“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.” (Proverbs 19:21, RSVCE)
About two years ago I was starting what I thought would be my final semester at the University of Florida, where I would then graduate and enter the professional workforce. I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to work. I had my future figured out and was determined to pursue it.
However, despite my plans, God had other plans. Around mid-March 2013, during spring break, I felt that something was out of the ordinary. The feeling was physical. It was on my neck. It was a slightly enlarged bump. It was a swollen lymph node. Since I was feeling otherwise healthy, it was not that concerning to me, but it still warranted a doctor’s visit. Prior to the visit, I utilized WebMD’s symptom checker to get ideas as to what the underlining cause might be. Jokingly, I suggested to myself that it could be a type of lymphoma.
After spring break when I returned back to school, more unusual bumps began to present themselves along my shoulders down from the neck. My primary care physician was unable to definitively diagnose my condition and referred me to the emergency room so that I could get imaging. At the emergency department and after having chest and neck x-rays, CT-scans, and ultrasounds, the emergency room doctor said I likely had a form of lymphoma. She began by assuring me how it’s a highly treatable and curable cancer and that I would be okay.
I was admitted to the hospital and within a few days I was on the operating room table having a lymph node biopsy so that confirmation of the cancer could be made. After the biopsy, I was discharged from the hospital and had to wait a couple of days for the biopsy results. Even though it was highly likely at that point that I had a form of cancer, I kept convincing myself that there was a slim chance it was not. That was what kept me “together” so-to-speak while I was waiting for the biopsy results.
Then, in the middle of one of my class lectures, my cell phone rang. It was Dr. Slayton, director of the pediatric hematology/oncology department at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. Dr. Slayton gave me the news that the biopsy results confirmed a form of lymphoma (t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is what I actually was eventually diagnosed with after a bone marrow aspiration confirmed the presence of leukemia cells) and that I would be best treated under a pediatric protocol since lymphomas and leukemia are typically a childhood cancer. Dr. Slayton also stressed how important it was that I “drop everything and come into the clinic immediately” so that we could discuss possible treatment protocols and start receiving chemotherapy.
My mom and I did a lot of preliminary research and we came prepared to the initial appointment with Dr. Slayton and his team. I was intellectually prepared for what we discussed at that meeting, but after hearing all of the treatment protocol parameters, litany of chemotherapies and their associated side effects, and the fact that the treatment would last at least three and a half years, I felt as if a weight was placed on me. Though, it was not until I was alone back at my college condo at bedtime that the thoughts of despair and sadness came and sunk into my mind, too.
As I lay in bed and contemplate my future, the future that I had originally thought that I knew and planned out, I began to cry. The thoughts of despair and sadness intensified. I cried because I had felt a complete loss of control of my life. The loss of control over my future and my physical wellbeing. These thoughts raced fast and they crossed back and forth between sadness and anger. Anger that questioned why my life had to come to this at such a young age. Not having the answer myself, I posed the question to God.
The physical and emotional cries started to turn into something beautiful.
I began to realize that my suffering was not just mine to bear alone. The earlier feelings of not being in control of my wellbeing subsided when I gave them to God and accepted His sovereignty over my life. I felt a sense of comfort and ease. I felt connected to God. I could feel Jesus comforting me. It was so innate that the physical and emotional cries became joyous. As this was happening, I asked Jesus to “just be with me throughout my whole treatment and keep me comforted.”
As I prayed this, I started to imagine His Passion on the Cross at Calvary. The weight had been lifted from me and united with His suffering. When morning came and I woke up, I felt inspired and anew.
It would later be by His providence that shortly thereafter, God consoled me through His Word when I happened to read Psalm 138:3 which says, “On the day I cried out, you answered; you strengthened my spirit.”
To be continued…