The Next Step in My Cancer Journey

The Next Step in My Cancer Journey March 4, 2021

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105 (ESV)

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the significance of this verse more than I have since starting this cancer journey. There are SO MANY decisions that must be made by those going through cancer. Which ones are right? I’ve been hanging on to the promise that God will guide us as we make decisions about treatment and that He will help us navigate the next steps in my health and in this complicated season for our ministry.

I’ll tell you a few key decisions momentarily. But first: Have you ever stopped to think just how far a lamp illuminates your path? It’s not that far! In fact, it’s usually just a few feet in front of you—just enough light to know the next right step. How frustratingly fascinating! I know I would like God to just clearly outline the next 12 months so I know what to expect and feel like I have every little detail under control.

But that’s not how it works, friends. And quite frankly, I’m starting to see why it doesn’t. Our little human brains (and hearts!) probably couldn’t handle knowing the next week’s events, let alone the next year or two. And I am learning anew that it is a beautiful, faith-building thing to watch God illuminate the next step, take that step, and rest in the knowledge that God will do the same thing again and again on the path ahead.

Once I have taken step one, He will then shine the light on the next step, and the next. And all the while He promises to be alongside me – in this case, as I travel this strange and stressful cancer journey.

But sometimes, just to encourage us, God illuminates our path not with a soft, gentle lamp light but a lightning bolt: STEP HERE! That happened on this journey recently, and it has set the course for the next few months ahead.

A clear direction for our next step

Because I have several radiation options to choose from, for weeks I’ve been researching and trying to figure out the right plan and course of treatment. And boy, did I have the best plan in mind! In brief, there are many different options for how to deliver radiation, but two that were feasible for me: internal radiation delivered through a catheter into the tumor cavity twice a day for a week, and external radiation from a giant X-ray beam every day for one month.

I loved the idea of the “short course”, which would protect my crazy schedule as much as possible, allow me to do all my upcoming March/April events, and seemed to have fewer side effects. But right before meeting with the surgeon to decide, suddenly, I discovered new information: the internal radiation might have more long-term side effects. And because it was a newer method, there was no way to know its long-term (20+-year) effectiveness at preventing recurrence for a “younger” patient like me.

Although I was delighted to be considered “younger” in any way, I confess I had a slight emotional meltdown because now I didn’t know what to do. And it felt like, you know, literally a “life or death” decision in some ways!

Well, God made the decision for us. The surgeon was stunned to discover that 12 days out from surgery, the large cavity had already healed. Which meant the internal radiation option was no longer an option: you can’t delivery radiation to the tumor cavity if there’s no cavity!

Even though it was a dramatic shift to think about doing a traditional long course of external radiation, and even though it meant we had to reschedule all those events, all my emotional angst went away. After all: God very mercifully answered my intense confusion by clearly CHOOSING that for me. (And the other thing that helped was that all the event organizers were so wonderful at shutting down any idea that I might be “letting them down.” In fact, when I called one organizer, she told me she had had breast cancer herself at the exact same age and knew exactly what this felt like. She prayed for me on the phone and left me in tears at that encouragement.)

Start date: March 8!

So bottom line, we are starting soon! I just did my “simulation scan” that precedes radiation. It maps out the internal territory very precisely so they can maximize the radiation where it is needed and try their best to avoid damage to lungs, ribs, lymph nodes, etc. I will have the final setup and planning on March 8 and start the actual radiation treatments March 9.

The radiation treatments themselves will extend for one month, ending right around Easter. (How fitting is that!?) Although apparently, I just learned that immediate side effects on the skin and on my energy levels are cumulative (so they get worse as it goes along) and will continue for another few weeks after the treatments stop. So realistically, it is more like a 6-week process.

We don’t yet know how my body will respond, but I am praying for very few of those side effects. I would like to still make lots of progress on the next research project and book during the next 6 weeks, even if I have to go slower on some things. (Like allowing multiple other authors to write guest blogs for me and pointing you to our new videos that are being recorded before the radiation, which I hope is a blessing to you as readers anyway!)

So there are a lot of adjustments and still a lot of unknowns. But regardless, it’s going to be okay. It has been pretty clear that this is the decision that was made for me, God is lighting my path, and I’m going with it.

I appreciate all of you. Thank you for your prayers.

Shaunti Feldhahn logo

Find Christ-focused wonder in the midst of everyday life no matter what your situation might be. Pick up a copy of Shaunti’s latest devotional, Find Joy, available in major bookstores.

Check out her latest book (co-authored with her husband, Jeff), Thriving in Love and Money. Because you need a better relationship, not just a better budget.

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