58: Dr. Dream

58: Dr. Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Dr. Dream

Faith is like radar that sees through the fog.

~Corrie ten Boom

I talk a big game. I say I believe in miracles. I was raised in a home where we attended church on Sunday, read daily from the Bible, and prayed before every meal. I knew that God appeared in a burning bush and parted the Red Sea. I knew he cast out evil spirits and caused blind men to see. I knew that he raised Lazarus from the dead and walked on water. I knew he spoke to Joseph of Egypt through dreams.

I knew all these things, but did I really believe them? When it came down to recognizing a miracle in my own life, I wasn’t as faithful as I thought I was.

At the age of thirty-one, I was living a life full of love and happiness. I was the mother of three boys, the wife of a loving husband, and a health advocate and fitness instructor. Our family ate kale and played soccer. We enjoyed long walks and watching movies. Life was everything I thought it could be. It seemed nothing could interrupt our perfect world.

Yet, I could never be perfectly happy. I always felt it unfair that life could be so wonderful, that I could be surrounded by so much joy when there was so much sadness happening to those around me. Foreboding and dread entered my thoughts as I wondered when my turn would come. My mama always told me that adversity makes you strong. So, I lived my days and enjoyed my moments, waiting for the unknown bad thing to happen to me or my family.

My turn came one Monday morning as I woke up to find my left arm swollen and purple. An ER visit led to a CT scan that showed a tumor growing in my chest, a clot in my neck, and clots in both of my lungs. The world stopped spinning as we journeyed into the unfamiliar realm of biopsies, blood tests, and oncology. Weeks passed, and we continued to hope and pray. We prayed, and prayed, and prayed.

Then the real test came. Two weeks after our ER visit, at 4:00 a.m., my husband Jon sat up, wide awake, with the words “T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma” imprinted on his brain. He quietly slipped out of bed and went downstairs, sure he’d not be able to go back to sleep. The clarity of this dream ensured it wouldn’t be forgotten or ignored.

“Lymphoblastic” wasn’t ever mentioned in our recent weeks of cancer talk. For all he knew, it wasn’t even a medical term.

The day went on, and he continued to ponder what he’d experienced, hesitant to tell me, knowing I’d be skeptical. He waited for the right moment and approached me with the words, “I have to tell you something. I had this dream . . .” He proceeded to explain how clearly he’d seen and heard the words “T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.” He explained that his research that morning revealed that “lymphoblastic” is a rare form of lymphoma or leukemia.

I was surprised and remained skeptical, but supportive. I told him there wasn’t much we could do with this new information. “It’s not like we can go and tell the doctor you had this dream that told you I had T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.” We continued to wait for an official diagnosis.

The diagnosis finally came: T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Finally, a diagnosis. That was good enough for me. These doctors are smart, I thought. They deal with cancer every day! But my husband wasn’t so easily convinced. No prodding or whining on my part was enough to make him dismiss what he’d heard.

Despite my persistent request that we just trust the doctor, my husband insisted on getting a second opinion. I was emotionally and physically drained from the first cancer diagnosis. I didn’t want to start all over again and go through the irritation of more doctors and tests. Jon was unrelenting. He made an appointment with a lymphoma expert at Georgetown, and I accompanied him, dragging my feet the whole way.

More questions, more tests, more waiting. While we awaited the second set of results, I chose to go ahead and begin chemo for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I would be given four drugs that would be administered every three weeks over five months. I cut my hair, had a port-a-cath placed and got ready to dive into my life as a chemo patient.

The drugs from chemo began circulating in my veins and breaking me down. My hair began to thin, and I was getting increasingly fatigued. Nausea became my constant companion, and I was slowly adjusting to my new normal.

Then we got the call. The further testing on my biopsy sample revealed that what I had was not T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but acute T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Son of a gun. My husband was right. My treatment was changed from four to six rounds of chemo administered over five months to two or three years of aggressive chemotherapy administered almost daily.

T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma accounts for about one percent of all lymphomas. Lucky me. After receiving the final diagnosis, my doctor sat down with us to discuss the new procedures. And we had questions. Lots of questions. Like, why didn’t we get this right the first time? And what would have happened if they’d continued to treat me for a cancer I didn’t have? He told us that if we’d proceeded with the treatment for my first diagnosis, it most likely would have put me into remission. However, lymphoblastic lymphoma is aggressive, and the chances for relapse are high. Chances are, the cancer would have come back much stronger and harder to fight.

Having this aggressive cancer and more aggressive treatment meant fighting cancer became my whole world. Every day, I went to my doctor’s office for shots and infusions in the chemo lounge, and then curled up at home vomiting in a trashcan. Friends and family were constantly in and out, cleaning, bringing meals, and taking my children, each carrying their own load of my burden.

But I was at peace. The Lord had reminded us, through a dream, that he is all knowing. Because my husband listened, my life was potentially saved.

I’m now cancer-free and adjusting to post-chemo life. My battle with cancer broke every part of me. I cried, prayed, endured, and suffered until I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. But in my darkest hour, I knew I wasn’t alone. We have emerged on the other side bruised, grateful and strong.

Here’s hoping Jon’s next dream involves a cruise ship . . . .

~Emily Rusch

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