A mere four months prior, we had opened The Foreign Wife after
And things were going, well...great!
Except that James could not stop coughing. He had given up preaching on Sundays, and really much talking at all because he could not speak more than a few sentences without a coughing fit. As we transferred planes on our way to Thailand he actually laid on the airport floor to try to get some relief for his back pain as weeks of an uncontrolled cough made sitting in a molded plastic chair unbearable.
Except that a round of antibiotics and consistent use of an inhaler did nothing to improve the situation.
Except that James had done a CT that showed a collapsed right middle lobe.
Except that James had done a bronchoscopy in China that told us that "something" was "growing" in his lungs.
Ever the optimist, I expected to find that James had some weird virus or fungus. I thought, you know, worst case scenario we were dealing with TB.
Other than James's back pain, we were kinda sorta looking forward to a few days' break in Thailand. We hadn't been on so much as a date in years (yes, actual years - no judging!), and one of our friends said that hey, sans kids in a foreign country, it would probably feel like something of a second honeymoon.
Within days, James had blood tests, another chest xray, another bronchoscopy, an MRI, another CT, a PET scan, a bone marrow biopsy, and a lung function test. We saw multiple specialists multiple times: a pulmonologist, a thoracic oncologist, another oncologist, a physical therapist, a surgeon, and even an infectious disease doctor. We learned to bow and sawadee-ka our way into the good graces of numerous Thai nurses. We got prescriptions filled at the pharmacy - mostly for pain (those worked) and for James's cough (those didn't).
When we weren't trying to sustain ourselves on the free crackers and juice boxes at the hospital between appointments, we frequented the Thai shops, enjoyed several great Thai meals, took ambling walks in the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital, and even found a fabulous little Italian place where the owner liked to sing Italian opera (loudly) in front of his diners. (Because, why not?!)
But mostly, we waited. When we first arrived in Thailand, no one, least of all the doctors, thought James had cancer. When we first arrived in Thailand, we thought we'd have a few days off, get some answers, fill a script, and go back to life as planned.
But then, the results...
A hypermetabolic pulmonary mass in the right lower hilum, causing collapse of the medial segment. There are hypermetabolic mediastinal lymph nodes along the paratracheal, precarinal, and sub/post carinal (right paraesophageal) and probably hilar (obscured by the aformentioned mass) stations.
AKA - Stage III Lung Cancer.
And so began the last two years of our lives, where we have learned what words like hypermetabolic, mediastinal, neoplasm, and malignant mean.
I mean, what those words really mean.
What they mean is physical pain, weeks of suffering, the opioid class of drugs you never thought you'd need, sleepless nights, anesthesia, surgeries, hospital beds, ER visits, calls from the doctor, calls to the doctor, long hours on hold with hospitals, billing offices, and insurance companies, needle pricks, IV bags, radiation, lines at the pharmacy, weight checks, blood tests, intravenous drugs, PET scans, CT scans, more needle pricks, more radiation, waiting for results, and being asked every three weeks about your past/current tobacco use.
Of all the things on the list, I wish I was making that last one up.
Those words have also meant innumerable kindnesses from friends, precious hours spent together as a couple, tears in public, and conversations about life, death, and love with our girls.
They've meant all kinds of prayers, in all kinds of ways, from all kinds of people - from elders at churches to strangers in the store - prayers for healing, prayers of lament, prayers of faith, and pleading prayers for mercy.
They've meant always having a story to share about how God is real, God is present, and God alone gives life and numbers our days.
They've meant finding strength to persevere,
hope against some really (really) horrible odds,
joy in the midst of sorrow,
courage replacing fear,
gratitude among the rubble of loss (so much loss),
and life in the face of death.
Those few words have meant - more than once - that when things seem really, really dark...God is actually working a miracle.
There's been a lot packed in to these two years.
And we wouldn't trade them for anything.
Thanks for coming along, friends.
~james & kristen