“You have stage 4 breast cancer.” Those were the words my wife, Monica, received 938,880 minutes ago in August 2013. Those of you who have experienced a cancer journey understand why I use “minutes” as the time unit – you fast are reminded that every minute with your spouse is precious. For the inexperienced, 938,880 minutes is 652 days, or a little over 1 year, 9 months ago. Since August 2013 our journey has involved:
- 2 echocardiograms
- 2 surgeries
- 5 CT or PET imaging scans
- 6 rounds of chemotherapy over a four month period, complete with a host of side effects
- 12 rounds of a bisphosphate drug pumped into an implanted mediport every 6 weeks to mitigate bone resorption
- 28 rounds of two immunotherapy drugs pumped in every three weeks to kill HER2-positive cancer cells
- 30 doctor appointments
- 200 hours in an infusion room
- 496 aromatase inhibitor pills to kill hormone receptor-positive cancer cells
I affectionately call my wife “Copay” now. And yes, we met our insurance deductible very quickly. I am literally married to the $6 million woman.
Tomorrow, Monica has her sixth CT scan to check to see if she remains “clear” as she has been the past few scans. Doctors will never say she is cancer free – medically, stage 4 breast cancer is incurable. Approximately 50% of women with stage 4 breast cancer are alive 18 months after diagnosis. Praise God, we have passed this milestone! Approximately 20% of women with stage 4 breast cancer are alive 5 years after diagnosis. Trusting God, we have begun to chase this milestone.
As Monica and I prepare for her scan tomorrow, I decided to share a few things I’ve learned or was reminded of on this journey:
- You must maintain a sense of humor. The journey and side effects are bad enough that one does not need to dwell on them and permit them to drain one’s life. Proverbs 17:22 is true – “a joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dried up bones.” Monica literally takes a bisphosphate drug to prevent her bones from drying up. We don’t need to make things worse by being filled with anxiety. She and I agreed that we were going to hold on to Proverbs 16:24 and retain the laughter in our lives in order to promote her spiritual and physical health.
- You must let the body of Christ be the body of Christ. This was a tough lesson for me. I am the one with the broad shoulders and who typically carries everyone else around me, an army of one. I am the one who swoops in and serves others. We were and continue to be inundated with assistance from our family, our church (Wedgwood Baptist Church), Southwestern Seminary, and complete strangers. Early in this journey Monica lovingly counseled me to let go and let our brothers and sisters in Christ help. In the end, she was correct (did I just put that in writing?). People were responding to the Holy Spirit to serve and bless us. How dare I quench the Spirit! It is still not always comfortable for me but I have learned, with extreme gratitude, to let the Church be the Church.
- God is (still) sovereign. Or, as Monica is fond of stating, Christ numbers our days not cancer. It is natural to ask the “why” questions of God. Why does my wife, the mother of a 6, 4, and 2 year old and a breast-fed 7 month old at the time of diagnosis, have cancer? The “why,” although a human curiosity, is not really important. God’s will is. He is still in control and I have seen how He has used this to reach others. Monica is a naturally gifted encourager. She has been able to share her story with countless others and the hope of Christ with other patients. For example, in the infusion room every three weeks, Monica is surrounded by a captive audience as they all sit for hours having drugs pumped in. She is able to pray with them and share hope. In the end, Monica may make it past the 5-year milestone, or not. Sure, we have a preference, but it is entirely up to God. It always has been. Until either of us are called home, Monica and I continue to focus on redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16) by investing in the spiritual lives of our children, family, and friends and sharing Christ with the lost. Our goals in life have not changed, merely the route has changed.
- I married an amazing woman. Monica embodies Proverbs 12:4a. Sure, she has her down moments and she had to physically make some adjustments – she is human after all. However, she has Christ in her and she lets the Spirit overrule the flesh. She is a fighter. Along this entire journey she has never given up, continuing to encourage others, continuing to homeschool our children, and continuing to be my helpmate. Monica is my superhero.