69: I Believe in Miracles

69: I Believe in Miracles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

I Believe in Miracles

Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.

~Mother Teresa

It began when my husband Richard was helping our seven-year-old son Steven remove his hockey equipment after a Saturday morning hockey game. Suddenly Steven cringed and cried, “Dad, you hurt my neck!” We had no idea the impact those five words would have on the rest of our lives.

Richard, being a physician, checked out Steven’s neck, and reported, “Okay, he’s got a lump about the size of a nickel.” He was very troubled.

It was early January 1987, a very busy Saturday following New Year’s celebrations with family and friends. Our Christmas tree stood in the corner of our family room with some of our opened presents still lingering under it. Christmas decorations both inside and out were still up, as I liked to wait until Epiphany on January 6th to start putting everything away. That Saturday, we were hosting a large sixtieth family birthday party for my mother at our home in Ancaster, Ontario.

Over the course of the day Richard continued to watch the lump on Steven’s neck grow bigger. By early evening the lump was clearly visible, now the size of a small orange.

Doctors prefer not to diagnose their own families, so Richard called our family doctor who ordered a chest X-ray and blood work to be done as soon as possible. That evening we were settling into our normal family routine when the phone rang. The doctor had just heard from the radiologist, and they wanted Steven to see a specialist the next day to “check things out further.” When Richard asked why, he learned the radiologist had found a spot on Steven’s lung, and they didn’t know what it was.

“How big?” asked Richard.

“Seven centimetres,” came the shocking answer.

“You must mean millimetres,” Richard insisted. “Seven centimetres is huge! That would be the size of a small grapefruit. This is only a seven-year-old boy! His chest isn’t much bigger than that!”

I was upstairs with our three children at this time. Laura, our five-year-old, was showing me a picture she had drawn at school. Ryan, our two-year-old, wanted me to play with him, and Steven was watching TV after a trying day with medical professionals. Sensing something was terribly wrong, I went downstairs to find my husband choking back tears.

Richard relayed the conversation to me, but I could not grasp what I was being told. Realizing I needed help to understand the severity of the situation he said, “This is a really bad thing; to have a tumour in your chest and a lump on the side of your neck means that a cancer has probably already spread.”

Steven was only seven — how could he ever survive what was surely coming next?

In an instant I understood, and felt a tingle shoot through my body. I was dizzy and my legs felt weak. I gasped and knew I had to leave the room — I had to try and get away from what I had just heard. I became violently ill, and kept repeating, “This cannot be happening.” In one moment, just like that, our lives were turned upside down.

The phone rang again; this time it was our parish priest.

“Richard, this is Father Con,” he said. “I’m calling about Steven’s upcoming First Communion.” Never before had our priest called our home. Ever.

Richard then explained to Father Con what was happening with Steven. “The situation does not look good,” he said, and ended the conversation by asking Father Con to pray for our son.

Was the timing of the priest’s call a simple coincidence? Or had Father Con, in some way, learned of our situation? We had no way to know that Richard’s request was just the beginning of our request for prayers. It was not until many days later that we would realize the powerful part that prayer would play in our lives.

That evening, Richard’s brother, another physician, came over immediately to give us support. “Don’t forget they could be wrong,” he reminded us. “One, or even both of the tumours could be benign, and they may not be related.”

Both Richard and his brother knew that if the tumours were related and malignant, it would be a death sentence for Steven. We all agreed we were in desperate need of support, encouragement, and hope and would need to ask for help.

From that moment forward, I made a decision to do everything possible to save my son’s life. I had to keep my heart open to the possibility of a miracle, too. I just didn’t know how or when. Facing medical facts wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew that whatever the medical professionals told me, I was not going to give up hope.

The next day a biopsy was done on the lump in Steven’s neck. The pediatric oncologist confirmed that our son had a malignant tumour and would need to be admitted to the hospital right away. The oncologist painted a bleak picture, making us feel we might as well buy the coffin. Since the biopsy had clearly confirmed the neck tumour was cancerous, the doctors were ninety-nine percent certain the chest tumour would be too. This man took away all hope when he told us our son had no chance of survival. “This is a very aggressive form of cancer,” he said. We were told then, that our son would be “dead in three months.”

This terrible reality was proving to be a bigger challenge than our family could handle alone. We began to pray, and then earnestly asked for the prayers of many others… our families, friends, colleagues, Steven’s school, our church, two convents of praying sisters, and anyone, in fact, who offered their help and prayers — because we asked.

There were many moments when we were face to face with medical science focusing on one thing (cancer), but at the same time we began experiencing the feeling that our faith was also playing a huge role. With all those people praying for Steven, unexplained changes — even miraculous changes — began to happen.

The next week the doctors surgically removed the large tumour in Steven’s chest, hoping to give him a bit more time. To everyone’s amazement, despite the doctors having told us it would be malignant — the tumour turned out to be benign! We were now facing a great deal of discrepancy in the medical diagnosis. But because Steven still had the malignant tumour in his neck, we were told he definitely had cancer and would still need immediate treatment. Considering all these discrepancies and questions, we decided to proceed very cautiously for a few weeks. We continued to pray and watch over our son’s condition, but made a decision to delay any further treatment. We consulted with other specialists, and then one pathologist saw something that others did not and gave us some precious hope. And because of her opinion there was enough discrepancy to cautiously bring Steven home from the hospital a few weeks later. Once at home, he continued to get better and stronger. The tumour slowly shrank until it finally disappeared altogether, and eventually there was no trace left of any cancer in his body.

Twenty-seven years later Steven is a healthy adult and a physician himself practicing in the same office as his father. A biopsy had clearly shown the neck tumour to be malignant — so was it a misdiagnosis? Or was it, in fact, a miracle?

We learned through this experience that you must never, ever take away someone’s hope. There is always hope, always a chance that things are not as they appear. There are mistakes; there are miracles, and there is the power of prayer. It is so important to hold onto your faith and your hope, and to trust in the power of your own belief in something beyond this world. It was this “something” that profoundly affected our family and showed everyone around us that miracles do happen.

I believe in miracles, and I believe that my family experienced a beautiful miracle that Christmas, one for which I am profoundly, and forever grateful.

~Karen Vincent Zizzo

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