When Peace Makes No Sense
I had received the diagnosis and the prognosis. Two neurosurgeons told me that the brain tumor was in the worst place a person can get one, and I was given approximately one year to live. I still remember the ride home from Missoula, Montana after getting this news. For an hour and forty-five minutes I stared out the passenger side window. Look at all this beauty! I told myself. I tried to appreciate the view of the Rocky Mountains and the wide-open sky more than I usually did. I had heard stories of people for whom life became more meaningful after receiving a death sentence. I could only hope I would feel that way sometime soon. Right now I just wasn’t buying it.
I went home and re-read “Through the Dark Night,” a piece that had been written by my friend, Lucy Brown. Even though she sent it to me to encourage me about my shoulder surgery, the words it contained were so much more apropos to the diagnosis I was facing now. It gave me hope, and hope is definitely what I needed.
I was getting a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and family. They were all trying to help but I felt confused, so I blocked out all the noise and isolated myself. And I prayed…hard. I kept remembering those words…”its removal was paramount to this time and place,” so I elected to find someone who would do brain surgery, even after two neurosurgeons had told me it was “inoperable.”
In my search I found an online forum and began to piece together the “who’s who” in the land of brain surgeons. Dr. Shahinian from Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles seemed top notch. He had appeared on Ellen and The Today Show after saving the life of a young boy no other brain surgeon would touch, so I called his office.
After sending Dr. Shahinian my MRI and talking to him on the phone, I became convinced that if anyone could save my life, it was he. I scheduled surgery for October 6, 2006.
I would have had to have been crazy not to feel any fear, but there was also this sense of peace that didn’t make any sense considering. And it would come at odd moments throughout the days leading up to brain surgery. I was convinced I was going to make it through an extremely risky operation. In fact, I would say I had no doubts at all about that. I absolutely knew I would live.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phillippians 4:7).
There was something that was bothering me though. In “Through the Dark Night,” the following words kept haunting me…
Seek Me above all. Feel after Me when your sight and hearing are gone. Fumble toward Me if you must, but move TOWARD ME…not away…when your peace is gone, when the joy is gone, when all that seems left is your breathing.*
I couldn’t imagine what that meant. Why would God save my life if I would be without sight, hearing, and only have my breathing left? At the very least, why would he tell me about it ahead of time? But at this point, the tumor at reached critical mass and was growing at an alarming rate. I had no other option.
My husband and I flew into Los Angeles a couple of days before surgery. Our five grown children flew in to be with us, and some of the grandchildren were there as well. A very close friend flew into Salt Lake City to see me for twenty minutes during a layover on the way. None of this was lost on me. I knew everyone was worried whether I would make it through the surgery and whether they would ever have a chance to see me again.
The morning of surgery I felt nervous but peaceful at the same time. We all kissed and hugged one more time and I was sedated before being rolled into the operating room. Dr. Shahinian seemed confident. But twenty minutes into brain surgery, he called my husband on his cell phone and asked to meet him in a conference room next to the operating room downstairs.
Tom walked towards the elevator without telling family members where he was going. My daughter happened to be walking towards him on her way back from the cafeteria. She took one look at his face and followed him onto the elevator. They rode down together in silence.
“Don’t worry…she’s fine,” Dr. Shahinian began. He continued to explain that the operation was more complicated that he realized. The optic, auditory, and facial nerves were all wrapped around the tumor and it was very close to the brain stem. He could remove half of it now but I would be back in five years for another surgery. The other option was continuing a very risky surgery to try to get as much of it out as possible. The risks included death, blindness, deafness, facial paralysis…loss of the ability to walk or swallow.
Tom looked into my daughter’s eyes and they both nodded. He couldn’t imagine putting me through this again in five years. “Try to get it all now,” he said.
Six hours later, when I awoke from brain surgery, I could hear my breath twice for each one breath I drew. And it was loud, like the roaring of a waterfall. The first time I heard it, I was actually taking a breath. A couple of seconds later, I could hear it again…in between breaths. I thought, That’s odd.
My optic, auditory, and facial nerves had been damaged in surgery and everything looked and seemed weird. For one thing, I saw two of everything, and each image seemed four feet apart and a little up to the left. The pupil of my left eye had moved all the way over towards my nose. My perception made everything seem strange, and it would take several years before the feeling of everything being “off-kilter” would pass. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t hear anything out of my left ear. And it seemed all I had was my breathing. So I did what I read in “Through the Dark Night.” I moved TOWARDS Him, and not away.*
Stay tuned for what I did next!
* “Through the Dark Night” is from OH GRACIOUS LOVE by Lucy Brown, Copyright 1993, 2006 by Lucy Brown. Used by permission. All rights reserved.