Originally published Thursday, 14 June 2018.
Author: Kate Franken
I hung up the phone, after having received the results of my liver ultrasound. I felt strangely calm, despite the words the doctor had spoken. I dialed my mom. The minute she picked up, the calm dissipated and the tears formed. With a shaky voice, I relayed the call, “The calcifications they found on my liver likely mean I have cancer in a nearby organ.” In response, my mother remained calm. Her words reassured.
In the hours that followed, my mind raced. I sat stuck in my classroom, grade sheets for students strewn about, unable to regain the pace I had been working at. Amidst the wandering of thoughts, I recalled a sermon a few Sundays before. Our congregation had been ruminating on Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and my pastor had posed the questions: “Can, in all honesty, I say for me to die is to gain? Do you believe that departing and being with Christ would be far better than your life?” I had wanted to say “Yes” and for it to be true of me. But now as I contemplated, feeling the ticking of life’s clock, I knew “No” to be the more accurate response. I didn’t want to die.
Once I escaped the classroom, a long weekend unfurled. Visits and phone calls from friends and family kept me fairly occupied, helping me process the potential diagnosis. I got lost a time or two or more on a trail of google searches. From one conversation to the next, a long list of questions to ask the doctor arose. Invariably, tears streamed. An inordinate amount. I couldn’t control the tears. In addition, to the puffy eyes, the tears left me with redness under the eyelids that burned to the touch.
I felt shame that I worried. I tried to muster strength, repeatedly assuring others with “God’s got this!” A while later, in a Sunday morning sermon, God addressed this shame. The guest pastor averted our eyes to Jesus, how he wept, and how he was emotionally invested in the world. Then he posed the question: “Does Jesus know that the Father is in charge of everything? Of course, Jesus knows.” He owns his emotions and doesn’t put up a facade. Our hurts our real and we shouldn’t put up a pretense either. I loved the guest pastor’s directions to, “Feel. And look to the glory that is coming”.
Finally, Monday came. I sat before my doctor, listening to him expound on a number of potential causes for the abnormal findings on my liver. He eased my tension, conveying less certainty I had cancer than the doctor on the phone.
The next six weeks slowly passed as I took the tests ordered originally by my primary care doctor, then by my gastroenterologist, and then by my oncologist. The tests were never hard. It was in the waiting, that I crumbled.
I attempted to soften the blow of a diagnosis by imagining I already had the disease being tested for. I was already considering the cut and color of the wig I would purchase when I lost all my hair. These thoughts would come and go, particularly when I was alone. But largely, after that first week of processing my ultrasound results, I felt peace. It didn’t make sense, with what seemed to loom ahead. Frequently, I was questioned as to why I wasn’t more distraught. I didn’t have to search for an answer.
Only God can give us a peace that surpasses all understanding. No human can fabricate it. But they can pray for it. For me, God used community to bring about peace. The frequent check-ins, the intentional visits, the prayer said over and for me were constant reminders that I am not alone, God is with me.
In time, breast cancer, cervical cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, ovarian cancer, lymphoma, tuberculosis, Hepatitis A, B, & C, and HIV were ruled out. However, it was discovered that my liver and the surrounding lymph nodes were enlarged. The concern for the size of the liver and lymph nodes was debated upon, but ultimately a tumor board determined that it likely isn’t cancer. I will have a cat scan in a few months to check, just in case.
Sarcoidosis remains a potential cause of my liver abnormalities. It is hard to diagnose, and even with a diagnosis, nothing can be done. There’s no cure for Sarcoidosis. I will be monitored annually with blood tests, to be privy to changes in the functioning of my liver.
I’ve learned a lot, having walked this road with its’ roller coaster hills. The fears it stirred up reminded me I’m not God. I am powerless and dependent. Power emanates from God alone.
I gained awareness of how I misplaced fear. Only God is worthy of fear. I feared cancer, just as the disciples feared the wind and the waves one stormy night. Cancer, wind, and waves are not to be feared. God controls all things. With a love that is unwavering, He chooses how to exercise His sovereignty.
I tackled a question that gnawed at my trust in God: Does God care? When things aren’t going the way we think they should, it’s easy to wonder if God even cares. But all one has to do is look at Jesus on the cross. He knows our pain. His sacrifice shows he cares infinitely. Author Bob Goff says it like it is, “Fear calls out doubts; God calls out our names. Be picky about who you listen to.” Don’t be ruled by your doubts, but be attuned to God’s voice amidst your wilderness.
God has awoken me from my slumber. While there’s is no definitive answer to my liver abnormalities, there is greater clarity on how I want to spend my life. I want Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 to be my own. Pastor John Piper restates the verse in his own words as, “Christ is most magnified when we’re more satisfied in him than in what we lose in death and what we have in life.” May we continue to grow in our hunger for Christ and remember this is not our home. May we be like Paul, not caring what happens, just wanting the gospel to be advanced.
Kate Franken is a 4th grade teacher and a volunteer coordinator at her church in Oregon. She enjoys indulging in raw conversation whilst savoring a cup or more of coffee. Her hunt for good books and podcasts is endless. She finds refuge surrounded by trees, on hiking trails, with her two dogs in tow. She is especially fond of mountaintop views, wit, “best teacher ever” love letters, breakfast, a painted sky, and Jesus. She has a heart for connecting people to His church and encouraging others into relationship with Him.