Even in the Fog

I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.

Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live.

Psalm 116:1-2

We tagged along with my husband to Ocean City, Maryland this weekend. I looked forward to it. I needed to spend time with my family and to see the ocean. It didn’t matter to me that it was April and still in the 50s. I never turned down a trip to the ocean. I felt peace there. I loved to stand near the shore and look out over the horizon.

I felt small, but something about the bigness of the ocean made God’s presence more palpable and made me feel closer to Him.

The first thing I did was go on the balcony and look out at the ocean. It was cloudy, and I couldn’t see the horizon. Then, the next morning, I wanted to watch the sunrise, but the fog covered my view.

When I was at the beach, I never missed an ocean sunrise.

Normally, I would have felt sad and disappointed. I would have been upset that those stupid clouds wrecked my view.

But not this trip.

Not this time.

I had to go back to the beginning of the week to explain why.

On Monday, I had blood drawn.

On Wednesday, I called to check on the results.

They hadn’t received them yet, so the afternoon nurse left a message for my nurse to check for them the next day and to fax them to me when they received them.

On Thursday late morning, I checked the fax machine in my husband’s office.

Nothing.

Later that afternoon, I wasn’t home when I noticed a voicemail from my doctor. I almost didn’t listen to it because sometimes they call just to let me know the results were faxed. I picked up my phone to ask my husband to check, but something made me listen to the voicemail.

My tumor markers had doubled since last month.

Not good.

My nurse asked me to come in right away for a second blood draw. She said they noticed they used a different lab that month, and wanted to send them to the typical lab to make sure that wasn’t the reason for the difference.

I knew that wasn’t the reason for the second test and that was an excuse to soften the blow, but I was willing to hold on to that.

In tears, I drove to the office lab, my mind spinning and preparing for what was to come.

Increase in tumor markers usually meant progression.

Progression meant my medicine was no longer working.

Progression meant my cancer was growing again, invading any bone, organ, or tissue in its path.

Progression meant that talk with my children I had been rehearsing in my mind for the last several years was going to have to happen.

Progression meant that my quality of life was going to change.

Progression meant that my life hung in the balance.

I took a deep breath and pushed the number “5” in the elevator to get to the cancer center, and walked through those doors like I had done hundreds of times before.

But something felt different.

The lab techs knew what was going on and looked at me with those pitiful eyes. They saw this play out countless times, and they knew what this probably meant. Even the girls in the office popped in to say ‘hello.’ Although their words of encouragement and comfort were well-intended, their kindness only helped to tip the scale and spill out all those emotions that had been building up since I received that message.

By the Grace of God, the needle found a vein on the first attempt. I watched my blood flow through the tiny tube and collect in the vial, all the while praying that blood would bring a different outcome than the one I felt coming. The nurse told me they would rush the results and would have them mid-day the following day.

I left in tears, walking out of the lab and the office as though by escaping the confines of that place, I might escape the future that was playing out in my head.

I felt numb. I felt scared. I felt terrified. I felt lost.

I could barely look in my husband’s eyes when I told him. I saw the fear he tried so desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to hide. I saw a man determined to show me strength and support when he was just as scared as I was.

That was hard.

That night was a blur. I ran to the store. I packed bags. I packed my pills. I packed my Bible. I packed my journal and my books. I don’t think I sat down all evening.

I couldn’t. I had to keep busy. I had to stay distracted.

We went to bed, with that restless feeling knowing that tomorrow we would hear the news that could change our lives forever.

But we had a trip planned with the kids.

I thought of all the details. We would be in the car when I received the call. Mike said he could pull over so I could accept the call in privacy. I reminded myself that we had to have a good time on this trip, that we had to hold on to the memories, that we had to hold on to each other.

Before things changed.

I woke up in the morning, and for a brief second, I forgot about it, all of it.

Then it all came crashing down on me again. I felt the tears well up, and the knot in my stomach grew inside of me.

But there was no time.

Preparing. Packing. Loading the car.

We settled in for the long drive.

My eyes were heavy, but my mind was too.

My heart was breaking, a slow break, like a small crack in an iced-over pond, slowly growing before a rush of fractures spread out and the unfortunate individual standing in the middle falls and is swallowed by the icy water.

This time, that unfortunate individual was me.

I was finally dozing off when I felt it. My phone was vibrating, and my doctor’s number was splashed across the screen. It was still morning. It was too early for the results.

What now?

I didn’t even have time to alert my husband. I just answered it.

The nurse said the lab called with the results before they were processed into the report. She called me immediately. Then, she said my tumor markers were back to normal!

(Well, they were 47.8 which is “slightly elevated, but normal range” for me.)

I heard her say it.

This was what I wanted to hear, but it caught me off guard.

I was speechless, but the tears fell — many tears.

My husband looked at me, and I know he thought the worst.

All I could do was give him a thumbs up as I listened to my nurse continue to explain.

I saw his whole body exhale.

He continued driving and grabbed my hand.

I asked her, “What happened? How could that be?”.

She had no explanation. They had no idea.

She said,” This never happens.”

“Maybe it was a fluke.”

But I knew better.

That was all God.

That was Divine Intervention.

That was answered prayer.

As a writer, I could almost always find the right words.

But I had no words.

Only feelings.

I thanked her and put down the phone.

I already mentally planned my upcoming week. I prepared to see the doctor on Tuesday since we were returning Monday night. I prepared to schedule scans by the end of the week. I prepared for the worst results. I prepared for that conversation with my kids, my Mom, my family and friends.

But I didn’t have to do any of that.

Not now.

The tears came and didn’t stop. I grabbed my husband’s hand again and silently squeezed with all the emotion inside of me.

I squeezed hard.

We couldn’t scream. We couldn’t yell.

The kids were in the back seat, listening to music and playing on their phones.

Blissfully unaware, as we wished.

We were in the front seat, in awe of God’s Grace and Mercy, so incredibly thankful, and so incredibly relieved.

I was also humbled. So very humbled. I am a married mother of two from Southwestern Pennsylvania, yet I am the humbled recipient of a God-breathed miracle, on an ordinary Friday on an April morning.

I was speechless for most of the trip. Almost if I spoke of it, it wouldn’t be true.

But it was.

I couldn’t fully express what I was feeling because I felt so deeply. I couldn’t fully express my relief because it was so overwhelming. I couldn’t fully express my thanks to God because it was inconceivable.

A little later in the trip, I checked our bank account. Our tax refund was deposited into our account that day, even though it wasn’t expected for a couple more weeks.

God really does have a sense of humor, right?

He was telling me to celebrate and reminding me that He had this all along.

He promised to take care of me. He promised to walk with me. He promised to be there.

I was faithful through my first diagnosis, chemo, reconstruction, radiation, …

I was faithful through my second diagnosis, more radiation, side effects of treatment, …

I was faithful through the scans and the ups and downs and the uncertainty …

But after that first phone call, after those increased tumor markers, …

I had a moment.

Why would God bring me so far and let that happen?

Why would God take it all away so soon?

I couldn’t allow myself to think like that.

This is what faith was, right?

It was normal to question. It was okay.

I was scared, but I was faithful.

I was sad, but I believed.

It was easy to trust in God when things were okay.

It was not so easy to trust God when they weren’t.

I prayed and prayed and prayed some more while I waited for those results.

I prayed that even if those results didn’t come back the way I wanted; God would stay with me. God would make things okay.

I had to remain faithful in the hard parts.

I had to remain faithful when I couldn’t see.

I did.

And God blessed me.

Boy, did He bless me.

So, when I looked out at that ocean and saw the fog covering the horizon …

When I tried to watch the sunrise this morning and saw the fog covering the ocean …

Normally, I would have been sad and disappointed.

This time, though, I wasn’t disheartened.

I couldn’t see the horizon.

But I knew it was there.

I couldn’t see the rising sun.

But I knew it was there.

I spent some time that morning looking out over the ocean.

I couldn’t see the vastness of the ocean, but I could see the waves crashing onto the shore.

I couldn’t see the sunrise, but I saw beauty in the fog hanging over the ocean.

I didn’t need to see the ocean reach the sky on the far end, because I saw the waves reach the sand on my end. I didn’t need to see the sun pop through the clouds that morning, because I saw the sun burn off the fog later and provide a beautiful day.

Maybe God sent that fog to put a big punctuation mark on my last couple of days.

Maybe God sent that fog to remind me He was still there, even when I couldn’t see Him.

Maybe God sent that fog to show me when I couldn’t see the horizon,

I could still admire the waves.

Maybe God sent that fog to remind me that even when the view wasn’t what I wanted,

it could still be beautiful.

Maybe God sent that fog to remind me that even when I couldn’t see so far ahead of me, He would always help me navigate what was right in front of me.

Lessons learned.

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