So last I left off we had just finished our first day in this process – the ER.
The next step was to get a referral from my midwife for the endo (endocrinologist) and surgeon (for the biopsy.) My midwife’s office is closed on Friday’s so they would not be able to get me scheduled until Monday. That weekend seemed like an eternity as we wondered (and worried) about this mass on my neck. I tried to stay positive, and Josh did a wonderful job of helping with this. He told me not to look anything up about it online. He looked stuff up for me and filtered through and read what he thought I needed to know. This was a good plan that saved me from reading lots of possibilities and “what if’s” that probably would have driven me crazy.
First thing Monday my midwives office called with 2 appointments. The first was for Dr. Zirkle, my fantabulous surgeon. It was for Thursday (12/10). The other was for the endo. As it turns out, there is only one endo in Knoxville and he doesn’t take TennCare… “Really? You have to be kidding me! (This was what I thought.) My only 2 options were one in Oakridge, who would not be able to see me until April, or one in Morristown who could see me in 2 weeks. Both of these cities are about an hour away from us. Of course we went with Morristown. My appointment with him was scheduled for 12/19.
On Thursday (12/10), exactly one week after discovering my mass, we met with Dr. Zirkle. He turned out to be a great doctor. He was thorough and professional. He didn’t sugar coat anything but didn’t make it all out to be roses and cupcakes either. We were both very pleased with him. He did the biopsy (they use a small hollow needle to get a tissue sample), checked it under a microscope to make sure the sample was good (big enough and whatever else they look for) and sent it off. He said that we should get the results Monday, but whether it was cancer or not, the tumor would need to come out because of its size. He also said that the ER doc was wrong when he said it was probably pregnancy related. He said if that were the case it would simply be a swollen thyroid that would go back down in size eventually. What I had was not swelling but an actual goiter or tumor. So, the ER doc meant well, but as this was outside his area of specialty, he didn’t really know what he was talking about.
We talked with my Mom about coming up to be with me for my surgery. We talked about what we would do with Julia & Ember while I was in surgery. And then waited for the call on Monday. Another long weekend…
In the meantime we had discovered that our pastor’s wife had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer about 4 years earlier and had gone through surgery and radio-active iodine treatment. We also researched (meaning Josh researching and telling me) as much as we could about thyroid tumors, treatments, causes, etc… We learned that while thyroid nodules are fairly common (1/15 for women and 1/50 for men), less than 10% are cancerous. With there already being one woman in our church (of about 150 people) who had had thyroid cancer, my odds seemed really good that it would be benign.
At 10am on Monday, Dec. 14th Dr. Zirkle called with the pathology report. “They don’t think it’s cancer but they said we didn’t get a big enough specimen, so they aren’t sure.” Not exactly the clean bill of health we were hoping and praying for, but it still leaned on the side of benign, so we clung to that. Next question, “when do we do the surgery?” “How about 7am tomorrow morning?” “WHAT?” This was a little after 10 on Monday morning remember, and my Mom hadn’t even looked at plane tickets yet. The reasoning behind doing it so soon made perfect sense: he had a cancellation for Tues. am. The next opening was Thursday afternoon. They would go in and take out the tumor only, leaving half the thyroid. If the pathology report on that came back malignant, he would have to do a 2nd surgery to remove the rest of my thyroid. If they waited until Thursday to do the first surgery, there would not be time for a 2nd surgery if necessary until after Christmas. Dr. Zirkle was leaving to go out of town on Friday and would be gone the whole next week. This would mean waiting about 12 days before doing the second surgery, if necessary. “Ok, let me call my Mom and see about a plane ticket and I will call you back.” I called my Mom, my Dad called all kinds of airlines, and miraculously she was able to get a flight that would leave about 3pm. This gave her about 2 hours to pack and get to the airport (it was around 11:30am by the time they got her ticket.) My surgery was on the books for Tuesday morning. We had to go that same day, Monday, to the hospital to get blood work drawn and paperwork completed. I called and they asked me how soon we could get there. We aimed for 1pm. I am not sure what we ended up doing with Julia at this point. It’s kind of a blur of people who watched her. We took Ember with us. MaryAnn and Jesse watched Julia again, but not sure if that was when I went to Dr. Zirkle, or when I went for pre-op bloodwork, or both times. We got to the hospital and while we were waiting to be called back to register and all that we found out that my Mom had gotten to the airport and could not find her driver’s license or military i.d. This was very odd as she almost never would be somewhere that she would take both out of her wallet, except a doctor’s office. It was also odd that she had not checked before she got to the airport. As a family that has always traveled a lot, we are all usually very on top of things like this. My parents only live about 10 minutes from the airport, so my Dad suggested they go home and look for it (although they were already a little pressed for time.) My mom was sure she must have left it at her lost doctor’s appointment about a week before. (My thought was that they would have called her if this had been the case.) So, they headed straight for the doc’s office (about 20 mins away.) They were on the way there when I called. I suggested they call the doc’s office. She didn’t have the number and for some very strange reason, 411 could not find it either. When they got to the office, the id wasn’t there. They went home and my mom found them in a pants pocket within less than 5 minutes of arriving home. They headed back to the airport, but knew she was too late to make her flight at this point. The ticket was unchangeable unless you paid the fee, $150 I think it was. The ticket was already expensive since it was purchased at the last minute, and the girl on the phone made sure they knew it could not be altered without the fee. My mom went to the ticket counter to change her flight, and was told, “oh, there is no fee to change it since it is within x amount of hours since you bought it.” Wow! Have you ever known an airline to not charge a fee for something? Especially something they have already told you they will charge for?
I forgot to mention something very important. As I was sitting at the hospital waiting and finding out about my Mom looking for her i.d., I sent out the first of what would become many prayer request messages to my friends and family. The prayers started immediately. As I was worrying frantically about whether my Mom would get here in time for my 7am surgery, Josh looked at me, completely confident and calm and said, “she’ll be here. I promise.” I knew he wasn’t just saying it, but that he knew it to be true. So I did my best to believe too.
After my Mom got her ticket changed she told me that her layover was in Atlanta, and that the flight from Atlanta to Knoxville was full. She would be on standby. If she didn’t make it on, the next flight would not get her here until 11am Tuesday morning. She would have to spend the night in the airport and then somehow get to the hospital since Josh would not want to leave me at the hospital to come get her. The flight from Atlanta to Knox only held about 50 people and we had no idea how many were ahead of her on standby. The prayer chain was buzzing again – “we need some people to not make that Atl-Knox flight.”
As Mom was making her way here, we did my registration and blood work, and finally made it back to the house around 3:45 – just in time to meet a customer that was dropping off their computer. If my Mom had arrived around 3pm, I couldn’t have been there to get her until well after 4pm! Mom called and said she was on the flight from Atlanta and would be in sometime around 9:15. I think that someone (maybe Lynn Poarch?) came and picked Julia up on Monday night and she spent the night with them. We bought bottles and formula for Ember (she was less than a month old and had never taken a bottle) and packed my bag. Everything was set. I went to bed around 1am I think and awoke at 5am to get ready for the hospital.
Tuesday morning went by in such a blur. The staff at the hospital was all wonderful and my recovery nurse was amazing. It took a little while for them to have a room ready for me, so I was in recovery longer than normal. Once in my room I slipped in and out of sleep for a couple hours with Josh and my Mom by my side. When I finally started to feel more awake we requested a bassinet for Ember. We also found out there was supposed to be some kind of sleeper-chair in the room, but there was not. Our nurse, Nokiah, said she would see what she could do. She returned later with a bassinet and a BED for Josh! We were astounded. We also had another amazing nurse, Kofi. He is from Ghana and attended college in Johnson City. He is a Christian, and we even have a mutual acquaintance that I know from JBC.
I am not sure where Julia was at the end of the day, but I know she spent Tuesday night with my friend Christin and then Christin brought her to us first thing Wednesday morning. I was set to be discharged on Wednesday and was simply waiting for the Doctor’s orders. He came in Wed. morning and said, “it’s cancer.” WHAT??? When I called my friend Jen, she said, “What? That’s not what I prayed for.” Yeah, me neither. Dr. Zirkle said we would do the second surgery the next day, Thursday, but I could go home and come back tomorrow rather than having to stay an extra night in the hospital. When Kofi came in with my discharge papers he said something about me looking sad when I was getting to go home. I told him he would look sad too if they had just told him he had cancer. He left speechless. It was obvious he had no idea. He came back a few minutes later and said that he didn’t know what to say, but did we want to pray? YES! Absolutely. So Josh, Julia, Kofi and I joined hands and Kofi prayed for us. What a blessing. As we were leaving (we were literally all set to walk out the door) Kofi came back and asked Julia if she wanted to see Mrs. Claus. Of course she said yes! I went out in the hall and there was a lady dressed as Mrs. Claus. She gave Julia some candy and asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Julia came up with things she had never mentioned – a black monkey and a red dress with sparkles. Mrs. Claus promised to tell Santa. (She asked Julia if she had been to see Santa yet but we told her that we had planned to go on Monday but had to come to the hospital instead.) Julia gave Mrs. Claus a giant hug and we went to the room and got Josh & Ember and went home. We had no idea what God had in store for us or how He would use Mrs. Claus (Amber was her name) to bless us and how that seemingly chance encounter would touch Amber and others.
This brings us to the end of Dec. 16th and my first surgery. It is a lot more mentally exhausting working to remember and convey these details than I had thought it would be. I wish I had written this stuff down long ago when it would have maybe come easier. I am glad I am getting to it now though. Even if no one else ever reads it, I want this to be a testimony for my girls, and for me and Josh when we need to be reminded, of how God’s provision has been complete and perfect.
Thank you to whoever is reading this. It means more than I can say to have you walking through these days with us.
More to come…