Post biopsy: shredded liver, heavy heart

My organs have been through the ringer! (Or is it the “wringer?”)

Yesterday’s biopsy was really difficult.  First, they wish they could put you under because the process is so invasive. But they can’t because they need you to hold your breath, which you cannot do if you are under anesthesia. So they poke you a bunch of times with a small needle to numb you up at the surface.  Which is nice of them.  But kind of just a formality. Because then they get out an enormous needle.  Over 12 inches long.  
My liver lesions (which sounds like a bad college band) are located in a remote area of the liver closest to my diaphragm. The first surgeon was actually not very experienced, and she was not having any luck getting anywhere near the area from which they needed to take a sample. While I was glad they brought in the seasoned surgeon whom they all referred to as “the expert”, I begin to feel discouraged, worried and afraid. Discouraged, that they might not be able to get what they needed, worried about what the alternative step might be, and afraid about how many times they might try before they decided to quit!  

Each attempt to access the liver involved this long needle. They would pierce through the skin, and slowly pop it through a space in my ribs, the lidocaine did not penetrate that deeply, so I could feel them slowly poking around.  I had to hold my breath for about 30 seconds at a time. 

It’s interesting how God has long-term plans. Who would have thought my mermaid like characteristics, developed 30 years ago, joyfully retrieving objects from the bottom of the deepest swimming pools, would come in handy at the age of 37 on an operating table?  The doctors and nurses in the room each commented on my breath holding skills in amazement. As one nurse said, “it’s one thing to hold your breath that long but another to do so while we’re putting the longest needle we have into your abdomen.” A sample was finally taken by the spring-loaded mechanism inside the needle, which makes a disturbing popping/cutting/snipping sound and corresponding sensation that could make you pass out if you dwell on it. And the doctor immediately said “dammit.”  Not the word you want to hear. The sample he got (a small worm-like piece of pink liver) was close to but not part of the lesion. He said defeatedly “I’m so sorry.  But that didn’t help us at all.”  But we were both determined.  He ended up jerry rigging the needle, removing the guide on its handle to give him three more centimeters to get further in.  He told me that at this point, we were facing significant risk of internal bleeding by going so deep, and risking piercing the diaphragm.  I asked him “if you mess up, and I start bleeding or something wrong gets poked, can you fix me?” He smiled and emphatically said “yes.”  And then he told me I would need to hold my breath and lay perfectly still for as long as he needed. I smiled, because I was built for this. I’m a swimmer. I’m an athlete.  I might not be the fastest anything, but these lungs are bad ass.

It was scary, and it hurt. It was hard to hold my breath and not react to the pressure, pushing, digging.  There is nothing like laying on a gurney, hearing uncertainty in the voices that are supposed to have everything under control.  It is truly the loneliest place I know. And I have been there a few times. These are my moments of “are you there God? It’s me, Jessi.” 

Those are the moments of discouragement. The moments of an uncertain or poor outlook. You’re walking the tight rope, and even though it’s dangerous and crazy: the whole thing is absurd!  But you’ve mastered this craziness…walking where few tread, and  you feel confident with each step, moving forward, each step sure, until a strong wind comes.  And as you start to wobble and then lean too far and struggle to bring it back to balance, you completely lose your focus.  You can barely remember five seconds ago when you felt certain.

Sometimes the wobbling lasts a moment. Sometimes it’s a whole day.  But, in my experience, it always stops. I’ve never fallen. And I know that the hundreds and hundreds of prayers of people who love me, and people who love people who love me has made all the difference. I don’t claim to know exactly how prayer works, but I can tell you that when people started praying for me in large numbers things changed. Last weekend, I was wobbling big time. And then I stopped. And I grew stronger, and I had the good sense to read what the Bible has to say about who I am and who God is. And I got stronger.  So I listened to some sermons (Tim Keller!) and read some books (Anne Lamott!  Max Lucado! Sarah Young!  And…Tim Keller!) and listened to some wise people (My dear friends who encourage me greatly) and I stopped wobbling.  

So yesterday, when I was wobbling a lot, I was able to believe that the wobbling would stop. I couldn’t stop it myself last night, because I was in pain and weak.  I got scared and cried.  But I knew that people were praying. And that it would get better. And it did. Last night was very difficult, because the pain was more than I expected. I felt discouraged and vulnerable. But I knew it would get better. The pain would subside, my perspective would improve. And it did! This morning, the pain is manageable. My outlook is sunnier. And I believe that people’s prayers played a significant role in that. 

When you see someone wobbling, pray for them.  Pray for people you love. Pray for people’s pain. Pray more than you think you should. I am understanding the power of it more than ever, and I am driven to pray more than I ever have been.  

We will have the results of this biopsy in a week or so. All signs point to cancer. Perhaps God will change the course. Please pray for that. But even if He does not, I will follow Him with joy. And pray without ceasing.  I hope you will, too. And please share this if you know someone who might be helped by this post.