The room was all too familiar. Black leather examining table draped in paper.Open box of Kleenex on the counter. Jars of tongue depressors and cotton balls poised perfectly under stainless steel covers. Temperature at seventy or below. It was cold. I hate this I thought to myself. I waited, clothed as usual, in my one size fits all gowns. My blood had previously been drawn. The latest chest x- ray was in its jacket. My medical chart was placed on the door waiting to be scrutinized. I reminded myself again that this routine was saving my life. More than three years had passed since I had first been diagnosed. The room was the same. I was different. That day I was fully dressed. I was only there to get some stitches removed, so I thought. I had been talking with the nurse when the doctor came in. After taking a glance at my chart, he quickly turned to leave. “You are coming back aren’t you?” she called. He nodded yes in response. After he gathered his composure, he returned. “You have melanoma” he said. He then proceeded with the facts. I was at stage three out of four stages. Not good. He thought he could remove it all through surgery. He would take out a segment of my arm where the melanoma was. Of course he would also have to remove the clear cells around the perimeters to prevent it from spreading. I smiled and wondered why he seemed so sad. The nurse was choking back tears. I was oblivious to the seriousness of my condition, the source of their concern. They probably thought that I was in denial, a natural response to the initial shock of hearing the news. The truth, I had no idea what melanoma was. Finally he took my hand and said “This is serious, you need to notify your family.” Notify my family! I wondered what the big deal was. He was only going to cut out a piece of my arm. When the doctor realized the fact that I was not comprehending what he was telling me, he offered me an information pamphlet. I happily accepted it. After taking care of the preliminaries to the surgery,I proceeded to leave.
When I got to my car I began to read the pamphlet. I had not read more than a paragraph when the full impact of just how serious melanoma was confronted me. Statistics showed that more people die from melanoma than any other type of cancer. I was stunned. I remained locked in my seatbelt. I could not think so I just sat there in shock. I was not aware of how much time had passed. The realization of what I would do if someone found me in that condition is what prompted me to leave. As I drove, I tried to sort through the miriad of thoughts that were clamoring for my attention. I thought people with cancer lost weight. I had not lost a pound. How long was I going to live? Would I lose my arm? Will I have to have chemotherapy or radiation? Is this the reason why I had no energy? For months I had been unusually tired. I had attributed it to an increase in my weight. Perhaps my friends would have an answer to their question about why I lagged behind them everywhere we went. Suddenly it all made sense to me. This cancer, parasite, leech was stealing my energy and possibly my very life. I drove for hours in a stupor. I was mentally, emotionally and physically spent. When I got home,it was very late, I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion .
The next day I tried to plow my way through the work that had accumulated on my desk. I felt like I was in a trance. My level of concentration was minimal at best. All I could think about was melanoma and the related facts. My coworkers were not used to my unusual pensiveness. I finally told them what was wrong. One of them said “My sister had melanoma and she was dead in eight years.” No one could have been prepared for my response. I buried my head in the papers on my desk and started wailing. Someone tried to comfort me. How do you comfort someone who thinks she may have her death certificate signed before she is forty years old? Later that day the woman explained that the reason why she wanted me to know about her sister was because she wanted me to know how serious melanoma was. She wanted me to take care of myself, to have regular skin checks, to live. Her sister did not do what she should have done and it resulted in her untimely death.
Still before me lay the daunting task of telling my family and friends. I wondered how they would react. How could I tell them? Would I cry? Would they? Will they be able to detect the crackling in my voice if I tried to stifle it? After dispensing with the news and statistics, the responses were the same. Shock, concern, grief, helplessness. Many prayers were offered on my behalf. By the time I got home that evening, I felt like I was on the edge of an emotional melt down. I was tired. Tired of thinking about melanoma. Tired of talking about it. Tired of its intrusion into my life. Once again, I fell asleep with one thought on my mind, melanoma.
Upon awakening I prayed. “Lord, I have had a wonderful life and I know that if I die today I will be with you in heaven.” I finally realized that my fate was in the hands of my creator. He alone would decide when and how I was going to die. From that time on I had an undercurrent of peace that was unexplainable. Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? I Corinthians 15:15. Jesus promised us that we would not be left comfortless. I would have times when I was afraid of the future, but what mattered most was the present.
The day of the surgery finally arrived. I had chosen a local anesthetic as opposed to being put to sleep. I felt the first cut. It hurt! The surgery lasted over an hour. As I lay on the operating table, I could not help but think of the weeks preceeding that day. Work related stressors were no longer an issue. When you think you are going to die it does not matter who is late, who is working and who isn’t. Who takes more than their allotted time for break. Who cares! I wasn’t worried about the bills being paid. I did not care what other people thought about me. I had no thought about whether I was pretty enough, smart enough or athletic enough. I cared little for the things that suddenly seemed so insignificant. What I did care about was whether or not I would see another beautiful sunrise. Will I look at another star filled sky and tell the moon how beautiful it was when it was full? Will I ever feel a butterfly’s wing again and marvel at the fact that it feels as soft as a rose petal? Will I once again enjoy the smell of fresh mowed grass? Will I stand on the sands of the beach and hear the sounds of cresting waves echoing in my ears? Will I have lunch with my niece and listen as she tells me excitedly about her boyfriend? Will I see another movie that moves me to tears or exhilaration? I consciously decided that I would cherish the moments that really mattered.
The last stitch had been sown. I was ready to recuperate. While I was in the recovery room I clasped my hands together more than once and thanked God that I still had two of them. I had over one hundred and twenty five stitches in my arm, but he was able to extract all of the cancer. I did not have chemotherapy or radiation. As to how long I was going to live or if I would have a recurrence, it was not necessary for me to know.
Not long after my surgery, I was asked to share my experience with a group from my church. One of the questions repeatedly asked was what people could do or say to comfort those who were dealing with life threatening issues. My answer: Nothing. Only the giver of life can comfort us in death.
I would return many times to the familiar room for skin checks. The doctor would review my blood work and x-rays. I would tell him a joke to ease the tension I always felt. I would always listen carefully for the sound of laughter coming from another patient’s room as he told the joke to them. The day did come, however, when I was discharged from his services. After I left his office, I sat in my car, put both hands on the steering wheel, looked at my arm, took a deep breath and prayed. “Lord, you showed me how to die, please show me how to live.” The answer was soon forth coming.For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living? Psalms 56:13 I have been walking in the light of the living for more than ten years.