When you are little, you dream about what you want to do when you grow up, the experiences you will have, and the relationships that will carry you through your life. Many times, those dreams don’t turn out to be God’s plans.
On May 10, 2004, I graduated from Campbell University Divinity School with the hopes of pursuing a career in ministry. The next day, I unexpectedly resigned from a position I had held for six years. It was a decision that God had been leading me toward for several years, and He finally gave me the opportunity to do it.
By August of 2004, I was eight months pregnant and in constant pain, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. This was not normal pregnancy “discomfort.” After several trips to the emergency room, I was finally diagnosed with a herniated disk and a bulging disk and given strong medicine to control the pain. Taking pain medication was not exactly what I had planned during my pregnancy, but it took the edge off so I could function for short amounts of time.
By September 11, my husband, Benjamin, took me to the hospital where I was admitted for pain control. An orthopedic surgeon assessed me and suggested that we deliver the baby, figuring it would do one of three things: nothing; take the pain totally away; or lessen the pain. Unfortunately, it did nothing. Right after Makayla was born, I was able to walk around more and without as much pain, but the pain quickly returned as strong or stronger. I needed medication just to function enough to care for Makayla. I went to a neurosurgeon for a consultation and was told that he saw nothing wrong. He didn’t know why I was in so much pain or why there was numbness in my right hip and leg. He sent me to physical therapy. I had been in physical therapy my entire pregnancy, and found that it did not help. My primary physician set up an appointment to meet with a second neurosurgeon. Before that appointment, however, I returned to my obstetrician for a six-week follow-up exam. She could not complete the exam because I was in too much pain. In addition to all of this, I had to have a follow-up chest X-ray, as a chest X-ray taken during my pregnancy had shown some abnormalities. My doctor did not think it was anything serious, but she wanted me to have a follow-up test to be sure.
Friday, October 29, was not a good day. The X-ray that was supposed to be “no big deal” revealed that I could possibly have cancer. All weekend long, Benjamin and I wondered what was wrong and tried to think about what would happen “if.” Many tears were shed through the prayers we uttered to God over those 3 days. On Monday morning, I went for my first appointment with the oncologist. He looked at my symptoms – itching for two solid years, having night sweats, had lost 35 pounds in six weeks, and having unexplained fevers – and diagnosed me with Hodgkin’s Disease. He ordered the necessary tests: CT Scan, PET Scan, and a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node to confirm the diagnosis.
The following Thursday, I met with the second neurosurgeon. After two hours of waiting, I explained my story to his nurse, and then I saw him for about five minutes. Those were probably the best five minutes I had spent with a doctor in the past two months. While looking at the same X-rays the other doctor had seen, he told me that I did indeed have a herniated disk that was pressing on a nerve and my spinal cord. Surgery was the only option I had for pain relief. He also told me that he would rearrange his schedule to allow for my surgery to take place prior to beginning chemotherapy. That was the best news I had heard in a long time.
My surgery was scheduled for Tuesday, November 9. Thankfully, the neurosurgeon allowed another doctor to biopsy the lymph node when my back surgery was finished, so I had two surgeries for the price of the same anesthesia!
I began chemotherapy the Friday before Thanksgiving, and I was mostly bed-ridden from Thanksgiving through Christmas, including two weeks in a hospital to battle migraines caused by the anti-nausea steroids that are often given to chemotherapy patients. I have very little memory of these two weeks, other than what Benjamin and other family tell me. I was on some high-powered pain medicine!
The chemo sucked the energy I had out of my body and left me worthless. There were many times that I had to crawl to the bathroom because I did not have the energy to walk. I could often hear Makayla crying in the next room, but I lacked the energy to go get her. For the next six months, every other Friday, we made the trip to the hospital to receive chemo. At the beginning, through the help of family and friends, our family’s needs were met. After January 2005, we felt like almost everyone, including both churches, had abandoned us. For a few weeks, I was angry at God.
By March of 2005, I was finally to the point where I felt well enough to start visiting churches on the weekends. Because we had moved to a new area shortly before my medical problems began, we were without a church home for many months. There was one church in particular that we wanted to visit simply because we had seen many people wearing t-shirts for the church. It was “#2” on our list of about ten, and the last church we visited. It was probably the second or third Sunday of being there that I realized that God had taken my anger and turned it into more passion than one could imagine. I became a support staff member shortly after joining the church. My husband came on staff as a minister a year later.
In October 2007, my back pain returned. I learned in December that I have Degenerative Lumbar Disease, and I had surgery on December 14 to fuse three disks together. I am still in pain, but it is a different pain…a pain I hoped would go away after I finished physical therapy. Although this pain will come back, I know God will give me the strength to endure it throughout my life. I continue to thank God each day when I look into my beautiful daughter’s face for bringing me through the journey I have been through over the past four years.
We made the painful decision to leave that church in June of 2008. We immediately went looking for another church and found a home at a church where we didn’t want to find our home in. It is a new church. We didn’t want to get involved in a “baby” church after throwing our lives into a church and ministries that almost cost us our marriage. But even after we visited several other churches, we found ourselves drawn to this church. We talked with the pastor and he encouraged us that God still had a plan for us. As we began to get involved with this church, we quickly learned that God indeed had a plan for us there. I have gotten into a women’s small group that truly has blessed me hundreds of times more than any other small group I have been in. And our daughter can’t wait to go to her class on Sunday mornings.
You can visit Carlyn and her blog HERE
Special Thank You for Carlyn sharing her brave story.
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