reclaim

Reclaim: to bring back to a right or proper course; reform

Still Moving: The journey towards stillness, discovering a tumor & staring down fear...

Leigh LiebmannComment

It was the start of a new year. Time to take a deep breath and make some changes…or at least set a few good intentions. The year prior was full. I packed up my life and set out to start anew. I said some tough good-byes to people I loved dearly and lived deeply with for several years. The year could be summed up by the words bitter and sweet, as endings usually are. 

It was finally time to turn the page. To let go of the past and continue to press in to the work to be done in the present.

The word I was given for the year was stillness. I felt God telling me to stop. To take time to be still, to listen, to learn, to sit at His feet…to wonder.

I knew the only way I’d ever see movement was if I carved out time to be still and look inward.

Another thing I’d set out to do this year was to start taking better care of myself. I’d realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any good by neglecting my own needs. Mental, spiritual and physical health had been put on the back-burner...all under the guise of ‘being ok’. But, I wasn’t content with ‘ok’ anymore, it was time to do my part…you know, jump back into counseling, go see all the doctors and find a gym to call home.

I hadn’t been to the doctor in well…over 3 years. I knew I had quite the list of appointment phone calls ahead. I started with the basics. I set out to find a general doctor! After countless phone calls in pursuit of finding someone to take my insurance, I found one. I went in for a routine check-up and we did all the things. I spilled about my family history, personal history and then hopped up on that dreaded scale. I weighed more than I had in a long time but didn’t feel over-weight. I was training for a half marathon and running several miles throughout the week. Hm. Could be all the chips and guacamole I’d eaten. 

Moving on...

This doctor was very kind. She’d been practicing for many years and her husband was also a physician. She told me they met at med school in Texas. Having lived in Dallas for 4 years, I feel a connection to Texans - I trusted her. She felt my stomach and immediately said ‘wow, that feels really enlarged’. For a while I thought I’d just been gaining some weight but she insisted I go get an ultrasound as soon as possible. Since I made that deal with myself to start caring more…I told her I would. 

But, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing.’ 

A few weeks later I got a call with the results of the ultrasound. The woman on the other end of the line said ‘we’re seeing a very large mass on your uterus and you’ll need to see an OB immediately.’ I was surprised and unsure of what to feel in that moment. I fought the urge to google and just went ahead and made an appointment with an OB right away to get the facts. This particular OB came highly recommended; she was one of the best. She had a cancellation and was able to see me the next day.

As she reviewed the report at her desk, she proceeded to tell me I had a large uterine fibroid tumor that would need to come out…immediately. "It seems you’ve had this for a while. The good news is, these are very rarely cancerous and almost always benign. Though, we won’t know for sure until it’s removed."

I’ve witnessed loved ones in my life battle cancer, even my own mom, but there was something really powerful about the word ‘cancer’ being spoken directly towards me personally. It’s like this word I’d read a million times finally jumped off the page and came to life.

I tried to actually hear what she said, but it was difficult to keep my thoughts from swimming in the sea of the ‘what if's’...

What if…I had cancer? I’ve never even uttered those thoughts. A still, small voice told me not to go there, but to embrace this feeling of uncertainty. 

To fill the unknown space with trust. 

‘It’s taking up a lot of space already and it's only going to get bigger.’ the doctor said. It seemed as though I’d found the culprit of my weight gain. The surgery was going to be pretty intense and the implications of how it was performed meant everything to me. As she reviewed the risks involved and what ‘could be’ the outcome. She looked up at me and said ‘Depending on the location of this tumor, this procedure could affect you having children in the future. Do you want to have children?’

As those words came out of her mouth, my eyes welled up with tears...

Being a 30-something, single, female, I’d be lying to you if I told you I never thought about it. I’ve always had hope that it would happen for me. That someday, I would become a mom. Infertility, though a common struggle for many, most definitely something I’ve never desired to have foresight into.

As I looked down at the ultrasound photo sitting on her desk, I was faced with feelings of disappointment, fear, loneliness, sadness and even some anger. Thoughts swirling around my mind like ‘Wait, you mean while all my friends are having children, proudly posting their ultrasound images to Facebook and this...this is what I have to show?’

I thought about actually taking a photo of myself holding the image but I refrained because...well, too much. Yup, a real glimpse into my thoughts. Ugly, right? I tell you what, comparison will take you for a ride...if you let it.

I knew I had to lean in and let it hurt. I needed to feel the weight of potential loss in order to fully recognize the depth of the desire for that which i was hoping for.

With confidence I said, 'Yes. I want to have children someday!'

She paused, then looked back at me and said ‘There are ways to perform this surgery which will allow for that, they are just a little more invasive. Are you up for that?' I didn’t think twice when she asked, I just responded with ‘yes’. The look in her eyes seemed as though she could empathize. As if she’d been on this side of the desk at some point in her journey. She looked up at me and promised to do everything in her power to make sure my hopes of becoming a mother could come true…I trusted her.

‘Ok, so when do we do this?’ was the next question. She said she had availability on May 9, which was just a little under three weeks away. It seemed so soon. Wouldn’t I need more time to prepare? Nope, I actually needed enough time to recover before my summer trip to Cali. That was the real situation. So, I said, May 9 it is!  

The Nashville half marathon was the weekend prior to the scheduled surgery date. I thought about sitting it out and ‘taking it easy’. I hadn’t trained as much as I wanted to and I didn’t want to' over-do it'. But then, the night before the race, I realized, since when do I ever ‘take it easy’ with anything? Surely, I wasn't going to start now. I decided to wake up and run the thing. I’ve run lots of races, but this one was something special.

I cried for what felt like the entire 13.1... 

I was reminded through the cheering of the strangers who lined the streets of the countless people in my life who are for meI took that tumor with me through every last mile and eventually crossed the finish line feeling more empowered, encouraged, seen and cared for than I'd felt in a long time.

I realized, loneliness is a liAR…and it had no place in this race. 

The days leading up to the surgery flew by. Before I knew it, I was zipping around town preparing for my recovery, buying things like comfy dresses, chicken broth and every single sanitation item I could think of. Not sure why, but these seemed like the right precautions.

My sister, my rock, was with me every step of the way! Next step…the pre-op appointment where they asked terrifying questions like…

‘Do you have a living will?’

‘NO... SHOULD I?!?!!’ 

Whew, those questions, though routine, can really make you doubt any ounce of strength you thought you walked through the door with. As they went through all the instruction and warned me about the risks of anesthesia, I thought to myself,

‘Maybe I don’t actually have to have this. Is it too late to book a trip to Europe instead?! Nope? Ok…’

The night before surgery, a few of what I’ll call my ‘deep-well friends’ here in Nashville gathered to pray over me and we asked God for some big things. Again, stating the desires deep within my heart out loud. I felt the vulnerability bring peace as those prayers went up. In that moment, I knew that all would be more than ‘ok’. I wasn’t satisfied with ‘ok’ anymore anyways.

I knew I'd see life come through this surgery, and I was ready for it!

The time came and there I was getting prepped to go in. I sat in that hospital bed continuing down this trail of vulnerability. Hospitals, where all the barriers we’ve created are stripped away. Where there are no filters, no frills, no opportunity to fake it. Quite literally, where the only thing standing between you and the team of humans who have signed up for the responsibility of keeping you alive is a thin, thin oversized cotton gown. Undergarments. Nah. Who needs em? Those sorts of barriers serve no purpose in this kind of place.

Let's get straight to the point…

As I met nurse after nurse, I lied there in awe of medical professionals. Just another day in the life for everyone there, but my first time to be put under and quite possibly the scariest day of my life. As they were all buzzing around, hooking me up to things, asking me question upon question, giving me instruction…I started to cry. I think I just had to sit in my fear for a moment. One nurse handed me a tissue and said ‘everything is going to be just fine’. Just as soon as I started to wipe my tears, the IV kicked in and I was…

{Asleep}

‘You did great!’ I heard a man’s voice say. I thought to myself, ‘Well, I don’t feel like I did much of anything, but I think that was medical code for letting me know it was over and I was alive. Phew. My sister was there waiting for me in my hospital room as well as a gift from a dear friend. Wow - just like that, it was over. That thing was out of my body. Now, all I had left was recovery…stillness was coming for me whether I liked it or not. Oh how badly I didn’t want to feel the pain. ‘Keep the drugs coming.’ I thought to myself as I pushed the little green button by my side.

Before I knew it, more deliveries showed up to the hospital room. I felt like every time I’d doze off, I’d awaken to a new beautiful flower arrangement, care package or cookie delivery. The window sill was getting fuller and fuller with each passing hour. Every time I'd read a card or see a new delivery, I’d feel SO overcome with gratitude. I thought about the lies of loneliness and how much they were being stomped on. It was as if all of my friends and loved ones were right there with me in that hospital room…empowering and encouraging me with the truth of just how loved, seen and cared for I am. That same force which cheered me through the half-marathon is what carried me through the surgery. 

I felt so far from lonely.

The next day my mom flew into town to help take care of me.  Soon enough, I was discharged along with all my flowers. My mom, sister and I went home to my sister’s apartment where I was staying to recover for a few weeks. She'd so perfectly re-arranged her furniture so that I would be comfortable. I’d never seen her apartment so clean. She was so thoughtful in her preparation for our post-recovery hang time. Then came the...

{stillness}

My days were filled with lounging, short walks around the apartment, time to reflect, to listen, to learn, to sit, to wonder. All of that pondering combined with a heavy dose of pain meds and a whole lot of Netflix made for a great time! 'I think maybe I'd like to recover forever!' I thought. Though if you know me at all, you know that was pretty short-lived. 

A week later I was awakened by a call from my doctor. As promised she was calling with the pathology results. ‘Hi Leigh, I just wanted to let you know that I received the report and the tumor was actually pre-cancer. It’s a really good thing we removed it when we did and exactly how we did.’..

In that moment, I was stunned.

I’d researched the chances of these tumors being cancer/pre-cancer and they were extremely slim. The fact that this was pre-cancer was literally a miracle! If that doctor hadn’t ordered the ultrasound…how would I have ever found this?

Honest confession…sometimes when I’m challenged to look back and think about a miracle God has done, I struggle to name one.

I recognize the miracles a lot less often than I feel the weight of the unfulfilled.

My prayer from the very beginning of this journey was that this tumor would be brought to life. 

This news was a reminder of God’s provision and care Through the fear, uncertainty, sadness & doubt. through stillness I'd gained the capacity to feel the weight of what I was spared from. Hearing this news served as a marker for renewed hope! 

My prayers were answered. God removed a tumor from my body that would have caused a whole lot of pain down the road. 

THE MIRACLE. 

Maybe you've been on the receiving end of a phone call which didn't quite end so well and you were left feeling devastated, afraid, overwhelmed and alone. Maybe the diagnosis you received is something you wake up and have to face every single day. Regardless of where you're at in the fight, God IS attentive to the details and is with you every step of the way.

From fear to fulfillment, He sees you. He'S gone before, will lead you through, and all along will never leave your side or lose sight of your fragile heart.

As I sit here just three short weeks out from surgery, despite feeling pretty sore, I feel more empowered, encouraged, seen and cared for than ever before. I'm reminded that life is brought through this culmination of beauty and what may feel like chaos. 

Even though I suppose I saw it coming at the start of the year, stillness and this journey inward sure came by way of something unexpected. I was forced to stop, stare down my fears, acknowledge my desires, feel the weight of my pain and allow others to care for, encourage and carry me in a whole new way.

Loneliness was pushed aside, His delight made known, my hope renewed and my passions ignited.

The outcome...LIFE! I believe this for your circumstance too. May we never lose sight of the power waiting to be unleashed through our difficulties. Sometimes we find growth in the unexpected and I think all this stillness has caused the currents to move more freely than I ever could have seen coming.

Though I didn't actually give birth to a child, I know I've only just begun to experience the life that will come from this season. Maybe I should have snapped that photo holding my ultrasound image after all because, this is a miracle I never want to forget.

Whatever it is you're facing today...whether you can see an ounce of hope or not, I know someday, you'll see, this too will be brought to life! Just wait. 

...sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.
— Shauna Niequist