“After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang:
‘Give thanks to the Lord;
his faithful love endures forever!’ ”
-II Chronicles 20:21
We spent the night before the surgery with Sarah’s family praying for peace and praising God for the victory that was yet to come. My mother-in-law managed to record a few minutes of it all. Don’t mind the colorful mats, slide, and toys all over. We’re in our son’s playroom.
I remember that night well. I remember how badly I wanted there to be something I could “do.” Someway to be helpful. Someway to fix this. There wasn’t. I sat in a room full of people who appeared to have so much more faith than I did. And, if they didn’t they were certainly better at faking it. I sang the songs and prayed the prayers, but I questioned all of it. When did faith become believing for a successful brain surgery? When did faith become believing that my wife would still be able to speak? When did faith become believing that the tumor wasn’t cancerous?
The next morning as Sarah was being prepped for surgery she couldn’t stop smiling.As a nurse cut her hair, she smiled. As a nurse inserted an IV, she smiled. As her family gathered around her hospital bed to pray, she smiled. As I fought back tears and kissed her goodbye, she smiled. If you know Sarah you know her smile. But, this smile wasn’t just hers. No, this smile was somehow different than normal. This was the kind of smile only God can give. This was a smile full of peace, hope, and faith. This was the smile of a woman who knew God was holding her just as tightly as she was holding on to Him.
On November 19, 2014, one day before our son’s first birthday, he received the best birthday gift he might ever receive, a tumor-less Mommy. Sarah’s neurosurgeon achieved the best possible outcome for a brain tumor removal, a total gross resection (medical term for: removed everything visible to the human eye).
Sarah was awake the next morning, talking, eating a hospital breakfast, and telling me what to do. All this in less than 12 hours after having her skull opened. God is good! She and God didn’t stop amazing people there though. Forty-eight hours after having surgery she was discharged! No brain swelling, no brain bleeding, no speech or memory impairments, and no complications!
Prior to surgery her neurosurgeon informed us that the imaging results indicated her tumor was likely a high stage I or low stage II brain tumor. Such a tumor would be considered largely benign and non-aggressive. Following the resection, he continued to believe that it was a low stage tumor and that further treatment would be unnecessary given the total resection, Sarah’s recovery, and her age. To confirm the surgeon’s visual assessment a sample was sent to Johns Hopkins to be reviewed by a neuropathologist. The results were delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday, so three weeks later we found ourselves back in her neurosurgeon’s office excited to hear the news that this was over!
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the news we expected. While the tumor appeared to be low-grade upon resection, the pathology report identified it as a stage III or anaplastic astrocytoma. Brain cancer.
I remember sitting in the neurosurgeon’s office as he began giving us numbers and likely scenarios. I was too scared to look at Sarah because I knew I wouldn’t be able to control my tears. This was supposed to be the “thanks for saving my wife’s life” appointment, the “let’s put this behind us” appointment, the “let’s get back to our boring lives” appointment, but it wasn’t. Somehow this became the “my wife has brain cancer” appointment. We walked out of the neurosurgeon’s office in silence. The moment we entered the car I felt her tears coming. As Sarah began crying, I readied myself to be the “strong one” but as soon as she began speaking I knew who the strong one was. Sarah wasn’t crying for herself. She was crying for me, for our son, and for her family. With tears streaming down her face she began saying, “Jordan, I don’t want this for you…for our son… how will I tell my family…they can’t handle this, not at Christmas.” In that moment I heard her selfless words full of love, saw her delicate tears full of courage, and held her gentle hands full of strength. Cancer picked a fight with the wrong woman.