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A Year of Sickness and Heartache, Healing and Overwhelming Joy

There are some days in life when there are just no words. Good days, when joy just beams out of us, when a glow emanates from our hearts and we are overwhelmed with the undeserved goodness in our lives. Dark days, when the words we utter aren’t enough to describe the heartbreak and pain that has shattered us. Our soul groans and cries out from the depths, where words are not sufficient. After dealing with illness for many years, and pursuing treatment for digestive and abdominal problems, I found myself in a pretty intense season at the end of 2011. I have tried many times to write my story for you, and I have ten partially written drafts saved on my computer. Each time, I come up speechless.

I think perhaps the best way might be to share this series of emails that we wrote to our closest loved ones and church family. This chain of letters was written at times by me, my husband, or the both of us. It reveals a large part of our trial last year, and is a reflection of our sentiment still. I have edited some details and names for privacy and to cut it down a bit in length. At the time it was an exercise in vulnerability, as we had always been very private about my medical illness. Now, as I contemplate sharing this with the world (and wondering if anyone would read it anyway) I am trembling.

It was difficult to decide what to edit down for you. This post is a long one, but if you make it to the bottom, I have included an update.

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:: December 20, 2011 ::

Dear Family,

Asking for your prayer in the coming weeks. Some recent medical testing shows that Christine has several masses on her ovaries and in her uterus. They are all substantial in size, and one in particular is impeding on her intestines, and has created some complication there. The doctor mentioned many possibilities, including the possibility of malignancy. We are scheduling appointments for the surgical removal and biopsies of these masses within the next few weeks.

Our greatest need at the moment is simply your prayer and fellowship. We know that we serve a sovereign God, who is good, and we trust that his plan for us is being worked out perfectly. That being said, hearing a doctor mention words like "extremely large masses" and "cancer" shook us a bit. Please pray for peace in our hearts, that we would leave our anxiety at the cross and find comfort in His steadfast mercy.

Thank you for your kind prayers.

Steve (& Christine)

:: December 22, 2011 ::

A quick note of thanks to all of you who have called or written in the last day and a half. We are so thankful that one way God displays His goodness is through His people. Your kind words of prayer and encouragement are appreciated more than I can express, and reading your emails and corresponding is a nice distraction from worries that creep in when I'm sitting in my yoga pants trying to wrap Christmas gifts. :)

I'll share just a small update. Yesterday was a day full of phone calls and appointment making (I think I was on the phone for about five hours). I am being sent to an Oncologist directly, even though we still do not know what these masses really are. What a roller-coastery few days - it seems that with every phone call or appointment there has been an unexpected twist. We are told that an Oncologist can get me into surgery the fastest - and that sounds good to us. Let's get these bad boys out of there! :)

We will trust in our Great Physician, and continue to thank Him for working out His healing, often through these little guys who practice medicine here on earth.

Love, Christine

:: December 30, 2011 ::

God is good. All the time. Amen.

We've been reminded of that many times in the last couple of weeks, and we have been praising Him in the midst of this storm that we face, and praying for His continued strength and mercy.

After experiencing several delays, and hearing that it might be as late as mid-February before we could see the specialist Christine needed, a family friend reached out to us with the name of a very reputable doctor who might be able to help. We called her yesterday and her office was able to schedule us immediately. WOW! This afternoon we met with her.

The good news: Our doctor believes that cancer is unlikely in this case. She has some idea of what else it could be. This alone is amazing, as the GI doctor that we originally saw emphasized that these masses had a strong possibility of being cancerous.

The difficult news: Whether malignant or not, these masses in Christine's body continue to cause trouble on a few fronts and must be surgically removed, and malignancy is still not fully ruled out. Another large obstacle in surgery will be to try to preserve fertility for Christine. We have prayed for many years that God might bless us with a baby, and we continue to hope that He might grant us that gift.

Our doctor will do her best to pursue the least invasive surgical methods available, in order to try to preserve fertility and avoid scar tissue, and other complications. However, much of this will need to be determined as she operates on the day of surgery. We expect surgery to be scheduled within the next two weeks. We need to consult with one other specialist before scheduling, and then it is just a matter of coordinating everything between her doctors.

WE ARE PRAISING GOD FOR: His providence in getting us a doctor who is so well respected in her field, and allowing us to see her quickly; People who love and support us through their prayers and kindness; His steadfast comfort and strength to help us glorify Him every day (even though we fall really, really short)

WE ARE ASKING GOD FOR: More of the same, healing, preserved fertility, and joy

We love you and continue to thank God for you in our prayers.

Love,

Steve & Christine

:: January 3, 2012 ::

Quick Update: Hope we're not sending too many updates. :)

One of Christine's doctor's called us today with an update. The results from an imaging study came back, and the news was not as good as we'd hoped. The doctor said that the masses now seem even larger than they first appeared. This will probably add complication to Christine's surgery, as it may require more invasive surgery than originally planned. This doctor, who was at first very optimistic about Christine's prognosis and preserved fertility, told us that we should prepare ourselves for a more probable partial or total hysterectomy, and a more uncertain diagnosis.

We're still on course to schedule surgery asap. We are coordinating with a few specialists, and will let you know when something is scheduled.

Good thing these broken bodies and hurting hearts are only temporal. Asking God to help us fix our eyes on the eternal. Thanks for loving on us!

:: January 5, 2012 ::

We got a call from Christine's oncologist last night (a different doctor than the one who called us the other day). After reviewing some more lab reports and studies, she felt that the case was more urgent than she initially communicated. Also, she was feeling less comfortable about ruling out cancer, and mentioned it as a definite possibility. She was making the necessary phone calls to specialists last night, in order to get surgery scheduled asap.

Everything is now scheduled, so here it is. Friday, January 13 - Pre-op bloodwork, testing, and meeting with surgeon Wednesday, January 18 - Time to be given one day ahead - Surgery

After surgery, Christine will probably have a 1-4 night stay in the hospital.

We are amazed and so thankful to have such a kind and pro-active doctor caring for Christine. As we have been making lots of phone calls to coordinate between several specialists, this doctor, has been the most responsive and influential in getting everything lined up as it needs to be.

We are feeling the stress of the urgency that the doctors have now communicated, in addition to several other personal things going on here at home.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, for remembering us in your prayers.

Love,

Steve & Christine

:: January 14, 2012 ::

This week has not been easy. Steve's business conference was far away, and he led scheduled meetings and meals every day from about 7 am until midnight. Christine had a rough week, in a lot of pain that woke her up and let her have little-to-no sleep for several days. Steve flew home early yesterday so that we could meet with our surgical team and do pre-op at the hospital. His eyes were red and puffy from lack of sleep, and he caught himself falling asleep several times while waiting for Christine to finish each of her tests.

Yesterday we spent about four hours at the hospital, meeting with doctors, and having Christine's pre-op tests done. The surgeons went over what seemed like a thousand scenarios and possibilities for Christine. It was overwhelming for both of us. They emphasized over and over again that her surgery has an especially large number of variables and there are many uncertainties. The two surgeons do agree that it is now very likely that they will have to make a full incision across her abdomen, along with a couple other small incisions. One of her masses is larger than the size of a grapefruit, and at least one of the others is pretty close to that size as well. Originally, they were hoping to keep the procedure laparoscopic (through her belly button), but it doesn't seem at all likely now. This, of course, brings with it more risks, a longer hospital stay, and extended recovery time. One of Christine's masses extends from one of her ovaries all the way to her GI tract, where it has wrapped itself around part of her intestine. There is a small chance of bowel damage and the need for a bowel resection and/or a colostomy bag. One of her surgeons told us that it is very likely that they will need to remove at least one ovary. We sat, as they continued to list all sorts of things: very likely, moderately likely, unlikely, extremely unlikely.

While the last few days have been especially difficult, we both feel keenly aware of God's hand in this. Our oncologist and surgical team have been the most attentive doctors that we have ever dealt with. They seem very knowledgeable and concerned, and patiently help us to understand anything we have questions about. The hospital is renown for having some of the best doctors and medicine.  We have good health insurance and don't have to worry about all of this putting us in the poor house. Until Christine began experiencing lots of physical pain this week, sleep has come very easily for both of us. God has given us peace enough to sleep and rest comfortably. Christine's mom stayed with her while Steve was out of town, and stayed up with her, loving her and praying with her, when the pain kept her up in the middle of the night. Our church, family, friends, and others have been giving us tokens of the their love, sending us notes of prayer and blessing, and Scripture and encouragement. All of these things are amazing, undeserved gifts from God - and we are so thankful that it brings us to tears just writing this to you.

If you are one of those people who has sent us a note or a gift we want you to know that we are so thankful. We have read each note, probably multiple times, and appreciate the words of kindness so very much. Each of you has your own, full life going on, and many of you are facing trials of your own. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us as you have. We fully intend to thank each of you personally, but have been a little delayed in that this week.

:: January 17, 2012 ::

Christine's surgery is now confirmed for tomorrow morning. We expect it to last a couple of hours. Steve will wait to hear word from the surgeon when there is an update and/or Christine is in recovery. When he can, Steve will send out a note to you with an update.

Over the course of the last few weeks we have met with several doctors who have expressed what feels like innumerable possibilities. With each suggestion has come a probability, a likelihood, an explanation of the chances of what Christine might be facing medically. We are so glad that our God is not a god who deals in likelihoods and probabilities, but that His plan is unchanging, and good, and perfect. So, we will sleep well tonight, knowing that the road ahead is secure and that there is no need to worry.

Please continue to pray for us - for healing for Christine, for peace in our hearts, and love toward each other. Whatever it is we face tomorrow, we are ready for it. It's an amazing gift to be able to face such difficult circumstances and know that through our pain we are drawn closer to Christ and identify with His suffering, and that even the most difficult circumstance is purposed to bring glory to God. We are confident that God is using Christine's broken body as means to refine us and to reveal Himself more fully to us. We continue to thank Him for so many undeserved gifts that He gives, and pray that in this we bring Him glory here, now.

Sharing a passage that brings us much comfort:

Romans 8:18-39

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Love to you.

Steve & Christine

:: January 18, 2012 ::

10 AM, Surgery went well this morning and Christine is being sent to recovery. She is doing well and the doctors are telling us that the surgery was very successful and that there was also no cancer. More details to come, but I wanted to let all of you know that she is fine right now. The doctors are waking her up and she will be in recovery while waiting to be admitted to the hospital.

God is faithful and good! And we are all truly comforted knowing that He answers prayer and protected Christine in this surgery. Thank you all for lifting her up in prayer and for your encouraging support through this trial. You have been a reflection of the grace of God and we have thanked God for you each day in our prayers.

Love to you all!

Steve

:: January 18, 2012 ::

9:30 PM After a long wait, Christine has just been admitted to a room for the night at 9pm. God provides! The room is very spacious and quiet, so it will be easy for resting and for visiting, and even has a sofa bed so that I can stay with her while she is here.

She is still on oxygen for her breathing and now we are waiting for the nurse to finish setting everything up in the new room - crazy hospital bed leg sleeves to prevent blood clots, IV, and the much-needed pain medicine button! Sounds like she will be here until at least Friday, and possibly longer.

We are praising God for so many things today - a complication-free surgery, full removal of all the masses from her ovaries and uterus, absolutely no sign of cancer, caring and pleasant doctors and nurses helping Christine, and now this very comfortable room for the night. Now it's time for some much needed rest.

Thanks again, everyone, for all the prayers, notes, encouragement, etc.

Steve

:: January 29, 2012 ::

It's been 11 days since Christine's surgery. We were amazed and thankful at the progress in recovery she made so quickly.

Unfortunately, the last 72 hours have been very difficult. Christine has not tolerated her medication well, and her stomach has revolted. She has been in a constant restless state since Friday afternoon, battling severe stomach issues. We have been in touch with her doctors, who have been walking us through step-by-step how to care for her. If she doesn't see improvement soon, we'll have to be going back to the hospital.

Please pray for her, for healing, and especially for sleep as she is completely fatigued. Her mom has been over to help us, and that gave Steve time last night to catch up on his sleep.

:: February 7, 2012 ::

The last week has moved at a snails pace, but Christine is doing much better. It was a little concerning for a bit that she was experiencing some set backs with major stomach issues and abdominal swelling, but the doctors indicated that all of those circumstances can occur after a surgery like hers. We were able to keep her somewhat hydrated and keep her from going back to the hospital. There was no sign of infection and she appears to be healing well. The biggest challenge has still been sleeping - although the swelling is coming down and her stomach is more settled, it is difficult to get comfortable and most nights are still pretty restless.

It's been 2 1/2 weeks since the surgery and Christine is getting better and better each day. We hear from the doctors that she is on track for this stage of recovery.

Thank you all so much for your continued prayers, notes of encouragement, visits, meals, and more!

Grace and peace to you all!

Steve

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These emails reflect much of our heart, but definitely not the full picture. There were moments, hours, and days where our trust in God faltered. We forgot His promises. We cried out. We begged. Our human-ness was all too real. Supernaturally, He restored us.  Over and over again, He squelched our ugliness and made us whole again. Every time.

One year ago today I was sitting in a hospital bed, knowing, but not understanding, the long and grueling road of recovery that lay ahead. I did not know that in just a few, short months, new tumors would take root. The doctors would tell me that there was no easy fix - they can help me manage the pain with prescriptions, and they can perform more surgery when these suckers start causing unbearable havoc again. Little did we realize that through God’s grace, changing my diet tremendously would have such a radical effect. There are still hurdles to jump and work to be done, but the progress is remarkable and joy overwhelms my heart. Today, I look back at this last year and am blown away by the mercy that has been granted to me. My husband, our family, church, friends, and neighbors have shown us love and kindness, and have been conduits of God’s unfailing love, in a way I couldn’t have imagined before. Joy fills my heart, and tears, my eyes, as I think about you lovely, wonderful people.

I share this in the hope that when you face a mountain that seems too large to surmount, you might remember that there is a way through. Our unbearable pain is dwarfed by the love and mercy of our powerful, beautiful God.

satlandtwine.wordpress.com

 

**for a more recent update on how we're doing, click here**

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