Holding Space

With Shelly Vaughn

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January 17, 2017

January 17, 2017- the day of my biopsy last year. Remember when I said that a mammogram doesn’t hurt? A biopsy does. It’s not bad- comparable to a bee sting for the shot to numb the area. But it’s a sensitive area so it’s not comfortable.
Then they insert a needle instrument that grabs a microscopic piece of the mass and removes it from the breast. And they leave behind a tiny metal pin so that they know where they removed the piece from. It’s a quick procedure, but unnerving nonetheless. As with the ultrasound, I was trying my hardest to read the doctor’s face as she was doing it- looking for any eyebrow raise or head tilt or even a deep breath that would indicate if I was in the clear or not… but nothing. She was perfectly poker-faced in the nicest way. She had a calming voice that you’d imagine being the voice of the “nice friend” in a Pixar movie. She’s the perfect person for that job.

The results of the biopsy would come in 3-4 days- which meant either on Friday or Monday. I already had a follow-up scheduled for that Monday. The doctor gave me the choice to automatically wait until Monday follow-up to discuss the results in person. Or they could call me with the results on Friday if they came in early. Tough call- if it was good news, I’d love to hear it on Friday so that this weight would be off my shoulders over that weekend. But, man, if it was bad news I would not want to hear it over the phone on Friday. Remember the previous appointment when my surgeon said he was “optimistic”? That’s what I used to make my decision. I told them to go ahead and call me if the results came in on Friday… I wanted this over with so I could enjoy the weekend… at least that was the plan.

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This day last year…

And this day last year… (I warned you these posts would be coming).

It was a Friday and I was finally scheduled for my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. Cleveland Clinic/Akron General has a wonderful breast health center that coordinates all of these appointments, so that they can be done efficiently- which is very appreciated when you want information yesterday.

I had the mammogram first and it was not bad at all. Women friends- if you haven’t done one because you’re afraid of the pain I’m here to tell you to scratch that excuse off of your list. I wouldn’t even call it pain, just discomfort- and you can tolerate a few minutes of discomfort to save your life. Because I was “on the smaller side,” it ended up being more like a yoga session with bending and contorting different ways to get the clearest images of the mass (the mass was on the outer quadrant of the breast). But it was pretty simple.

Once the mammogram was done, they took me into the ultrasound room. First, let me say that the color of paint on the walls in that room is my least favorite color. Its was a tannish/mustardy/brown- probably someone’s idea of a nice neutral. Not mine. And now that I have associated the color with an unfavorable experience, I’m sure I’ll never like it even just a little bit. Anyway, the ultrasound tech quickly got me positioned and started the scanning. She showed no emotion AT ALL. I know that’s her job, and knowing that she probably suspected it was cancer I can see why she was so stoic. She said she got all of the images she needed and I just needed to wait there for the dr to review them. He would be in in just a few minutes.

As much as I tried to relax, I couldn’t. Was someone going to come through that door and tell me I have cancer? Or that I don’t? Or that I’m going to die in a few months? Or that I have a benign cyst? What if it’s bad news? Is it ok to cry right away? Rob had taken me to the appointment but was waiting in a room a few doors down. Who would go get him? Would I be walking out of here in tears like I had seen a woman do at my very first appointment? It’s amazing how many questions a brain can wonder in a short amount of time.

The song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” was playing over and over in my head. My friend, Julie McKeand Black, had just sung it in church the prior Sunday and it was comforting to hear her voice in my head singing truth during a stressful time. Alone and nervous, I couldn’t help but muster up the cheesiest and most comforting “Jesus thought” I’ve ever had. I closed my eyes and pictured Him sitting there with His arm around me. It was so vivid that I leaned to my left just a tiny bit- like you lean in when a loved one puts their arm around you. I don’t know how long I was like that or what I looked like when the dr came in, but he did. And he did not have any answers for me. His exact words- “Sometimes we can look at an ultrasound and know for sure that something is cancer; and sometimes we can know for sure that it’s not. But in your case we cannot tell for sure either way.” Yep- inconclusive… BS… not helpful. Of course it would be. That’s what so much of medicine seems to be sometimes. Looking back, I know I was mad because I didn’t get the “all clear” that I wanted. Sigh.

My next step was to schedule a biopsy where they could do a pathological assessment of the tumor cells and know for sure. And that would be scheduled for the following Tuesday. You know what that meant- another agonizingly long weekend- waiting for the next appointment so that I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore. I know, I know… in the big picture and relative to most other peoples’ experiences with diagnoses, it was actually happening very quickly. It was hard to be patient, as I still didn’t realize it was just the beginning of the longest year of my life.

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The older I get, the more I appreciate the magic of Christmas- the way that everyone is reminded of and talking about the birth of Jesus; that special feeling of anticipation as people prepare for celebrations; giving treats and gifts to special people in our lives; acknowledging those who might be struggling and helping when we can; and carrying on traditions that we’ve had since we were young, and some that we’ve just started since having our own children.

We decided when the girls were babies that we wanted them to wake up at our house on Christmas morning. We wanted to keep that special time for our little family with all of the Christmas Eve preparations (which also now includes candlelit church service) and watching our girls squeal with excitement in our house on Christmas morning- making our home part of the memories. With all of our family members living in PA, this means that every year part of Christmas eve is spent packing and preparing to leave town. And Christmas morning is a whirlwind of excitement here then wisking off to PA to start two other celebrations. Admittedly, it’s hard. But I wouldn’t change it for anything because we’re getting the best of both worlds- Memories in our home as our own family but also with extended family where the girls are making new memories of playing with cousins at their grandparents’ houses. I realize the value of both of those things- especially this whole past year as I was beautifully reminded by my own cousins how precious and meaningful the bonds made at “Grandma’s house” can be.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures from our celebrations. I loved every minute of it. Some of my favorite gifts included a bluegrass record that my neighbor recorded when I was young- I remember listening to it all the time at home. And an “11” shirt from Stranger Things… of course. But my favorite of everything was that Trisha and my parents worked very hard to make our childhood home ready for a family “Christmas at Millersdale”. Sometimes a home makes Christmas; sometimes Christmas makes a home- both ways are equally magical.

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December 30

Dec 30, 2016- This day last year, right around this time, is when I first felt the lump. Sharing the details of this is not meant to scare anyone out there who feels a mass- because 7/8 of you women will be fine. But this just may light a little fire under anyone who does feel something to get it checked early- because 1/8 will be dealing with something far more serious.

Just like with other pivotal moments in life, I remember exactly where I was standing, exactly what it felt like, and exactly the how far my stomach felt like it dropped in that moment. I was getting ready for bed and knew there was something that shouldn’t be there. I ran downstairs and told Rob, asking “what if…” about a zillion times. True to his nature, he was calm and reassuring- reminding me how young I was and how many women feel lumps and have concerns that are “nothing”. It was a Friday night last year, and we knew there was no doctor to call until the next week started anyway. So I did my best to not worry about it, with an obvious plan to call my doctor on Monday. I googled a lot that night, and everything I read indicated so strongly that it was likely a “fibroadenoma”- a benign mass that is common in young women (painless, firm, moveable, distinct borders, and common in women my age.) So there it was- the mass that I felt SO many times from that point on. It couldn’t be… I’m too young… but my family history… that would be awful… not me… I’m only 36… it’s just benign… don’t worry… enjoy New Years… try to sleep… stop touching it… stop panicking… it’s nothing… every woman goes through this… I’m too young… but what if… it just can’t be… go to sleep.

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“I Believe In Santa Claus”

“And I believe that everything in life is what it’s meant to be
I believe there is a God somewhere although he’s hard to see
I believe I am so therefore I should do all that I can
To be a better piece in the puzzle of God’s plan.”

– from “I Believe In Santa Claus”

I couldn’t say it any better than Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. 

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Speaking of trees…

I’ve been obsessing over this song that Julie McKeand Black shared with me. The lyrics are some of the most peaceful words I’ve heard this year. I would encourage everyone to listen… through to the end. My favorites:

Like the frost on a rose
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience

Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to Sequoia…

… Like a seed You were sown
For the sake of us all
From Bethlehem’s soil
Grew Calvary’s sequoia.

Isn’t it so true- “how nature acquaints us with the nature of patience.” Thinking of the big trees in my life last week… how long it takes for those to root and grow. Watching the leaves around us change color and complete their life cycle as they pile in our yard. Remembering in 2007 when Rob and I saw the Sequoia trees in Yosemite during our “babymoon”. And now reflecting on “Calvary’s Sequoia”- the largest and strongest of all. The One that means the most in our lives; that gave us life; and offers hope for eternal life. Doesn’t need much more explanation than that.

And to think of the “seed in the snow; buried to grow”. Maybe this year was a metaphorical burial for me… a time of cold discomfort and uncertainty, but now with an opportunity to grow into more of the person/mother/wife/daughter/friend that He wants me to be. I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I know that I will have to be patient with open eyes as He reveals the answer. And I need to continue to be patient with my body as it heals through the next weeks/months even after treatments are done.

“When you’re fearful of change think of the beauty of autumn”. (Tina Heiberg, was that quote from you a while ago? I wrote it in a notebook last year and saved it. Hard to remember where I first heard it, but I love it and I LOVE Fall!)