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
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
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
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
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,
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