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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

My Journey: Cancer to 5K

By Nancy Backues
Nov. 18, 2012

In April 2010, at the end of a long road trip, I noticed a lump in my hamstring. Because I had just driven more than 10 hours with minimal stops, I assumed it was some sort of knot in my muscle and didn’t give it much more thought. By June I realized that, despite stretching and massaging, the “knot” was still there. In fact, it seemed to have grown. It was time to see a doctor.

Multiple referrals and one MRI later, I was headed to St. Louis to consult with a specialist. The MRI had revealed a tumor in my left thigh that was wrapped in a muscle and pressing against my sciatic nerve. The tumor would need to be removed before a biopsy could be done to determine if it was cancerous.

Three days after my oldest child started kindergarten, my husband, Steve, and I left our kids with my mom and drove to St. Louis for surgery. Doctors successfully removed a tumor that measured 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, along with the muscle ?in which it was wrapped. Soon I was headed home to recover and wait for the pathology report.

On my first follow-up visit, I mentioned an odd pain I had in my lower leg. An ultrasound of my calf revealed a blood clot just below my knee. I was admitted to the hospital again. I was kept overnight and started on blood thinners.

As I was about to be released the following afternoon, the surgeon informed me the pathology report had come back. The tumor was cancer — a fairly uncommon, aggressive form of cancer. Up to that point, I hadn’t let myself think about the possibility of cancer. With two young children at home, I wouldn’t allow my mind to wander down the path of, “What if?”

Now there was no choice. I officially had cancer. My thoughts immediately raced to, What if it’s terminal? What if I can’t beat it? What if it has spread? What if … ? What if … ? What if … ?

I broke down and sobbed right there on my hospital bed, fully dressed and ready to go home. I remember one of the hospital staff apologetically changing the dressing on my leg while I sobbed and sobbed.

As quickly as the news had come, something “clicked” inside me. I know it was the peace of God. At that point I felt like everything was going to be all right. It might have been a shock for me to find out I had cancer, but it didn’t shock God. If I truly believed God was in control, now was the time to live it.

I looked at Steve, wiped away my tears, and said, “OK, we’re going to do this. We’re going to make it.”

He smiled and sighed, “That’s what I was waiting to hear.”

There were weeks of waiting before we had answers to all our questions. Those days were filled with emotional highs and lows, and a lot of prayer.

Friends offered to help with meals, housework and transporting the kids to and from school and other activities. Family members took turns staying with us to help as I recovered and Steve went back to work.

God was faithful to bring exactly what we needed exactly when we needed it. Steve’s job allowed him to work an extremely flexible schedule as we shuttled back and forth to appointments, more scans and another surgery to biopsy some suspicious-looking spots found in my lungs.

Almost a month after my first surgery, the oncologist confirmed the pathology report on my lungs was negative. He pronounced me “cancer-free.” I wanted to throw my arms around him and dance around the room. Those were the words I had been waiting to hear.

My “staff” of doctors, as I came to call them, recommended I undergo radiation treatments to lower the risk of the cancer returning. I agreed to daily radiation treatments for seven weeks in addition to biweekly physical therapy sessions in the fall of 2010. Once the radiation treatments were complete, my energy eventually returned, and life began to return to normal.

As the one-year anniversary of my surgery approached, I knew I wanted to do something significant to celebrate what God had brought us through. Our church, James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Mo., hosts an annual 5K run/walk. As the 2011 race neared, I knew I wanted to run that 5K.

I realized it was a pretty big undertaking, as I had not been an athlete before my surgery. Now I was considering running a 5K without one of my thigh muscles!

After physical therapy, I had continued exercising to keep my leg strengthened and flexible, but I knew a 5K run/walk was much different from a 15-minute stroll on my treadmill. I trained for eight weeks in our basement, eventually working up to a 3-minute jog followed by a 2-minute brisk walk. I was finally able to do the entire 3.1 miles at that pace. My goal was to finish the race in less than 45 minutes.

The morning of the race, I was very nervous. It’s one thing to run on my treadmill in the comfort of my own basement. It’s quite another to do it on the country roads of southwest Missouri with 1,000 of my closest friends. A good friend who is a seasoned runner offered to run with me. Her moral support proved to be invaluable.

As the race started, I felt strong and excited. There is something powerful about trekking down the road alongside hundreds of people with the same goal in sight. It was especially inspiring to run with so many who knew my story and were cheering me on. Every time I heard someone say, “Way to go, Nancy. You’re doing great!” I ran a little faster.

By the last mile, I started to feel the difference that one muscle can make. My left leg felt twice as heavy as my right one. As I crossed the finish line, I was grateful to God for all He had done for me. Just a year earlier, I had been hobbling around on crutches with my leg wrapped from toe to thigh. Now I had just completed 3.1 miles in 44 minutes, 16 seconds.

Looking back on what we now call our “medical journey,” we are amazed at how God worked every detail for good. Of course, there is nothing good about cancer. But like any illness, tragedy or failure, it can draw us closer to Him if we allow it.

There were moments of anxiety, sorrow and worry, and so many unanswered questions. But there were also so many ways we saw God meet our needs. He surrounded us with people who lifted us in prayer and did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He met our financial needs when the mountain of medical bills seemed unending.

Most of all, He walked through it with us and gave us His peace that is so far above anything we can understand.

NANCY BACKUES and her family live in Ozark, Mo.

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