It happened August 17, 2014 – exactly one year ago today. It was a Sunday, I was in China, and I had hosted the Sunday morning gathering at my home that day for my group of expatriate friends. I’d made breakfast and coffee for them. I think we even had a light summer a.m. rain, making me glad I wasn’t the one who had to go out that morning, as was usually the case. When they left in the early afternoon, I went out on my motorbike, did some sightseeing, and met up with Chinese friends at a coffee shop. I came home that evening, gave Mimi a doggy head massage, and reveled in the lovely day I’d just had. I was in excellent health with lots of energy, especially since going off statins two years prior, and going off of sodas, sugar and wheat one year prior. At 10:25 p.m., I got in my pajamas, stretched my arms into the air, and decided to rub my own neck, something I never did. It was then that I discovered a funny little hard bump on the back right side of my neck.
I checked the left side and found nothing. I didn’t know if a lump on my neck was normal or not, but the lack of symmetry startled me. I decided I would be at the clinic run by English-speaking Singaporean doctors when their doors opened the following morning.
The neck ultrasound worried my doctor, and he suggested I get it checked elsewhere, outside the country. My organization’s medical consultant recommended waiting two weeks to see if the lymph nodes in my neck were just swollen due to an infection.
I went ahead and took my scheduled train trip in which I traversed half the distance of China from south to north, headed to the northern port city of Dalian to meet up with colleagues and friends. I felt fine, but the hard lump on my neck didn’t go away during that week of travel. If anything, the rest of my neck felt tighter than before, something I told the medical consultant.
She arranged for me to have an appointment in Hong Kong, and I showed up at the doctor’s office there two weeks and two days after finding the lump. On Tuesday, September 2nd Dr. Chen, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, did a fine needle biopsy, and on Wednesday, September 3rd he called me back into his office at noon to tell me the news that I had cancer in my neck that had spread there from some other yet unknown part of my body. I assumed that since we just found it, it must be in the harmless early stages, but my doctor told me otherwise. He told me it was serious and that I should get home to the U.S. as soon as possible to get it taken care of.
I was stunned that this thing could happen to me at all, much less at a time when I had never felt better in my adult life. I had faithfully and meticulously done cancer screenings during annual physical exams. I had done everything I was supposed to do and probably more than what most people do. How could I have cancer, much less cancer that had spread, when I had done everything right?
I flew back to my home in China the next day, on September 4th. Under a heavy cloud of grief, I spent days trying to figure out what to do about my dog, closing out bank accounts, shredding papers, trying to pack, making travel arrangements, trying to make doctor’s appointments in the U.S. (I had to stay up at night to do this due to the time difference) and saying goodbyes as best I could. I only had five full days. How do you bring 19 years in China to closure in just five days? I didn’t know if I would ever be coming back to China, if I would ever see my friends again in this life, if I should leave my belongings behind (in case I returned to China) or would need them for a new life in the U.S. or — in the worst case scenario — not need anything ever again.
Now, by the grace of God, it is one year later. I have more hope and peace now than I did at that time.
The excellent news is that my doctor at MD Anderson says the cancer is gone now as far as they can tell — but then again they haven’t seen my type of cancer very often, as I have the most unusual of cases. The request for complete healing is always in my prayers, even now, as it is in many of your prayers as well – thank you. If all goes well between now and the end of January, when my every-three-week maintenance IV treatments end, my doctor says I will be fit to return overseas.
God is surely the One who prompted me to touch my neck on that evening one year ago today, to give me warning before it was too late, something my cancer screenings had failed to do. God is certainly the One who stepped in to rescue me. I trust in Him to navigate these murky waters and see me through.
All I know is that – and I hope it never happens to you – my life unexpectedly changed forever, and it started one year ago today.