When I first heard the oncologist say “Markisha, you have cancer” I went numb and escaped someplace else in my head. “We can start your treatment today.” Still not quite there, I responded, “No, Monday is better for me. I have the day off.” It was the week before the MLK holiday in 2013. His immediate response was, “Or we can start today.”
My friend Erica was sitting next to me and stepped in. “Markisha, you’re starting treatment today.” I looked at her in confusion and said, “but I thought we were getting lunch after this?” The doctor agreed to let us go to Applebee’s for lunch while they confirmed my insurance. I think I was in such a state of shock because I expected the oncologist to tell me that my OB/GYN jumped the gun when she suggested further testing due to tumors in my uterus from a failed pregnancy.
I was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer called Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia or GTN. I never knew I was pregnant and wasn’t even on speaking terms with the father. But here I was with a bunch of tumors attached to my uterus and growing out of control. When we returned from lunch, I started my first round of treatment.
My oncologist reassured me that I was low risk, and the cancer was very treatable. Chemotherapy would be administered for four weeks via injection. In my mind, chemotherapy consisted of tubes, I never knew it could be delivered by the prick of a needle. If it was going to be this simple, I decided not to tell anyone, not even my children.
After the first shot, my levels of the pregnancy hormone, hCG, or Human chorionic gonadotropin had to be measured, as the cancer mimicked a pregnancy. The bloodwork came back with higher levels of hCG than was measured before the chemo. The oncologist determined a different treatment would be needed, which now required a PICC line or Peripherally inserted central catheter. This would allow the new chemotherapy drug to be administered directly into my bloodstream through my right arm.
The PICC line had to be inserted using ultrasound, so the technician could guide it through my artery to my aorta. Yes, you read that right, the chemo went directly into my heart. The procedure was completed with local anesthesia as I had to be awake for the insertion. I remember looking at the ceiling tile of a painted beach scene while tears streamed down my face. I was cautioned not to move, or the tech would have to start the tedious process over. My arm still bears the scars of that traumatic experience. As I sat there feeling hopeless and scared, I did the only thing I could do. I prayed. It was the first time I talked to God since getting my diagnosis.
“God, please HELP me!”
When the procedure was over and I finally sat up, all I saw was my blood soaked through the sheet. The nurse explained to me that I had to keep the valve closed or I would bleed to death and gave me an emergency clamp in case the valve malfunctioned.
“God, please HELP ME!”
Next, I waited for an X-ray to confirm they inserted the line correctly. Then, I was sent to the cancer center and waited in a chair for the chemo to be connected to my PICC line.
“God, PLEASE HELP ME!”
I stared out of the window, covered by a warming blanket because of chills. The dumbwaiter’s bell soon buzzed to signal that my new chemo drug had arrived. Actinomycin-D was the most beautiful color I had ever seen. It was red-orange color like a sunset, yet with all that beauty it was still toxic, so I called it the “pretty poison”.
“GOD, PLEASE HELP ME!”
But honestly, I didn’t know if He would.
Up to that point, I had never even thought about God. I trusted my doctor, and I trusted the science, so I didn’t need God. It had never even occurred to me to pray before that day. Throughout my life, I only prayed when I needed something or was afraid. When I returned home after that treatment, I felt scared for the first time, and I was in such terrible pain.
After that day, I knew I not only needed God but my family and friends to help me get through this. I had tough conversations with my daughters, father and stepmother, mother, and friends. My mom told me I was the strongest person she knew and that I would make it through. That was one of the best things I had heard my mother say to me. We had a very complicated relationship. I could count on one hand how many times I heard her tell me she loved me. Instead, she bought me the most amazing cards that communicated how proud she was of me and how much she loved me. I never saw my mother during treatment and that bothered me, but I now realized she just showed me love in the best way she could. She passed away a year after I had finished chemo.
Even though my village had surrounded and supported me, I still needed more help. I went on Facebook asking for prayers and I finally opened my Bible to find scriptures about healing. My journey of re-discovering God had begun. One day, I literally took a deep breath and imagined myself handing a box filled with my diagnosis, my anxiety, my fear, and my independence to God. When I did that, my whole life changed.
What was originally supposed to be four weeks of chemo turned into ten rounds, every other week for five months. After my sixth round, my eyebrows were gone, and my hair was thinning out. Chemo was on Wednesdays and nausea followed immediately afterward. I took three different medications to minimize the nausea and pain. By Saturday, I would get chills and night sweats, along with mouth sores that kept me from eating. Between chemo treatments, a nurse came to clean my PICC line. At one point, I developed an infection that was so bad that the line had to be removed. As a result, a special chemo drug had to be injected directly into my veins. The chemo burned everything it came into contact with, including the skin on my arm and the tissue around the injection site. The nurses purposely scheduled me last because they knew what was coming and didn’t want the other patients to hear me scream and cry out from the pain. My numbers went down but not fast enough. I talked to God about it.
“Tell me what you want me to do Lord. I will follow you.”
Prayer became as routine as putting on clothes each day. I had to talk to God every day for strength, and I continued praying throughout the day. This experience taught me to always ask God to supply all my needs and for direction for my life. Many times we face situations where we don’t know what to do, but God knows. All we have to do is connect with Him regularly through prayer, and He will respond.
Finally, it was decided the best course of action was to have a total hysterectomy. I did another chemo round before the surgery and two after. I spent a week in the hospital and had to get a new PICC line inserted into my left arm because the right arm was still infected. I had monthly oncologist appointments for a year to monitor my hCG levels, which remained at zero. I still have bloodwork done every six months to monitor my levels. There are lingering health effects because of treatment. But it’s a small price to pay to still be here.
Through this journey, I realize how good God has been to me. He blessed me with family and friends that were there for me every step of the way, who were so instrumental in helping me get through this. I honestly didn’t realize how much my village cared about me before this experience. God drew me closer to Him when I didn’t even realize how far away I was. I know I can trust Him with every worry and care. Everything about my life goes into that box. I know He’s got me.
Markisha’s Encouragement for Moms:
It sounds cliché but God really won’t leave you nor will he forsake you. Everything that I have gone through in this journey has made me stronger and brought me closer to God. I know that God sends help even if you aren’t looking for it. He never sent me to talk to the oncologist alone. Someone who loved me was always there. He sent people to make meals for me and my children every weekend I had chemo. Those who were not for me, He removed out of my life, and I haven’t seen them since. He used my testimony to help others in their journey. He did all of this even though I trusted my oncologist to heal me instead of Him. Even through my hollow prayers, He sent to help me. Whatever you are going through, and however you’re feeling – it’s ok. Just give those feelings to God and allow Him to bring change. He will!
Markisha’s Prayer for Moms:
I pray that you are encouraged in the fact that God is Jehovah Rapha, your healer. Take your pain, your anxiety, your fear, and your need to take control and give it all to Him. I pray His healing and mercy be with you for the rest of your days.
In Jesus Name, Amen
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My conversation with Markisha:
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