Grief & Loss

An unplanned, unwanted, unexpected journey

Lucy M. Allen

December 24, 2020 | 4 minute read

We all have them--those unplanned, unwanted, unexpected journeys that take us to places we never wanted to go. My latest started on Thursday, October 1, 2020, around 4:40 PM. “I am sorry to tell you this,” I heard the radiologist saying on the phone, “but your biopsy results confirm that you have breast cancer.”  

I felt numb. Is this really happening? It’s completely surreal. I’m healthy. I didn’t feel any differently than I did before. Could this really be true?  I’m the 6th of 7 children in my family; no one else has had cancer. How did I somehow draw the short stick? 

I never expected this.

Still, I considered myself fortunate. My surgeon was hopeful that we caught the cancer early and will only need to do a lumpectomy with radiation, pending the results of genetic testing. A few weeks later, I heard back from her, “Lucy, you have a genetic mutation that makes you more susceptible to breast cancer. Unfortunately, I no longer feel comfortable with the lumpectomy and am recommending a bilateral mastectomy.” I felt sick to my stomach as I conjured up horrific images in my mind of what this means. My surgery was scheduled for a few weeks later.  

I didn’t want this.

Things started moving quickly--sharing the news with family and friends (many, many conversations one-on-one, in texts, on the phone, over social media), an appointment with the plastic surgeon, an MRI, discussions with others who have had breast cancer and with medical professionals, planning for my upcoming absence at work.  And in the middle of this, we were packing and moving out of our house for three weeks so that workers could fix our floors that were damaged by a water leak--all right as the holiday season approached in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic.  

When the unplanned, unwanted, and unexpected comes, life can be ruthless and inconsiderate.

Thankfully, my surgery went smoothly--a huge relief! And I was recovering quickly; I was walking, getting stronger, and starting to feel much more myself.  But as soon as the doctor walked in for my follow up appointment, I knew something wasn’t right.  She explained that the pathology report came back with some concerns.  The tumor was larger than they expected, and there were several other spots of cancer that hadn’t been visible on any of the imaging prior to surgery.  I needed to have an additional surgery in a week; two major surgeries within two weeks.

Once again, completely unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted. I felt like my feet were knocked out from underneath me, and I experienced the familiar emotions of shock, sadness, and grief.  

As I walk through this season, I can’t help but wonder if this is how Joseph and Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt. They never expected Mary to be pregnant before they were married. They never planned on a long, arduous trip to Bethlehem shortly before the birth of their son. They didn’t plan to give birth to their first child in a far away town in a stable, surrounded by animals and dirt.

Early in 2020, months before my diagnosis, I read a familiar verse that made a deep impression on me. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." Little did I know that I would need that encouragement and wisdom on numerous occasions in my difficult cancer journey. 

Trust in this passage is a multifaceted word, pregnant with meaning. In Hebrew, the original language, trust means, “bold confidence, secure, refuge, make to hope.” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) Finding myself in unchartered waters, unsure of what steps to take, who to listen to and what advice to heed, I desperately leaned into God, my anchor. Despite the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced, I discovered the satisfying, life-giving fruit of trusting in God--fully relying on him as my hope, my guide, and my refuge.  This trust gave birth to an unshakeable, bedrock peace in my heart. A peace that came from knowing deep within my heart that God was with me, that I was not alone. 

Cultivating trust and leaning into God is a process and doesn’t just happen. It comes as I intentionally sit with Jesus every morning reading and meditating on his words in the Bible. It comes as I journal, talk with him, cry out to him with my pain and questions, and celebrate my joys and hopes. It comes as I allow myself to be vulnerable and lean on other followers of Jesus to encourage me, pray for me, and walk through this with me. 

Jesus promises multiple times in the Bible that He will never leave or forsake us. I have found that even when my circumstances are difficult, there is a living hope that never disappoints and that hope is a humble child born 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem.  I don’t know if I will need to go through chemotherapy in 2021, or what other challenges the future may hold, but I have full confidence that he will be with me, my anchor in the storm. And in that, I find contentment, peace, and hope.

The 2nd surgery went well, and all my margins are now clear.  Currently, I’m in physical therapy and going through reconstruction while I wait to hear if my oncologist will recommend chemotherapy. For now, I am waiting. Waiting again for test results that have potential to radically and profoundly impact my life in 2021. 

As you and I drink in the sweet moments of Christmas this year, let us make room in our lives, in our hearts, in our busy schedules, and in the uncertainties of the future to intentionally welcome him, Immanuel.  The one of whom the prophet Isaiah foretold hundreds of years before his birth, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel [God with us].”  As I have found in my unplanned, unwanted, and unexpected journey this year, and pray that you will discover in yours, His nearness, His presence with me, is the greatest gift.

Lucy M. Allen

Lucy M. Allen

Lucy Allen lives with her husband Rick, and they recently celebrated their 31st anniversary. They have three beautiful adult daughters and a wonderful son-in-law. With a background in education, Lucy currently works in pastoral care and communications with Lucas Christian Academy. Her passions are reading, learning, gardening, spending quality time with friends and family, and helping others discover the glory and beauty of Jesus and the gifts God has given them to be a blessing in the world.

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