt help carry me through the coming week, and the uncertainty that lies within.
Dear heavenly Father, thank you so much for my church family. Thank you for the love and compassion that you have placed in their hearts. Thank you for always being willing to answer our prayers, provided we are willing to listen. I understand sometimes you may not answer our prayers in the manner that we would like (or with the answer we want). However, I know that it is Your will, not mine Lord. You see the beginning from the end. You know what is best for us. I yield to your Holy wisdom in the matters that lie ahead. Faith not fear. That will be my motto as we move through the coming week. Thank you for showing me that today. I love you always Lord, amen.
Sleeping last night was a bit of a challenge. It almost seems that the pain in my chest is worse when I’m lying down. Couple that with my mind still in high gear over everything that has happened, I seemed to only be able to sleep in 1 hour blocks. About 7:00am I gave up and went ahead and got up. Have you ever looked in a mirror with a mirror behind you also? If not, you should. It looks like you are heading into a vortex. It’s pretty cool. What you are about to read is the literary formulation of said mirror experiment. Once I woke up, I finalized this great idea I had to start a website documenting my upcoming journey. I sat down and typed out everything that had happened over the past few weeks, and started a website named “Blobby’s World”. Wait a second… I’m confused… So I am now writing about writing this blog? Vortex. You get the reflection.
Moving on, I spent most of the morning getting the website ready for unveiling. I then called and talked with my pastor to get him in the loop on everything going on. I sent out a brief summary on our prayer chain, and introduced this website. I shared the link with my family, friends, co-workers, etc so that everyone could come to one place if they wanted any updates or to know how things were going. I think deep in my heart, writing all of this down is really a way to help me think through and comprehend everything going on. But if I can say it’s for everyone else, I’ll use that excuse ;) I’m a man. I don’t journal… journaling is for high school girls… haha. (Seriously though guys, it’s not such a bad idea once you try it).
With most of the morning now gone, and my kids gone to my parent’s house, my wife and I were left to stare at each other in a quiet house. Whelp, that was fun. Moving on… “Let’s go get something to eat”. “Sure sounds good, where do you want to go?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” “Let’s go to Wendy’s.” “Nah, I don’t want to go there.” “Okay then, where do YOU want to go?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” ………… Looking back, staring at each other in a quiet house may have been the better option………… Let’s go get some Mexican food. Done. Time to get a burrito the size of my head. That should make me feel better!
After eating we went to a few stores. It was about 3:00pm and we were supposed to be to my parents by 4:00pm. Plenty of time. Then it hit me… Oh no! We were supposed to pick up some school supplies for two kids that our Sunday School class had found out needed help! Thursday, Friday… what day is today again? Yikes… Saturday. WalMart… on a Saturday… two days before school starts… to get school supplies? Oh what fun I could sense lied ahead. After zigging and zagging, climbing on top of empty shelves and looking beneath them, we managed to scrounge up the needed supplies on the list. Honestly, I’m kinda glad we didn’t plan ahead. Where would the adventure have been in that? (Eye roll…)
We made it to my parent’s house slightly late, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating my wife’s birthday (round 2). It was a joyous time of my hyper kids running around, being obnoxious, while we adults tried to discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “I’m sorry, say that again? I can’t hear you over the kids yelling.” You get the picture. And as if they were not hyper enough, bring on the cookies and ice cream! Have you ever seen a kid run around a driveway 15 times without ever touching the ground? Maybe you will see it on MythBusters one day, but I assure you, it can happen.
Back at our house, it was hard to believe that another day had passed. Maybe God was answering my prayer for patience last night in a unique way… by keeping me preoccupied so I didn’t realize time was passing.
Dear heavenly Father, I love you. I thank you for helping me have the strength today to stay busy and for time to pass quickly. While I want time to pass quickly, so I can find out my full diagnosis, please help me not to squander the time you have given me. Help me to make the most of everyday. Help me to look for ways that I can serve you, encourage others, and be the father and husband I ought to be. I pray for a good night’s rest tonight. I’m tired. But, I know that I can rest in your arms of love, grace, and mercy. I pray for the guest speaker we have at church tomorrow. I pray that he is able to rest well tonight, and that you would speak through him tomorrow and the congregation will hear the words you want us to hear. I thank you God for all that you do. I continue to anticipate and look forward to the moment you have the radiologist call to schedule my biopsy. In your time… and in your name Lord, amen.”
I know our kids had been somewhat nervous knowing that I had gone to the E/R the night before. We got home from the hospital around 3:00am. In an effort to try to maintain as much routine as possible, my parents had let the kids sleep in their own beds at our house, and they slept on the couch until we arrived. I don’t really know how much sleep actually happened for any of us involved, but the valiant effort deserved merit. We had also informed my in-laws by phone that I was at the E/R, and I will later find out sleep evaded them as well. Nonetheless, we are home now. I sat down with my parents and introduced the finding of my new friend “blobby”. We have a short conversation, and knowing everyone has to be at work in a few hours, we disperse. Could I, we… have skipped worked? Sure. But why sit and dwell on the news we just received.
After a few hours sleep everyone in my house is awake. Today is a special day! It’s my wife’s birthday! All of us gathered in our bed (this time with our new friend blobby joining us) and presents were opened. The first present my wife had picked out herself. Likelihood of success… 100%. The second present was from me. I have NEVER had much luck in this department. Likelihood of success… 10%. “Now honey, if you don’t like it, don’t open it. We can take it back and you can get something you like”. I’m really hoping I’m not the only husband that finds the need to say this at every gift exchange, lol. She opens the box… she looks in the box… wait… is that a smile? Maybe? No? “Awwww, I’ve been wanting one of those! I just thought it was too expensive!” WHOA! Behold have my ears deceived me? Did the gifting of a Fitbit Charge 2 actually work? Can a man actually give a woman an electronic device for a gift, and not get slapped?!?
With the exchange of gifts successfully behind us, I call the number I was given last night. I spoke with a super polite receptionist who seemed to already know I was going to call. She informed me the doctor would be back to the office around 8:30am, and that he needed to review everything before we could make the appointment. At this point, we were all rushing around the house to get ready for work. My wife and kids head out the front door, and I head out the back. As I drive to work, my mind is dwelling on the process to start informing my boss and team at work about what has happened. I don’t know anything for certain at this point, but likely I’m going to be missing some work in the near future. I formulate a plan that I will just sit down with everyone and tell them all at once. I pray that I can do it with a clear composure (strength, peace, courage, and above all, NO TEARS. Don’t breakdown in front of the guys! ) As I walk in, I run into one of my team members at the main doors. “Hey man, everything okay?” So much for telling everyone at once. There is no way I can fake it and say yes. “No, not really…” and I proceed to blurt out everything that happened last night. Whew… went easier than I thought. Ice Breaker… complete.
I get a call back from the doctor asking if I can be at the specialist at 1:00pm. I confirm. I spend the morning informing HR, my boss and my team. I gather the necessary paperwork in case things start to move quickly and I wind up out of work for some period of time. I sit down and knock out some normal work tasks to keep my mind occupied. Before I know it, it’s time to head to the doctor. I meet my mom and wife at my house and we three head to the doctor. The doctor is a super nice guy. Unfortunately, he won’t be the doctor I need in the end. In fact, he says I probably won’t need to see him again at all. We go over the official diagnosis from my scans. Blobby is known as an anterior mediastinal mass. Basically, there is a cavity that is between your lungs that is normally void space. That cavity is divided into three sections, front/middle/back. Blobby decided to rent an apartment in the front section of this cavity. Unfortunately, blobby is a bad tenant, and he wants to take up more space than he is allowed. He is starting to push on the other surrounding organs, including my heart, which is the reason my symptoms were appearing to be a heart issue. The doctor today also suspected lymphoma was a possibility, but said the other possibilities are that it is a “germ cell”, “Thymoma”, or a “Thyroid mass”. Bottom-line, we need a biopsy first to know what we are dealing with, then treatment options can be discussed. He sent in an urgent referral to the radiology department to setup the biopsy, and sent a “heads-up” referral to the oncology specialist. He told me oncology would be handling my care from this point on. (For anyone who wants more info, I found a pretty good website. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/13792-mediastinal-tumor
So now is a waiting game. The doctor was not sure if radiology would call me later today, or Monday. He told me if my symptoms changed or got worse, head back to the E/R. To keep our minds off things, we had a “birthday bash” planned at my in-laws. We spent the afternoon with them, celebrating my wife’s birthday. Tomorrow we will spend the day with my parents and brother, and get to celebrate one more time :)
Back home, and bedtime approaching, it is clear that the radiologist is not going to call today.
“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for another day of life. I thank you for my family and for my wife having another birthday today. I pray for patience. I know people say you shouldn’t pray for patience because then You may send a trial that helps you learn patience. Well, my trial is already here, and patience is what I need now. The waiting on the biopsy to know for sure what we are dealing with is torturous. I want to know what blobby is, know what we do about it, and get the show on the road. However, I recognize and respect your providential timing God. You know the beginning from the end. You know which radiologist I need to see. You know which oncologist I need to see. I pray that you will grant me peace and patience while I wait on your plan to unfold.”
My story starts on July 30th, 2018. It was the day of my final presentation to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from our local 4-year university. I felt nervous all day. Stomach cramping/jitters, heart racing, cold sweats. I didn’t think much of it. It was clear I had “presentation anxiety”, or so I thought. As I got dressed for the presentation, I watch a YouTube video for 10 minutes trying to tie my tie. Too short. Rats… but look at the time! I’m going to be late! I get to the college with 5 minutes to spare. Can I tie the tie again? Can I get a redo? Time’s ticking… GO FOR IT! Zoom, off comes the tie. Yikes, no turning back. Quick, quick, where is the lightning network when I need it! Come on YouTube, load! Bam, just in time, the tie falls into the perfect Windsor knot , length perfectly at my belt line. Presentation… Success. The celebration in my heart and mind begins as I realize I’m finally done. My nerves calm down, my body relaxes… but it’s weird… I still have this pain in my gut.
That night, I went to sleep expecting the night to be like any other. Boy was I naïve. About 2:30am it hit… and it was a big one. I was laying on my side and BAM! The sneeze that shook the world. I yelped, and hollered and my wife woke up. “What’s wrong!?!” she exclaimed. “I sneezed. *pant* and I think I pulled something” I said laughing as I said it. We had a good laugh, and we went back to sleep. The next morning, I woke up with a pain in my left arm and chest. Hmmm… this really hurts! Left arm… left arm… wait… am I having a heart attack? Nah, I probably just pulled a muscle. This pain lasted for the next 4 days, and I knew I had pulled a muscle during that sneeze… Or so I thought.
It is now August 3rd. I use a PTO day as we are heading to the beach tomorrow. We get everything packed and ready, but it is only mid-afternoon. With everyone anxious for the beach, we have to kill some time and get everyone side tracked. Family Movie Time! We all sit down for a nice movie (The Princess Diaries 2… yea!!! haha) in our basement movie room. About 30 minutes in, my left arm goes completely numb instantly. What the heck? That’s weird… left arm… left arm… wait… am I having a heart attack? First these pains in my chest and arm for 4 days? Now complete numbness? Do I tell my wife? Do I say anything at all? She will make me go to the E/R. I don’t want to go to the E/R. We are going to the beach tomorrow. It’s fine, it’s fine I convince myself. The feeling comes back by the end of the movie. “Let’s go to the park” the kids yell! Well, we do have more time to kill before bedtime. Driving to the park I start feeling a pain in my chest. This is different than the other feelings so far. This borderline feels like heartburn. It’s fine, it’s fine I convince myself. Tomorrow is the beach!
Morning comes, and we prepare to take off in a minivan loaded down with enough luggage to last a family of 15 for 12 weeks in Siberia. With the minivan riding low (and the coffee pot off… trust me, I checked it 10 times), we set out on our way to the beach. The trip was relatively uneventful except for two things. One, I missed 4 turns. That is not like me at all! Why am I side tracked? Two, at every stop I literally cannot lift my left leg. In order to get out of the van, I have to pick my leg up with my hand and set it on the pavement. Why is my leg so weak I cannot pick it up under its own power? We get to the beach house and unload the van. That night lying in bed, I decide now is the time to break the news to my wife. Heck, she can’t make me go to the doctor now. We are at the beach! I explain everything that I have been feeling and experiencing the past week. “What! And your just now telling me!!!!”. Yeah, yeah. “We are finding a doctor at the beach tomorrow and we are taking you”. Backfire… yikes, didn’t see that coming. “Honey, honey, let’s wait and see… If I’m not feeling better by the time we get back from the beach, I’ll go to the doctor back in town”. “You better”, she says. Whew!!! Dodged a bullet.
Aside from getting stung by a jellyfish, the beach trip actually goes really well. My pains seem to be subsiding. My stomach seems to be calming down. Wait… maybe this was all anxiety or stress all along! Yeah, that’s it! I haven’t been having heart issues, I have just been stressed. Whew! Glad we got that straightened out. Guess what honey, I’m feeling great. Let’s head back home… and that doctor visit? Yeah, we won’t be needing that… or so I thought.
Life returns to normal on August 13th. I’m back to work. The kids and my wife continue enjoying summer break. I’m feeling great. Then Tuesday comes, and Wednesday. The stomach cramping returns. I’m waking up at night with my pillow soaked in sweat. My fingers on my left hand are intermittently going numb. Time to pray. “God, I need some guidance. You know my heart Lord. You know I’m a stubborn man. You know I’m too prideful to admit I may have something wrong with me. Would you please give me a blatantly obvious symptom or sign if I need to go to the doctor?”
More days pass. Symptoms still seem to come and go. My prayer remains the same, and has become almost a daily ritual at this point. It is now August 23rd, and I’m sitting at my computer at work. I’m not stressed, nothing major is going on, I have been “at rest” for at least 30 minutes… wait… what’s that?!? I feel my heart beating extremely strongly as though it wants to come out of my chest. I count the pulse (by looking at my chest… I don’t even have to hunt for a pulse or use my fingers to find it). My chest is jumping 25 times in 15 seconds… YIKES! 100 BPM, and I’m sitting still. “Lord?” I prayed, “Is this the sign? Something clearly is not right. I see that.” I finished my work day and after “meet the teacher” at my kid’s school, we all sit down for supper. My wife starts the conversation and said “I had a random conversation with another teacher today. Her husband up and heads to the hospital one day recently because he thought something was wrong with his heart, and turns out he had a-fib”. Wow. Got it Lord. To coin Bill Engvall… here’s your sign… AGAIN… “Honey, you know what we talked about at the beach? Yeah, those symptoms are still here”. “We are going to the doctor. Now!”. “Yes dear”….
Let me call my mom and dad and see if they can meet us to get the kids. The urgent care closes soon, so we need to get going. We all jump in the van, and I call my parents. After hearing the situation, they suggest skipping the urgent care step and just go straight to the E/R. After all, if the urgent care hears the words “heart, chest, arm, pain” in the same sentence, you going to the E/R anyways. Good point. Wow, by chance we are right next to one of the local hospital. However, this hospital is not known for its “expert” heart center. Confirmed… no good… lets go back to the other local hospital that is closer to our house anyways. “Okay God, it seems your leading us to this certain hospital… I pray that you have the people there that we need to see.” Upon arriving, we are greeted at the E/R entrance by a security guard. Lock down… The hospital is on lock down. Seriously? “Okay God, you gave me the signs that I needed to get my heart checked out (I think … doubting now)… then You lead us to this hospital (I think… doubting now)… and now you are giving me a good opportunity to just call the whole thing off, turn around, and walk away? Nope. Not going to do it Lord. We have already discussed my stubbornness. Before it was stubbornness that I didn’t need to go. Well, now, I’m committed. This is happening, and I’m not going to let some lock down scare me”. We are told that I can go in, but my wife and kids have to wait outside. Once my parents get the kids, then my wife can come in and join me. “Bye Honey, I’m going in. You’ll be fine. Have a nice chat with this nice security guard. My parents will be here soon”. O yeah… “Mr. Security guard, why are we locked down? Is it safe?” “Of course you’re safe. Every officer in the county is here. Why are we locked down? Sorry. Can’t tell you. Good luck in there! Hope you feel better!” Hmmm… stubbornness 2.0… let’s go.
First test. Getting through the locked doors. Check. Second test. Signing the consent forms. Check. Now for the real tests… EKG, Blood work, X-Rays, CT scan. The hours tick by. Knock, knock. It’s the doctor. “Hi, we have the results of the tests, and we think we have found out what is wrong. Let’s start with the good news. Your heart looks great. Now some bad news. We found in your CT scan that you have a 6cm x 15cm (2.5 inch x 6 inch) mass. We don’t know what it is. However, we can assure you, it’s not supposed to be there”. My mind starts racing… mass… mass… “Okay doc, let’s get upstairs and get that puppy out”. Whoa… not so fast. “We don’t know what this mass is. This could be cancerous. In fact, due to size, location, and your age… we think it could be lymphoma. The first thing we need to do is get a biopsy”. Rats. “You can go home, but you need to call this number first thing in the morning to talk with the specialist”. Rats.
“Dear heavenly Father. I thank you for your patience. For your wisdom. For never giving up on me no matter how stubborn I am. I thank you for putting the signs in place that I would go to the doctor tonight. I thank you for giving me the courage to stay at the hospital, even though it was on lock down. I thank you for giving me the doctors that ran the correct tests that highlighted the mass and root cause of the issue. You know my personality Lord. I like concrete facts. I can work with those. Well, you gave me a concrete root cause. I know we don’t know what it is yet Lord, but You do. I trust you God. Please help me see the right doctor at the right time tomorrow to get this biopsy underway. Once You reveal to the doctor’s and I what exactly we are dealing with, then we can make a plan and fix it. Thank you again Lord, amen.”