As a Minister of 41 years it has been my lot to minister to families and parents whose children of whatever age has received a horrific medical diagnosis. The story below relates to such parents although this particular situation were parents of an adult daughter who had children and diagnosed with breast cancer.
This lass was married seven years and sometime later discovered lumps in her breasts and these proved to be benign. Over a number of years these lumps were operated on and removed and always proved to be benign. These matters needed to be carefully monitored.
Again, just prior to turning 35, she had another of these minor operations to remove another of these 'benign' lumps in her left breast, and as this operation was undertaken, and to the surgical team's surprised horror, under it, appeared an aggressive breast cancer.
Not one of the many tests, revealed its presence. But there it was, and it would never had been discovered until it was too late - had she not had those 'benign' lumps removed at that precise time. Had those lumps been removed earlier, the surgical team may not have spotted this cancer, or much later, it may have been too late.
This lass was sporty all her life. Played competitive sport, was fit, not in any way over weight, and in good physical shape and bore two children up until this event.
This cancer revelation was a bit of a shock not only to her and her husband, but to the parents as a close knit family. This lass was a professional and with common sense and made the decision to have the left breast removed. This was done and tests revealed that the cancer had not developed into the lymph glands.
It took some time to get proper movement in her left shoulder as the surgical team removed as much of the tissue as they thought necessary. It was described like an egg, the observable cancer is the yoke, the unobservable cancer is the white of the egg. All of the white (as it were) needed to be removed 'just in case'. The surgery itself is not unlike key hole surgery, the breasts covering skin is retained (for breast reconstruction).
The lass slowly but surely recovered from the surgery and then another decision needed to be made as to whether to take the chemo scenario. The option was to do nothing, or as a mopping up process do the chemo treatment. They had a prayer network functioning and our family members took turn in accompanying her to this and that appointment. Some were from interstate but they did their bit .and attended to these visits (as did the wider family on both sides).
It was an emotional trauma in the first instance to realise that breast cancer had struck (nothing in their family history on either side of their families), then to lose a breast, talking about being sick to their 5 year old daughter and on the other hand to their 2 year old son who was of an age to grasp something of the horrible territory of all this. Days later the little 5 year old began to ask questions illustrating that she grasped some of seriousness of the drama.
A decision was made to do the chemo treatment. This lass wept and wept as she headed to the hair-dresser to have her hair cut off, it was long flowing beautiful hair. She sent out 'updates' to her family and friends on a reasonably regular basis and noted “it is a full time job being sick”.
The tests and appointments for this and that seemed endless. There were many blood tests, hospital councillor meetings, Cancer Council helps, contact with the McGrath Foundation and it went on and on and on. Then it was discovered there was a spot found on her leg and this required further tests.
Originally it was thought she might need six chemo doses. The cancer chemo patients are given a date, they turn up, each one is given their allotted medication which takes several hours, but not before they meet with the medical professional revealing test results and heavy duty discussions.
Before the third chemo dose it was revealed that should that spot on her leg be revealed as a cancer of the same kind and in the bone, she would have a life expectancy of five years. Her brother was with her as her husband has used up his sick days attending with her these types of medical reviews, and her brother said that the discussion was both self evident and necessary. The prognosis at that stage was it would be benign and when the tests came back, it was.
The third and fourth chemo doses knocked her about a great deal and after that fourth dose she was told that from the test results no further chemo was required. The gene tests came back and she is not a carrier of the breast cancer gene, which was great news for their little daughter, her sisters, brother and her mum and dad.
Both her husband's work place and her work place have been very helpful but in the end, money runs out as workplace benefits cannot go on for ever. Basically they were right for four-five months and then the family all kicked in with practical measures.
The lawns and gardens are being met by family by hiring a local lawn service business, the Cancer Council arranged as is their usual system, reduction in rates and water bills, special $ gifts have been given for family treats and even new shoes, but the 'gap' after medical insurances has been a killer (ask any one in such circumstances) – you don't realise this until it happens.
Having been a minister for 41 years and pastoring to cancer sufferers, some who lived, some who like my good friend the late Ian Carlson, died (four years ago), family support is paramount.
The lass was told that should she not remove the right breast, the chances of that breast of having a cancer develop was 65% and that was too great a risk, and so like so many others decided that it too should be removed. And it was.
Since then there have been constant medical checks and tests. A wonderfully supportive husband, two little children, and a loving family from all sides, a supportive local church and a “broad prayer network”, good friends including the local Mother's Club and the like.
But it's not over yet – now it's forever vigilant! One might even dare to say, it's even been quite a journey for everyone in the family.
Then another lump was discovered on her neck bone and the surgeon said he could not operate and gave her 13 months. She and her husband immediately planned a week’s holiday as a farewell and while there her surgeon tracked her down, rung, and said the diagnoses was a mistake, and she was clear.
The stress and anxiety and heartache - strangely became more intense - as instead of death, life was announced. PTSD struck. Now, some years later she and her family and friends are all still in a state of tender hooks and her tests to date have been clear, but it’s never over. The Lord has been their strength.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html