Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Plead the Fifth

Introducing our fifth little boy, Liam Quentin:

He arrived on Friday night, November 26, his great-grandfather's birthday, and was a very healthy eight pounds, fifteen ounces and twenty-two inches long.

Meeting his brothers for the first time:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Glorious Status Quo

I do not have cancer.

Normally, that wouldn't even be worth mentioning, but in this month of Thanksgiving, it's one bit of news that I'm very grateful for. Every so often something comes up that makes me realize how blessed I am to be enjoying just another uneventful day of "the same old thing."

Lately, "the same old thing" involves feeling about 13 months pregnant and consequently more than a bit sorry for my achy, tired, fat, slow self. And I'm not even having twins. In fact, as far as pregnancies go, mine are uncommonly easy—no morning sickness, no preexisting conditions, no miscarriages, no C-sections, no Strep B, no gestational diabetes. Nothing. "You are," a doctor once told me, "an obstetricians dream."

Nevertheless, when people ask me how I'm doing these days, I sometimes forget all that good news and want to respond with bitter sarcasm. You really want to know how I feel? Then try these ten easy steps to allow you to share in the third-trimester experience:
  1. Place a 25-pound watermelon in a backpack or duffel bag, and strap it to your belly as tightly as you can so that it digs uncomfortably into your waist.
  2. Adjust the straps so that the weight rests primarily on your lower back and hips. Just make sure that the melon sticks out at least a full 10 inches in front.
  3. Put on ankle weights and four pairs of socks before cramming your feet into your now too-tight shoes.
  4. Attempt to do routine household tasks such as getting out of bed, picking small items off the carpet, and hauling an overflowing laundry basket up and down the stairs several times a day.
  5. Shortly before bedtime, consume a family-size jar of salsa, and wash it down with two or three quarts of soda. This will allow you to fully appreciate the heartburn and squashed bladder that pregnant women come to expect as they strive for a little shuteye.
  6. Chew enough antacid tablets to let you sleep for an hour or so.
  7. After no more than an hour of fitful slumber, attempt to roll over onto your other side.
  8. Give up the attempt.
  9. After another hour, have somebody elbow you repeatedly in the ribs to simulate the midnight acrobatics of your baby. You will then be wide awake enough to realize that you have to go to the bathroom. Again.
  10. Repeat daily for three months.

Of course, if all goes well, when this new baby boy is finally placed in my arms, I'll again discover that it really was all worth it. I'll understand afresh what a privilege it was to carry another healthy child—something that countless heartbroken women in history have hopelessly longed to do. But right now, if I'm being honest, I'm usually looking forward less to meeting my son than to simply not being pregnant anymore.

But if I struggle with selfish resentment and impatience on account of a blessing like pregnancy, how would I cope with a true evil like cancer?

"Good timing" is, I suppose, a phrase that does not apply to a deadly disease. Serious illness is never welcome. But with four young kids and a husband dependent on my good health—not to mention a fifth baby who's roughly two weeks away from making his grand entrance—I can't help but think that this would be a truly terrible time of life to be diagnosed with cancer—far worse than, say, 30 or 40 years from now when our kids are grown and our nest is empty. So, as you can imagine, finding a mysterious lump in a place where it did not belong was not a pleasant discovery.

My first thought was, "Oh great." No fear. No anger. Just annoyance. I figured that it was, in all likelihood, simply another obnoxious pregnancy-induced growth. After all, everything else about me has been growing like mad. I feel like I am that scene in The Magician's Nephew during the creation of Narnia, when the whole of that new world is so full of life and growth that a broken bar of iron takes root and matures into a fully formed lamppost. Everything growing. Everything expanding. If I accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed right now, my grandfather's terrifying tale would become a reality; a vine would spring up and start producing juicy watermelons right inside my already crowded belly. So of course one more growth was entirely understandable, even if it was in an unusual place, right?

I figured my doctor would agree. However, at my next appointment, she didn't seem nearly as certain as I was that this was no cause for concern. When she told me to schedule an ultrasound exam, I felt my blood pressure rise just a little. And yet, I remained fairly confident that the ultrasound would confirm beyond doubt that this was totally normal. I prayed about it, but I didn't worry much.

Then, after the ultrasound, the radiologist came in and explained that, given my good health, my relatively young age, and the fact that I'm pregnant, this was most likely nothing serious, but he could not be entirely sure. This particular lump wasn't something he could diagnose merely by looking. The only way to know if it was cancerous was to perform a biopsy.

I don't know how it strikes others, but to me, "biopsy" is a rather scary word. It now brought the idea of cancer into the realm of real possibility. And, because I had been expecting an "all clear" from the ultrasound exam, it struck me as both scary and disappointing. I wanted this to be over. However, with my due date looming ever closer, I scheduled the dreaded biopsy appointment for the earliest available day.

I was nervous about the procedure, but as it turned out, an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy wasn't such a horrible experience—not something I'd like to do on a regular basis, but not a whole lot worse than having a few of cavities filled. 

I still didn't really think I had cancer, but waiting to find out was more of a test of my own trust in God's plans than I would have expected. I happen to be reading through the book of Job this month, and as I read chapter 13, I had to pause at verse 15: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face."  Would I, if I were faced with this deadly disease, still be able with Job to hope in God? Could I argue my ways to his face?

Mercifully, the pathology report came back in just a couple of days. Those two days, however, gave me cause to meditate more than ever before on how everything I have, including my health, has been a gift, and that my life is not and never has been merely my own. You can imagine with what gratitude I heard the lovely word "benign" read to me at my next appointment. After facing the prospect—however remote—of a serious trial like cancer, the expectation of maintaining the status quo comes as the best kind of news. It comes like gospel.

So now I face two more weeks (give or take) of third trimester pregnancy. I am still achy. I am still tired. I am still fat and slow and prone to heartburn. I still get kicked in the ribs in the middle of the night. I am even coming down with a cold. But I also still get to enjoy another glorious day of the "same old thing."

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