Mammograms and Shaky Hands
What weeks of fearful waiting on a breast biopsy taught me about hope and faith.
Maybe you, too, know the sudden dropping of the stomach. One moment you’re making cookies with your daughter, then the next you’re queasy and clammy when the phone rings and you see who’s calling.
If your results are negative, you’ll get a letter in the mail in a few weeks. If we see anything concerning, we’ll give you a call right away.
I knew my chances of my getting a call back after the mammogram were fairly high, given my family history of unusually dense tissue that’s difficult to read. Still, my hands shook and my stomach churned when I answered the call and scheduled a follow-up appointment for further imaging.
Did I have breast cancer? It would take seven agonizing weeks to find out.
Reasons to Fear
Bad medical news was all too familiar for us. Eight years earlier, my husband, Chris, and I were blind-sided at a routine ultrasound by news that our son had died in the womb at 32 weeks.
Two years later, we got a phone call while driving that what we’d thought was a sports injury in my husband’s back was actually stage IV cancer.
His journey has gone far better than expected, but nearly seven years later I’ve dealt with lingering feelings of grief over what was lost and endured in those years—and tremendous fear of what God might allow next.
Life is Too Good
About a year ago, our family moved back to my hometown in Colorado and found a house in a spot we couldn’t have imagined loving so well. It’s near the mountains and in a neighborhood full of families who are becoming friends.
Life has been peaceful for us for the first time in years. Truthfully, while I’ve soaked up this season like a sponge, I’ve also wrestled with darker thoughts: It’s too good—too peaceful. When is the next messenger of tragedy going to come knocking on our door?
It was into this backdrop of experience and fear that God allowed this phone call.
Fear and Medical Bungling
Of course, I wanted to get the appointment over with immediately, but like many medical systems around the country these days, ours is short-staffed and strained, so the earliest appointment I could get was nearly two months later, after Christmas.
After a series of phone calls, I was able to get an earlier appointment, but at every possible point, the process was bungled and delayed, mostly for reasons that, dare I say, were just stupid.
I’m sorry, but for some reason, your imaging is showing up solid green. We’ll need to burn them again…and you’ll need to pick them up and drive them over yourself. (This happened twice!)
Another time, my appointment wasn’t scheduled because the wrong person was getting the emails. Could you go schedule it yourself in person?
All this driving around and waiting gave me ample time for seeds of fear to grow.
I’m Not Alone
Eventually, the medical staff told me I would need a biopsy, which underscored the seriousness of where my path seemed headed.
I know I’m not alone. Right now thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of women are waiting on similar tests.
While I’m thankful for early detection methods, like me, their fear probably grows as they wait…and wait on news.
The Intentional Mess
All of these obstacles started feeling more than just frustrating—they began to feel intentional.
God, what are you trying to say in all this mess?
Given Chris and I’s history, the path of choosing to say “yes” to him in the midst of suffering is well-worn.
Why does this feel like a test? God, you know I will say yes to you again even if this is cancer. Why are you dragging this out when I am already surrendered?
I carried these questions with me in the ensuing days and continued to feel bewildered.
Other times I felt very much at peace during the day, but then would wake up in the night unable to sleep as fears of the worst growled and snarled.
How I found hope, strength and peace
On the night before the biopsy, I awoke at 3:00 am unable to sleep. I came downstairs, turned on the Christmas tree lights and tried yet again to make sense of this experience.
This time, when I asked, God, what do you want from me?!, I sensed a quiet whisper:
I just want you to let me in and let me love you!
I realized that while I’ve grown to love the way God has cared for us in painful situations, I’ve also kept him at a distance out of fear of what he might allow again.
He seemed a far-off, all-powerful King, commanding me to walk hard roads. I’d resigned myself to asking, Okay God, what’s my next hard thing?
Instead, in the darkest part of the night God didn’t come to pummel me into reluctant service. He came in tenderness to shine the candle-glow of his love into the skittish, trembling corners of my heart.
I still didn’t know what my biopsy would reveal, but the freedom to rest in God’s love, no strings attached, was a kindness that bolstered my soul and gave me hope and peace.
After getting my biopsy, the waiting continued. The call with results was supposed to come any day now.
By Monday morning I was confident in God’s love, but I still felt anxious about the phone call. It made me queasy thinking about it and I often rehearsed the way I imagined it would go.
First thing that morning, I made my cup of tea and read an advent devotional, which included a poem called “Despised and Rejected” by Christina Rosetti.
In this poem, Christ knocks on the door of the narrator, not as a demanding King, but as the suffering servant Isaiah 53:3 describes, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…”
Sadly, the narrator offers a variety of reasons for ignoring the pleadings of Christ and keeps the door shut. As I sat in my idyllic little scene by the tree, I identified so closely with the distance kept by the speaker of this poem,
Then I cried out upon him: Cease,
Leave me in peace:
…Leave me in peace, yea trouble me no more…
The poem seemed to summarize my response:
God, if you’re just a King giving me painful “assignments,” I don’t want to be close to you. I’ll obey, but please, “Leave me in peace!”
The Call and a Deeper Invitation
Later Rosetti pens the cries of this man of sorrows in response to the narrator,
‘Open to Me that I may come to thee,’
While the dew dropped, while the dark hours were cold:
‘My feet bleed, see My face,
See My Hands bleed that bring thee grace,
My heart doth bleed for thee,
Open to me.’
As I pondered and prayed, I sensed God speak to me:
Don’t you see, Elizabeth, I come to you, not as a fearsome king, but as the suffering servant—not just with hands and feet bloodied by the nails on the cross, but a heart that bleeds for YOU with healing and grace. I don’t need you to DO anything for me. I’ve completed it all already. Won’t you “Open to me?”
What I thought was waiting on potentially scary news, instead turned into an opportunity to invite God fully into my heart.
In the midst of this profound moment of beauty and tenderness, I was startled as my phone rang and I saw it was The Call. This time, with a backdrop of love, grace and a quiet heart, I answered the call with a steady voice.
Good morning Elizabeth, I just wanted to let you know that your biopsy results were all negative!
Letting the News Sink In
I set my phone down and gazed out the window, letting it all sink in. I had been waiting on this news for nearly seven weeks.
So, God wasn’t asking me to walk a path marked by cancer after all.
He could have. Maybe someday he will. And if he does, I know I won’t be alone on that path.
Even now, as I consider the reality that I will certainly encounter scary possibilities again, my heart takes courage in the truth that Jesus has already walked this path and promises to lend his strength and peace when I ask for it.
Not only that but He persistently pursues me with his love—even if it takes green images and a broken medical system to give my slow-learning heart enough time to hear those quiet whispers.
Advice for Others
Perhaps you, too, are anxiously awaiting news or feeling bewildered by senseless circumstances.
Might I ask you to bring the darkened wick of your candle close and let it catch fire with the truth that you are loved, so loved!
God doesn’t need you to do anything for him, his completed work on the cross has done it all. I don’t know what your test results will be, but I do know that every trial brings a choice to either keep the door of your heart locked shut or to open it up to Jesus and allow him to come in and experience his healing grace.
“Open to me!” Immanuel is calling!
If you would like to open your heart to God, read Knowing God Personally.
For help with fear, check out Fighting the Fear of Cancer.
To discover how prayer can help you on your journey, read Asking God for Help.