Your God Experiences

I have lived an entire lifetime in the past three years. And by the grace of God, I have been given an opportunity to tell about it.

On January 4, 1995, I was sitting in a doctor's office waiting for the results of my MRI. With my husband Ray just out of the military and having just bought our first home, I was on the cusp of an exciting new life. We had just completed a whirlwind of deployments, which had frequently separated us. We were just becoming comfortable in our new life of balancing school and work responsibilities. We didn't have time for the doctor's appointment. It was an inconvenience.

Now I look back and realize how comical my reaction to events of that day was. I kept looking at my watch, wishing the neurosurgeon, Dr. Solomon, would hurry up. I wanted to eat lunch. My mother and husband sat with fear on their faces as I casually surveyed the doctor's family pictures and educational credentials.

I had ended up at his office after having woken up with such a severe headache that Ray had rushed me to the hospital. The pain was so crushing that I had to use every bit of my energy to drag myself to the bathroom, where Ray found me when he returned home from night work. The hospital performed a CAT scan and the doctor on duty declared that I had a calcium deposit mass on my brain stem. I remember how ridiculous the ER doctor seemed when he asked me if I drank much milk. Milk? I hate milk.

Being a nurse myself, I believed it wise to at least have the doctor's assertions checked out. I followed my string of referrals from neurologist to MRI lab to neurosurgeon, to otolaryngologist. Being 25 years old, though, I couldn't believe there could be anything wrong. Certainly, I was too young. I had too much to do to have to run around to doctors, much less relent to being sick. Drinking too much milk was not the problem; the doctors couldn't know what they were talking about.

However, on that January afternoon when Dr. Solomon entered his office with my MRI, he wasn't there to give me the kind of news I expected to hear. The young-looking doctor nervously faced my family and me to explain that I had a 3 cm brain tumor attached to my brain stem. I knew well that the brain stem controls all the body's involuntary functions, but I was still not hearing what he was really saying to me. As I sat there wishing I could leave to go lunch, he pronounced that my only real option was surgery, for which they would go through my nose, through my sinuses and peel back my face.

Maybe because I looked like I didn't understand what he was saying, Dr. Solomon said, "Mrs. Fisher, people with MRIs like yours are not walking around. They're dead."

I asked what would happen if I didn't have the surgery. The answer came, "Well, you'd be dead within two months."

Now I look back on that day and realize how little I was admitting to myself about the seriousness of my illness. It took until several days after meeting Dr. Solomon for it to really sink in. Before the surgery, the doctors told Ray and me that I would have to get my affairs in order. By that I thought he meant I should clean up my house and get a few papers filled out at the hospital. Ray had to explain to me that we needed to go to an attorney to prepare a living will and power of attorney.

I awoke on January 27, 1995, the day of my surgery, at 4:30 a.m. I got ready for the day, as I would prepare myself for any other, putting on makeup and doing my hair. When I arrived at the hospital with my family, they wondered if I knew what I had gone there for. They thought that I couldn't know what was about to happen because I was taking it fairly casually. But I knew, and I felt the peace of God with me. Of course I was scared of going into the operating room, but my main concern was for my family. They did not experience that peace with me. As I was preparing to go into surgery, my entire family was sobbing. They held onto me as though they would never see me again. I tried to reassure them that everything would be okay. I had to show them that I had faith. My faith had been with me from the start, and why would God fail me now?

The nurse came to take me to the operating room, and as I waited, she asked, "Do you know what you're here for today?" I looked around, and for the first time, I wondered if I really knew what I was there for. The fear of the unknown struck me.

Questions began to flood my mind. How can I be fine one day and the next day be dying? Is this the way God works? What have I done so wrong in my life to deserve this? Was God punishing me for all my wrongdoing in life? But then I thought, Why not me? What makes me so different from anyone else? No one deserves to be sick or to die.

But there is one difference between everyone else and me. I have God in my heart.

I can think of many other ways of testing my faith. I thought a brain tumor was a little much. But was it? God doesn't give us anything we cannot handle. I'm one of his people. Had I not been serving the Lord to his will? My husband and I were teaching Sunday school and attending church every Sunday. We were living our lives as we thought best. What does God want? God wants us to trust Him. God promises us he will never leave us nor forsake us. Whatever happened, I knew I had God with me. Since God offers eternal salvation to all that place their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, I had nothing to fear. God does not promise to meet all of our needs before we have them; rather, He promises to provide when we have needs. "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of God, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Despite my moments of fear, I felt certain that God knew what was going to happen before it happened. So why worry? As He told Joshua, "I will not fail you or forsake you . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:5). Even in the operating room, I knew that God would guide the surgeons' hands. Jesus was in control. If it was my time to die, I knew it was in God's will. In prayer, we find hope and a solution for every problem we face. God is not obligated to answer our prayers according to our plans. Our prayers line up to his will, not ours. Prayer is the greatest avenue of hope we have. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer. Because of the fear I felt, I knew it was time for me to get down on my knees and pray to God. Taking a moment to talk to God allowed me to see that I should be thankful for the time God had already given me. We are not promised anything. Each day is a blessing.

As I was wheeled into surgery, I realized that my biggest challenge was not that I had a brain tumor, but it was helping my unsaved family. I whispered another prayer, "Please give my family the strength to deal with whatever happens today."

I came through sixteen hours of surgery, then endured several days of excruciating pain afterward. The surgery hadn't gone exactly as planned. In the middle of surgery, the doctors realized that the hardness of the tumor required that they drill a hole through my soft palette to expose more of the brain stem. Otherwise, the surgery had gone as well as could be expected. I was alive and without a tumor.

Most of my ten days in Johns Hopkins following surgery are still a blur. My hands were inverted, I had no feeling in my left side and I after a few days I became curious about why the doctors were checking my eyes several times a day. I asked to see my face, to see if I looked different. To my surprise, my right eye was crossed. How could no one have told me? I was 25 years old and had been content with the way I looked. Now everyone would stare at me. Seeing my face look so different all of a sudden made me feel disabled, different.

I returned to the little dollhouse Ray and I had just bought. With its picket fence and white shutters, this was to be our home, our haven. Instead it became an extension of the hospital. I could neither walk nor do anything for myself. My food had to be pureed, my central line for blood drawing and injections had to be flushed daily, and that was just the beginning of the things my family members and my home nurse had to do for me. Both Ray and my mother learned to care for me; going far beyond what I could expect anyone to do for me.

Just when I thought things could only go uphill, the next test of my faith came. After five days of being home, on February 13, 1995, I developed a stiffness in my neck and an unbearable headache. Even the prescription pain medication couldn't touch the pain. My mother, who was staying with me while Ray worked, called 911. I was returned to Johns Hopkins where I was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. The food I was eating had caused the infection because my soft palette had not completely healed. The only way for me to heal was to take nothing by mouth for four months. My nutrition came from total parental nutrition and a feeding tube. Because encephalitis had set in as a result of the meningitis and spinal fluid was building up around my brain, they had to insert a shunt from my head to my stomach to drain the fluid.

While I was fighting the meningitis, another piece of bad news came. The tumor had been cancerous. It was a slow-growing tumor called a clivus chordoma, about which little was known. A special proton radiation therapy, which was only offered in two places in the world, was the only known treatment. I would go to Boston for eight weeks for 42 treatments that would specifically target the tumor area-the clivus, or brain stem-as soon as I had enough strength to walk confidently on my own.

During this whole time, I relied on my faith to bring me through. Sometimes I wished the Lord would just take me and put me out of my misery. But still, no brain tumor was going to separate me from God.

Following four months' recuperation at Hopkins, I spent another two months in a rehab center to regain my ability to walk and hold things. When I entered the rehab, I could only lie in the bed. I had to relearn how to get into a car, walk up steps, bathe myself-all activities of daily living. When I left, although I occasionally walked into a wall, I could walk with a stiff gait and hold things. When I returned home in June 1995, I worked hard to finish my rehab as an outpatient. I still had a ways to go, but things were getting somewhat back to normal. I had my central lines removed and I finally was able to eat solid foods. The doctors scheduled me to go to Boston.

About four weeks after returning home, I came down with the flu. Or so I thought. I went to the Hopkins emergency room once more, afraid the shunt had malfunctioned. I was lethargic and so sick. The ER doctor tested me for myriad problems-they even did a spinal tap.

The doctor ran down a list of questions, one of which was, "Is there any possibility that you could be pregnant?"

I joked, "How could that be possible? I barely have the strength to walk, let alone be pregnant."

After having tried for five years to get pregnant, I no longer thought it was possible for me to have a child. However, I was, in fact, pregnant with our first child. Much to my doctors' surprise, I was ecstatic. I looked so forward to bringing a new life into the world. The doctors' first response was that I wasn't well enough to carry this baby. They wanted to know how I could allow this to happen. I, on the other hand, was thanking God for giving me the chance to experience motherhood.

The pregnancy was tough. I was hospitalized eight times for pain management-the headaches were coming back. Then I found out five months into the pregnancy that the tumor had come back due to the hormonal changes in my body. But I held onto my faith that this was all following God's plan. Obviously I couldn't submit to surgery while pregnant, so I elected to put off surgery until I had the baby.

On February 7, 1996, I delivered a premature baby boy. Zachariah was 5 pounds, 7 ounces. Although he was perfect in every way, his lungs were underdeveloped, and he had to go on a ventilator and total parental nutrition for several weeks. I spent each day at the hospital to help care for him. I wanted to be an integral part of his care for those first, precious days.

Ray and I brought him home on February 21, 1996 late in the evening. We had waited for his release because he wasn't eating properly. With much encouragement, he finally ate, so they released him. We went to bed that night with our son in the bassinet beside our bed. I kept him within an arm's length. I fed him in the night and then woke up before the alarm in the morning. When I reached for him, he was cold and listless. I called his name, trying to get his attention, but he wouldn't respond. Ray unsuccessfully attempted CPR.

Zach's official cause of death was SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They simply didn't know what had happened. All they could say was that he "forgot to breathe."

My faith was in serious jeopardy at that point. How could God allow this to happen? It was one thing for me to bear the personal burden of my illness, but this seemed impossible to bear. It would have been all right for me to die; I was ready. If I had the lost baby during the pregnancy, I would have understood. But to bring him into the world and to have had those fifteen days with him seemed cruel. I was totally numb.

Those fifteen days have become precious in my memory. They were fifteen days of motherhood that I didn't expect to be given. Some women live their entire lives without the opportunity to have that sort of unconditional love for another human being. God had given me a divine gift, but Zach wasn't mine to keep. He was God's. I just couldn't see that at the time.

Although I was scheduled to have surgery directly after his birth with radiation following, the doctors decided to put it off until my body and spirit somewhat healed from the loss of Zach. At that point I just wanted to join my son in heaven.

They waited as long as they could, but I had surgery to remove the second tumor behind my right ear on April 19, 1996. That was followed by eight weeks in Boston going to the Harvard Cyclotron five days a week for proton radiation therapy. We stayed at the American Cancer Society Lodge with other cancer patients. When I left Boston, the oncologists gave me literature showing statistics that patients receiving proton radiation have an average of five years tumor free.

Finally, in July 1996, I went home to begin my life again. We tried to pick up where we left off in December of 1994, although I had no hair and my eye was still crossed. I looked forward to cashing in on my doctor's promise that he would have my eye fixed when I was tumor free, so I could at least look like my old self again. The following month I went for a checkup with my family doctor that was running routine blood tests, and lo and behold, I was pregnant again. God blessed us again with a chance to bring another child into the world.

I had an uneventful pregnancy during which I saw a regular obstetrician instead of a high-risk obstetrician. Our daughter was born March 13, 1997, a month early, weighing 5 pounds, 6 ounces. We named her Hannah, which means "grace." Her name represents the struggle we'd endured and how God's grace brought us through. Although she wore a heart and apnea monitor for ten months to reduce the risk of SIDS, Hannah just marked her first birthday. She gives me a reason to get out of bed every morning and face whatever life has in store.

I have experienced a lifetime's worth of heartache and pain in just three years. I constantly wondered when it would end. But through it all, God has taught me about the nature of the human life. I see now that I am here as a testimony of how the power of God can get us through anything. I have learned how to live life without concerning myself with life's petty problems-speeding tickets, late bills, problems at work. I learned how to trust others. I have seen my husband and my parents in a whole new light. I learned how to put my needs aside to care for a baby.

As for my family, my mother has become stronger, and has accepted God into her life. I have tried to be sure that my family sees the love of God in me.

As Christians, our lives are not perfect. Tragedy hits all people. All I have is my faith in God. My faith always gets me through.

Your name has been left out of this article by your request.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me, with SoCô¿ôL and friends. I'm smiling now at the little tiny problems I have had making sure that your words are published immediately. You suppose there is any message in experiencing a fatal protection error. God Bless Microsoft ?

Seriously, I did notice that in addition to your incredible strength, today and during this ordeal, that your story is full of little 'funnies.' I guess it helps to have a sense of humor.

I also couldn't help but follow along with some of the dates. Perhaps, others would like to do the same. What was I doing then? What was so important to me at that time? What sort of things was God communicating to me and others, while he was also busy helping you?

Yours is the kind of experience that perhaps everyone fears. I know for myself, I am constantly grateful in my own conversations with God, that among the trials and tribulations He has occasionally thrown my way ( or was it I?), he has not yet chosen to put me through this kind of a one. I suspect that a part of me expects that it may come, some day, and that perhaps, by having been given the opportunity by so many incredible people, to peak in and see what it might be like, that He is helping me and others build up reserves.

I thank you so much for having the courage and consideration to include this audience in your communications. I thank God for YOU, for your husband and your family, for the many Doctors and nurses and others who offered their strength and their wisdom and their deeds to help you pull through. I thank God for BOTH of his wonderful children, and yours.

Please do keep the Faith ... Please do allow God to continue to Bless and Keep You ... and please do keep sharing your experiences in order to benefit and strengthen others.

As with so many others, your experience will remain a testimonial to others, so long as we can maintain this site, and/or until Jesus Comes.

God Bless You Some More

 

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