Agency and Dodging a Tumor-Shaped Bullet

It’s incredible to me as I sit here looking back on what began on January 11th. My beloved pregnant, bleeding slightly. Our expectation that the ER would simply say, “Take it easy.”

We had been told by Father in Heaven that we ought to get pregnant. Both of us had felt this. Both of us had resisted, but I admire so much my beloved’s courage and faith in the way she asked and listened and acted on the guidance given.

I didn’t want us to get pregnant.

Reflecting on that resistance, I can’t get to my knees fast enough to thank God for my faithful wife and for the favor of humility that I was granted so that I would come around.

In case you haven’t quite picked up on it, this is true love, my friends. My wife and I are deeply, thoroughly, madly in love with each other. Have been for 16+ years. It’s a love story. Mainly, Jesus built it (if you get this reference, let me know in the comments).

Okay. Here’s a summary of events:

Seven months or so ago, we both felt guided to talk about getting pregnant and having another child (we already have six awesome kids). We chatted, came to a consensus that we really would rather not get pregnant again and start again with the whole baby thing, but agreed that something was going on.

Before long, my beloved revealed that she’d had a clear impression that we were to get pregnant. I revealed that I’d been feeling the same thing and had been resisting it. After prayer, lots of discussion, and lather, rinse, and repeat, we decided that this was something Father in Heaven wanted us to do for a reason He knew about and that we would have to take on faith.

We took it on faith. She got pregnant in December. By the end of 2013, we were pretty excited and were talking strollers, car seats, and a crib. On January 10, she started to bleed very lightly. January 11th, Saturday, we went to the ER because the bleeding had worsened somewhat. An ultrasound was inconclusive regarding the viability of the pregnancy. The ultrasound turned up a large tumor on her right kidney. An MRI that night confirmed that this tumor was large and dense– very worrisome.

Within the week, a urologist confirmed again that this thing was concerning. He also said that needle biopsies would be totally inconclusive, given the size of the tumor (turned out to be 10 cm on one dimension!). He said the only good path was to do a radical nephrectomy, which meant removing the kidney and the tumor together. He said it was surprising that my wife didn’t have any symptoms. He said this kind of thing was only found early enough to do anything about it when it was found incidentally. When symptoms show up, he said, it’s pretty much too late.

Within the next week, we confirmed that we had lost our baby. For the strange, mixed feelings about this, see my previous post: God’s Hand, Free Agency, and a Mass.

So it was time to schedule the nephrectomy. Yes, my wife would be down a kidney. Much research was done and to sum it all up is a sentence that she found in one write-up: “This is a fairly major surgery, but no further treatment should be required.”

Having a kidney removed is serious business.

That happened a little over a week ago on a Monday morning. My mother-in-law had flown into town from Anchorage and we waited in the surgery waiting area for word on how the surgery went. It took over an hour and a half to do the surgery. I was hurrying back to the hospital after running an errand when my mother-in-law called. The physician had just stopped by and said that the operation had gone pretty near perfectly.

He was confident that the nephrectomy got all of the tumor. Its appearance indicated it had not grown or spread. Its appearance also indicated that this would have been a MUCH different story only six months down the road.

I was grateful that I was in my car when I got this news. The news that she had come out of surgery okay, that the tumor was out of her, and that things looked good going forward.

I had not worried, because I have known from the start of this that God had revealed to us what we should do FOR THE EXACT PURPOSE of finding this tumor and dealing with it. But not worrying does not mean not being in an emotional wringer, on a tightwire of barely contained emotional tempest.

It exploded out in my car as I parked. Shakes hit me and I said over and over, head bowed over the steering wheel, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Several minutes passed as I let the torrent run its course. Then I went in and we waited a LONG time before she came out of post-surgery holding. Her blood pressure had been concerningly low. Turns out that my beloved’s body reacts poorly to certain pain medications.

She was hospital-wall pale when she, lying on her high-tech bed, appeared in the hallway on her way to the room she would spend much of the next six days in. I leaped from my chair and ran to her. She loopily said, “Hey you,” before fading. This was real. Her kidney and the terrifying-but-not tumor were gone.

She was beautiful. And very loopy.

The next few days were challenging as her body fought nausea, anesthesia, pain, and lethargy. I balanced time between making sure kids were in the places they needed to be, keeping my work under control, and being with her. Long, busy, exhausting days. But she made progress.

She was due to come home the Friday after her Monday surgery, but that day she was hammered by unrelenting nausea. She came home on Saturday instead. By the time we left the hospital, the pathology results of the tumor still hadn’t come back.

We went in on Monday to the physician’s office. I thanked him profusely. His PA removed the 20 staples from my beloved’s abdomen. Pathology indicated that the tumor was indeed renal cell carcinoma.

How bad was the bullet we had just dodged?

Bad. Dangerous. Six months away from being very bad. Very bad.

Typing anything more specific than that is a bit of a challenge for me. So I’ll just mention an alternate universe where we didn’t listen, didn’t make the choice to trust God and follow inspiration, and she starts to decline in health inexplicably and she is diagnosed with kidney cancer that has gone too far to do anything about and I don’t have her anymore.

Eighty percent of people who go through what Annemarie has gone through spend the rest of their normal-length lives free of any cancer or problem. She will do regular screenings for the rest of this year, then once every year for the rest of her life.

Cancer.

We felt we were being asked to do something by God. We didn’t want to, but we decided to trust Him. We even soon found joy in that trust. As a DIRECT result of our CHOICE to follow and trust in INSPIRATION, her life was saved and cancer was beaten.

Has this been hard? Sure. Lots of things in life are hard. Has it been scary? Yeah, when the imagination gets going, this has been terrifying. But in the moments of closeness that we’ve had together, both leading up to the surgery and now after, we both get very quiet as the extraordinary beauty of this miraculous series of events unfolds in our minds. And we start talking about love and gratitude and God and revelation and truth.

And then we think about what is meant when our faith says God is active in our lives and now we really understand much more about that.

He didn’t reach in and yank this tumor. He didn’t stop it from forming. He didn’t make it form.

He gave us the opportunity to listen, trust, turn over our agency to Him through faith, and then have miracles come after the exercise of faith. He knows our hearts.

And now WE know our hearts better, and our hearts are changed for the better too.

I’m not sharing this for attention, guys. I’m sharing this because it’s life-changing for us and it has fundamentally altered our understanding of how God interacts with us. I think this might be able to help others enhance their understanding and faith.

My kids know that my motto is “Make the world a better place every day.” When I talked last night with the ultrasound technician who found the tumor, he said something that struck me. I told him that I couldn’t thank him enough for checking her kidneys as part of the ultrasound that was really meant to determine the viability of a pregnancy. He said it was protocol, but that a lot of people didn’t really do it.

He then said he would share this story and his part of it with everyone on the radiology staff to help them see how important it was to follow protocol. How protocol just saved the life of a mother of six and a best friend to me.

So the whim I had to go talk to him and thank him might have done good in the world.

There’s value in telling this story. I hope you found some value in reading it.

About jaredgarrett

Jared Garrett works as a writer, the manager of a program development department in the corporate world, and an instructional designer. He is a family man with an adorable, fun, and way-too-smart wife, six silly kids, a new house with an overgrown back yard, seven fish, and a bunch of chickens. He has written fiction, user manuals, SEO copy, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He lives at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and is currently seeking representation for his myriad completed novels.
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